A Student’s Letter To Father Bert

By Cathleen E. Caga-anan

Cathleen ‘Nayie’ Caga-anan, now a 4th year high school student in St Scholastica’s College, Manila, wrote this letter to Father Bert Layson OMI in response to his article Peace Progress in our January-February issue. She has given us permission to reprint it.

Dear Father Layson,


Greetings! I’m Cathleen Caga-anan or Nayie, a 3rd year high school student at St Scholastica’s College, Manila. We are encouraged to read Misyonwhere I read your story, Peace Process.

It revealed to me something that newspapers reporting about the war in Mindanao don’t. I saw the heart of what was really happening there, not just hazy and technical outlines, eg, ‘200 people died, and President GMA…’ I was touched by your story because it unfolded to me the behind-the-scenes happenings in Mindanao.

I admit that I dislike reading about the war in Mindanao. Oftentimes, I finish an article about war with a heavy heart. But with your article, it was different. I knew that in war people die and ties are broken, and that people are also united by it. But I never read an experience that could confirm these thoughts. But your story concretized what I had thought before. Two quotations really made me think long and hard:

‘A priest I know told a Muslim, “When you die I’ll only have 50% feeling for you. But when my parishioner dies, I’ll have 100% feeling for him.”’

‘In Mindanao, when you ask a Muslim boy what he wants to be when he grows up, he tells you, “A rebel to fight the military.” A Christian boy tells you, “A soldier to fight the rebels.”’

Why do people with the obligation to wholly accept those who are ‘different’ antagonize persons who need understanding rather than hatred?

It seems to me that Catholics are under the impression that all Muslims are rebels, therefore evil creatures, while Muslims are under the impression that Catholics are irrepressible tyrants, therefore evil creatures. The government and the Catholic Church even label rebels and terrorists as ‘Muslims,’ which is wrong. The term ‘Muslim’ refers to all who follow Islam. Calling these renegades and reprobates Muslims insults innocent Muslims and propagates hatred among Catholics for Islam, not for the MILF or Abu Sayyaff. The fact that we Catholics link Islam and Muslims to those who cause trouble for our country is insulting. Many forget that Islam is not evil and certainly does not exist to produce terrorists and rebels. Associating Islam with rebels taints Muslims who do not believe the same as these.

Many Muslims despise the troubles caused by the MILF. Many wish only for unity and peace between religions and cultures. Many Muslims want a better future for their children, pretty much like Catholic parents. But are these like-minded Muslims heard? Are they even noticed? Do people even consider Muslims as individuals, not as a group all sharing the same views? The article proved that not all Muslims are like the rebels. In fact, it proved that Muslims feel the same sentiments as Catholics.

As far as I’m concerned, I see that this whole perception is guilty of the fallacy of ‘Hasty Generalization.’ The actions of one group, composed mainly of Muslims, do not mean that the whole lot is a sour bunch. The war in Mindanao should not be defined as a Muslim-Catholic war but as a war against rebels, not Muslims. Many influential people have set a hard line between Islam and Catholicism, a line that does not respect the uniqueness of each of the two religions; this line has become the foundation of close-mindedness and misunderstandings. Islam and Catholicism do not exist to be enemies, but to live harmoniously in one shared world.

I’m sad that there are so many myths and misconceptions on this issue. We should all stand strong to keep our world a safe and livable place, but we can’t do it with hidden hatred. I’m sad that innocent people are harmed. Hundreds of families run away from their homes every day because of the threat of death. Muslims and Catholics alike are in danger. Catholics and Muslims alike are mortal, and some die each passing day. Much worse, these families who have already lost their homes, their loved ones and their dreams, are subjected to prejudice from opposing parties.

Yet it’s comforting that under the haze of war and terror, some Muslims and Catholics are bound together by the same goal: to live. In evacuation centers Muslims and Catholics share the same meals, pray together and talk without caring that the other is not of the same religion. When you wrote about Muslims offering gifts for the Mass, it warmed my heart to see people of different religions helping and comforting each other. It gave me hope that not all are blinded with misconceptions. I realized that Muslims and Catholics are not so different. We share the same sorrows and joys, we repay kindness with kindness, and we know that there is one Omnipotent Being watching over us. There is a silver lining in every dark cloud - someone said - and this was the silver lining. Because of the violence around us, we are bound to work together and work to achieve the peace we all want.

But this leaves me with one question. Do we have to be in the face of death to unite? Are the deaths of thousands of people the only thing to wake us up from a disunited nightmare? But, as you said, that is probably the nature of war.

I’ve known many people prejudiced against Muslims, and hearing them talk just makes me argue against them. It’s ridiculous to think that all Muslims are alike and rebels like those in the MILF. I personally know that this is not true. Why? Because I have Muslim relatives, and am proud of them. They are one of the proofs that not all Muslims grow up to fight Catholics. They do not like the war, and never dreamt of supporting it. They are not prejudiced against us. We’ve never received a text message from them saying that they disown us because we are Catholics. Nor did we ever send them such a text. To us, it’s not a Muslim-Catholic war, but a MILF-Philippine Government war.

Once I heard a person say that a Muslim woman in her office was rejoicing that Osama Bin Laden had bombed the Twin Towers. She told the Muslim that it was wrong to rejoice because people died. This I have no objection to because there really is no point in rejoicing over a thousand deaths. But she made the mistake of saying to me, and I quote from my very nebulous memory, ‘All Muslims just don’t know what to do. Why do they have to rejoice at the deaths of thousand persons?’ I had to argue with her. Not all Muslims rejoice at a thousand new graves in the cemetery! She could have said plainly and simply, ‘No one should rejoice at the death of thousands.’ But no. She had to accuse all Muslims of sadism because of the twisted philosophy of one person. It’s not right. It’s a fallacy. It’s Hasty Generalization. (Just can’t seem to erase our lessons in Speech class!)

Through your story, my beliefs have been even more concretized. What you wrote really happened! I thought, ‘I’m not just imagining things!’ We should do away with labels. Not only do they categorize individuals, but close minds. We are all in a haze of confusion. We don’t know who’s who any more. Muslim, Catholic, or groundhog, we should all try to accept our differences. We should all try to forget that the MILF and the Abu Sayyaff are composed mainly of Muslims. We should all believe that religion does not dictate the thoughts of the person - especially when it comes to war. From what I’ve gathered from the article, I realized that all of us - Muslim or Catholic - don’t really know what’s happening. We think that Muslims band together to fight Catholics, but we’re wrong. This war in Mindanao is not a religious war, and believing wholeheartedly in this is one step to recognizing the unity that should be born of this moment of crisis. If we just take one moment to realize that not all think alike, we would be solving a problem that’s been destroying civilizations and empires: division.

Thank your very much for your story that moved me so much. Yes, I now also believe that goodness will blossom from goodness. And the first good thing I will probably do is to not call the rebels Muslims. Maybe then they won’t see me as another prejudiced person.

The way you handled the situation in Mindanao is admirable and I wish I could do the same. Help was still offered to people of a different religion. And it was returned. The war in Mindanao might not end today, but you surely proved to me that hope exists.

I learned a valuable lesson from reading your article, that even though there’s war, good will always come out of it, if you make the first move. Like factories. We have to process the peace first, before we get the product that will benefit us all.

Thank you once again for your wonderful experience! My prayers are with you for all you are doing and will be doing. Even though I cannot be in Mindanao working for justice, I will still offer my prayers, something that will not go away easily.

God bless!