As Philippine-based Maryknoll nuns joined their counterparts in other parts of the world in celebrating their order's centenary this year, they cited their interfaith education efforts as a significant focus - writes Maurice Malanes.
"Our group's pioneering work was mainly in hospitals and schools, which included opening schools among the Muslims," Sister Margarita Jamias told ENInews. Jamias headed the coordination of the centennial celebration of the Congregation of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic last 11 February in the northern Philippine city of Baguio.
The congregation was founded in New York on 11 February 1912 by a group of Catholic nuns in the United States led by Sr Mary Josephine "Mollie" Rogers of Massachusetts, who came to be known as Mother Mary Joseph.
"The Maryknoll Sisters in the Philippines," a book co-authored by two Filipino Maryknoll sisters, details how the sisters extended their educational program to Muslim communities in southern Philippines in the 1950s when the fear of proselytising by Christians was strong.
For example, at the Maryknoll-run Notre Dame of Dulawan in the southern Philippine town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao provice, the first grade-school graduates in 1957 were 16 Christians and 15 Muslims, noted co-authors Virginia Fabella and Dorothy Mulligan, both Maryknoll nuns.
The authors said the Maryknoll Sisters devised a workable arrangement in which religion would not hinder the education of both Muslim and Christian youths. In the beginning, while Catholic religion classes were going on in Notre Dame, the Muslim students were excused and given study period.
"As time went by, an ustadz [Islamic teacher] was employed by the sisters for the Muslim students," the authors said. "Eventually, a building which could be used as a mosque was provided for their prayer and Friday service."
In recent years, many of the Maryknoll-founded schools were turned over to other administrators. Still, Maryknoll sisters collaborated with other schools in providing the core curriculum in peace education promoting Muslim-Christian dialogue.
The Notre Dame University in Cotabato City particularly cited the peace education curriculum developed by Mulligan and her team, which has been adopted not only by Notre Dame branches but also by public schools since the 1980s.
"The spirit engendered by the Notre Dame graduates helped to foster a peaceful coexistence among the Muslims and Christians in predominantly Muslim southern Philippines," said the book. The book noted that the root of current conflicts in southern Philippines was not religious, but economic and political.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]