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Human rights abuses still a concern to Filipino church leaders

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The Rev. Larry Pickens
Aug. 2, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Human rights abuses remain a concern for faith leaders in the Philippines, according to a United Methodist church executive.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity, met with ecumenical leaders, including those from the United Church of Christ and Pentecostal churches, during a July 25-28 visit to Mindanao, Philippines.

The leaders shared with him the most recent list of church workers, both laity and clergy, assassinated over the past three years, Pickens said.

Support from international groups -- including United Methodist delegations, the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia -- has been helpful in raising the "visibility" of the human rights problem.

"The hope is that as church groups continue to put the pressure on their governments to push the Philippine administration, that will have a positive effect," he said.
In early January, Pickens was part of a United Methodist delegation to the Philippines that called upon President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take a more aggressive role to stop the killing of clergy, laity, journalists and human rights workers who help the poor.

Bishop John Hopkins, head of the delegation, told a Jan. 6 news conference in Manila, "The killing must stop." The delegation heard first-hand testimony from more than 20 victims and surviving family members from many parts of the Philippines, who described the pain and suffering exacted through murders targeting religious and community workers.

"Our people are not armed,” the bishop said at the press conference. "They teach, provide medical care, counsel and educate. We implore the government and military officials to recognize the important work of those who seek to minister with the poor and marginalized, and to distinguish their work as vital and important to the country and its people."

Pickens also visited United Methodist and United Church of Christ sites with Jonathan Ulanday, a director of the Commission on Christian Unity and assistant to Bishop Leo Soriano, based in Kidapawan City. Soriano was in South Korea at the time.

Pickens was impressed by the interfaith cooperation on Mindanao. "The church is able to function in what is a very heavily populated Muslim setting," he said. "I think there generally has been peaceful co-existence between the Christian community and the Muslim community."

Pickens said the Commission on Christian Unity would investigate the possibility of an interfaith summit for the denomination to consider ways in which the church can address interfaith relationships in various countries and "be in dialogue and community with brothers and sisters in other faith contexts."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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