The Prior General, Miguel Miró, has begun his pastoral trip to the Philippines visiting Palawan. From there he tells the tour and the activity in his first days on the islands
At daybreak on February 12 we arrived in Puerto Princesa, capital city of Palawan province. I am accompanied these days by René Paglinawan, a friar who, in addition to revising the official books, easily translates me into Tagalog or English, as needed. Thus starts the visit of renewal to the communities of Order in the Philippines.
Last year 2018 was a year of chapters of all the four provinces of the Order; this year is for implementing the decisions taken thereat. One of the functions of the Prior General is to visit the communities in order to know their state. It is a good opportunity to listen to the brothers and thus strengthen the bonds of communion. Prayer and an open dialogue foster the encounter of brothers, the sense of belongingness and the development of a common project.
By starting with Palawan this time, as the Philippines prepares to celebrate the 5th centenary of its evangelization, is one way of evoking the Recollect missionary spirit. That it is not only a reassuring historical remembering is shown by the fact that the Augustinian Recollect missionaries have returned to Palawan. Who was it who said: “Palawan, mission accomplished”, when we left the island more than 30 years ago? We have come back since more than a dozen years ago and the Province of Saint Ezekiel has recently increased its presence.
We have visited the communities of Inagawan, Plaridel and Casian. In the first, Inagawan, three religious (Manuel Lipardo, Urbano Galanido y Nestor Raras) administer the parish, which has about a hundred basic eccesial communities. The Balon Pari is located there, a spring which, as the story goes, Saint Ezekiel dug and from which water still flows today. It is a place of pilgrimage.
The Augustinian Recollect community of Plaridel was established just some months ago. It is composed of the Filipino Recollect priests Regino Bangcaya and Christopher Gaspar, together with the Nigerian deacon Benjamin Edobor. Our attention is struck by the church under construction, where only the walls are standing so far; adjacent to it is a labyrinth of wood and bamboo that contains the rooms and parish facilities. The community attends to 9 barangays or barrios and some fifty basic ecclesial communities.
As we passed by Roxas on the way to Taytay the dawn was breaking. The sun was rising over the waters of the South Philippine Sea. Its splendor had filled the hopes of the first missionaries who arrived in 1623. Today it continues to shine. Puerto Princesa bishop monsignor Socrates Mesiona told us that they are now reaping the fruits of that first evangelization. The prelate admires the missionary labor of the past and considers in a very positive way the return of the Recollects to Palawan.
To reach Casian island we had to cover some 30 kms of sometimes choppy waters on a motorized outrigger boat. As we docked, we were greeted at the pier with songs and dances by some 200 people. The religious community is very young (Louie Gabinete, Niel Ryan Jarumay and the deacon Jorr Rabacal). The three minister to some 15 communities in the surrounding islands. The church was overflowing during the Eucharistic celebration. The rectory of Casian is on the beachfront and from the balcony one sees the sun rise and give light and life everywhere.
Coming back to Puerto Princesa, we were accommodated at the Saint Ezekiel Moreno Spirituality and Development Center of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters. On February 16, members of the Secular Augustinian Recollect Fraternity and the Recollect sisters of the communities of Brooke’s Point, Narra and Puerto Princesa gathered there. Those from Brooke’s Point left at 2 in the morning to be on time for the 6:30 mass and, thereafter, the meeting with the Prior General. In moments like these, one feels the joy of the Gospel filling the heart and the entire life of those who encounter Jesus.
With gratitude and hope we left Palawan. While the sea, whether calm or agitated, shows its expansiveness, in the multitude of the simple people there beat the hearts of so many who pray with devotion and who work for and aspire to live in peace.
Miguel Miró Miró OAR
Prior general Augustinian Recollects