Celebrating love and diversity among indigenous youth

Celebrating love and diversity among indigenous youth

Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM)

This pandemic has inevitably changed the way we celebrate. Physical gatherings are risky, potential super spreader events where people might catch the virus. The next best thing is to take the celebration online: Zoom parties are the norm these days. And while a virtual celebration is certainly different, we do what we can to stay connected.

Last December, two indigenous youth groups–one from the southern Philippines (Bukidnon, Davao, and Culion) and another from the small village of Chingchuan in Hsinchu County, Taiwan– met online for a Christmas celebration organised by the Jesuits working in indigenous ministry. Despite the geographical distance, language barriers and technical difficulties, the youthful energy and spirit of sharing pervaded over the gathering. As Conference President Fr Tony Moreno SJ noted in his message to the group, it was “the only network within the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific to have a Christmas celebration”. This was a true example of how the joy and enthusiasm of the youth, no matter what obstacles they face in life, cannot be extinguished. As Abegelle, a Food Technology student from Bukidnon State University put it, they are “divided by distance, united by the love and hope of our tribes”.

Fr Ambrosio Flores SJ, coordinator for the Jesuit Companions in Indigenous Ministry (JCIM), and Fr Barry Martinson SJ, a pioneer in this ministry and parish priest in Chingchuan, steered the participants to put together a programme centred on sharing–their identities as indigenous youth, as students, and as talented young people with bright futures ahead. From the livestream in Malaybalay, students from the seven tribes of Bukidnon were resplendent in their multicoloured traditional clothing. Representatives from the Tagbanua tribe in the island of Culion and the Ateneo Lumad Students Association from Davao also participated.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, the lively group of Ayatal youth–all in high spirits from celebrating their Christmas party in the village church earlier that same evening–were bundled up in winter clothing, some wearing Santa hats and holiday accessories. They all had the chance to introduce themselves to each other. Fr Martinson emphasised using song and dance in the programme, which is universally appealing and easy to translate, as English was not spoken by everyone. The presentations were as diverse as the performers: from indigenous Ayatal songs, to traditional Filipino kundiman (love song) accompanied by acoustic guitar, from original rock ballads with full band to classic Christmas carols–and of course, dancing–the spirit of sharing their talents and expressions of joy for the season were palpable.

JCIM has done over two decades of apostolic work with communities all over Asia Pacific– aside from the Philippines and Taiwan, also Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia–and continue to accompany the youth, with a focus on integral formation. As indigenous youth often have to struggle with things other young people take for granted and face obstacles like poverty, discrimination, and maintaining their indigenous identity, it is important to accompany and encourage them and provide opportunities for growth.

In Bukidnon, the Kapawa hu Paglaum College Scholarship and Formation Programme supports indigenous students as they strive for “selfgovernance and empowerment, and political, social, economic, and religious inclusion through accompaniment”.

In Chingchuan, while the youth all have the opportunity and resources to complete their education, they are also exposed to the arts through the artistic centres in the village, including the indigenously-designed primary school, a forest arts and crafts village, and the Catholic Church with its mosaics, murals, and stained glass. Thus equipped, they now have to find a way to “advance in society while sustaining and developing their own distinctive culture, to keep their faith in the face of a materialistic society, to preserve their characteristic warmth and hospitality with increasing tourism and opportunities to make money, to find meaning in life when so much has been given to them.” Today, Fr Martinson says, the Ayatal youth “are proud to be what they are. They have come a long way, and it has not been without struggle.”

The gifts from the JCIM online gathering were not in the form of material things. But the participants took home insights with far greater value. “The Christmas encounter made me believe that there is still a thriving fervour of love within the indigenous youth towards one’s tribe, one’s community,” shared Ereca, an agriculture student from the Manobo tribe. Needheart, a sociology major from Bukidnon State University, said: “Sharing with the indigenous youth across Asia Pacific is one of the most memorable moments for me. It reminded me of God’s love for us that is undeniably unending and big.”

If you would like to help the students through the Kapawa hu Paglaum College Scholarship and Formation Programme, please visit this link for more information.