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Philippine bishop praises tribal people for spreading faith

Role of the Ati should be rewarded and not forgotten, Bishop Jose Romeo Talaoc says ahead of festival in their honor

Philippine bishop praises tribal people for spreading faith

Catholics in Kalibo Diocese join a religious procession on Nov. 3 in honor of the Child Jesus as they launch reparations for the annual Ati-Atihan Festival. (Photo by Jun Aguirre)

Published: November 05, 2019 05:19 AM GMT

Updated: November 05, 2019 05:22 AM GMT

A Catholic prelate in the central Philippines has praised the Ati, a tribal group in the Visayas region, for their role in the propagation of the faith.

As Kalibo Diocese prepares for its annual Ati-Atihan Festival, Bishop Jose Romeo Talaoc said he was "inspired" by the faith of the indigenous people.

The Ati are the central figures in the festival, a celebration named in their honor that involves tribal dance, music and parades. It is held each year to mark the arrival of the Catholic faith in the province of Aklan.

According to the history books, the Ati helped Catholic missionaries evangelize nearby islands in the central Philippines and, as a reward, the tribe was given a statue of the Child Jesus.

In a message during a Mass to signal the start of the festival preparations, Bishop Talaoc called on Catholics to help the Atis reap the benefits of the celebrations.

"Many businesses prosper because of the festival, yet the Ati still feel discriminated against," said the prelate. "We must all give back something for them. This is a challenge to all of us." 

The tribal group said they take part in the festivities to honor the Child Jesus. At least 71 communities will be taking part.

"We are planning to showcase our culture during the celebration," said Apol Zaraspe, head of an Ati group in the province. "We call it a time of thanksgiving, devotion and gratitude for all the blessings we all received in honor." 

The festival is held every third week in January but celebrations start on the anniversary of Kalibo’s founding on Nov. 4.

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