Mindanao: First Religious Liberty Tour & Special Recognition to the City Mayors

From January 26 to February 1, 2014, the IRLA team of Secretary General Dr. John Graz and Dr. Jonathan Catolico, IRLA Secretary General for South Asia Pacific Region, traveled from Manila, Philippines to the island of Mindanao for the First Mindanao Religious Freedom Tour. The program was organized by the religious liberty leader Pastor Nelson Paulo. The tour included a visit to local officials, training seminars for religious leaders in General Santos City (five hours from the capital city of Davao) and a Festival of Religious Freedom in Davao.

During their stay Dr. Graz and Dr. Catolico were introduced to the Salamat Mayor Program, which is a special recognition for today’s great leaders. Certificates of recognition were given to the Mayors of Panabo City, Koronadal City and General Santos City. This program has been initiated by the Religious Liberty leaders to encourage Mayors who have served their community with integrity and respect religious freedom. Mayors Jose Silvosa, Peter Miguel and Ronnel Rivera received their certificate from Dr. Graz. According to Dr. Catolico: “Such a program has been a great encouragement for public leaders and may become an inspiration for many religious liberty associations around the world.” The three mayors who were recognized said this was the first time they received such a public encouragement by an association. Plans to extend the “Salamat Mayors!” recognition to the chiefs of villages have been put into action. The program will have a climax once every two years with a national event in the capital city of Davao in the presence of government officials.

The highlight of this First Mindanao Religious Liberty Tour was the Festival of Religious Freedom held on Saturday February 1, in Davao.

More than 3,500 people gathered in the CAP auditorium, coming from various regions of Mindanao. Choirs and musicians were part of the program. Dr. Graz gave a lecture on the activities of the IRLA around the world. Dr. Catolico spoke about his interventions on the state of religious freedom in the Philippines, asking people to thank the Philippines and God for the gift of religious freedom.Dr. John Graz, Catolico with Mrs Joyce Peñas Pilarsky - Mrs Philippines 2013

The Philippines included religious freedom and separation of Church and State in its Constitution in 1899. “It took a thousand years to get religious freedom and we can lose it in a few months if we don’t promote and protect it,” said Pastor Nelson Paulo, who invited the audience to support the work of the association. Pastor Nelson also shared the project of a larger event in the future. Among the participants were several officials and Joyce Peñas Pilarsky, the 2013 Mrs. Philippines and the International Ambassador of her country.

What was the purpose to travel to and around the island of Mindanao? Mindanao has faced several years of tension and fighting with the Muslim community. In some parts of the island the tensions are still present and lead to acts of violence which can be spread between communities. A strong promotion of religious freedom for all and a recognition of people of good will are very positive acts in favor of peace, justice and respect for everyone. It also focuses on the common work which can be done for the good of the population.

--Dr. John Graz, Secretary General, International Religious Liberty Association