By Karen Lanipao

Laudato Si’ Animator, Philippines

Born in a place that is cradled and embraced by rolling mountains and hills, I grew up knowing that life and survival are rooted on the land. I came to know life as a daily encounter with family and community.

Life is the ordinary experience of seeing the vast greens, hearing the sounds of nature, touching the soil and being touched by it during planting and harvesting and in every bite of its life-giving fruits. This way of life shaped the values and principles that colored my perspective and understanding of reality.

Growing up, I questioned the use of the term pagans to label Indigenous Peoples like us because we give reverence to trees, rivers, mountains, cliffs, and forests.

I quietly endured discriminatory treatments from some classmates, teachers, and even some church people and learned to bear the apparent conflicts of my Catholic faith and my Indigenous identity in silence.

It is the culturality of my family that keeps me grounded, and in the face of occasional disapprovals from some relatives, we continue to carry on with our sacred rituals, beliefs, and traditional practices.

Moving to metro Manila for my college education was at first an exciting adventure, but it eventually became a very painful separation. It was not only because of the physical separation from my family, but also because I felt I left a huge part of me behind.

The soft grounds became concrete roads, the mountainous horizons changed to a concrete jungle of buildings, and fresh mountain breeze morphed into smoky and polluted air. It was quite a change for me.

I got sick several times during my first year in the city. I was homesick most of the time but I eventually got used to life in the city.

Watch Karen share her story during August’s Global Laudato Si’ Monthly Prayer Gathering

In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana swept across metro Manila and almost all of the city was submerged in water. Housed in the safety and comfort of a building in Makati City, I watched the extent of the catastrophe and found myself immensely affected.

The devastation made me realize where I am in the whole scenario. It was a turning point in my life that led me to eventually leave my corporate job and go back to simple living.

In 2011, I attended a lecture by Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu about “Reading the Signs of the Times on Science and Religion.” It was then that I finally found the connection of my Christian faith and my Indigenous beliefs. The dawning of a dream began to emerge.

I yearned for some changes in our Catechism, in the way we perform our worship, and most importantly, in the way we live as Christians and followers of the historical Christ who loved to climb mountains for his early morning prayers, and who used the paradox of creation in his teachings about the kingdom of God.

When Laudato Si’ was published in 2015, I was filled with hope that the dream I yearned for may come true in my lifetime.

The Kalinga Indigenous heritage of traditions, systems, and practices to which I was born into and nurtured with, found affirmation in Laudato Si’.

Reading the second chapter in particular was a profound experience as some of my Indigenous beliefs resonate with the articulation of the Gospel of Creation. Among the many statements that can be quoted, paragraph 85 is most akin to the core of our Indigenous affinity with the land and the natural world.

My ongoing journey of ecological conversion is both a road map and a destination in itself because every juncture is an opportunity for learning and encounters that help me move forward.

I am inspired by the devotion of simple people who quietly live out their faith by doing concrete ecological actions: a woman vendor who makes pillows from the cuttings of collected single-use plastics; a community that repurposes trash for planting containers and transforms piles of trash into vegetable gardens; the children from our neighborhood who play and sing with the moon and the stars at night; and my fellow Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines and in various places around the world who courageously continue to “defend, protect and till our ancestral lands” even to the point of getting criminalized, red-tagged, or unjustly killed.

As I move forth in this ecological conversion journey, I feel the need for two things: Friendship—moments of meaningful engagements and interactions with other Indigenous People, communities, and like-minded people dedicated to the Laudato Si’ mission—and moments with creation in its most immediate and unaltered form.

The above story is part of the August Laudato Si’ Encounter. The spiritual resource is produced monthly for Laudato Si’ Animators, Laudato Si’ Circles, and everyday Catholics to use and help them grow closer to our Creator. You can find the entire resource, as well as past editions, here.