“Doing theology in the margins.”

I encountered this phrase when I was studying Introductory Theological Formation (ITF) at St. Vincent School of Theology more than half decade ago. I learned to understand the importance of margins in doing my ministry. At this moment, I came to discover another phrase, “LEARNING THEOLOGY WITH THE MARGINS”. When I went for the Mission Project in ChiangMai, Thailand, I met a community who showed me how the margins were DOING THEOLOGY. These are the Karen people in ChiangMai. This is the group which Fr. Niphot has been working for 40 years. The new face of margins. They are migrants and considered as one of the minority ethnic groups in Thailand.

Karen people is one of the Myanmar tribes. Many had migrated to the north of Thailand about 100 years ago. They were considered as the 1st ethnic group who migrated to Thailand.

One of our activities during the Mission Project was to have a 2-day immersion in the Karen village. We were divided into groups and were placed into two villages (Nong Tao and Huey Tong). This experience brought many great wisdom from the people especially the elders of the village. I am pleased to share to some of these valuable wisdom.

Pati Pulu (village leader) was sharing Paschal mystery of the rice. The rice died three times (3x) to give us life. It was during planting, harvesting and eating the rice. This great connection of faith in their daily lives makes the Gospel alive even in the ordinary.

We experienced harvesting the rice with the villagers. We were surprised to see cross erected on the small pathways in the rice fields. Before the harvest, they would cut 7 stalks of rice for offering, tie around the cross and pray. I am amazed that religion can be easily marry in their tradition practices. They also shared that in any special rituals, occasions or ceremonies rice will be always present to offer.

This tribe know very well the importance of our neighbor (fellow human and nature) as mention by Pope Francis in opening address of Laudato Si. Pati Pulu had mentioned to us that every time we consume any produce of the earth we must also think on how to protect it. For instance, they had a ritual of apologizing to the water when they built up a pipe line. They believe that this action causing harm to the water because of its inability to flow freely as they enclosed it to the pipe. They believe in the spirit of the nature that it is not just mere object to consume.

Above were only the few among many treasures, we received from these people. For two days, much had been learned. This 2-day experience made me realized few things.

First, there are so much things to learn from the margins. Great theologians are not only seen in the schools of theology. They can be just in the mountain, on the street, or at home. And theology cannot be always taught in the four corner room or classroom. It can be also in the mountain, at home, in the market or anywhere which you can encounter people.

Second, it affirms my learning that as missionary, it is not always a scenario that we bring Christ to the people. Sometimes the people are the one introducing the different faces of Christ.

Third, as a missionary, it is our role to connect their experience to the Gospel. We can be a bridge to name or pin point or to make meaning of their experience. Our many years of studies about theology lies a great responsibility to be applied on the context of the people on the ground. This is what I saw in how Fr. Niphot walked with the people. Much listening is needed to let Gospel fully alive in the life of the people.

Lastly, there is a call to allow ourselves to walk in the frontiers and make our feet dirty. Be with the margins and learn APPLIED THEOLOGY from them.

Great thanks to the Theologians in the mountain. I have received much things to be shared.

 — feeling inspired.

By Aleona Natalio
November 20, 2017