The Encounter Between the Gospel and the Values of Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Challenges of the Future, 350-366

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Francisco Claver, S.J.

Francisco Claver, S.J. is the Apostolic Vicar of the vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe, Philippines. He holds an STB and an STL from Woodstock College, Maryland, U.S.A. and a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Colorado, U.S.A. A visiting professor at the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila, he is also Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Peoples and of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Sister Assunta was the first “native Sister” of her people, the Bontok of the Cordillera region of Northern Luzon. She was among the first to join a religious congregation of and for Indigenous Peoples founded by the first bishop of the Cordilleras, the most Rev. William Brasseur, CICM. Soon after her religious profession, she had the opportunity to do catechetical work among her own people. And one day she wrote me:

I sometimes wonder about what we are trying to do with our people. Yes, they are called pagans, but the way they practice the virtues of honesty, justice, fair dealing with one another, respect of poverty that is not theirs, helping others in need, etc. puts to shame many who pride themselves on being Christian.

Later I heard a similar sentiment expressed by an Asian bishop looking critically at Filipino Catholicism and asking whether his own people on the mainland of Asia should at all become Catholic like us Filipinos, Christian but corrupt!

 I don’t know how Sister Assunta later resolved her problem—or the critical bishop for that matter—but I cite their difficulty to highlight one little point that lies at the base of the subject we are considering, and it is this: When we speak of the encounter of the Gospel and the values of Indigenous Peoples, we will have to keep in mind that it is people who encounter each other—people who profess Christianity and people to whom we now give the appellation IPs (as henceforth I shall refer to Indigenous Peoples). Peoples are the bearers of the faith of the Gospel as people too are the bearers of the values of their particular cultures. I say it is a “little point,” but one that we should keep in mind when we look at the modern problematic of inculturation—for that is, I’m afraid what we will be talking about when we speak of the encounter between the Gospel and the values of IPs.

Let me, without any other preamble then, go into our subject: the encounter between the Gospel and the values of Indigenous Peoples. And I ask: What Gospel? The Gospel as it was in the mind of Christ or the Gospel as it has been and is being lived and understood and preached by the flesh and blood of the people of the moment? And values? Values in the ideal order of culture or values as they are lived concretely by people of a given culture in the here-and-now?

These are by no means idle or esoteric questions. There is a vast difference between values in the ideal order and values as they are in the actual world. But let me leave them for the moment and go to another question.

Indigenous People—the Vogue Today

The question I have in mind is simply put: Why is there today great interest in IPs ( Indigenous People) the world over?

One reason, I would guess, is the growing concern for human rights, justice, equality, freedom, development, etc. such values as underlie and support the rise of democratic institutions and nations the world over since the end of the Second World War. In this modern development, IPs, no matter their name or numbers, are the most neglected, oppressed, vulnerable or people wherever they are found—politically, economically, socially, every other way. Everywhere, they are looked down upon, treated as backward, unenlightened, second class and unassimilated citizens—the ad-jectives are plentiful and uniformly pejorative—by whatever people are dominant in any given society solely because IPs are different, and different because of their quite stubborn adherence to their culture and its traditions, its values, its mind-sets (because they know nothing else?). They are the “underdogs” everywhere, and the unequal treatment given them in the past is now causing concern to governments and other sectors of society.

In many cases, that concern has been created by IPs themselves who have learned to be vocal about their unequal standing before the law and society at large and have begun to fight back, to claim their rights, to assert them, abetted by other non-IPs who are bothered by their bad situations.

But there are other factors and we can only mention them in passing. In the ecological disasters that have been brought about by “progress,” all of a sudden there is greater awareness and appreciation of the way IPs as a whole have husbanded their environments and lived lives which protect rather than destroy the ecological well-being of their surroundings. Their “native medicines”—a substantial part of them, at least—are now being discovered to be not the superstitious mumbo-jumbo that they were dismissed to be in the not too recent past but to have real curative powers drawn from experience and tested IPK or “indigenous peoples’ knowledge,” knowledge gained over countless generations of living close to and in harmony with nature.

There is one other factor which doesn’t seem to get much attention but which, I believe, is of crucial importance to IPs themselves. I refer here to a disease which has its roots deep in modern living but which I’m afraid is not fully understood nor even looked at as a disease, and that is the fast pace of change. If fundamentalist movements are springing up everywhere, not only in religious but also in the secular milieu as well, I think this points to a hankering for greater stability and anchoring in human relations and interaction, for a return to less unsettled and more certain life environments. It is a state of things which has come about because of the too rapid pace of change which works havoc on traditional ways of living and social relations. (Sociologists would describe the situation as one in which new social structures outrun the development of new cultural values that should support those structures or social relationships.) If the disease afflicts modernized societies, it affects even more IP societies that find themselves caught in the maelstrom of change which they do not fully understand.

In the Church, I suppose we can say the interest in IPs has always been there in its concern for the conversion of non-Christians to the faith of Christ, especially from the 16th century onwards. The discovery of the “New World” was the beginning of the Church’s missionary thrust not only to the Americans but to Africa and Asia as well. And lately too, we are being reminded again and again of the Church’s mission ad gentes, the strongest reminder for us in Asia coming from the Asian Bishop’s Synod in 1998. And since the early ‘70s in the wake of Vatican II, the inculturation problematic has risen to the surface not only in so-called “mission countries” but in the Church at large.

As I mentioned in passing above, our subject is at base the question of inculturation. The reason is most simple: The inculturative process involves faith and culture. At its innermost core, faith means accepting as one’s own such values of the Gospel that Christ expects his followers to embody in their lives. Culture, on the other hand, also concerns, at its deepest level, such values as together define a people’s identity and ethos. So, when we talk of inculturation, we have to talk of the values of the Gospel and those of culture, how a people work to consciously put their faith and culture into an integral whole under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Let me insult your intelligence a bit by spending a little more time on these two poles of the inculturative process, culture and faith, not from the viewpoint of theologians, which you are all aware of, but from an anthropological-sociological perspective which really amounts to nothing more than common sense.


The documents of Vatican II (also of the papal Commission on Culture) are not too clear, I’m afraid, on what they mean by culture when they speak of it. When you hear the term “the evangelzation of culture” what do you understand by it? Culture as the literati among people of the West understand it, i.e., music, art, dance, literature, and the like? Of culture as social scientists define it, i.e. the complex of customs and habits, knowledge and traditions, values and attitudes that are peculiar to a people? In our discussion I’d like to use the term in the latter understanding, in its anthropological, sociological sense. (The confusion I mentioned earlier in some of our Church documents is in the non-distinction of the two meanings I’ve just cited.)

Among social scientists, the most general definition—yet the most accurate, to my mind—is the defining of culture as the way of life of a people. This way of life is a social fact, a product of human interaction, an historical invention of a people—a community, a society of men and women who own the culture.

Taking culture as the way of life of people, we see other facts flowing from this understanding: It is a way of using material things, of behaving, speaking, feeling, thinking, believing, meaning, valuing, symboling. A word about each of these items:

(1)               A way of using material things: The first thing most noticeable about the culture of a people is its materiality: the way their houses are built, the dress they wear, the food they eat, the tools they use, etc. Certainly this was true before we all started dressing alike, eating alike, looking alike in the globalized leveling of all aspects of life that is characteristic of our age. The material artifacts of culture—these are what are most commonly displayed in museums and which can tell us a lot of things about the way a people live or used to live.

(2)               A way of behaving: A noticeable thing too is the way a people act in their day-to-day relations with their fellows. In meeting acquaintances, for instance, do they shake hands, do “high fives,” rub noses or belly buttons, simply raise their eyebrows in greetings, etc.? Precisely because there are set ways of responding to social stimuli, it is possible to operate in a culture one knows well without committing too many social faux pas.

(3)               A way of speaking: Speaking will include not only words, voice intonation, phonetics, sounds, all that we commonly understand by a spoken language, but also gestures, signs, non-vocal ways of manifesting intent and meanings—as when we in the Philippines, for instance, point to things, not with our fingers but with our lips! In fact, culture is a mode of communication, a language in itself, and words get meanings from the culture in which they are used.

(4)               A way of feeling: If people react differently to a given event or act, are affected differently, show different emotions or degrees of emotions to the same phenomenon, the differ-ence would be in the way a culture has conditioned them to respond affectively to events or acts. Thus, when unwary foreigners find themselves in a culture that puts a high premium on harmonious relations, they could easily conclude all its adherents are habitual liars when, to avoid offending people with the truth, they say yes when they should say no!

(5)               A way of thinking: All people think, but their thought processes are not the same. Again, it is culture, the way people are brought up and taught to think in their culture that makes the difference. Thus in the example just given, telling the truth is not thought of as more important than not losing face.

(6)               A way of believing: The beliefs of a people (oftentimes considered irrational by outsiders) hide a whole history of development which, to be understood and appreciated, needs unearthing to bring out their “rationality.” But their rationality understood or not, they affect the thinking and behavior of people. People brought up believing in ghosts, for instance, will behave differently from people who don’t. I’m sure the former will be afraid to take a walk in a cemetery at night, the latter will not (or at least will not own up easily to being scared!)

(7)               A way of meaning: Peculiar ways of feeling, thinking, believing—these ultimately are based on meanings. This little fact is especially crucial for liturgists who want to incorporate into the Church’s prayer rites and acts from the cultural and religious traditions of people. And the question to be asked in all such innovative changes: When an old rite or item is ‘baptized” and used in Christian worship, does it still carry the old meaning in the minds of people? And if it does? … Simply put, new Christian meanings must adhere in those old rites being assimilated—it’s not something that will happen overnight merely because some bishop decrees its acceptance.

(8)               A way of valuing: At the deepest level of any culture, I would think, are the values a people of the given culture hold and maintain as their own we will take values here to mean what a people define as good, as something to aspire for.  These values are what define a people as distinct from others and give them identity. All cultural values are human values and are found in one form or another in all cultures, but the way a people put more importance and stress on some rather than others, and the way they organize them into some coherence (an ethos, a world-view, a code of conduct) differ from one culture to another.

(9)               A way of symbolizing: All the above can be summarized neatly into culture as a way of symbolizing. A symbol is an external sign which points to internal facts—a neat way of expressing the truth that there are external aspects (ways of feeling, thinking, believing, meaning, valuing), the two aspects being closely intertwined with each other.

Cultural Values

In this discussion, we are zeroing in on the values of Indigenous Peoples and I would like to use values here as summative of all that we are discussing about IP cultures. For, as I said above, I believe the values part of culture is its deepest and most significant aspect for the simple reason that values define a people’s identity. So let’s take a closer look at those values. But what are they?

The questions cannot be answered without doing some kind of cultural analysis. The problem is that such an analysis cannot be done except for particular cultures. Still, there are certain values that I believe are more or less common to most IP cultures, and it will be worth our while looking at them.

And these values? In most IP cultures anthropologists have studied family—the extended family or clan—is always a, if not the, key value. From it flows other related values as respect for age, authority vested in elders and parents, parental love and concern for children; obedience, respect, reverence and gratitude to parents on the part of children; from these in turn follow solidarity, the paramount good of the family, care for its prestige and honor; other ancillary values, likewise related to the prime one of family, are: the welfare of the community to which the family belongs, good relations with non-family members, harmony, congruence with nature, etc.

The adverse effect of the strong value put on family is a weak sense of the common good of the wider community beyond the tribal one. And here let me note that so far we have been talking of values as good. But a little thought will tell us that good as they are, they can be vitiated by too excessive or too little a stress on them, turning them in reality into disvalues. Or something objectively bad can still be defined as good, as something to attain or aspire for, hence value.

The enumeration of IP values we’ve just gone through is by no means complete. There are other values, of course, and perhaps even more weighty than the ones mentioned here. Also, in many an IP community, cultural values of the dominant groups may have become part of the people’s ethos—or, probably as is more often the case, are entering through cultural contrast, especially among the youth. Values that are considered “Western” are also impinging on native cultures everywhere, courtesy of modern mass media. Hence, values like those of the good of the individual (as opposed to that of the family), the achievement of one’s standing in society through personal effort and industry and not through status of family alone, democracy and civic participation, equality and the like—all of these are coming into conflict with traditional ones or exist side by side with them in an un-integrated, un-assimilated fashion, causing all manner of social problems.

An historical footnote: Back in the mid-‘70s, all over the south and south-east Asia, the manner of analyzing society taught by Canon Houtart of Louvain spread like wild fire and his “structural analysis” became gospel for many Church social action agencies and workers. Early on in the Philippines—and I know in other countries too—there developed some uneasiness with his mode of social analysis among many of those who were first attracted by it. Its Marxist orientation was problematic enough. But worse was its purely structural nature, meaning, its zeroing in on structures of society (social relationships among people) and putting all its reforming thrust on changing “sinful structures.” Its main message seemed to be: You change the structures of society, you change the whole society in its simplicity, it was a magnetic come-on to would-be revolutionaries but a most pernicious and dangerous fallacy nonetheless. Its flaw was in its ignoring of a little matter: Under-girding social structures has a cultural value for a people. Changing those structures, thereby introducing a new social order but keeping untouched the values of the old order would be counter-productive as far as authentic change is concerned. Social structures and cultural values are supportive of each other, are intimately intertwined. If one must change, so must the other (even though there is a big differential between the two in the time needed for each other to change). By the same token, it should be said, if one in his effort at reforming society starts with values change, he/she cannot afford to lose sight of the impact of the new values on other aspects of social living and inter-relationships.

Let me cite another historical footnote arising from the one just mentioned: All that concern with the close inter-relatedness of social structures and cultural values is something that will arise inevitably wherever Christians will take seriously what Vatican II says about the Church’s task of social transformation—that is, the Church’s efforts at helping make human life and societies more just, more humane, more loving, at injecting into them the values of the Kingdom (even among people that do not adhere to institutional Christianity). If culture analysis is necessary for one who would reform society and people, so too is “faith analysis” for such Christians as are serious about transforming society according to Gospel imperatives. Actually such an analysis is easier to do in that we know what those values of the Kingdom are—we learned them in catechism lessons. Culture analysis, on the other hand, is something new: People take culture for granted, they know it because they can’t operate without it. But reflexive knowledge of culture is something people are not taught to do as a matter of course.

Faith Values—the Values of the Kingdom

Since we are concerned here with the encounter between the Gospel and the values of IPs, I can’t see that encounter except in terms of values: the values of the Kingdom coming face-to-face, as it were, with the values of Indigenous Peoples. If that is so, we will have to do an analysis too of the values of the Gospel as we have done in the cultural values of IPs.

Let me start by saying that the need for what I call here “faith analysis” was something I learned from unlettered farmers in Bukidnon, my first diocese in Mindanao, Philippines back in the ‘70s, when they were confronted during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos with a question they were asking of themselves:

How do we as committed Christians face up to the many evils the regime is causing us? Those evils have to be done away with, but we can’t do this unless we put an end to the dictatorship itself—or at least make it more respectful of human and civil rights. But how? The Marxists are saying there is no other way except through revolutionary violence. Should we join them in what they claim is a last-resort solution?

Those questions led them—and us—to a closer examination of the values we hold as followers of Christ just as they had done with the cultural values they lived by as Filipinos. What I present now is the analysis of faith values they saw should guide them in their efforts at changing sinful structures.

They started out by concluding that the three fundamental virtues of faith, hope and charity are the key values of Christianity. And Christianity itself is in a very true sense a world view, a way of thinking, valuing, looking at things from the perspective of God. (“My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.”) Accepting faith, hope and charity as the focal values of Christianity, they went on to consider what other values flow from them.

(1)    From faith, they saw, spring such values as truth, obedience to God’s commandments, respect for God’s law therefore, trust, fidelity, etc. They summarized all this in the value we put on all that Christ taught in his Gospel.

(2)    Then they reflected on how Christ summed up his Gospel in charity, the second key value. Christ said to love and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. They noted how we do not have much difficulty with love of God and love of self. The problem is with love of neighbor. Looking at Christ’s teaching about love of neighbor, they made these points: Love of neighbor demands, first of all, that we be men and women for others like Christ who, as the Nicene Creed, puts it: “Propter nos et propter nostram salutem, descendit de caelis.” (Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven). This “for-otherness,” however, requires that we give of ourselves to others. Hence we must be men and women of service. In this giving of self for service to others, there are things we have to give, whether we like it or not, like justice: giving to others what is their due. This means, then, that we have to be men and women of justice. By justice is not an end in itself. If it were, it would be no different from seeking revenge for wrongs done us—this they knew only too well from experience. Christian justice must be geared towards bringing the shalom of Christ. Hence we must be men and women of peace, allow for reconciliation and forgiveness in our work for justice. But again, from experience, we can work for peace (for justice too) and beat our heads against a wall futilely, be unsuccessful in our efforts.  We must hence be men and women of the cross, allow for pain, suffering, failure in our practice of the Gospel. But we don’t end there. Living the full Paschal Mystery, we have to be men and women of the resurrection—light and joy have a place in our Christianity

(3)    Only then can we claim the third key value of hope—we are people of hope. (The values mentioned here are certainly not comprehensive. But further analysis will bring out others from the simple fact that values are inter-related.)

I don’t know what you think of that analysis of the values of the Gospel I’ve just gone through. Too simple, even simplistic? It may seem so. But I ask you to read what Pope John Paul II writes in his commemoration of Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio.  I refer here to his exhortationSollicitudo Rei Socialis and what he writes there about the Christian virtue (value) of solidarity. Take a look especially at nos. 39 and 40 of that exhortation where he discusses solidarity as charity. What he says there in reasoned theological language parallels closely what the farmers say in more simple, day-to-day language.

The Encounter: Inculturation

After looking at the elements of Gospel and Culture values, where is the encounter? A straightforward and simple question, but I’m afraid answering it will not be as simple.

So first, a few animadversions on the faith and culture values we have been discussing. And the first thing we have to do is to distinguish values in their ideal state and values as they are concretely practised. (Earlier I did ask the question about what Gospel we should talk about—as Christ taught it or as Christians practice it; and about culture, as ideal or as actual.) Doing so we get this paradigm:             


From the above, we see that the encounter between Gospel values and culture values can occur in four ways: (1) ideal faith and ideal culture; (2) actual faith and actual culture; (3) ideal faith and actual culture; and (4) actual faith and ideal culture. Of these four possi-bilities, I think the second and the third are more apropos to our concern here. Let me illustrate this by looking at the process of inculturation.

I’d like to take the classic case of first evangelization when a non-believer first comes in contact with a believer and the latter attempts to bring the former to accept the faith of Christ. We distinguish two phases in the process of conversion to the faith of Christ—for that is what inculturation ultimately is?

The first phase: 

P          [p] →  F   ← [h]          H

 In the above diagram, P stands for the preacher of the Gospel; F for the faith he preaches and wishes to be accepted; H is the hearer of the Gospel, the prospective convert. [p] represents the culture of P, [h] the culture of H.

The diagram purports to visually show a number of things. (1) the faith (F) that P preaches cannot be expressed except in its incultured state, i.e., if he/she is an American, he/she cannot preach the faith as an American—and indeed as he/she ex-perienced it in his/her culture. His/her culture acts as a screen, a sieve, through which the message of F in its ideal form is filtered. (2) F then is, in our paradigm’s language, actual faith, not the ideal faith of the Gospel— though, yes, P tries to approximate its ideal form as closely as he/she can, in fact believes he/she is transmitting it. (3) H hears P talking about F, but as P cannot talk of F except through his/her culture, so likewise H cannot receive it (F) except through the screen of his/her culture. What this means in the concrete is that the first phase of the inculturative process is basically a dialogue of cultures (different ways of thinking and understanding) about F in its already inculturated state (inculturated, that is, in the culture of P).

The second phase:


H          [h] →       F       ←  HS


In this second diagram, H, [h] and F are as in the first phase. HS stands for the Holy Spirit. We note a few things about this second phase: (1) It starts when H receives the gift of faith (F), becoming a Christian, accepting and internalizing the values of the Kingdom as his/her own. P fades out of the picture, or at least is no longer H’s main partner-in-dialogue. If he/she fulfills as function at all at this stage of the inculturative process, it is to abet the new dialogue that takes place. (2) This new dialogue brings in a different dialogue partner in the person of the Holy Spirit, the giver of F. (3) Here the object of dialogue between H and HS is not the inculturated faith of P but that of H. (4) Initially inculturated into  his/her (H’s) culture, his/her faith becomes more authentically faith and more intensely inculturated in the salvific dialogue with HS, the giver and confirmer of F.

This second phase is the real moment of inculturation. We can rightly conclude then that inculturation is nothing more, nothing less, than the continuing dialogue of faith and about faith between the Holy Spirit and those to whom the Spirit gives gratuitously the priceless gift of faith. And we can also conclude, on another plane and in terms of the distinction made earlier about ideal and actual Gospel values and cultural values, that the dialogue at this second phase concerns the actual cultural values as a people hold and practice them and the ideal values of the Gospel as the Spirit would have them. This is simply another way of stating what should be obvious: Actual cultures have always something sinful about them in their less than ideal state and part of the process of inculturation then is a purification of cultural values to make them approach more closely the ideal values of the Gospel. (Inculturation is an evangelization process; it is a conversion process.

A footnote to what we have been saying about inculturation: Three or four years ago, the FABC office printed a talk on inculturation given by Cardinal Ratzinger in Hong Kong. In it, he declared that we shouldn’t speak of inculturation when we talk of the encounter between faith and culture; we should rather talk of “interculturality.” He is right—but only if we remain at the first phase of the inculturative process as I have described it above. There, we noted, when the preacher (P) tries to convince his/her prospective convert (H) to become Christian, he/she can only preach the faith in its inculturated form, a faith that is that has already been inculturated in his culture. And in this first phase, H in turn cannot help using his/her own cultural categories in trying to understand what P is saying. What all this means is that the first phase of inculturation is a dialogue of cultures, the culture of P and the culture of H, and the dialogue is about F, the inculturated faith of P. And the term “interculturality” can be used to describe it. But it’s only the first phase, preparatory to the second phase which I have said is where inculturation proper is effected.

I wouldn’t hence agree that the term interculturality exhausts all that can be said about inculturation, nor that it be substituted for it. In fact, I believe, it would only continue and exacerbate a mistake we have been trying to correct in our pastoral work since Vatican II, to wit, the Church’s preaching of an already inculturated faith (Romanized, Westernized?) and making it (during the half-millennium before the Council at least) the only form of faith that new Christians everywhere could practice. In other words, I am saying we remained too long in the first phase of the inculturative process, giving rise to many problems that we are only now experiencing as problems. It took Vatican II to move us more consciously into the second phase, to allow people everywhere to inculturate the faith in their own native cultures. I trust that is where most of us are now. And that is why we can talk here of the encounter that must take place between the Gospel and the values of Indigenous Peoples.

IPs and the Gospel

In this last part of our discussion, I’d like to zero in more specifically on Indigenous Peoples and their values—although, I submit, what we have been saying in general above about culture and faith-inculturation applies to them as well as to all other peoples.

Let me start by citing a phenomenon about IPs that seems to be common, not only in Asia but in many parts of the world as well. And it is this: IPs, of all people and through all ages up till now, seem to have been the most open to the Gospel. Today, Black Africa is where the Catholic Church is making most progress as far as convert-making is concerned—and the myriad tribes there, I would think, all fall under the category we now use for IPs. In Asia too, today, it is again tribal peoples that are relatively more receptive to the Gospel (certainly in India, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, other Asian nations), not people of the so-called “Great Traditions.”

The fact makes me wonder: IPs are the people of the “Little Traditions,” the poor ones, the neglected ones, yes, the despised ones everywhere. Is it possible that the phenomenon I’m referring to, has something to do with the predilection Christ has for the poor ones of this earth; and our own living of that predilection is our part in signaling to the world that the Kingdom of God is upon us? “Go, tell John: the Gospel is preached to the poor”(Lk 7:22)— Christ had said to John’s disciples.

Apropos of what I have just said about the openness of IPs to the Gospel: If the Philippines has been the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia (the claim is no longer true now that East Timor has become an independent nation), it is because, when Christianity was first preached there in the 16th century, the various people of the islands then were what we categorize today as IPs. No other reason seems to me able to explain adequately the country’s early evangelization.

If we inquire into what could be the reason for the openness of IPs to the Gospel, I for one would think it can be found in their closeness to the world of the spirit. There was a time that the religion of IPs was called “animism,” or in some instances, “animatism,” both strongly anchored on belief in the existence and power of spirits—spirits of the dead, of ancestors, of multiple deities, other spiritual beings, either benevolent or malevolent.

This is as far as IP religions go. If one looks at their cultural values, and indeed at their idealvalues and codes of ideal conduct, and puts them side by side with Gospel values in their ideal form (the first possibility in the paradigm we gave earlier but something we didn’t do when we analyzed the possible encounters between Gospel and cultural values), one finds an almost perfect congruence. IP values and ethical codes approach closely to—if they are not identical with—the Decalogue and the values it advances. And not without reason: Cultural values are, when all is said and done, human values, and the authentically human is deeply imbedded in the divine. As I have often said in this paper, anima human naturaliter christiana (The human soul is naturally Christian) so, if talk of finding the semina Verbi in other religions and cultures, I believe we will find them much more easily in IP religious and cultural traditions—IPs after all live closer to nature than most people. And that is the reason we now refer to their religion as “cosmic”? (That religious Sister I quoted in the very beginning of this paper, I think, had a deeper insight into those traditions than appears from her simply wondering about her catechizing mission among IPs).


Earlier I equated inculturation with evangelization, evange-lization with conversion. But I would strongly suggest that we take the last, conversion, to mean not just bringing people into the institutional Church, but, more crucially, of making Gospel values enter into, become part of, cultures and societies whether people become Christian or not. We speak hence of conversion in the pristine sense of metanoia, change in the innermost being of people, of individuals and whole societies, such a change as we see when Gospel values encounter the values of IPs and the values of the Kingdom by the mere fact of encounter help make the cultural values of IPs more authentically human, thus more authentically divine.

I can only propose that we make this encounter happen within the context of the Church of the Poor: our being for and with the poor as Christ himself was in order to become an authentic Church of the Poor. In this context, the challenge for us is for real concern for IPs, for their uplifting, for their defense, but above all for the beginning of their pride, the asserting by themselves of their dignity simply as human beings. This will be the witness we must give to our own acceptance of the values of Christ. This will be our witness too to IPs and to the world of what it means for us to be people of the Gospel. Need we say that this by itself is a thoroughly evangelical work?