Highlighting the experiences of missionaries and the impact of the pandemic to Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and other local communities in Mindanao, the Ignatian Spirituality and Formation Office (ISFO) and Anthropology Department collaborated last Thursday via Zoom for Ateneo de Davao University’s 1st Ignatian Conversation.
“When the lockdown was implemented, I recall that on March 13, immediately everything in the parish stopped operating. Our church was closed and therefore all masses and sacraments were no longer available to the public,” Mindanawon writer and anthropologist Br. Carlito “Karl” Gaspar, CSsr stated.
Despite these challenges, the speakers emphasized that various acts of compassion give hope to their fellow missionaries and parishioners.
“You don’t have to be rich in order to give. You only have to be good. Being good will always find something to give,” said community development worker Ms. Josephine Estopil, quoting a saying from the founder of the Josefa Segovia Foundation, Inc.
Impacts on IPs and local communities
Sharing his observations of his parishioners in Guinuroyan, Valencia City, Bukidnon, Fr. Arthuro Paraiso stressed that the rampant spread of the virus has sparked fear among the people and has limited their opportunities, especially indigenous peoples.
“Dito sa diocese namin, sa parokya ko, ‘yung takot na ‘yun ay parang characterized dun sa pagkakaroon ng panic,” Paraiso explained.
He also cited that people’s distrust in authority augmented their sense of hopelessness. News of having total lockdowns resulted in panic buying while many daily wage earners lost their jobs and sources of income.
Meanwhile, Estopil, who works as Executive Director at the JSF, stated that the pandemic hindered their food production operations, as well as the establishment of JSF’s Indigenous Peoples Academy.
“The IPs we serve became out of reach and it challenged our usual way of organizing community gatherings since mass gatherings are not allowed under the community quarantine,” she said.
A continuing mission
The speakers’ mission frontiers, however, took various initiatives to navigate through the restrictive measures of the community quarantines.
“As the gates of the church were padlocked, we have to ask ourselves the question, how do we make it possible that some of our parishioners, especially those who are connected online, might continue to connect to us?” Br. Gaspar said, as they decided to live stream their daily masses in their Facebook page.
They also extended food assistance to households identified as the neediest among their basic ecclesial community.
For Fr. Paraiso, relief efforts during the quarantine were geared towards addressing the basic necessities of the Lumad in Guinuyoran.
With the support of the Diocese of Malaybalay, they organized small-scale and community-oriented initiatives such as health and hygiene education and weekly feeding programs.
The JSF also showcased their efforts to help women in their partner communities engage in food production, as well as to provide internet connection and transportation.
Student leader Dianna Tagalog believes that the Ignatian Conversation was an eye opener to the plight of the Lumad.
“There is little to know about what is going on to the IPs in Mindanao that’s why this afternoon it gave us an opportunity to listen and finally look into the different faces of struggles, narratives of fear and accounts of uncertainty,” she expressed on behalf of the SAMAHAN.
University President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ also lent his insights.
“I think the University still has a responsibility to move out beyond itself. Now that we are surviving or beyond surviving, I think we still have a responsibility to watch out for our Lumad sisters and brothers… to continue to protect our people from abuses of corrupt acts,” he said.
“I’m very grateful to those who are working very closely with the poor and pray that God strengthen you in your mission with the poor even as I ask you to pray for us that we may continue in our mission of the University,” he added.