Philippine priest turns the poor of parish into tech-savvy e-traders
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Divine Word Father Benigno Beltran talks about bandwidth, e-trading and income streams with the ease of a Silicon Valley technophile, yet the ever-present smell of burning garbage betrays his surroundings.
POOR CHILD NOT TECH SAVVY -- Children who live beside Smokey Mountain, a giant garbage dump in Manila, Philippines, learn how to use computers in this July photo. The program is sponsored by the Catholic Parish of the Risen Christ. The pastor of the parish is seeking to use the Internet to help alleviate poverty. (CNS photo)
Father Beltran is pastor of Manila's Parish of the Risen Christ, a congregation of scavengers who live alongside Smokey Mountain, the Philippine capital's legendary -- and ever smoldering -- garbage dump. Father Beltran, who has lived among his parishioners for 27 years, knows their desperate marginalization, so he is aggressively pushing a high-tech solution to their poverty.
"Globalization is only antagonistic to those who aren't prepared for it," said Father Beltran, who was born on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. "If the poor are unprepared, if they're still linked to the industrial age when we're living in the cybernetic age, then globalization won't benefit them. So it's the responsibility of the church and civil society to ready the poor. We shouldn't hold back the march of history. Our faith tells us to move from the garden to the heavenly city."
Smokey Mountain seems far from the heavenly city. Although it has been officially closed and replaced by a nearby dump, the massive mountain of garbage still smolders day and night as it towers over surrounding neighborhoods. People who live near the mountain can often be recognized throughout Manila by the aroma of burning garbage they carry with them.
Father Beltran is building a new church in the shadow of the mountain, and it will showcase his commitment to a model of environmental stewardship that contrasts starkly with the dump.
"The church will have solar panels, a rain catchment system, waterless composting toilets, and we'll build it from blocks of recycled residual waste. The design uses special vents that take advantage of wind movement so we won't have to air condition the whole thing, and if we need electricity we'll use coconut diesel to run the generators," Father Beltran told Catholic News Service.
The church building will also house a variety of high-tech enterprises that currently operate out of much humbler quarters next door.
With support from a government university, Father Beltran is training hundreds of poor youths in computer skills. He has obtained computers from the Taiwanese government, won a contract in computer coding from Hong Kong, begun work with a German corporation to begin mining the old dump for heavy metals, sponsored the startup of a composting and recycling business, and worked with women in the dump to manufacture organic health soap.
Father Beltran has proposed an "e-governance" project to rein in political corruption in the Philippines and launched a church-supported program to train Muslim youths in Arabic computer programming for Middle Eastern clients.
Father Beltran prefers to call his budding environment "Silicon Mountain." He has received the blessings of archdiocesan church officials and is putting the finishing touches on a new e-trading network that will link his and seven other parishes with farm cooperatives, allowing poor people in the city to work with those in the countryside.
"It's like eBay, but for members only, a sort of closed loop," he said. "It's our way of telling the people that God loves them. If you tell them that God loves them and their stomachs are empty, then they'll turn away from you.
"If you can't mobilize the poor, you're all done as a church," Father Beltran added. "So we're doing asset-based community development, where you start with what people have rather than what they need."
Father Beltran has received financial support from the Philippine bishops' conference. The Archdiocese of Manila directed its parishes to recycle its waste through Father Beltran's operation.
He said Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales warned them about the dangers of cutting off middle men from the trade project.
"The archbishop has warned us that our lives will be in danger once this takes off, because the merchants and middle men will be out of the loop, and because we'll provide capital to farmers so they don't have to borrow from the Chinese oppressors," Father Beltran said.
"We're talking about thousands of families buying thousands of pesos of basic commodities, the poor helping the poor and the parishes benefiting. Even if your baptisms and marriages are free, you'll be able to run the parish in the black," he said. "We'll liberate the parishes for enterprise development and job creation. And we'll tell people that if they don't buy our organic health soap it will be 10 more years in purgatory for them. That's what the priests should be saying. They're good for more than praying the rosary. They can be very good sales agents who use the social networks they have."
Father Beltran said Asians have improved the Latin American model of the liberation theology movement. He said Latin Americans jumped right to politics and did not focus on economics.
They also used "Marxist jargon even though there's Catholic jargon that means the same thing and doesn't antagonize the powers," said Father Beltran, who received a doctorate in systematic theology from Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University and taught at a Philippine seminary before becoming pastor of the dump parish.
He said the cause of the poor will best be advanced by embracing globalization, not rejecting it as many social activists believe. In a globalized world, the poor have a comparative advantage, Father Beltran said.
"A guy in El Cerrito, Calif., will have the same opportunity to get into the Internet as someone in Smokey Mountain, but the guy here has a burning desire to use the Internet to progress because we literally have nothing, because we're hungry," he said.
Father Beltran said the residents of Smokey Mountain should not be confused with that biblical character who found himself living in a garbage dump.
"I don't like Job. I prefer the Resurrection story, which also took place in a garbage dump. The Resurrection is a better story than Job, which is just about resignation. We don't need Job around here. We need resurrection," Father Beltran said.
Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Asia Pacific News
- Chinese hackers gained valuable information in Google breech years ago
- Savage and Deadly, Cyclone Mahasen batters Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, moves into India
- Indian families go to drastic measures to protect daughters from rape
- Organ Trafficking: Indian family says their young daughter was killed for organ harvesting
- NK's Kim Jong-Un appoints THIRD army chief in less than two years
- Astonishing miracle in the heinous Bangladesh building collapse: 'God is so merciful!'
- Children as young as five years old forced to work in India's coal mines
- China deals major financial blow to Kim Jong Un
- Five killed in sharp, violent volcanic eruption in the Philippines
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?