PROVINCIALATE—Last July 7, 2017, Most Rev. Nereo Odchimar, D.D. of the Diocese of Tandag and Fray Dionisio Selma OAR representing the Recollect Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a pastoral ministry. This ministry entrusted to the Recoletos covers “the full pastoral charge of the Quasi Parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.
The road that led to this signing formally started when in September 2016, Bishop Odchimar wrote to Fray Selma, prior provincial, inviting the Recoletos to work in his diocese.
Fray Selma who was to leave for Rome to participate in the 55th General Chapter replied, in his September 30, 2016 letter, thanking the bishop “for remembering the missionary beginnings and efforts of our predecessors” and “for inviting us to collaborate with you”.
A week after, on October 6-7, Fray Edgar Tubio, president of the Secretariat of Ministerial and Mission Apostolate, together with two confreres in the Commission on Communications, Frays Jose Ernil Almayo and Reynaldo Jaranilla, made a courtesy call on the bishop and an ocular visit to the proposed portion to be given to the Recoletos. Overlooking the Pacific ocean to the east and the forested hills and green pastures as one turns around 360 degrees, the site where soon to rise the parish church is elevated and around two hundred meters away from the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel chapel.
“You are number 1 in our priority,” the soft-spoken bishop, a former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told the visiting Recollects. “This is our token of gratitude to the Recoletos missionaries who came first here in our place,” Bishop Odchimar, himself a native of Surigao, added with a grateful smile.
The Recollects arrived in the northeastern part of Mindanao, including Agusan and Surigao in 1622. (Hence, five years from now means a huge celebration of the 4th centenary of that arrival.)
The St. Augustine Parish which coincides with the entire coastal town of Hinatuan, which is around 145 kilometers from the capital, Tandag, is to be partitioned in such a way that the areas from the town proper all the way down south shall remain under the matrix parish while the new ecclesiastical territory shall include the remaining areas all the way up north. In this new parish belongs the Enchanted River, the now-becoming famous tourist destination.
According to a website, Hinatuan is home to around 40,o00 inhabitants, 80% of whom are Catholics distributed in 64 chapels.
Due to transition period in the Generalate right after the month-long Chapter in Rome, the Prior Provincial wrote again to Tandag bishop on November 8 asking for an extension of the date to finalize the decision.
The Prior Provincial in consultation with his councilors during the council meeting on February 16, 2017, accepted the offer of Tandag and initially named three friars to compose the Recollect community. On March 10, a letter addressed to the re-elected Prior General, Fray Miguel Miró was sent asking for confirmation of the recommendations relative to the pastoral apostolate in Tandag which, together with other “local” missions in Palawan and Tambo in Ayungon, Negros Oriental, could be considered “as jump-off stations for foreign missions” such as Sierra Leone or other Asian nations.
On March 15, 2017, the Prior General in his Prot. CG 67/2017 approved “the establishment of a community in the Diocese of Tandag”. It also reminded the officials of the youngest province of the Order to see to it that “this new community will adhere to the Augustinian Recollect charism safeguarding community life and teamwork in the discharge of pastoral services.”
The Provincial Council Meeting last April 8, 2017 finalized the members of the pioneering Recoletos de Tandag community: Fray Albert Pellazar, Vice-President for Academics of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos in Bacolod was appointed local prior and parish priest. Fray Jerome Virtudazo, assistant prefect of discipline of Casiciaco Recoletos Seminary in Baguio City was named parochial vicar and liturgist. The deacon, Fray Mark Saludes who is assigned at the Recoletos Formation Center was designated local procurator and chronicler.
On July 7, 2017, the day before the start of the three-day 115th Plenary Assembly of the CBCP, Bishop Odchimar visited the Provincial Curia for the first time. Aside from meeting the three friars assigned in his diocese, he inked the bilateral agreement with the Recoletos, with Fray Tubio as witness. Present also during the afternoon informal meeting at the Board Room was the Provincial Secretary who took note of the proceedings.
A canon lawyer by specialization, the bishop said that for a start it will just be a quasi parish. Number 516, paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law states that a quasi parish is a definite community of Christian faithful within a particular church which has been entrusted to a priest but due to particular circumstances has not yet been erected as a parish. Not being fully functional as a parish, or not yet self-supporting, could be among the reasons for this status.
Come July 16, 2017, the very first patronal fiesta under the Recollects will take place in the original location of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel chapel, beside which is the makeshift convent of the first batch of Recollect returnees.