Grasping Eternity During The AHS Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimage

September 24, 2015
Hans Rinaldi B. Gonzalez (10-M); Video by Gian Alessandro Fausto(11-M)

We Atenean participants arrived in Cagayan de Oro on August 28, thus officially beginning our much-awaited Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimage. It was a pleasant shift of atmosphere, as exams had just ended. I was anticipating a simple, relaxing experience and a much-needed break. Little did I know, it would mean much more than a vacation from all the stress of school.
 The day after our arrival, we began our string of activities with a trip to Dahilayan Adventure Park. The highlight of this visit was, of course, the zip lining. I expected it to be nerve-racking, but the overall experience was exhilarating as I got to literally see the world from another perspective.
On the ground, our view of our surroundings is limited. We can only see so much at any one time and we are constrained to observe the things around us piece by piece. What worth does a singular tree have to our human understanding, when isolated from a whole other forest, from a whole other ecosystem, from a whole other planet? Up above, I got to see the whole mountain plain in one perfect view, in one perfect sight. I witnessed bushes swaying to the cool breeze, and loose blades of grass lifted by the wind and landing on ponds of vibrant koi. Birds flew alongside me, to roost on tree branches housing other populations. Only then did I realize the intricacies of this particular piece of creation. Every work of nature is interconnected with another, across provinces, regions, countries, and continents. This interconnectedness, this environment has existed long before we have. I find it ironic I was only able to understand the value of nature’s complexity from such a lofty position, and grasp its eternity in the span of that one minute I was flying.
Over the next four days of the eco-spiritual pilgrimage, we had a plethora of things to do.  Yet, one strand that coursed through all these activities was the connection among all these different places we traveled to. The effects human activities have on these places are very real. The cutting down of trees, for example, leads to soil erosion from the rain, and this can trickle down to rivers, such as the river we went rafting on. Rivers lead to even bigger bodies of water likethe waters surrounding the reefs near Agutayan Island. Having snorkeled there myself, I can confidently say it wasn’t the cleanest or most lively reef, as it was on the receiving end of the negative effects of soil erosion.
This begs the question: If the effects of recklessly dealing with the environment have so much of an impact, why do we continue to be like this? Naturally inclined to be ignorant and selfish, we humans assume that the damage we do when we take away from our surroundings is arbitrary and isolated. We see forests as completely different entities from the rest of the ecosystem, which is why we burn and cut them down. We think using dynamite to fish will only affect that one body of water, which is why we continue practicing this method of fishing. We think emitting carbon from our factories has minimal effects in the greater scheme of things, which is why smoke continues to fill our air.
It is impossible to live in isolation, yet we try and try to separate ourselves from everything around us and continue to shift the blame to “natural causes”. We rely so much on nature that we become inseparable from it, but we are arrogant enough to say we are above it. The moment we realize we are not an independent being from the environment, but rather a part of something we continue to destroy, is the moment we start living. The convolution of everything existing in the universe can truly only be designed by one presence: God. We are a very small speck in the world He has created around us, and are undoubtedly part of it. To accept and lovingly embrace the fact we are even in it can strengthen our relationship with Him more than anything else. Embracing the beauty of it all, however, means also embracing the cold, hard truth: the lacking of this beauty in particular places is due to us.
I was one hour, by plane, away from what I considered my “home”, but I couldn’t have been nearer to it. Indeed, the pilgrimage was a fruitful experience, and it took me many places, but the most important place it took me to was, quite simply, home.
God of all creation,
At the beginning of time
You placed a single mandate on humankind—
To be stewards of creation
To replenish and nurture through all generations
What you have made
We kneel today amid that same creation—
A world that is, in many ways, more splendid than ever
But, in too many ways, scarred beyond recognition
Turn us from our unmindfulness
Help our touch be light
Help us renew the world that supports us
So we may once more know creation
As it was in the beginning

The participants of the Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimage pose for posterity in Xavier University's Chapel