Zamboanga (Agenzia Fides) - "The Emmaus Theological College, built in the city of Zamboanga with specialization in interreligious dialogue, welcomes 40 young students who, inspired by the spirituality of life in dialogue, can undergo training to to serve the Church and society in the spirit of human brotherhood," explains the Italian missionary Father Sebastiano D'Ambra of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), who has been active in the south of the Philippines for 45 years, to Fides about the founding of the new institution , which was launched as part of the Catholic "Emmaus" movement. The Emmaus Movement originated as an association of lay faithful and was recognized by the Archdiocese of Zamboanga on the Philippine island of Mindanao.
The theological institute, recognized by the Philippine Bishops' Conference and the Ministry of Education, awards the bachelor's degree, but also offers courses that are not part of an academic study. "The initiative of the college," explains Father D'Ambra, director of the new college, "offers young Catholics a comprehensive formation program that accompanies them to pursue their vocation intellectually, but also spiritually, in a spirit of dialogue with people of all cultures and religions. Young people are trained to give their service of love, especially to the poor and less privileged. After their studies, they are ready to offer pastoral service in their home parishes and communities," explains the missionary.
The aim is to "introduce the students to the spiritual path of Emmaus, to develop in them the human and community spirit of the 'culture of dialogue' and to be disciples of Jesus with open eyes and burning hearts in their lives among people of different cultures and different religions, here in Mindanao, in the south of the Philippines, where more than 6 million Muslims live.
Radical Islamist groups are also active in the southern Philippine region and have so far resisted any initiative for dialogue and have called for forms of violence. To this end, explains Father D'Ambra, "The path of pastoral formation aims to reconcile the demands of academic study with a program sustained by prayer and spiritual life. We accompany the students in this, to grow as faithful Catholics and as members of society, to develop their talents, to to cultivate their vocation as 'living stones' in the Church and in society. In particular, we guide them to reach out to people of different cultures and religions in a spirit of hospitality and fraternity, with special attention to the poor and those who have lost faith in themselves and in others".
During this journey of formation, during which they will practice the spirituality of the "Emmaus" movement for dialogue, Father D'Ambra emphasizes, "they will be able to discover their vocation in the various ministries of the Church, as lay, consecrated, married or priests".
"The key word of this experience - he says, "is taken from the Gospel story of Emmaus and is: Stay with us, Lord. It is a prayer that Jesus may stay, to give his peace his joy, in the spirit of the Beatitudes". The Gospel Beatitudes, he explains, "are the magna carta and source of inspiration for the lives of the members of the Emmaus Movement".
Father d'Ambra, who is now 80, was also the initiator of the Islamic-Christian "Silsilah" movement, which was founded by Christian and Muslim believers who bear witness to peaceful coexistence in the "Harmony Village" on the outskirts of Zamboanga. In the same village is the Emmaus College, which in the years to come, as the Italian missionary concludes, "can accommodate up to 80 young people willing to deepen the culture of dialogue as a path to peace".
The Auxiliary Bishop of Zamboanga, Moises Cueva, welcomed the initiative, which was planned for 2020 and whose launch had been delayed due to the Corona pandemic: "As a Catholic community, we are doing our best to open dialogue with all groups and realities present in the territory of the Archdiocese. We are confident that the Emmaus College will make a great contribution to the spiritual cultural and community development of the journey and the work of dialogue of us believers in this country characterized by religious and ethnic pluralism, for mutual respect and the common good", emphasizes the bishop. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 28/10/2022)