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Book Review
Faith and Struggle on Smokey Mountain
written by Father Ben Beltran

Book Reviewer: Patrick Ferraren
November 27, 2012

aith and Struggle on Smokey Mountain, written by Benigno P. Beltran, SVD, and published by Orbis Books, with ISBN 978-1-57075-975-8, list price $25, is a book about one man’s search for meaning amid, literally, the trash heap and the 25,000 scavengers with whom he lived for 30 years. Triumphant at the end, after a valiant spiritual and intellectual struggle, he shares with us his experiential wisdom, and argues the imperative of hope to save our planet.

Priest and scholar, Beltran lived with society’s poorest to stay true to his beliefs, to find himself, and fathom life’s mysteries. Through the scavengers’ eyes, he was able to see the unseen, that reverent connection with the supernatural, and to find that religious consciousness is human experience integral to understanding the cosmos. His treatise on the God debate is a superb read about reconciling science and religion – that he adroitly relates to the garbage people’s interconnectedness philosophy.

The book’s humanizing element treats the people who lived on that garbage dump: their tribulations, culture, solidarity. The missionary’s prophetic dialogue with them is a study in the resilient human spirit, in the dreariest of conditions. The scavengers’ ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity provides valuable insight into how community can cope when we have trust in each other.

Father Ben takes us into his journey of seeking truth. He discovers it in his communion with the poor and, by his quest for understanding, enriches ours. He shows how a people, with only faith and each other, transcends Smokey Mountain, and teaches the world how to live in harmony. It is a fascinating intense book, rich in human experience and intellectual discourse, that tells the reader there is much more to life and reasons for living, and hopefully, I think, to do something about his own.