In a rare moment of sharing, a group of young Filipino Catholics has broken their own fast with Muslim friends observing the holy month of Ramadan in the restive southern Philippine region of Mindanao. "The aim was to engage young people and let them feel the meaning of fasting during the holy month," said Abdul Alongan, a Muslim youth leader in Cotabato City. "We are showing our support," said Zuein Guantero, a Catholic from Cagayan de Oro City. "Although we are not of the same religion we all want the same thing, to make a better world," he said. The activity was spearheaded by the group Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative
, a U.S. government program that aims to raise awareness among young Filipinos on the importance of community service and civic engagement. During the breaking of the fast, or Iftar, Catholics made the sign of the cross while Muslims extended their arms in prayer. "We want to focus on rebranding instead of stereotyping," Guantero told ucanews.com, adding that the activity should counter negative perceptions that Muslims and Christians in Mindanao are at war. Mindanao has witnessed a decades old Muslim insurgency seeking more autonomy in the region. A tenuous peace deal with the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is still holding but clashes between government forces and other other militant groups are still common. During the start of Ramadan, Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao called on Catholics to observe the Muslim holy month by fasting. The prelate said Catholics should promote the activity as a form of dialogue. In the late 1970s, Capalla initiated a program called Duyog Ramadan
, or "one with Ramadan," that encouraged non-Muslims in Mindanao to fast during the observance of the holy month. Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is a time when Muslims around the world focus on prayer, fasting, giving to charity, and religious devotion. Some Catholics and Protestants in some provinces of Mindanao continue the Duyog Ramadan tradition by living and fasting in Muslim communities.