“Now I plead, with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

I EXPERIENCED a total culture shock when I went to this remote place in Abra, just a mountain away from the Kalinga province.

Never mind if we have to travel five hours on a dirt road in a jam-packed jeepney, walk another hour along mountain trails, slippery and narrow hanging bridges and sometimes crawl, just to reach our destination. It was a paradise for us, Ilokano lowlanders, to breathe the moist mountain air, appreciate the rice terraces and feel naked—stripped of modern amenities.

But in this paradise, people suffer from every imaginable sickness due to lack of hygiene and salt. Mostly illiterate, they fall prey to the rhetoric of fundamentalist preachers who promise bread from heaven. They labor day and night in the hope of sending their children to a school five hours away.

But I was amazed that despite the diversity of faith, the people lived in harmony. As a Catholic seminarian, I was amazed to learn that only 10% who attended our Bible services were Catholics. Our one-month hosts were themselves non-Catholic.

It is through this atmosphere that I began to appreciate the concept of ecumenism. Before, I have only contempt for those who do not share my faith. I even remember, as a child, mocking the American Mormons who prowled our town.

In the name of God, countless lives were senselessly sacrificed. The God who preached love became a silent spectator to the flow of innocent blood offered in His name.

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In today’s postmodern world, where no one can anymore claim monopoly to the truth, let us highlight not our differences but rather our similarities in order to arrive at a common ground wherein we can all live in harmony.

In the seminary, we are planning next year to hold a friendship meeting with Protestant theological seminaries in order to foster ecumenism and share a common voice against violence in the name of religion

As Catholics belonging to a universal church, may we be at the forefront of fostering the spirit of camaraderie in the world of diversified belief. May we embrace our “separated brethren,” not as a lost souls needing of redemption but people of good heart and fellow traveler in the Kingdom of God.

Prayer: God, the one Lord, we thank You for the gift of revelation, for sending Your son and Your spirit to redeem and enlighten us. As people continue to hurt each other in the name of religion, we ask your compassionate hand to guide them and let them realize that You preach love not hatred, tolerance not contempt, compassion not cruelty. Nurture in their hearts the generosity of thought so that they may realize that in this diversified world, we need more understanding. God of Love, we implore You. Amen

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