Ghadzali Jaafar, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) political affairs vice chairman, confirmed the invitation to The Anadolu Agency on Thursday, saying the Catholic leader had been invited to Cotabato City, Maguindanao province.
"The MILF's invitation-letter to Pope Francis was coursed through Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo," he said over the phone.
The MILF signed a March 27 peace deal with the government that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao, the country’s southernmost major island, while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy.
Jaafar declined to provide details on the content of the letter, written by MILF Chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, and whether it had been received by Pope Francis.
In October, the Front’s peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal announced plans to write a letter asking the pope to make a statement in support of the Mindanao peace process.
Pope Francis is scheduled to pay a visit to the Philippines from Jan. 15-19. In addition to attending events throughout Metro Manila, he will travel to Tacloban City on Leyte island to meet survivors of super-typhoon Yolanda, which claimed over 6,000 lives in November 2013.
The MILF’s request comes at a crucial stage in peace negotiations as Congress discusses a draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that will replace the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new political entity, the Bangsamoro, before the 2016 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, the Imam Council of the Philippines has lauded the inclusion of two Muslim leaders in the Pope’s Jan. 18 dialogue with Christian and Buddhist leaders at the University of Santo Tomas. Prof. Julkipli Wadi, University of the Philippines-Institute of Islamic Studies dean, and Chief Supt. Ebra Moxsir, national police chaplain, have been invited to represent the Muslim community at the event.