The Story of a Mountain Parish

The Archdiocese of Cotabato has a population of 1.5 million people living in three provinces: Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato. Of the population, 48% is Catholic and 47% is Muslim. The rest belong to the other religions and to the Indigenous Peoples. It is estimated that 60% of families live below the poverty line. This is particularly true of the Indigenous Peoples who are mostly Tedurays, Manobos, and Bilaans. These tribal people live in the mountain areas of the Archdiocese. Many Christians have settled there, too, in the last 30years. Travel and communication in these relatively remote areas are very difficult, making it even more difficult to cope with problems of sheer economic survival.

The Municipality of Timanan, South Upi, has a population of 29,000 of which 28% are Catholics.Tedurays are the main tribal people of this area; there are also the Ilongo, Cebuano, Ilocano and the Muslim people. The whole area is mountainous. Most people are farmers, tilling plots of land on the mountain sides, planting corn, root crops, and upland rice, subject to the uncertainties of weather and dependent solely on rain. The Parish, which is still regarded as a Mission Area, has been ministered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Fathers (O.M.I) for the last forty years or so. Thanks to the Oblates for their long years of faithful and courageous service on these mountains.
June 18, 2006 was the date of the handing over of the Parish from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the Marist Fathers.(An excerpt from the message of Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato. “Beloved People of God: today as they follow the Lord’s call, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are handing over the administration of the parish to another Marian missionary religious congregation, the Society of Mary. This event marks a new period in your parish history. Rev. Fr. Ramon Bernabe, O.M.I., the Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has my full authorization to hand over the parish to Rev. Fr. Larry Duffy, S.M., the District Superior of the Marist Fathers. In spirit I join you, beloved people of God, in welcoming them to the parish with open heart. May Mary, your patroness and also the patroness of the Oblates and the Marist Fathers, be always with you to be your guide and intercessor before God. With prayers and best wishes in the Lord.”
There are three of us in the community, Fr. Fernando Ingente (Filipino), Rev. Landry Cyr Avaligbe, a deacon from Benin, West Africa and myself. The parish is divided into four districts. Because of distances and the cost of communication, districts three and four, in the past years have only one Mass in every three months. It has been a one-man parish since, and I certainly take my hat off, saluting the Oblates in this regard. I for myself wouldn’t survive if I were assigned here on my own.
For Districts three and four, the motorbike will take you and when there is no more road for the motorbike, then you can either ride on a horse, or say to your feet, and now is your turn, take me. When the feet get weary, it is always a source of encouragement remembering the psalms. How beautiful are the feet of those walking on the mountain, sharing the Good News. A very common scene around here, is people walking everywhere, mainly because of financial reasons. Fernando and I wanted to give it a go; unfortunately Cyr was not feeling well, he didn’t join us. It was a six hour walk, and Fernando had to come back for another commitment, while I had to carry on for another two hours. The president of the chapel wasn’t here, and he didn’t bring the horse, because I told them I would prefer to walk. Yes, this is one of my many mistakes, as I should have asked for the horse. I had Mass 4pm in that village. Balud slept there and the next morning, thank God, two men with two horses arrived to take me to the next village. The people jokingly said to me, Father, we heard you prefer to walk? Yes, yesterday I was John Walker, today, John Rider, I would like to ride on a horse (ha ha ha). This is the life in districts three and four, and the three of us are still finding our feet.

Speaking of Integral Evangelization, and in the area of Health, there are villages where there is no medicine available whatsoever. When there is a need for medicine, they have to go by foot or by horse to the nearby village to buy, and it is already very expensive. We have bought medicine from Davao City, (the biggest city in Mindanao, eight hours from here), and made it available in the villages at a much cheaper price. Thanks to the generous benefactors who provided for this need.
In the area of Education, for example in the month of July, I said Mass in this village Kulayan for about forty families, all Tedurays. I asked them when was the last time you had Mass, they said, last December. I asked again, how many of your children are in High School? The answer was, not one. The obvious reason is finance. There is a High School, one hour away by foot. This is a challenge for us.

Inter-religious Dialogue
As you see from the first paragraph, the Archdiocese of Cotabato is 50% Muslim and 50% Christian. The Archbishop always reminds us priests of how we are to dialogue and live together with the Muslim people. I have lived in Cotabato for five years (2000 -2005) and Archbishop Quevedo assigned us Marists to a Muslim area. Fr. Kevin Stewart was also working very closely with Inter-religious Dialogue. The photo with the Muslim women was taken at the annual celebration Shariff Kabunsuan commemorating the arrival of the Muslim here in Mindanao, the Southern Philippines. I was invited to this celebration by the Director of Education here in region 12, Mrs Estrella Babano a Muslim. Even now that I am on the mountain, I make a point to come down to the city whenever there is a Muslim celebration.

Thank you, Fr. Penisimani Folaumoetu, Fr. Silito Tupou and the Tongan Communities around Australia. To all of you, for the concert, for your love and generosity, how can I forget? To the communities of Tourkley, Canberra and Brisbane I say thank you to all of you. Your kindness and support has enabled us to carry out our mission here in the Philippines. All of you are very much part of the mission here.

Thank You.
Fr. Aliki Langi sm.

No comments:

Post a Comment