The Catholic Church has always been more than consistent with her teachings on the dignity of the human person not simply in terms of humanitarian purposes but precisely on the basis of man’s being God’s image and likeness. The Church is greatly convinced that the poor in particular need special attention.
The plight of the natives of Botolan, Zambales (mostly Aetas) whom l had the chance to visit to pastoral immersion was a significant reminder for me of the message of Ecclesia in Asia, 34; “In seeking to promote human dignity, the Church shows a preferential love of the poor and the voiceless because the Lord has identified himself with them in a special way [...] Solidarity with the poor becomes more credible if Christians will live simply, following the example of Jesus [...]” It is in the love for the poor who are often victims of oppression that the Church keeps herself busy. My stay with the indigenous and the tribal people in Bontolan, notwithstanding its brevity, was a concrete sign of communion of life.
Physically, the natives of Botolan are not as ‘beautiful’ as those the Body and Skin clinics promote. By education, they are far below the standard set by the colleges and universities. They also belong to the economically poor in terms of social status.
There are still many reasons why the mainstream society gets disinterested in them. This goes without saying that the indigenous people like those in Bontolan are usually disregarded because of their supposedly “primitive” lifestyle.
My brief sojourn with the natives of Bontolan has left a lasting mark on my way of looking at indigenous people in general. Being concerned for the minority of the populace of the world, like the indigenous groups, would at least mean knowing their world. The natives, no matter how the mainstream society disregard them, share the same dignity that comes from God. When I saw them, I also realized how they are intrinsically linked to the created world. The natives value nature so much. They get the supply of their daily food from nature that surrounds them although they do not eat regularly as in three times a day. In the Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil on February 14-23, 2006, the indigenous people made themselves known to be “the voice of the land, the voice of the water, the voice of the air [...] they are caretakers of the earth [...] and in any destruction to nature, they are the first to be effected.”
The natives even convinced me of their belief in spirits that protect them and their environment. This may sound superstitious but it is how they show respect for the integrity of the world around them. But the truth of the matter is that their attitude shows a resemblance with the biblical view of nature, that is, “God has bound himself to a covenant with nature and humankind who is the steward of creation entrusted with the preservation and care of the planet [...] The human being is the moral agent whose task is to sustain and nurture all creation” (Colm McKeating, Theology of Creation). Added to this is the fact that the human being and the world are creatures made of God. As such, they are to be regarded with respect.
The immersion experience has deepened my regard for other people and for nature. It has raised my consciousness and sensitivity. I realize that these people are good (and as a matter of fact, people are good as God, the Creator, is good). From this experience, I understand all the more that goodness is not just all about the life in the seminary. The comfort my room in the seminary provides me is similar to the comfortable space the natives had offered me. This comfort was displayed when the family where I stayed offered their extra dining table to be converted into a bed with a mosquito net over it so that I could sleep well albeit in a small nipa hut. By such an act, I was treated more like someone special in that place. Likewise, the good food I enjoy eating in the seminary is as tasteful as theirs. I appreciated the way they prepared food for me. The extra seasoning and ingredients they put into my food, which they do not normally do for themselves, made me feel like eating in a fine restaurant. In a word, my criteria of goodness have been expanded by this experience with the natives. wendell allan marinay, osa.