World church gathering to strengthen IP partnership


BAGUIO CITY — World churches will gather in an international conference on social and ecclesiastical visions of indigenous peoples at the Club John Hay here on October 21 to 26.

Sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of non-Roman Catholic Churches whose headquarters is based in Geneva, Switzerland, the gathering will share and draw the experiences, spirituality and visions of indigenous peoples worldwide.

Thirty theologians from indigenous peoples in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia are expected in the conference, said Rev. Rex Reyes, National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) secretary-general in an interview.

This consultation will highlight the major issues affecting the indigenous peoples all over the world and appreciate how indigenous peoples confront these issues. The Consultation will also listen to a Philippine Panel who will deliver presentations on three specific issues of indigenous peoples in the Philippines: a) Stewardship and natural resources, b) Identity and social justice, and c) Community, church and the world.

“The project endeavors to challenge and enrich the traditional understanding of unity, mission, evangelical and spirituality,” added Reyes.

The indigenous peoples have rich experiences from which the churches can learn, which include among others, broad dimension of social justice, the exercise of self-determination, despite efforts to subsume them into the colonial-inspired state systems, and their concept of stewardship in protecting the land and environment for future generations, Reyes explained.

Church commitment

Reyes added the activity is a response to encourage the WCC and its constituency to be informed by the theological and spiritual resources of the indigenous peoples.

WCC was able to observe the situation of indigenous peoples worldwide where they are excluded by the mainstream society. As such, the IPs, due to their distinctness are discriminated and “excluded” by mainstream society where they live and manifested by discriminations, like in the absence of social services to them.

Their distinctness however had continuously made them adopt a vision of community peace and a safe earth, the NCCP document explained.

Cordillera, Philippines

Reyes said he activity is important in the country, particularly on the Cordillera, as the Filipino indigenous peoples have a powerful projection of politically and socio-culturally.

Approximately one-tenth of the total population nationwide, the indigenous peoples have in-depth spirituality and experiences.

“On one hand, they (IPs) live in isolated areas where access to basic services and opportunities for economic growth is lacking and on the other hand, natural resources abound in these areas making the indigenous peoples vulnerable to development aggression,” the NCCP document stated.

Reyes added that the Cordillera experiences as stewards of the land are very rich. He cited the Kalingas and Bontoks opposition of the World Bank-funded Chico dam that could have submerged thousands of hectares of rice lands and villages; the Tingguians opposition of the Cellophil Resources Company that would destroy hectares of forest lands in the tri-boundaries of Abra, Mountain Province and Kalinga; and the Ibalois struggle against the open pit mining in Itogon, Benguet.

NCCP added, “The struggle of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines for self-determination and the preservation of natural resources continue along with their struggle against the onslaught of foreign investments, mining, and confrontation with the state forces.”

Partners

Although, initially the indigenous peoples were seen as targets of conversion and the means by which churches manifested their charity work, churches in recent times have begun to stand alongside indigenous peoples in their struggles, the NCCP document added, which has revived its indigenous peoples program to support them in their journey towards a just and lasting peace.

Stories of their resistance to marginalization and development aggression, engagement with international bodies like the United Nations, and their partnerships elsewhere in their march towards a free and fair society will hopefully inspire similar story telling from other parts of the world, added the NCCP document.

Reyes said the activity would further deepen and expand the social and ecclesiastical vision of the ecumenical community vis-à-vis the sinned against and the excluded.

As part of the activity, the participants are also scheduled to visit mining and vegetable areas in Benguet, Reyes shared.

The NCCP and Regional Ecumenical Council in the Cordillera (Reccord) co-sponsor the activity. # Arthur L. Allad-iw(NorDis)

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