Peace, Human Rights – theme of last Ginhawa and ISA meeting for 2016

On Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 (International Human Rights Day), the Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) co-hosted the last quarterly gathering on spirituality and well-being with partner organization Growth in Health and Well-being (GINHAWA), Inc.

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Dubbed as “Meaningful Celebration for the Nurturance of the Soul” , the gatherings had earlier focused on Valentine’s Day, and Indigenous People’s Month and Indigenous Wisdom.

ISA Executive and Academic Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O, Carm, Ph.D. welcomed the 35 lay and Religious participants representing various congregations, and gave a perspective to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). 

He said, “As World War II ended, the world became aware that so many people had died in the conflict, and supported the United Nations’ call for ensuring lasting peace.”

On the theme of peace and human rights, Fr. Ponce began his talk with Biblical texts about the way to peace and by recalling Aesop’s fable on the wolf and the lamb. He then contrasted the cunning of the wolf with the peace found in the book of Isaiah for the Second Sunday of Advent.

He flashed Isaiah 11 1-10 on the screen, highlighted relevant verses on the Messiah of Peace and asked everyone to read them aloud: “Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his loins. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion shall browse together, and a little child shall lead them.”

Stressing the extrajudicial killings as well as the long-running conflict between the Philippine government and various secessionist groups which affect innocent civilians, including indigenous groups in Mindanao (southern Philippines), Fr. Ponce wore a red statement T-shirt with the slogan Support the People’s Resistance to Militarization and Plunder in Mindanao.

He said, “Peace is complicated but it can still be achieved in our hearts, communities and in the world. The solution? Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu and an advocate of peaceful non-violence during  India’s fight for independence, said, `We must be the change we wish to see in the world.’ “

 This Biblical vision, added Fr. Ponce,  “is imperative in our time”. He shared a Litany of Peace being circulated by concerned citizens which reads in part: “We will … take steps for unity sharing among the churches to learn more and understand each other’s perspective.”

Aside from sharing scriptural text on peace, ISA staff also coordinated the venue for the activity – the Open Space of the Titus Brandsma Center  and its  garden, which served as a meditation area and as a source of the green leaves and white flowers used for the centerpiece symbolic of well-being.

Led by Leah Tolentino, its founding associate and Program Director, GINHAWA showed the participants how to `unfreeze’ through silent walking; deep breathing in and out (“BIBO, a secret of God given to us”); exercises for the body to affirm how peace, love, light and Christ are before us, behind us, under our feet, within us, over us and all around us; and lastly, greeting and wishing well one’s seatmate.

 GINHAWA also facilitated the discussions and showed visualized songs such as “Lord, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” by St. Francis of Assisi. Other cues for sharing experiences included  a counterpart litany in Pilipino  – Kapayapaan: Isang Litanya – written by  Rem Tanauan who has been involved in peace programs in the past.

Part of his poem reads: Kung puno ang simbahan, hindli lang iyan ang kapayapaan (Peace is not only churches full of people) /Paghilom ng sugat … ito ang kapayapaan (Healing wounds – this is peace) /Suma-atin nawa ang kapayapaan (May we all find peace…).

Tanauan ended by intoning, “Salam, Om Shanti, Shalom” and “Peace” in the Tibetan, Korean and other languages to remind everyone of the universal longing for peace. 

Tolentino then urged, “Let peace happen within ourselves. Let us be open and alert, and listen to what is happening to us in the context of home and country, to our world and society.”

 As for audience participation, the Vietnamese sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ – who make it a point to attend GINHAWA every quarter – .contributed their skills in flower arrangements to crafting the centerpiece.

Also, volunteers joined GINHAWA members in acting out people `doing their thing’ unmindful of a fist fight between two male co-workers, until a woman  intervenes, cries for help, and `conscienticizes’ a few of them to step in.

In the processing which followed, everyone was asked,   “Which part of the mime had spoken to you personally; what area of un-peace did you become aware of in your family, place, school and community; and how do you feel about this?”

In answer, some of the participants shared how they had tried to resolve conflicts with family members, co-workers and even church group co-members. Others admitted to keeping to themselves, even at home. 

Tanauan  said, “We was a good opportunity to share our experiences and thoughts coming from the heart. We had good insights on our society and country. All things have a face, and peace is a witnessing. Sharing clarifies and punctuates.”

For her  part Tolentino described the `revelations’ as valuable: “What is important is to find peace in ourselves, start the search for peace and stop the vicious cycle of fighting with other individuals and  with the government.”

The morning concluded with St. Francis’ hymn to peace and with a rite  of lighting candles for peace, making a commitment to peace, and holding hands around the centerpiece containing origami-style paper cranes and other symbols of peace.

“Let us send peace to our families,” urged the GINHAWA Team as the video screen showed images of guns and of a young girl singing I Wish for Peace

The Team added, “Take a deep breath; look at each other and smile. Look to the light, knowing that peace is possible. Hold hands and send peace to everyone. And now, what is the one word you want to leave us?” 

Trust, serenity; love, solidarity, brotherhood, blessing respect and family – these readily came from the participants.  The GINHAWA Team added Bathala nawa  (God, hopefully).

Prayers were led by a participant who confessed to finally making peace with her husband and   intending to make peace with her co-workers in the church.

Tolentino followed up with wishes for peace within the Church and “for us to share the peace in our being.  May peace be with us as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace.”

For his part Fr. Ponce looked back to a year of meaningful themes and said before blessing the simple Christmas lunch of sautéed noodles,  “See you in January as we open 2017 with a repeat of our well-attended  session on  the spirituality of laughter.”  #   


Pinky Choudhury