March 27, 2023

Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1 Then he taught the “Our Father.”
The Our Father is the greatest and best prayer of all times. It is a prayer taught by no less than the Son of God and a prayer that set the structure of communicating with God.
One of the best Christian heritages we enjoy today is the practice of praying, a spiritual practice that constantly reminds us of our transitoriness here on Earth the life after.
Even before Christianity with her structured way of praying, the indigenous peoples, especially in Mountain Province, have their way of worshiping and praying.
Based on my “dap-ay” and “ato” experiences with the elders and other “umato” people, I learned and validated that old religious and spiritual practices have been molding the way of life and way of thinking of the people, especially in their social relationship and not to exclude the relationship with the unseen.
Cultural values, norms, and spirituality are founded on higher being, the unseen whom we call “Intutungcho,” “Adi Kaila,” “Umu-uschong,” and “Kabunyan.”
Respect was strongly emphasized in the culture, which was often heard in the prayers of the “umato.”
In the early 1900’s, the Episcopalian Missionaries from U.S.A. and the CICM and ICM Missionaries of Belgium found themselves in the hinterlands for evangelization. The Episcopalians successfully established their mission in the western part of the province, making Sagada as the bastion of Episcopalians all over the country. Bontoc was also the center for the Roman Catholic Church missionary works.
The Belgian missionaries were wise to have immersed themselves among the elders of the “ato” and the docile women at the “ulog” for instructions. They were taught first and foremost how to pray the Christian way. Basic prayers were taught through memorizing. Basic prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed, Act of Contrition, Holy Rosary, and the Holy Mass were taught even in Latin.
It has to be noted well that before the Christianization in Bontoc, there was already the existing cultural structure of praying and acknowledging the Supreme Deity. It was even chanted and truly said with passion and sincerity.
Nevertheless, Christianity did not abrogate the cultural way of worshipping but gave some doors to purification using the Gospel. It cannot be denied though that there were some misunderstandings on religious beliefs and some pagan branding thrown to the cultural practices of the Igorots. There was even the painful line that left religious doubts and suspicions, “Any practice linked with cultural worship was paganism.”
“Kabunyan” was God the Father and prayer was understood in a wider spectrum. Let’s see St. Paul introducing God to the Greeks (Acts 17) and see us well ourselves.
Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and Earth, does not live in temples made by man, [a] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the Earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
I recall the late Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ, who once corrected our booklet, Funeral Rites for the Dead: “Don’t use the word kappia for peace because kappia in Bontoc means prayer.” Also, we had that beautiful educational conversation with the good bishop where he emphasized the purification of kappia. He was mentioning as well our ancestors as saints, though not recorded in the Church saints of Rome. He nevertheless emphasized that prayers must not end with our ancestors or to the “anitos” but must all be directed to Apo Kabunyan.
The miracle of wedding the Christian faith and the indigenous way of life (culture) is called inculturation, which is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we need to ask for the Holy Spirit when we dwell on faith and culture.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) provides us forms of prayers revealed in the apostolic and canonical Scriptures that remain normative for Christian prayer: Blessing and Adoration, Prayer of Petition, Prayer of Intercession, Prayer of Thanksgiving, Prayer of Praise.
Forgiveness, the quest for the kingdom, and every true need are objects of the prayer of petition.
Prayer of intercession consists of asking on behalf of another. It knows no boundaries and extends to one’s enemies. Every joy and suffering, every event and need can become the matter for thanksgiving which, sharing in that of Christ, should fill one’s whole life: Give thanks in all circumstances. 1 Thes.5:18
Prayer of praise is entirely disinterested and rises to God, lauds him and gives him glory for own sake, quite beyond what he has done, but simply because He is.
Let us learn more about prayer in the next article. I will be dealing about the culture of praying the Holy Rosary since October is the month of the Holy Rosary.
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