Many Oblates reached out to Muslims directly or indirectly, in their different missions. Education and socio-economic projects soon became the testaments of the Oblates' concern for the Muslims.
Schools were opened after World War II because education was envisioned to "attract" the Muslim youth to Christianity. But direct conversion through education never materialized because the dangers of such an approach were felt early enough. The schools, however, have strengthened the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Christians. The schools, still in operation, continue to admit Muslim students.
On their part, institutions of tertiary education, the Notre Dame University and the Notre Dame of Midsayap College, offer Islamic Studies to Muslim students as part of their religious education. Yearly, these institutions participate in a symposium on Islam during the month of Ramadhan/fasting.
The University, for some years, operated a community extension service which was involved in primary health care and a literacy program. At present, several of the projects of its Community College have Muslims among the beneficiaries. The University's Institute of Cotabato Cultures catalogue Maguindanao folklore, myths, legends and language.
Starting in the 1960's socio-economic development programs were initiated to help the Muslims directly. Credit unions and cooperatives were opened in Jolo. An immense housing project was also started there. In Cotabato, the projects included the Carabao Loan, Distribution of Irrigation Pumps, and Seed Distribution.
While the Oblates' work with and for the Muslims continued, it was felt that not enough was being done for them especially in the Cotabato area where the Oblates, particularly in bigger parishes, have been absorbed by the demands of the parochial ministry.
It has always been different in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi where the Muslims are the great majority, Christians being only 3.5% of the population. Inspired by the Oblate pioneers' fruitful labors, Oblates today take work among Muslims as an integral part of the mission there.
The Oblates made this statement during the 1990 Provincial Congress: "We believe that God is calling us to be with the Muslims and Tribal Filipinos --- to make Muslim concerns ours: habitat, ecology, ancestral domains, and the right to self- determination.
During the Oblate Congress 1997, the Oblates arrived at some basic agreements related to the commitment to work among Muslims, especially in Cotabato and made a well-discussed collective decision to concretize its radical demands at present. The Congress identified the Muslim Ministry as an authentic Oblate apostolate and declared the support of its programs as one of the major thrusts of the Oblate Province today. In the same Congress, the Oblates reaffirmed their commitment to work with and for the Muslims in the Cotabato areas and the Sulu archipelago.
Concrete manifestation of the commitment are: the reconstitution of the Muslim Ministry Committee and the appointment of two full-time Oblates in the Ministry.
One significant concrete step towards the realization of the commitment and which is now keeping the Committee busy is the preparation for the Dialogue of Life aimed at bringing the Christians and the Muslims together in a genuine spirit of Dialogue ---of life, faith and action. This, in addition to the numerous dialogues already conducted by either individual Oblates or the associations /organizations to which they belong.
The choice of this long-term activity is based on the fact that the histories of the Christians and the Muslims have been marked with animosities which have not completely disappeared despite all efforts to bring the two peoples together.
Christians and Muslims must begin to learn to accept each other and respect each other's religion, culture and tradition to provide the foundation for peace, thus paving the way for an integral development of all the inhabitants of the Cotabato area.
The work is basically organizing communities inhabited by Christians and Muslims. It involves the creation of the Local Council of Elders and Religious Leaders as well as Dialogue Fora in Notre Dame schools for Muslim and Christian students. Basic sectors such as youth, farmers and businessmen will likewise be organized. Necessarily there will be a support system through which networking will be possible with local government units, line agencies, non-governmental organizations, and peoples' organizations.
Also envisioned to be a valuable step is to educate Christian leaders so that they can become authentic witnesses for dialogue instead of becoming antagonistic and indifferent. More direct involvement of media and education will be called for also - whereby schools will be made venues for establishing good relationships and mass media will be made to play an active role in peace and justice issues.