SURIGAO DEL SUR–The Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno of the Order of Augustinian Recollects has just made a comeback to Mindanao, the rightful place, at the eastern Pacific coast of the country, after more than a decade since it has relinquished a short-lived mission in Iligan, Lanao del Norte on 4th of October 2004.
Historical records attest that Caraga, the old capital of Surigao region down to Bislig, was once entrusted to the Recollects as early as 1622. (CBCP, Diocese of Tandag).
The mission flourished through thick and thin until 1864 when the Hispanic Friars finally left the Caraga mission. “One hundred fifty years ago since the Augustinian Recollects left the Caraga, now you have returned” (Bp. Nerio Odchimar, DD, Homily, August 12, 2017).
The move was initiated by the Local Ordinary of Tandag Most Rev. Nerio Odchimar, DD.
His invitation addressed to the Order in the person of the Prior Provincial Rev. Fr. Dionisio Q. Selma, OAR last year has become a strong gesture of collaboration between the two shepherds of souls. On his first ocular visit, the Recollect Provincial has sent emissaries led by Fray Edgar Tubio, OAR to Mindanao in October 2016. Fray Edgar being one of the Provincial councilors and head of the Secretariat of Mission and Ministerial Apostolate spent time and energy to reconnoiter the mission field and consequently realize a dream of a long awaited coming back to Mindanao.
After a year, the good Bishop, in the presence of 7 Augustinian Recollect friars namely, Frays Albert Pellazar, Jerome Virtudazo, Amado Emmanuel Bolilia, Edgar Tubio, Louie Gabinete, William Cordero, and Abraham Latoza plus the 16 diocesan priests, 2 deacons and 3 seminarians from the Diocese of Tandag, 2 religious sisters of the Dominican Order and the people of God represented by the 27 Christian communities, has canonically erected in the morning of August 12, 2017, a new Quasi-Parish under the tutelage of the Nuestra Senora del Carmen in Brgy. Dugmanon, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.
New Parish Priest
Rev. Fr. Albert Ampong Pellazar, OAR, former Vice President for Academics of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos in Bacolod was installed as the Prior of the new Recollect community and at the same time the Parish Priest. Fray Albert is a native of Guindulman, Bohol, a charismatic, game-changer and a fun-loving friar. Together with him is Fray Jerome Virtudazo, OAR (parochial vicar and liturgist) and Fray Mark Saludes, OAR, a deacon (procurator and chronicler).
In the ceremony the Recoleto friar recited the Profession of Faith, received the Canonical Books and the key to the Tabernacle from the Bishop, symbolic of the pastoral tasks entrusted to his care.
The new mission territory is located in Brgy. Dugmanon, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur in the Diocese of Tandag.
Dugmanon alone has a population of 1,000 and mostly Catholics with 300 households, and the new Recollect parish will administer the sacraments to 10 Barangays, 17 Sitios, having 27 chapels in total. If the ratio will be consistent for each Barangay the figures will definitely be overwhelming.
Dugmanon is a Kamayo dialect (the mother tongue for Surigao) which means “grassland.”
The Dugmanons configure a pious, warm, kind-hearted community of believers welcoming the new changes in their Catholic life. Hope is shining through in their smiles as they unite in prayer and share a helping hand in “bayanihan” (solidarity), one of the best traits of Filipinos.
Indeed, there is a great deal of grassland in Dugmanon and in its neighboring villages. The ecosystem is naturally rich. But the most explicit challenges that the new community is facing rest on deforestation and environmental destruction. Illegal loggers castigate Mindanao since time immemorial. But the rapid loss of trees is unacceptable. Greed cannot be tolerated considering climate change wherein countries all over the world are working together to stop abuses in mindless mining and illegal logging to save our environment.
Justice and peace
In the northern part of the Diocese of Tandag, the Lumads have become the target of unjust killing on the interest of a few individuals or private firms driven by greed. It is threatening the lives of peaceful natives of Mindanao. The indigenous peoples’ rights cannot be undermined in exchange for profit. But this reality remains in the shadows of Mindanao specially to those in power. It has been a problem which up to now is searching for some answers.
The Bishop had a nostalgic narrative about his past. His opening statement was engaging. Rizal’s adage was used. He said: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” [Roughly: “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”]
He made reference to his long years in the past as a newly ordained priest sent to Hinatuan, to the history of the Recollect missionaries, and he challenged the newly installed friar and his companion: “For the new priests [missionaries] like Fr. Albert and Fr. Jerome whom I would say they have come from ‘heaven.’ In your previous assignments, you have cars, you have fully air conditioned rooms, spacious offices. Here you will not have all of those amenities. Dugmanon is your purgatory. But if today, Dugmanon is a purgatory, I had a hell of experience fifty years ago! No roads, no chapels; no means of communications. We travelled by boat, we experienced storms and gigantic waves…to reach out to the farthest communities of Caraga and Bislig in the east coast of the Pacific …shipwrecked once… fell ill of amoebic dysentery for unsafe drinking water. But God never abandoned me. God will never abandon you. He will never abandon us!” the prelate concluded.
“Nabuksan ang langit ug nabubo ang gasa”
‘The heaven opens, the grace is poured out,’ says the newly installed Parish Priest of Dugmanon.
Chapels that receive the sacrament once a year can now avail of it every Sunday and some chapels, once a month. The farthest Christian communities and chapels will be able to hear Mass more frequently.
In his thanksgiving speech Fray Albert said: “A grateful heart is a happy heart.” He added: “To reach heaven is to build heaven here on earth and we can only build that heaven because we love.”