Provincial Curia, QUEZON CITY – After the rare opportunity, albeit relatively brief, to serve in the Recollect mission station in Bocas del Toro located in the northwestern part of Panama as well as in an OAR school in Panama City, the three Filipino Recollects could not help but express their deep gratitude: Thank you very much, Panama!
In his letter to the then Prior Provincial of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation, Fray Dionisio Selma, incumbent Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno, wrote: “We know that this interprovincial collaboration is, so far, a success, at least, from our point of view.”
He intimated: “In my talk with them (the missionaries), they said that their exposure to and assistance in the pastoral needs of the people of the Prelature of Bocas del Toro had personally helped them a lot, both as religious and as missionaries.”
“One thing, for sure, is that they have improved in learning to express themselves in Spanish,” he said.
Frays Allan Jacinto and Jerik Troy Siozon started their immersion in this Spanish-speaking country in July 2016. But recalled to prepare for further studies in Rome, Fray Siozon left Panama in early January 2018.
A deacon, Fray Keneth Pahamutang, who was ready to handle the second challenge of his “diaconal exposure,” took his place. Fray Pahamutang was assigned in Colegio San Agustín in Panama City.
In view of the restructuring of the new Province of Our Lady of Candelaria especially in the crafting of its Life and Mission Project, the Province of St. Ezekiel formalized its decision to call back its missionaries.
Frays Jacinto and Pahamutang left Panama, and arrived in the Philippines last September 5.
Chronicle of Related Events
February 19, 2015 – Most Rev. Aníbal Saldaña, OAR, D.D., the third Recoletos bishop of the Territorial Prelature of Bocas del Toro, wrote to Father Miguel Miró, Prior General, about “the possibility that the Province of St. Ezekiel make some of its religious available for a missionary experience outside the Philippines.” The same petition was addressed to the Prior Provincial of the Province of Consolacion under which the Recoletos friars working in Panama belong.
February 26, 2015 – The Sixth Provincial Chapter of the St. Ezekiel Moreno Province chaired by Father Miguel Miró, Prior General, was closed. One of the decisions in its Life and Mission Project (LAMP) stated: “That the members of the Province continue to seek ever greater integration in the Order and safeguard their identity as Augustinian Recollects by sending religious to Provinces in need of religious personnel for a maximum stay of two years.” This was aligned in the LAMP of the Order (2014-2016): “All provinces should make a clear and firm option for the missions…”
December 2015 – Occasioned by the meeting of the Prior General with all Priors Provincial in Motril, Spain, from November 30 to December 4, the plan to realize the interprovincial collaboration between the Provinces of San Ezequiel and Consolación came out positive.
March 1-6, 2016 – Father Provincial visited Panama. He was able to talk especially with Bishop Saldaña, Fray Miguel Angel Ciaurriz, the Vicar Provincial of the Recollect Vicariate of Panama, and Fray Jose Tomás González, Superior of the Missions in Bocas del Toro, and to see for himself the mission station in Kankintú.
March 21, 2016 – Frays Loreto Dacanay and Jerik Troy Siozon received their patente (assignment) to live and work in Bocas del Toro.
April 14, 2016 – Due to the serious sickness of Fray Dacanay, Fray Allan Jacinto–a former missionary in the Amazons, Brazil where Fray Dacanay used to work also–volunteered to replace him. The latter was immediately given a patente. (Note: Fray Dacanay died on July 4, 2016).
May 1, 2016 – Signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Provinces of Consolación and San Ezequiel.
August 6, 2016 – Father General was formally informed about the sending of Frays Siozon and Jacinto to Panama.
September 8, 2016 – Father General gave some specifics about the said interprovincial collaboration and the transfer of the two religious to Consolacion where they will have active and passive voice during the entire duration of their stay there, without losing their membership in San Ezequiel.
October 3-16, 2016 – The 55th General Chapter of the OAR was held in Rome. Among the major decisions was the restructuring of the 8 Provinces of the Order, such as the merging of the Provinces of Consolación and Candelaria.
August 30, 2017 – The proper authorities such as those of the Province of Consolación was informed about the pull-out of Fray Siozon.
December 7-17, 2017 – On behalf of the Prior Provincial, the Provincial Secretary made a visit to the brothers in Kankintú in view of reflecting it on the State of the Province Report and the Bulletin of the Province.
January 2018 – Fray Siozon returned to the Philippines. (Note: He is to study Scriptures in the Biblicum, Rome).
April 5, 2018 – Arrival of Fray Pahamutang in Panama.
July 16, 2018 – Start of the Provincial Chapter of the Province of Candelaria.
September 5, 2018 – After having made the proper communications and arrangements with the competent authorities months earlier, the two Filipino missionaries returned to the Philippines.
Interview with the missionaries
The Recoletos Communications Inc. (RCI) took time to interview two of the Filipino Recollects assigned in Panama.
RCI: How would you describe your assignment in Panama?
Fray AJ: I could say that my stay in Panama was a very enriching experience. I was able to meet and know our brothers and their particular situation in that isthmian part of South America. Honestly, I felt the same anxiety as with the friars there as we witnessed together the historic merging of the two Recollect Provinces of Consolacion and Candelaria which are now called the Province of Our Lady of Candelaria. Indeed, it is very interesting to note that I was a “consolador” for more than a year and a “candelero” for ten months. [Ed note: The sobriquets “consolador” and “candelero” refer to the religious belonging to the Provinces of Consolacion and Candelaria, respectively. Although the new Province of Candelaria was officially declared only in July 2018 during its Provincial Chapter, the “consciousness” of belongingness to a “new province,” according to Fray AJ, started in November 2017 with the (re-)election the Prior Provincial.]
Fray Kenneth: My exposure in Panama was fruitful. It helped me grow as a religious because I had the chance to meet and live with some of our brothers of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation who come from other countries also such as, Dominican Republic, Spain, and Panama. I had the privilege to learn the basics of Spanish language as well as experienced the Latin American culture and the Catholic faith of the Panameños.
RCI: For how long have you been in the “isthmus”? And where have you been assigned during the entire duration of your stay there?
Fray AJ: I stayed for two years and two months there to be exact, but solely in Kankintú, Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. It belongs to the Territorial Prelature of Bocas del Toro. [Ed. Note: Panama is divided into 10 provinces, among which are Panama, Bocas del Toro, and Chiriqui where the Recollects are, and three provincial-level indigenous regions (or comarcas), one of which is Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle where the Filipinos Recollects have been assigned. The said prelature covers the province of Bocas del Toro and Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle.]
Fray Kenneth: I spent five months in Panama wherein I stayed for one month in Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de La Salle y Santa Mónica, in Río Abajo (Vía España) which is in the capital, and the remaining four months at Colegio San Agustín, in Costa del Este. While I was in the latter, I also assisted in our parish, Parroquia San Lucas Evangelista.
RCI: Can you cite some difficulties you encountered in that mission area?
Fray AJ: Geographically, Kankintú is an isolated place where one has to cross seas and rivers in order to get there. The Parish of San Agustin is located in Kankintú which is situated at the foot of a mountain. The parish is considered as the biggest parish in the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle. It has more than 50 communities and the nearest to the parish is one hour away by foot and so far the farthest community I have visited was a 16-hour walk back and forth. According to the hunters I met there are wild animals like panthers, tigers, and snakes that are still reigning in the jungles up to now. Considering also the culture and traditions, it took me quite some time to adjust and adapt to the “indigenous” way of life of the people especially those who are living in the mountain. The absence of the basic commodities such as potable water, electricity and many others add to the many challenges the missionaries have to face. Likewise, the weather condition is another story to tell. Only during summer (January-March) that you get to feel the heat of the sun 24/7, and that would make it very difficult to travel in and out of Kankintú for the river is practically dry. One has to walk 2 hours or less depending on the water level and up to where the boat could go. It is a sad story also for us who are visiting the communities during this season especially during Holy Week. To walk under the scorching heat of the sun really opens one to different kinds of “strokes”. During this time expect the shortage of water for household tasks. And the rest of the year it is raining and ironically, sometimes it is more difficult and dangerous to go out of or enter Kankintú because of the river’s strong current. This makes it even harder and riskier to visit communities because some of the streams in the mountain are overflowing and impassable. It is a common experience that, when rain pours unceasingly, it normally causes water shortage in the community because of clogged water tanks due to fallen leaves and twigs. But life must go on and the mission must continue! So, we have to take the risk in order for us to transmit God’s hope and love to his flock living on the other side of the mountain. For me it should be mandatory that one should be physically and mentally fit to reside there. I believe, it was more on the human adaptation aspect that somehow made it difficult for the friars to fulfill the mission entrusted to us. And this is even exacerbated by the diversity of the OAR religious assigned there.
Fray Kenneth: The only difficulty I encountered in Panama was the language because I am not good in Spanish. I lacked formal schooling to learn the language. If only I had undergone more time for language schooling and had gained facility to speak Spanish, I guess I would have been more fruitful in the apostolate and could have assisted more in taking care of our old brother religious there.
RCI: But you were able to cope with these challenges, right? What were those factors or coping mechanisms?
Fray AJ: There is no doubt that the One who called us is the One who sustained us! Every time I was challenged by the pressing condition in Kankintú, there’s this personal tendency to go back to my original desire and intention why I volunteered for the mission. It’s my Galilee!
Fray Kenneth: For me it was God’s grace accompanied by personal effort. Every day I would find time to study the Spanish language on my own.
RCI: Wow. Now, would you please describe briefly the culture of the people there?
Fray AJ: Among the Panamanians they consider the race Ngäbe as unique compared to the other local indigenous groups in the sense that there exists in this culture the mentality of dependency. I am not generalizing but the majority of them have that. While the Bugles on the other hand are more communitarian in the sense that they share and participate in the activity of the community. Majority of the Bugles are concentrated in Sta. Catalina while the Ngäbes are in Kankintú. [Ed. Note: Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé has 9 districts, two of which are Sta. Catalina which is facing the Caribbean Sea and Kankintú which is in the interior of the jungle. Ngäbes speak Ngäbere while Buglés speak Buglére, two separate and “mutually unintelligible” languages.]
Fray Kenneth: At least, in the capital, the people are good and welcoming. They are very serious about their Catholic faith. They are well evangelized because of the catechetical programs of the church in Panama, unlike some of us Filipinos who are only sacramentalized, but not well evangelized.
RCI: How did you perform your mission works?
Fray AJ: As far as I am concerned, I believe I have fulfilled my duties and responsibilities as a brother, a religious, a priest and a missionary in that isolated place of Panamá.
Fray Kenneth: Every morning, from Monday to Friday, I had my English class with the pupils. I prepared my lessons and, at the same time, learn the Spanish language myself since the children cannot understand English directly, I needed to translate the words to Spanish first. Some said that they were just taking advantage of me because I was given some works which are not related to the ministry like, taking care of the old members of the community. But I don’t see it as taking advantage of me rather I see it as my apostolate to the community.
RCI: What is your opinion about leaving our mission in Panama?
Fray AJ: We left Kankintú to give way to the revitalized Province of Candelaria to decide, align, and assume her ministries in line with the Order’s vision and mission.
Fray Kenneth: We left our mission in Panama in order for the revitalized Province of Candelaria to first take responsibility of the mission apostolate in Kankintú.