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Philippines: Italian priest receives award for Mindanao peacebuilding

Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, the CBCP president, handed over the Bishop Jorge Barlin Golden

On July 8, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) bestowed the Bishop Jorge Barlin Golden Cross Service Award upon Italian Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, a dedicated Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) member.

This prestigious award recognizes Fr. D'Ambra's outstanding missionary work promoting inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, located in the southern Philippines.

Named after Bishop Jorge Barlin (1905–1909), the bishop of Nueva Caceres and a significant figure in interreligious dialogue in the Philippines, the Bishop Jorge Barlin Golden Cross Service Award is the highest honor the CBCP gave.

The award ceremony took place in Cagayan de Oro City, Mindanao, with Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP president, presenting the award to Fr. D'Ambra.

Archbishop Brown praised Fr. D'Ambra's 40 years of dedicated service, while Bishop David highlighted his impactful contributions to peace, harmony, and solidarity in Mindanao.

Fr. D'Ambra founded the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga, a province on the island of Mindanao, to foster interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Reflecting on his journey, Fr. D'Ambra humbly stated, "Although I am an ordinary person, I have a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and believe in the power of prayer."

His dedication to the Church's global mission began in his diocesan seminary in Italy. "The message and the presentation of the mission worldwide were the starting points of my dream. In prayer, I asked the Lord how I could spend my life in the best way. Thanks to God, the mission guided me, and I am currently content with it," he reflected.

Arriving in Mindanao in 1977 during a period of martial law and revolution, Fr. D'Ambra sought models of missionary life in the complex reality of the region. Throughout his mission, he emphasized that "dialogue starts with God and brings people back to God."

Fr. D'Ambra served as the first and longest-serving Executive Secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue after its founding in 1990.

He also founded the Emmaus Dialogue Community, the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, and the Emmaus College of Theology (ECT), all of which exemplify the ideals of Bishop Jorge Barlin by fostering meaningful and enduring dialogue for peace between Christians and Muslims.

The Silsilah Dialogue Movement celebrated 40 years of service on May 18, reaffirming its commitment to interfaith cooperation, peace, hope, and reconciliation in a region that has experienced significant hostilities between Muslims and Christians.

Mindanao, home to 25 million people, including a sizable Muslim population, has seen thousands of deaths due to pro-independence militias and Islamist groups engaged in a protracted and violent struggle.

Fr. Salvatore Carzedda, a PIME missionary and companion of Fr. D'Ambra, was tragically assassinated in Zamboanga City on May 20, 1992, due to his work in interfaith dialogue.

Despite this loss, the efforts of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement continue across Mindanao and the Philippines, based in Harmony Village.

Fr. D'Ambra's unwavering commitment and leadership continue to inspire and promote peace in a region fraught with challenges, embodying the spirit of dialogue and reconciliation.


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