ISA Launches Book on Spirituality -Lining Anthropology and Theology

On Friday, April 28, 2017 the Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) launched its latest publication, Panagkutay: Anthropology & Theology Interfacing in Mindanao Uplands (The Lumad Homeland.

The venue was the Jaime Cardinal Sin Center of the Loyola School of Theology (LST)  in the Quezon City campus of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

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Co-sponsors of the afternoon event were LST, the University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Department of Theology, the John J. Carroll Institute of Church and Social Issues, and the Sacred Springs Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability.

In a message read by Fr. Esmeraldo Reforeal, O. Carm, ISA Executive and Academic Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O.Carm, Ph.D. noted, “This is the fifth time we are publishing a of book Bro. Karl. Previously, he has written: To Be Poor and Obscure: A Spiritual Sojourn of a Mindanaoan (2004), Mystics and Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures (2008),   The Masses Are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul (2010) and Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations (2014).”

The Masses… was a finalist in the 2010 Jaime Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Awards, and  Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action… won in 2015 for Best in Spirituality and Best in Ministry categories.

The 242-page Panagkutay… is authored by Bro. Karl  M. Gaspar, CSsR, anthropologist-Redemptorist Brother missionary born and bred in Mindanao, and currently connected with the St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) and the Ateneo de Davao University-Anthropology Department.

Bro. Gaspar explains in the Introduction, “ Panagkutay is Cebuano for `to connect. The thesis is very clear: faith traditions are alive and integral with people’s everyday lives in the uplands, especially where the indigenous belief system is still intact and has not been `demonized’ by the fundamentalist perspective of a Christian proselytization campaign. In such a setting, anthropology and theology must engage each other.”

The book has six chapters. The first (“An Anthropologist’s Lament”) and the fourth (“A Long Story of Lumad Struggle to Secure their CADT in Jose Abad Santos) recall Bro. Gaspar’s  engagements as a Redemptorist missionary with the Manobo-Blaan in Barangay Molmol, Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental as these indigenous peoples, known in their native language as lumad, spend years getting their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title.

Bro. Gaspar wrote Chapter II – “Urgent Issues Confronting the Lumad and their Implications for Mindanao’s Development” – after giving a number of talks on the situation of the Lumad, and believes that such talks-cum-Powerpoint presentations remain relevant.

Chapter III (“No End to Lumad Dislocation”) is a historical narrative of how the Lumad and the Moro peoples of Mindanao have lost control and ownership  over their ancestral territories to become “squatters in their own land.”

Bro. Gaspar wrote a paper for theologians at the St. Vincent School of Theology (SVST) in a forum in memory of “our beloved Fr. Carlos Abesamis, S.J.” and later presented it at the conference of DAKATEO (Philippine Catholic Theological Association) in October 2013 in Butuan City. He has transformed this paper into Chapter V (“Re-Activating the Dangerous Memory in Landscape Exemplified by Living Dangerously”) of Panagkutay.

Likewise, Chapter VI (“Panagkutay: In a Land where Faith Traditions are Part of the Everyday Life, How Can Theology and Anthropology Engage Each Other”) was a paper presented at the 35th Conference of Ugnayang Agham Tao (UGAT or the Anthropological Association of the Philippines) at the Ateneo de Davao in October 2013. 

The book launch featured reviews of Panagkutay by Mary Racelis, Ph.D of the ADMU Department of Sociology and Anthropology; by Eizel Hilario Patino, a co-member of UGAT and a member of the research team for the Lumads’ long search for their CADT (“But now I see a window of hope in Environment Secretary Gina Lopez for mining”); and by Fr. Eugene Canete, M.J., whose review was read by Judy Francia-Reyes of the Sister Myrna Francia, I.C.M. Memorial Foundation.

Lyon Lopez, classical violinist from the School of Music of the University of Santo Tomas  (UST) and godson of Bro. Gaspar, rendered two musical pieces, and provided the background for the reading  by Roberto Conrado Guevara, Ph.D. of the ADMU Department of Theology of two poems by Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., whose book Ehemplo was published by ISA and has merited a reprint.  

In his author’s message during the launch Bro. Gaspar said Panagkutay took five years to write and is his response to the gap between social science and theology, specifically the emerging field of missiology.

He added, “I made a commitment to write because someone has to fill that gap but I’m  approaching 70 and I feel I’m an ancestor. I am conscious of that now.”

He then issued a challenge to the audience to write more, saying, “All of you here are my friends and I know that all of you are creative and intuitive. That’s why you’re here.”

Bro. Gaspar asked more members of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and of DAKATEO to write more.

“The problem is that we Filipinos do not write so much,” he said.

Bro. Gaspar also sees a challenge in expanding the bibliography beyond foreign sources and in digitalizing resources to make them available to non-Manila writers at a click.

“Even the approaches to research are changing,” he pointed out.  “Participant observation and focused group discussions are now being challenged, it became clear to me when we were in Leyte during Yolanda. When survivors are saying they were haunted by ghosts, how do you interview a ghost for a family member?”

He would also like to see more works in Pilipino and coming from the younger generation.

“I’m privileged to meet young people who come up to me and thank me. I basically write for friends, but if the writing passes on to the younger generation, that would be good. ISA will print a thousand copies, say, but there should be more works.”

 Specifically, Bro. Gaspar hopes to develop new writers among seminarians, young priests and nuns, pastoral workers and lay people. He sees a window of hope in the Church, with its resources, schools and actual presence.

“We are here at the Ateneo de Manila, the flagship of the Jesuits with their long list of scholars and doctors, and their long presence in Mindanao. They were the first in Butuan, where Saturnino Urios continues to have an influence. We also have the SVST, Adamson University, La Salle and UST.

“Somebody has to organize something, as the Rural Missionaries did for basic health. We in the Catholic Church have a presence in Bukidnon, Mindanao and the Cordilleras where we can work with the tribal peoples and develop modules.” 

Bro. Gaspar also urged going beyond the Bible in developing a meaningful liturgy: “Go to the University of the Philippines, where they have a library of the myths of the indigenous peoples. This book is an advocacy for a bridge, especially for them. And who can do that? The Church.” 

He expressed optimism that as people move away from their comfort zones, they can develop  solidarity which can benefit more people and bring about change. # 

Perla Aragon-Choudhury