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Philippines

The poetic vision of a Filipino Jesuit

Father Albert Alejo celebrates indigenous Philippine wisdom through an online poetry series amid virus lockdown

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The poetic vision of a Filipino Jesuit

Jesuit Father Albert Alejo (right) believes the power of words can bring real change. (Photo supplied)

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A Filipino Jesuit has created a poetry series titled Karaniwang Karunungan (Workaday Wisdom), a compilation of short videos that offers a fresh way of looking at ordinary things as the Philippines continues its battle with the coronavirus.

Father Albert Alejo says childhood memories and poetry motivated him to produce videos in the garden of the Jesuit residence in Manila as a tool to express his views on philosophy and anthropology.

Father Alejo, a doctorate degree holder in social anthropology from the University of London, is an assistant professor of sociology, anthropology, systematic theology and philosophy at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.

“My topics normally take off from my work in the garden. It stirs some insights which take me back to my childhood and at the same time gives me a platform to connect with people outside who are looking for a fresh way of looking at ordinary things in this period of lockdown,” Father Alejo tells UCA News.

Father Alejo, who has received death threats for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, says he wants to visualize poetry like music videos without people “being threatened by metaphors, rhyme and meter.”

“If songs could be packaged as MTV, then poems could also be presented as something more visual and auditory. So, I started placing my tanagas [poems] into poster-like power point presentation slides. Then this Karaniwang Karunungan arrived. It has since served as video poetry,” the priest says.

The project started when a fellow Jesuit asked him to explain a topic in philosophy.

“It started when Father Ro Atilano had an ambush video of me. We were together in our vegetable garden at the back of the Jesuit residence. We got an abandoned cute little nipa hut from the high school. And he said, ‘Paring Bert, you explain your philosophy of loob [inside] using this bahay kubo [nipa hut]. And I did,” Father Alejo said.

A nipa hut is an indigenous Philippine hut built on stilts.

He said he did as requested by explaining that the proper way of appreciating the interior of the hut was by entering it and, from there, the person could see and appreciate the surrounding garden.

“By entering it [nipa hut], the surrounding garden becomes part of the experience of being inside. This is the heart of my book … Father Ro uploaded the two-minute video clip. To our surprise, the video had a thousand views in just a few hours,” Father Alejo added.

Father Alejo says his fellow Jesuit was instrumental in educating him about social media.

“I am very happy with my partnership with Father Atilano, a young, very dynamic Jesuit priest from Zamboanga City [Mindanao region]. He is our techie guy who knows how to operate all sorts of gadgets,” he says.

He says he believes in the value and power of words that can give hope and change a nation.

“Words delivered as images open up worlds. And without this opening up of possible worlds, how can we have hope? And hope is such a precious thing people need in this context of fear and anxiety — not to mention violence,” Father Alejo says.

Karaniwang Karunungan is my own little way of thanking the so many ordinary people who blessed me with a capacity to think in parables — like Jesus who used ordinary things like seeds, yeast and nets to describe the Reign of God as well as to critique his society.”

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