The Philippines has started the observance of the “Year of Ecumenism, Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Indigenous Peoples” this month as part of preparations for the observance of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the country in 2021.
In a pastoral letter released on Dec. 1, the country’s Catholic bishops reminded the faithful to continue making the Gospel “incarnate in different cultures,” to strive “to inculturate the faith,” and “dialogue with indigenous cultures.”
On Dec. 4, the bishops’ Commission on Indigenous Peoples held a conference of different religious institutes in the country to help them reexamine their “missionary experience” with tribal communities.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan told the participants of the whole-day gathering “to have the humility to humbly admit our sins in the past” wherein “in the name of evangelization, we may have violated and disrespected, at times even deliberately destroyed the cultures of peoples.”
He said “evangelization” must always be in the context of an “encounter between two human beings who operate within two different cultures … not an encounter between a subject and an object.”
The prelate likened the preaching of the Good News to “courtship that may lead to an engagement.”
Bishop David cited the experience of early missionaries who learned the language and studied culture before they preach the Gospel to local communities.
He warned that when a relationship is characterized by domination and subservience, “the effect on the subservient culture can be traumatic and destructive.”
He said “cultural oppression” can motivate a “violent political reaction.”
He said the Church should not repeat “the same dynamics of violation and abuse” committed by some early missionaries who practiced the “wrong, inhuman, and to say it bluntly, unChristian” way of evangelization.
Dominican Father Rolando Dela Rosa, meanwhile, suggested to Filipino members of the clergy and the religious “to understand ourselves as true Filipinos and as true natives.”
“The indigenous people have been marginalized in our minds even before they’ve been marginalized in our society,” he said, adding that dialogue should “bring about the advent of a new way of understanding ourselves and the indigenous people.”
Bishop Valentin Dimoc of Bontoc-Lagawe, head of the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission of the bishops’ conference, said the Church in the Philippines “can do more” to protect and promote the welfare of tribal people.
“We need to strengthen our apostolate to stand for [tribal peoples’] rights as indigenous people and their rights to life and land,” he said.