Bacolod City—Fray Loreto Dacanay, OAR has come home last year from his interrupted mission for about sixteen years in the Amazon. Inspired by the Laudato Si of Pope Francis, he is home with a story to tell. He would like to do that now in this dispatch. After ceaseless prodding, he opened his door. He culled his diaries. He blew the dust on the cover of his notebook and it gives me an image that he will be giving life to every bits and pieces (stories) kept within it.
He found some thoughts saying: “The issue is not what God is like. The issue is what kind of people we become when we attached ourselves to God.” This sublime input gives me an impression, a glimpse to his interiority which sustained him to be steadfast to life’s intricacies and vulnerability. Later I learned he kept collecting short insights from different authors of the books he read when he was out there in the woods.
Amazon. One word describes all. One of the world’s biggest spring of life. Huge landscape of rainforest. Exotic animals. Sharp teeth of the piranhas. Hungry alligators. Home of several endangered human tribes. Overwhelming distances of riverbanks and settlements. Almost forgotten in the wild for many days and months with no means of communication. What are these to an unquenchable desire to make Christ known in that corner of South American region, in the Amazon? A missionary goes out beyond borders. The Catholic mission is over and above the most difficult agenda–the cost of discipleship.
“Floresta. Povo. Missão Católica.”
(The forest. The people. The mission [which is] Catholic.)
Floresta (The Forest)
“When the then Vicar Provincial Fray Victor Lluch, (may he rest in peace), asked for volunteers I enlisted myself, having in mind the beauty of fulfilling my desire to be in the mission.” He continued. “The Amazon, when I first saw it in 1994 was wilder. Wilder in a sense that there was not much concessions going on, to mean illegal loggers loitering or dams being built in the interior. It was a terribly vast forest seeing it from the bird’s eye view when I first got the chance to fly the Ticko Ticko Plane from the City of Manaus bound for Acre, another state of Brazil that serves as our entry point to the Municipality of Pauini with at least 17, 000 population at present. Pauini is my destination. As I embarked, I felt closer to the generous creator in which enjoying the sight would take your breath away. My heart groaned in either act of thanksgiving or praise to Him when I saw the grandeur of such sight unveiled before my very eyes. It might be too taxing though, to pull out emotions sixteen years back but the glorious days of solitude, or driving the boat with local companions, most of the time away from my community as part of the so called “Des Obriga” in the bush for more than a week or months to meet the tribesmen, going out to fish, foraging in the woods; that could be my strongest enigmatic mission experience as enigmatic as the dense rainforest of the Amazon.”
As he recalled his outlandish memoir, Fray Loreto sighed as if telling me to try going there because not all could be described in words. So he said: “Be patient Abes. I will spare no details being left out in as much as my pictures and stories can.” He beamed with a smile and searched for his priced possession– a hard bound notebook. Patience yes, I must admit I don’t have that. To travel for weeks and months just to visit and to give catechism to the people living along riverbanks, to some he administers the Sacraments, Fray Loreto is really an authority when it comes to the virtue of patience.
“The floresta of the Amazon is a natural habitat of a large semiaquatic constricting snake (Eunectesmurinus) of the boa family of tropical South America that which may reach a length of 30 feet (9.1 meters)–the Anacondas. Piranhas, as they are depicted by the National Geographic magazine and Discovery channel have sharp teeth of a carnivorous type of fish. Brazil has rich reserve of natural resources, the home of alligators, and the Amazon’s trees with the genera Hevea and Ficus are potent sources of rubber in the world, the last frontier of our planet.”
Considering Fray Loreto’s background, he’s born in Baguio City and grew up in Aringay, La Union, Northern Philippines, frolicsome and adventurous, he could easily adapt to his new environment as missionary. He’s a perfect match to volunteerism and Augustinian Recollect spirit. When he came home, he resembles already the looks of a native Brazilian. Another proof that immersion is an effective means of preparing the soil for evangelization and the Pope’s injunction that a shepherd should have messed with, “to smell like his sheep sheep.” He is an equilibrium, a happy soul in the Floresta to bring about ecological balance of hope and faith among the lovely people who are in the margin.
Povo (The People)
“If I may continue, in the woods, everyone is a friend. They hug a lot. They smile a lot. The fear is imminent about the deadly animals but the providence of God is evident as well. It is Mother Nature providing abundant food for everyone. The people have no hesitation, so certain about their way of life. We drink from the river. Sometimes if I did catch the rain water, it’s tastier. Absolutely I had no worries. The Amazon’s staple food is minced cassava. Seldom they can afford rice. They do barter system with the enterprising business men from the town who comes occasionally. Our daily life was foraging. Foraging in the world’s largest warehouse made our daily chores full of adventure. The government? The government cannot provide the basic needs for the minorities. They [government officials] have few concerns on the life of the people in the interior except probably of the under the table arrangement to allow illegal loggers to destroy the forest. I also started to think about the NGO’s who sometimes manipulate the weak for their own advantage. I also considered education as part of evangelization in which if there’s greater collaboration between NGO’s and government agencies, the people of that part of the Amazon might benefit from it. I was confronted with a tedious task. The immediate need was to form a basic ecclesial communities. It’s been a long way to bring it to fruition. Time always poses the biggest chunk of the challenge. And besides the people do not ask. They are very humble people of the Amazon. They have meager concerns in life, carefree, submissive, but also eager to learn to read and write if there is an opportunity. With their open mindedness, the ground is fertile to sow the seed of faith. They are fairly well-rounded and pretty, kind-hearted persons God ever created. They have one mind as Brazilians in terms of fast foot work. Young people in the interior has poverty of space for football game. They wait for summer time when the water is down by two to three meters, they cut the bushes to have a play ground for them to play. Fantastic! If we could kick the ball off in an uneven ground, that is already playing football.”
“It is not easy to gather them. They live separately as tribesmen do. The local interpreters have key roles in the evangelization project. Before going to the “Des Obriga” we take with us materials already translated in Portuguese: catechetical materials, Sunday readings, manuscripts, at times poorly printed. Why is this so? It is because only on the following year that we will be able see each other again. It’s the vastness of the land and the overwhelming distances and the handful of human resources (missionaries) that make evangelization like a drop of rain in the ocean.”
“By the way, we have to stop from here. We still have to pray the Midday Prayer.” He said it calmly. So I said: One last thing. Do you have another insight? I asked. He flipped the pages of his notebook. “So many of you lost everything. I do not know what to tell you. I can only be silent; I accompany you silently with my heart. Many of you looked to Christ and asked: ” Why Lord?” To each of you the Lord responds from his heart. I have no other words to say to you. Let us look to Christ; He is the Lord, and he understands us for he experienced all the troubles we experience.” Pope Francis said that, Abes.” Here’s another: My life is always the result of what I bring to it. When I bring courage and love, these shall hold my soul. When I bring laughter and curiosity, these shall ride my smile. When I bring willingness and honor, these shall grace my heart. My life is the result of what I bring to it… in always. “I took note of that from Robin Kerth’s book.”
“4th October 1994, the village is festive. They have cut leaves to adorn the facade of the house of prayer. The are gathering all their animals. Everybody is busy about the fiesta. They want to lead their pets and to take them to the Church for the blessing and procession. They were preparing for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I prepare for the Mass with a homily being translated by an interpreter. It is a combination of Spanish and Portuguese. The catechist has briefed me though earlier that I have to administer Baptism to one hundred catechumens. There is no brass band. Neither could have fireworks show down outside the Church to signal a momentous day in the woods as customary in some Churches. Under the scorching heat of the sun, the procession culminates in the Church. The Liturgy is in Potuguese. At communion time they will sing Oração de São Francisco de Assis.
Senhor fazei de mim o instrumento de Vossa paz
Onde houver ódio
Que eu leve o amor
Onde houver ofensas
Que eu leve o perdão
Onde houver discórdia
Que eu leve a união
Onde houver trevas
Que eu leve a luz
Onde houver erro
Que eu leve a verdade
Onde houver desespero
Que eu leve a esperança
Onde houver tristeza
Que eu leve alegria
Onde houver dúvidas
Que eu leve a fé
Mestre, fazei que eu procure mais
Consolar que ser consolado
Compreender que ser compreendido
Amar que ser amado
Pois é dando que se recebe
É perdoando que se é perdoado
E é morrendo que se vive para vida eterna
We have hard time practicing it. I am wearing their native attire. Listening to the simplicity of the canticle of St. Francis, it melted my heart. It was a beautiful liturgy. “
“It is time to end this sharing. My mission is not over yet. In fact, I volunteered last year to Panama. In as much as the Augustinian Recollect life and mission project, we do not stop. We renew and revitalize. This is our vocation. My experience in the Amazon created a bulky chapter of my life, something that is an open-ended immersion, simple, tranquil, and enigmatic, a solidarity with the people in the margin, uniting communities, filled with awe in the hand of God’s divine providence. The forest, the people and the Catholic mission form the triangle, the sort of equation of faith and doctrine which all of us hold on to. To be able to sing the Creed with the people of the Amazon needs an art of dedication, the fire of perseverance, the simplicity of the message, and a God who unites all human endeavors and plans.”
“To the love and praise of the One God!”