(from “Creating culture of solidarity” pp.124-127, August 2005).
We could boldly say that the indigenous people belong to the little ones of Jesus. We, as followers of Him, are impelled to be with them in their struggle. It is not because they are the minority. It is because they have suffered much and have pushed even to dehumanizing situations. Paulo Freire describes it as a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. Dehumanization is not a given destiny. So mission here is to restore that dignity of a human being robbed by the self-centered, profit-centered powerful and oppressive people, and even by the system or socio-political or economic structures. It is restoring their self-worth ‘depreciated’ by the imposed standards of the modern day society. We defend and promote human dignity not because this is fashionable, but because it is part of our vocation as Christians. Restoring, therefore, their dignity is also restoring our own dignity as Christians stained by many forms of discrimination towards them. Working for the restoration of their dignity is mission to rediscover their own culture and traditions. It is also restoration of the pride and identity of the Filipino race, which they have preserved for centuries, to avoid becoming more and more ‘second-rate copycats’ of Westerners.
Prophets come in time of crisis. I remember the dialogue of a peasant in the film “Romero” telling the archbishop Oscar Romero “You are our voice. You speak for us!”. Silence followed, a silence that made him recognize God in the midst of the oppressed, that made him utter once again “The Lord be with you”. The Church (in Kidapawan) speaks for the indigenous peoples. She seemed to be silent for a while and silenced for some reasons, but later on she realized that she has to answer the question: “What have you done to the indigenous people around you?”. It sounds like God asking to Cain of the whereabouts of Abel.
Jack Nelson (Hunger for Justice, 1980) shares, “In walking the streets of Calcutta, the poverty so enraged me that I wanted to scream at God, then I came up to a painful realization: in the suffering of the poor, God was screaming at me”. There could be a bit of an exaggeration if I will say that we could also describe the situation of our indigenous people as above. Father Peter Geremia noticed: once (they were) a robust tree but was uprooted and scattered by many storms that passed by. Caring for the poor needs us to understand too what it means to be poor or indigenous. This call also implies for the church to be consistent with the Gospel value of poverty.
There were pains and agonies of the indigenous peoples that were not given much attention for a long time. Christians celebrate new life in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we celebrate this feast unmindful of the pains and wounds that we also have created and contributed. We call ourselves Easter peoples but tend to forget that the new life that Jesus Christ gave us is for all.
Who is veiled and not ? We like to celebrate the “salubong” (encounter of Jesus and Mary at the dawn of Easter Sunday) where we join Mary in her joy in seeing her Son raised from dead. (In Bicol we call it “saklot”, which means “the unveiling”). We unveil Mary, the symbol of saying no more tears, no more agonies, no more reason to be sad, no more darkness in our face. I believe this is also the church’s mission to unveil the scandalous situations around her and let the light of truth enlighten it.
The church unveils also the realities of indigenous people, biases and prejudices of Christians toward them. In the encounter, like in any “salubong”, two sides come together for a celebration of thanksgiving and commitment that darkness would soon vanish for they embrace each other ready to expose things in the light of the Gospel. Ready for solidarity. ——————————————————–
Fr. Ricardo was born in Sorsogon City, Philippines. After earning a B.A. in Social Communications, in 1997 he entered the PIME Seminary. He was ordained a priest on May 1, 2004, in the Parish of Mary Queen of Apostles in Parañaque City in the Philippines. Then he was assigned in Brazil. He worked there in the parishes of St. Vincent de Paul in Assis and St. Anthony in Jardim, Mato Grosso. He died on December 3, 2010