Religious Teachings on Ecological and Human Sustainability

Religious Teachings on Ecological and Human Sustainability
(Indigenous Religion)

Norma M. Gonos
2018 Asian Youth Academy/Asian Theology Forum
Mary Ridge Retreat House. August 4, 2018


Ing kabisibus aw kadayudu ng al-law!
A Blissful and peaceful day!

I come from one of the most colonized indigenous communities in the Philippines, where foreign religion, is a major imprint left by the colonizers. They arrived at the time the faith and spirituality of our ancestors, was strongly and deeply rooted in our connection to land, nature and environment. But their influences, the presence of the dominant and oppressive cultures subverted indigenous knowledge and caused intense cultural disintegration and desolation of indigenous communities.

Their large economic “wants” had wantonly disturbed the forests and its ecology, that some of us cannot anymore tell the cosmic relationship of our economic needs, from our traditional lifeways. All these had also resulted to remarkable loss of our religious leaders, the Balyans, whose task is to transmit and nurture this traditional environmental knowledge, and the rituals accompanying the said knowledge. This is not to mention the continuing loss and diminishing ecological diversity, that has deeply affected our interconnectedness with the environment and Magbabaya, the God of the universe, and the giver of life. But to this day, despite the fact, that some had embraced the religion of the colonizers, the indigenous peoples have remained rooted to our beliefs systems.

Affirming our indigenous faith and Ecology

We continue to strongly affirm, that not all our traditional or indigenous knowledge, have gone with the continuing disregard of our forests and ecology, or that, our environmentalism and ecological homelands are extinguished or vanished. That even with our wounded environment, our communities remained connected with our beliefs, our indigenous faith. These are as varied as the number of ethno-linguistic groups, yet, we have one accord that bound us all together and that is–we all are stewards of God’s creations, whatever name we call our God, in our case, the Magababaya. These beliefs are entwined with our relationship with environment and ecology.

So that, we care for it so much as part of our life. For how could we not? It sustains life of the entire race to thrive, and live on to this day, albeit the failure of the forerunners of development aggressions, to recognize, or that they continue to humiliate, the sustainable interactions of indigenous people and the forests, the land, the ecology and the environment. Yes, we may survive outside the environment, but part of our life will be meaningless and empty. Our cultural integrity will no longer be intact and whole, it will be disconcerted, will be disconnected, and life will fall apart. So our beliefs systems and interconnectedness with the environment and its ecology, is not simply for conservationist’s point of view, but rather, it is our traditional and indigenous lifeways, because these are essential to our cultural integrity, and it makes us whole and intact as community.

Teachings of our Faith and spirituality As a respectful race, we ask permission even of unseen creatures. We recognize two good spirits—Mansilatan and Badla (father and son), and two bad spirits Pundaognon and Malimbong (man and wife); and the bad and evil one below the earth is tal’lagbusaw. So we are taught not to destroy their dwelling in the forests, in the rivers, in the sacred and ritual grounds, and below the earth just beyond the depth of a graveyard. So that bad spirits will not disturb us. For them to shun away from us, we should respect these dwellings and economic activities must not disturb them. We always ask permission from the spirits based on “needs” or when we use the grounds we believe they live. Anything that is beyond the depth of the graveyard belongs to tal’lagbusaw, who will castigate the transgressors.

We are taught that humans do not transgress the grounds below the depth of the graveyard, and respect where spirits on earth dwell, so we do not suffer castigation. That even gold is watched by the spirits in the core of the earth.
We ask gamawgamaw, the spirit who watches the river when we do fishing, so we get only what we need, to allow the water bounties to flourish. We ask puwanak, for good hunt but hunters must share with the community and other families in a form of andog, that is a way of conserving the bounties of the forest. We ask dagaw, the spirit that dwells and watches the farm, and offer tamo to the kuwaaw, the bird spirit, not to send famine and food scarcity. We call on the goddess of art, the tagamaling, to give the weaver the intelligence to reflect the designs in their luwang–a dagmay design serving as insignia of the clan.

The role that my faith play in the sustainability of life

We believe we do not own the land because it outlives us. We care for the forests, nature and environment because we nurture being stewards of these God’s beautiful creations. And as such, we only get what we need to survive. Anything taken out of need leads lead us to gaba (bad karma). Caring for the earth and the environment helps us maintain our cosmic relations, which is vital for cultural and economic activities.

Our ancestors taught us that good and bad spirits relate and respect human beings, based on how we relate with the land, the trees, the rivers and the forests. And respect means proper use and conservation—that way we would able to sustain them for the present and future generations. Our race will thus vanish if we do not care for them or properly use what the earth could offer. It is thus, our responsibility to take care of them, to conserve them, as the only way to sustain each other, so that the race shall continue to thrive and flourish.

Nurturing the teachings of my faith

We have highest regard for the teachings of our kaompowan (ancestors). We nurture the teachings of the balyan and kal’lal’laysan (religious or spiritual leaders). We heed the signs of spirits and deities, and we look up to one Supreme Being, our Magbabaya. Whatever our kaompowan told us remains in our hearts and are followed, even if some of us have embraced Christian faith. Our Balyans may have slowly diminished in number, but we remain with our inevitably special connection with the environment.

We continue to heed and be mindful of the teachings that we must replace what we get from the earth. Replacement is best expressed by allowing the earth to rest and regenerate, by having cycles of crops and farm areas. Our interconnectedness with all forms of life in the forest, the land, the rivers, the entire environment, the cosmic energy, the ecology– all these emanate from our faith and spirituality. This sustains our role and responsibility to preserve, develop, conserve and protect the land, nature, and environment.

We believe what befalls the earth, befalls the race. The earth and everything in it also defines man’s relationship with Magbabaya, the giver of life, the Almighty (Yagbaya), the One who rainbows the sky (yagbal’langaw sang pagawanan), the One that look upon us from heaven (yanguob sang tiwayan). We believe that Magababaya watches over the pagawanan (heaven), the mandal’luman the earth, and those below it, the sal-ladan. No one escapes from Magbabaya.

Dagdagu na pasalamat!

AYA ATF 2018 Philippines

Towards Improved Conditions and Inclusive solutions for the People at the Margins amid Limitless Development and Ecological Crisis in Asia

‘Ask the beasts, and they will teach you…’ (Job 12:7)


Our common home is at the tipping point of a climate catastrophe. Our environmentally damaging lifestyle is putting the innocent and vulnerable Creation at risk. Asia, which is regarded as “third world” or “developing world,” has vulnerable groups of people including women, the Indigenous People (IP), the Dalits and the children, who suffer the unjust consequences of irresponsible lifestyles and systems promulgated by globalisation led by neoliberalism. We have struggled to survive typhoons, floods, droughts, famine, and tsunamis. We have witnessed how the Earth, to which we are all intimately connected and in which divine presence abounds, is ruthlessly destroyed for capital gains. In a serious attempt to arrest this downward spiral of destruction, and to bring about a new life-giving world-order with a special focus on IPs, 70 youths from 14 countries participated in the Asian Youth Academy (AYA)/Asian Theology Forum (ATF) under the theme, “Peace in Indigenous Peoples’ Lives amid Limitless Development and Ecological Crisis in Asia,” from 27th July to 5th August 2018 in Tagaytay, Philippines.

Issues Addressed

  1. Sustainability Development: During the AYA/ATF, we were exposed to the reality of the common problems faced by most Asian countries. Particularly disturbing are the attempts by governments to squash IP’s rights to land in an attempt to direct resources towards profitmaking capitalist entities. We have often erroneously assumed that technology and modern developmental strategies have the answer to all problems. However, in our race for the accumulation of wealth, we have left behind our connection to our ecological roots. It is only through the practice of eco-spirituality, in dialogue with indigenous spiritualties and ecocentric values from Asian religions, that we can regain this relationship with the spirit of Earth guiding us towards sustainable solutions.
  2. Education & Information Communication: Considering the internal conflicts over ideology within national politics, it is important to create a balance between progressive and conservative perspectives, supported by educated and logical reasoning. Youth need to undergo and undertake training that will enable us to engage more effectively in making peace between different ideologies, religions, and cultures.
  3. Development for Youth: Youth today are victims of a fast-paced industrialization with education and potential careers designed to feed this system. We need a new economic system that puts people and environment before profit.
  4. Intra-Church: We have become aware of the degree of human rights violations in our respective countries and the role of the Church in alleviating these violations. However, social outreach is controlled and limited due to the lack of a democratic leaderships within the church hierarchy and equal representation of the laity. The church that had claimed to embrace “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties, of the men and women of this age, especially of the poor or those who are in any way afflicted” as its own (1) is can be seen only in social outreach and action towards justice. Christian institutions are often lacking in democratic and quality leadership, are embroiled in internal politics, and remain hindered by anthropocentric, androcentric, and hierarchical thinking. We, as members of the church who are actively engaged in various ecological and transformative efforts, seek the support of our church leaders to promote justice and equality within the Church leadership.
  5. Self-assessment of AYA-ATF and Post-Forum: We, the young people, have already taken a step towards leadership by attending the AYA/ATF, dialoguing and discussing the urgent issues that challenge our people and our generation. We are determined to put our ideas and solutions into action to help us effectively be the change and influence society.


We want to see more than mere ‘tokenism’ by global leaders and want discussions and sustainable action in every community that includes but is not limited to:

  1. Sustainable Development: Pope Francis clearly suggests by saying: “For new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change ‘models of global development’…..Put it simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.” (Laudato Si, no.194) We know it is impossible for sustaining life on Earth by continuing “business as usual”. Taking Francis’ suggestion seriously, we have to put all our efforts to change the model of current economy system which focuses mainly on technological and economic development. We need to put in practice the 7R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refurbish, Repurpose & Regenerate, resist the temptation of consumerism and throw-away cultures and practice the spirit of stewardship and to maintain and strengthen the relationship among the various secular & religious groups, institutions and individuals involved in this forum.
  2. Church Reform: There is a need for increased synodality (3) between Church hierarchy and laity with horizontal leadership. Movement from a vertical ‘command and control’ form of leadership to Jesus’s revolutionary practice of horizontal ‘mutual-accompanier’ leadership structure (4) is an urgent need. We also need to see increased women’s leadership and in decision-making roles within the institutional Church. There needs to be representation of all persons as lay leaders, religious, clergy and bishops – that we may work together towards ecological justice. There is a need for an improved understanding and promotion of ecospirituality within the Church, inclusive of local cultural practices without judging them as ‘pagan’ or ‘demonic’.
  3. Youth Affairs: Youth need development and formation that help them to challenge and transform misogynistic and hierarchical mind-sets which affect the society, family life, and the Church. It is time to bring the Catholic Social Teachings to the forefront.
  4. Education and Information Communication: It is necessary to be with the community in building resilience among those on the margins of society. We need to be involved in the promotion, training and advocacy for sustainable, social economies, respecting indigenous wisdom and ecological sustainability. Learning from, working with, and supporting sustainable lifestyles of the IPs and developing solidarity platforms that advocate their rights to life and land and basic human dignity. Social media today can effectively be used to highlight and promote solutions to issues that affect our planet and people and use our affinity to technology as a tool and space for evangelisation.
  5. Improvements for AYA and its afterward: Climate change affects the whole planet. This discussion should not be limited to Asia alone, but dialogue between the east and west may result in better understanding of the direct and indirect impact of lifestyle choices on global temperature rise. We appreciate the Pope’s initiative of a Synod for the Youth in 2018 and we hope it will help make the Catholic Church more welcoming towards the young people, women, IP groups and LGBT+ (we are glad to see that the term has appeared for the first time in the official Vatican documents as it is used in the “working document” of the synod.), without discrimination, for the common good of everybody.

We appreciate the Synod’s usage of the term LGBT in a positive manner which we believes symbolizes the Catholic Church has become more open and inclusive to all the minorities in the world.


On our part, we commit to continue to participate and lead movements that advocate the rights and protection of IPs in our respective countries and on international levels. We also commit to continually observe and support the ‘cleansing’ activities within Catholic Church, as it brings order in the chaos of abuse, financial mismanagement and cover-ups caused by faltering clerics and Christian leaders.

We believe that Pope Francis’ ‘Listening Church’ (2) is the way forward in real and mutual respecting and learning from the “others as others” in the world. Thus, we are dedicating ourselves to the cause of creating awareness, education and communication, advocacy and action needed to develop Christian and secular communities that can help the IP groups build resilience to calamities.

The vulnerable indigenous groups, at risk due to the actions of the ‘developed’ communities, need us to listen to their ancient wisdom so we can support each other. We, the young people, want to move upwards from ‘discipleship’ towards leadership in Church and society in supporting IPs and towards delaying the effects of Climate Change.

In our experience, we have seen that our statements, appeals, suggestions, and demands for support and real change has elicited little real action and commitment from the Church and political hierarchy. Like the apostles, we continue to take on the challenge of being authentic witnesses of social sustainable development and human liberation. At the same time we want to alleviate the conflict in the relationship between the clergy and laity, corruption, financial mismanagement, and abuse. In supporting this endeavour, the Church’s hierarchy will experience the support and love from youth which, combined with the teachings of Jesus, will make our community one of mission and service acting upon Jesus’ message ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free’ (Lk 4: 18, NIV).

#EarthPeople #IStand4IPs #EcoYouth #IPLivesMatter