A story in last Sunday's Philippine Daily Inquirer by Edson C. Tanod Jr begins with these words:
MANILA, Philippines—As a helicopter whirrs about in the sky above a school in a Mindoro town, pupils rush to the windows or dash out of the classroom to catch a glimpse of it.
The teacher, cut off in mid-lecture, yells angrily: “Don’t be stupid like the Mangyans! Go back to your seats!”
Anecdotes like this about the Mangyan, the indigenous people of Mindoro who inhabit the island’s forest interior, upset Catholic priest Fr. Ewald Dinter.
The Manila Bulletin also featured Fr Dinter SVD on 18 September. Rachel C. Barawid's article, Teacher of the Tribe, opens thus: "Two elderly Mangyans told me ‘you had been observed very closely, you never made any negative remark about our culture. Now we decide you may know everything.’ That was one of the best experiences in life, when they accepted me..."For 70-year-old Fr. Ewald Hauck Dinter, SVD, the mountains of Oriental Mindoro are more than a place to fulfill his mission. It is his home, and the Mangyan tribe his family.
Fr. Dinter or Amang, as the German priest is fondly called by the indigenous people, has been living among the Mangyans for 22 years now. Not surprisingly, he has fully embraced the Mangyan’s culture, learning their customs, traditions and adapting to their way of life. Just like a real Mangyan, he speaks Buhid, the Mangyan’s traditional language, plus seven other dialects. He has likewise mastered their ancient writing system.
Here is a postscript to the Bulletin story: (Fr. Ewald Dinter is one of the four teachers recognized for his exemplary accomplishments, selfless service and dedication to his profession by the Diwa Learning Systems and Bato Balani Foundation’s "Many Faces of the Teacher" advocacy campaign. They will be feted on Sept. 27 at the "Tribute to Teachers" at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.)
Stories like these about missionary priests are inspiring. I have a question about one sentence in the Inquirer article: The Mangyan Mission respects the original beliefs of the Mangyans and does not impose the Catholic faith on them, although a few have already voluntarily converted to the Catholic faith, he says.
The Church cannot impose the faith on anyone, since it is pure gift from God. But we have a responsibility as Church to preach the Gospel, that is, to present the Gospel in such a way that people can see who Jesus Christ is. But the gift of faith comes from God alone.
There has also been a tendency in the Church, among missionaries and others, in recent years, to be quiet about our Catholic faith, 'out of respect for others', to focus on 'doing good' to others and lauding what is good in the faith of others. There is a danger of giving the message that Jesus Christ, God who became Man, who died for us on the cross and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, doesn't really matter.
I'm not implying this in any way of Father Dinter. I can only marvel at what he is doing. But I am sometimes troubled by the attitude that 'one religion is as good as another', which is simply not true.
Mangyan Heritage Center