NEW YORK — Fr. Benigno P. Beltran’s latest book, “Faith and Struggle on Smokey Mountain: Hope for a Planet in Peril” will be launched October 17 at the Philippine Center in Manhattan 6:00 p.m. Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr. as well as other dignitaries and members of the community will be in attendance.
According to Pauline Santos, one of the organizers of the event, this is Fr. Beltran’s second visit to New York this year. Previously, he accompanied the cultural artists from Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila in their Sigaw ni Inang Daigdig (Cry of Mother Earth) USA Tour. About 23 children performed at several events in New York and New Jersey to the delight and appreciation of their audience. Included in their repertoire were dances from the different regions of the Philippines set in colorful costumes as they interpreted the culture and tradition of their respective communities.
The performers were children from what used to be a huge garbage dump in the heart of the city of Manila called Smokey Mountain where hope was once unknown and despair permeated in the hearts of people living there. But with a focus on changing the values of its people through empowerment and self-sufficiency, with these children as a testimony to such change, its people regained their hope and renewed their strength to build a new future for themselves.
Such is the subject of the book: “Faith and Struggle on Smokey Mountain: Hope for a Planet in Peril” where the experience of an innovative Divine Word priest began and retold in a narrative form in a consuming thought, a revealing spirit of perseverance and hope, and a challenge to a global audience.
The book chronicles the experience of Father Beltran who lived in Smokey Mountain with scavenger families for more than 30 years with the goal of people empowerment through total and integral development. When he came to Smokey Mountain, he saw “a garbage heap almost 100 feet high, reeking of methane gas, constantly burning, and polluting the air and water.” The dump site was a blot on Manila’s landscape and a shameful symbol of urban decay. It was also home to a squatter population of over 25,000 people surviving by picking through the garbage. Although Smokey Mountain was officially closed down in 1995, today, thousands of people still call it home.
Under Father Beltran’s stewardship, community members “have turned from humiliating scavenging to better jobs, and converted the squatter settlement into something resembling a real neighborhood.”
“It was an experience filled with unspeakable sadness, but also with passion and deep meaning. It was a journey through the heart of darkness, a pilgrimage through the crucible of despair to emerge into joyful hope in the end,” Father Beltran notes in the Introduction of the book.
Father Beltran considers Smokey Mountain as a metaphor for a planet in peril and also a metaphor for hope — the will to survive, the grit to sustain family and community, the ability to create joy while living in abject poverty. Smokey Mountain is a point of light at the end of the tunnel that might teach others a few lessons in hope.
Father Beltran arrived Monday afternoon, October 8, and he was immediately ushered in to Woodside, Queens to attend a press conference. Without a trace of weariness from a long flight, he vigorously shared his vision of what the Philippines could muster if only its people were provided with a “foundation of spiritual value formation to help themselves, finding self-respect and hope.”
He has written numerous publications such as “Journey Into Solitude,” and “Smokey Mountain: Ravaged Earth and Wasted Lives” among others. In 1988, he won the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award for his book “The Christology of the Inarticulate.”
Published by Orbis Books, “Faith and Struggle on Smokey Mountain: Hope for a Planet in Peril” was released in the U.S. on October 1, 2012 and is available at Amazon.com. Father Beltran will present the book and answer questions at its official launching at the Philippine Center at 6:00 p.m., October 17, 2012. The book will be also promoted in Washington, D.C., Fort Worth, Texas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago.