Subanen women designing Christmas cards in their workshop in the Philippines. - Photo:Fr Vincent Busch
The Subanens are an indigenous people whose ancestral habitat is in the mountains of the Southern Philippines. Inspired and guided by the Subanen Ministry of the Columban Sisters, who have been living and working with the Subanens since 1983, I began working with Subanen crafters in the year 2000. Since then, I have come to see how the Subanen culture is interconnected with their habitat, and how it is necessary to protect and nurture their God-given habitat so it, in turn, can protect and nurture them as well as their lowland neighbours.
Their interaction with their habitat has led to a long and practical crafting tradition. They have developed clever ways to shape rattan, bamboo, grasses and palm leaves into baskets, tools, furniture, mats, hats, musical instruments and even the walls and roofs of their homes. Attracted by their crafting tradition I worked with Subanen crafters to form a livelihood project called Subanen Crafts.
Over the years, our craft project has developed greeting cards that honour life-enhancing ways of nurturing the human family and the natural world. Our Christmas cards do this by highlighting simple acts of kindness. For example, these cards show Joseph repairing the manger, cleaning the stable, heating water, and preparing food while Mary attends to Jesus and prepares his manger bed. One card shows a thoughtful shepherd who brought firewood to warm the stable.
The kind deeds we highlight on our cards remind us that our craft project has been blessed by the kindness of others. For example, during COVID lockdowns we couldn’t travel to get the pencils and paper the crafters needed to continue working. We were saved, fittingly so, by our ambulance service. Whenever an ambulance took a patient from the mountains to a lowland hospital, it would return with food and medicine. And, if it had room, the ambulance would also bring us craft supplies. We thank our ambulance service and its drivers for their kindness to us.
We thank, most of all, our kind God who, through our habitat, provides us with food, water and shelter as well as the paper and pencils we use for our livelihood. In designing our cards we intentionally placed Mary and Joseph within an image of the Earth to remind us that we are called to protect and nurture our life-giving planet, our common home.
One way that our craft project thanks God is by keeping our habitat in good repair. Both the Subanen people and their lowland neighbours depend on healthy forests, rivers, and soil.
Decades ago, these life-sustaining gifts were looted by unregulated logging that made quick profits but devastated the land and sea. Subanen Crafts promotes the tree-growing and sloping agricultural ministries of the Columban Sisters. These ministries have reduced hillside erosion, which, in turn, has helped prevent monsoon rains from flooding lowland rice fields and smothering coastal reefs.
Jesus praised acts of kindness and promised to welcome all into the Kingdom of God who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless, visited the imprisoned and comforted the sick. Such acts of kindness keep our families, our communities and our habitat healthy. In the “Our Father”, we pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. On Earth, that Kingdom is proclaimed and celebrated through the kindness of people who, sustained by the Holy Spirit, care for each other and for the life-giving gift of God’s creation.
Columban Fr Vincent Busch lives and works in the Philippines.
Listen to "Christmas cards that celebrate kindness"
- Read more from The Far East - September/October 2022