The Common Good
July-August 1995

Empowering Faith

by Doug Cunningham | July-August 1995

An interview with Karl Gaspar.

Doug Cunningham: What is the role or vocation of the Redemptorist Mission Team in Mindanao, and particularly here in Mahayag?

Karl Gaspar: Our role is to support local church efforts to organize Basic Ecclesial Communities that respond to all aspects of people's lives. Where there are issues that impact people's lives, we respond. Here in Mahayag the government is building a hydroelectric dam without local input.

Such a vision of development, which relies on initiation from the top with little consideration of people's input, is harmful. It copies an industrialization scheme that is being critiqued as non-sustainable because it destroys the ecology and marginalizes people who are on the periphery. It duplicates a Western model of industrialization that relies on

loans, so it will add to our [national] debt. It delays further implementation of land reform. Resources go to infrastructure and not toward meeting the concrete needs of people, such as health, education, and the like.

Cunningham: What are the concrete steps that would propel Mindanao and the Philippines toward a kind of development that would really improve people's standard of living?

Gaspar: First of all, there should be a push for implementation of existing land reform laws. Second, we need to improve farm-to-market roads, provisions for credit, people's earning capacity, alternatives for agricultural productivity that maintain soil fertility, and the health care delivery system, and to get the people to be active participants-not just objects of assistance.

Instead of dams and big technology projects from the West, we should explore intermediary technology that works, respects the ecology, is within the capacity of people to run and operate, and responds to their basic needs-like small farm machinery, water-powered rice mills, things that make life more comfortable and convenient.

Cunningham: Do you have cause for hope in your work here?

Gaspar: The long experience of human rights advocacy work here means grassroots people won't be silenced. They have a long tradition of resistance to government policies that violate their civil liberties and an awareness that they can't rely on others.

Essential is the presence of a progressive church led by young progressive priests, who have really challenged people to act through the network of Basic Ecclesial Communities. This has been a persistent reality over the last six to seven years, and has helped the people move beyond subservience to the point where they really discuss problems and find solutions.

Concretely, a lot of work has been done in promoting community-based health programs and alternatives in agricultural production that are environment-friendly.

Cunningham: What do you find important about being part of a religious community like the Redemptorist Mission Team in terms of sustaining your work and sustaining you personally?

Gaspar: A number of us have had experience working in the broad progressive movement, in progressive institutions. While this involvement in political work is very empowering, there comes a time in one's life when it is no longer enough. Many of us have always considered our faith an important part of our commitment. We thought we could de-emphasize it in favor of the human rights advocacy, the political work. But as the years progress, many of us see our faith as a source of empowerment-especially since many people have burned out.

We can't maintain a very militant involvement in the struggle if we are wanting in sources of empowerment. We need something to serve as the center so we maintain our balance and commitment when the struggle seems to run into problems.

Social transformation has to take into consideration all aspects of life-not just economics and politics, but also the cultural matrix and the religious framework from which people find meaning. n Church

DOUG CUNNINGHAM is a United Methodist minister who was assigned to the Philippines through the UMC General Board of Global Ministries. He is now pastor of Rodgers Forge United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

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