Gilbert Lasway SJ
In the beginning of January, a group of Jesuit scholastics from Arrupe International Residence studying theology in Manila attended an immersion workshop at the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC) in Bendum, a small village tucked in the mountains of Bukidnon in northern Mindanao, Philippines. We went with a burning desire to embody the spirit of Laudato si’ and realise the Universal Apostolic Preferences. After all, if there was a place that embodied the spirit of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, it was APC.
The centre, through its different educational programmes, strives to guarantee the protection of our common home, and help resolve the effects of environmental degradation among the poor and the excluded of society. As an apostolate of the Philippine Jesuit Province, it participates in the life and mission of the Society of Jesus in promoting justice and reconciliation, especially with creation.
Located near the Pulangi river with its forest area, APC has a conducive learning environment, a very good scene for meditative prayer where one can let himself or herself be lost in the quietness and serenity of creation. APC Executive Director and Ecojesuit Coordinator Fr Pedro Walpole SJ invited us to do an examen of our lives by being grateful to God for the simplicity and the beauty of everything that was around us. Learning the geography and history of the place, we came to know that the area was formerly a logging site where big companies exploited mercilessly all the indigenous species of trees in the forest, consequently leaving the land bare. This led to an ecological imbalance affecting especially the water catchment areas. The indigenous people faced the threat of being displaced by foreigners who came to invest in yellow corn cultivation using nocive chemicals.
Most of the activities at APC are inspired by the fact that we, as Jesuits, cannot deny and remain indifferent to climate change and its negative effects, especially among the poor and marginalised. Its education programme aims at bringing together the indigenous Pulangiyen youth and instilling in them an awareness of their traditional values and dignity. They are also taught the importance of caring for the environment through different programmes, like tree planting and assisting in the natural regeneration of their forests. Furthermore, activities like organic farming for self-sustenance and bamboo cultivation and processing are taught to the youth as basic life skills to help in the fight against poverty. The youth accomplish their tasks with a lot of love and commitment. This, we think, is due to the fact that they are empowered, given the chance to express their desires and manifest their talents.
After a one-week stay at Balay Laudato si’, a simple wooden house where APC holds many of its workshops, most of us were inspired to take action and change lifestyles that are not eco-friendly. We felt a strong call to continue being protectors of God’s handiwork in the small daily gestures of our community life. For instance, we resolve to continue recycling the community’s kitchen waste to make compost for our small vegetable and flower gardens, decrease or completely eliminate our use of plastic, save water and electricity, and read scientific literature to deepen our knowledge of ecology and other related topics. It is an obligation for all of us to share with our brothers and sisters the beauty that is found in nature, for it is the place we encounter God and contemplate His marvels.
Gilbert Lasway SJ is a scholastic from Tanzania studying theology at the Loyola School of Theology in Manila. Before coming to the Philippines, he taught Bible Knowledge at Saint Peter Claver High School in Dodoma, Tanzania and he was the manager of the school farm.
This story was first published by the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific website.