By Lourdes R. Policarpio
The past years have seen negative news stories about the Catholic Church surface in multi-media. Scandals even in the Vatican, unfortunate misdemeanors of priests, and in the Philippines in particular, priests turned politicians. You oftentimes wonder how it will end and where Christ is in His Church, so clouded by dark shadows. It may be difficult for us to see the bright spots because goodness is oftentimes silent and hidden. Take, for example, this story….
It does not take place in that densely-populated concrete jungle called Metro Manila (capital of the Philippines). You go out to the province via the North Luzon Expressway. You then take the sleek Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTex). Once there, you feel that time stands still in the greenery of fields and mountains. There is relative silence for around 40 minutes as you see very few houses and vehicles along the highway. Then you pass the boundaries of Subic and take the stretch to Morong. The road cuts through a forest and occasionally you see monkeys.
You head for a coastal town called Morong in the province of Bataan, and pass through a site which was previously a refugee resettlement area for Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians. In February1981, when Blessed John Paul II visited the Philippines, he held Mass in this area for 20,000 Indochinese refugees being sheltered by the United Nations.
But this particular spot is even past the town proper of Morong. It is some 5 kilometers away and called barangay Nagbalayong, a word derived from an old Aeta word “ balayon” which means “to see”. The place was formerly an indigenous settlement of Aetas, the short, black, curly-haired aborigines of the country.
This trek from Metro Manila takes some four hours and city people may wonder – can anything interesting ever come out of this distant place?
It all started – as many things start – with a dream. Mrs. Pat Manalo, a parishioner who articulated the people’s sentiments in an article, wrote, “For 94 years, we Nagbalayong parishioners have been dreaming of an independent parish and a parish priest of our own.”
The barangay consisted of 2,000 families (or roughly 8,000 individuals) clustered into six “puroks” and “sitios”. For several years, Masses were celebrated in a worn out structure which was little more than a “bodega” with its dilapidated ceiling. The pastoral needs of the residents could be met more if they had their own parish church instead of them being serviced from the main church of Morong.
In the 1990’s, the clamor for a separate parish became louder and Archbishop Soc Villegas, then Bishop of Balanga, heard the people’s plea and challenged them, “Give me a rectory, and I’ll give you your own priest and erect you as a new parish.” The people responded to this challenge and built the rectory. But their dream was put on hold because the Bishop was transferred as Metropolitan of Lingayen-Dagupan.
There were again more years of waiting and finally in December 2010, the new Bishop of Balanga, the Most Reverend Ruperto C. Santos, heard the residents’ petition and appointed Rev. Fr. Ramon Guanzon Mariano, 28, as administrator.
The Bishop instructed Fr. Mon to undertake the much-needed repair of the church prior to its erection as a new parish which was targetted on July 30, 2011. On May 2, Fr. Mon and the parishioners rammed down the tattered canopy which was already in danger of falling down on Mass goers. Temporary Masses would have to be held in a nearby elementary school.
But in a flash of divine inspiration, Fr. Mon, with P60,000 on hand, wistfully thought: why not rebuild the church structure from ground zero? Could this be done in three months?
To finance the new church, the young priest had to roam the province of Bataan and beg for donations. Equally important, the residents gave the much needed support and the “bayanihan” spirit of cooperation. Workers volunteered and the sitios scheduled the feeding of the workers. Men and women never got tired of working up to the wee hours just to meet the target date.
The entire construction cost some P1.8 million and roughly the same amount was raised in three months.
Eighty five days after, on July 27, the new church was finished. The “Parokya ng Mahal na Birhen ng Lourdes” (Parish of the Beloved Virgin of Lourdes) had a gleaming new look. On July 30, three significant events were held: the consecration of the church, canonical erection of the new parish, and the installation of the first parish priest, Fr. Ramon Mariano. An estimated 3,500 people attended (a huge crowd by standards in the province) which included the Bishop, parish priests of other parishes in Bataan, and residents of nearby barangays.
When the Bishop walked in to the new church, there were tears of joy in his eyes. What was only intended as a repair job became an overhauling of the church structure for a new, more dignified house of the Lord, including a new sound system and new refurbishings.
For the parish priest and the parishioners, the whole activity resulted in greater bonding. All the longing of the years was channelled into 85 days of feverish work resulting in the fulfillment of a dream.
The parish has several organizations in place like a Parish Pastoral Council, Liturgical Committee and some religious groups like a Youth Ministry, Ministry for the Sick, Adoracion Nocturna Filipina, El Shaddai, catechists, and six chorale groups. Fr. Mon’s guiding motto is “If you can’t go to the Church, the Church will go to you. I’ll bring it to you and for you.” Highly-charged and energetic, he therefore conducted his “Visita Pastoral” (pastoral visits) and in three months, visited all the 2,000 families he serves. What is surprising, he says, is that even those belonging to other sects asked him to bless their homes. Since then, Mass attendance has increased dramatically. They have daily Masses plus two Sunday Masses in the church. Masses are also said in the respective sitios.
Fr. Mon’s latest objective is to complete the forming of Basic Ecclesial Communities which they call “SIMBAHAYAN” in order to inculcate in every Catholic faithful the necessity of strengthening ties among neighbors and make them realize that what they do in Church must also be practised in their respective “domus ecclesiae” (house-church).
The story of barangay Nagbalayong is actually a story of a community’s journey to the Lord Jesus. In truth, we are stronger when we practice our faith as a group, as a community, and learn to find strength in one another.
It is certain that the trek of Nagbalayong towards the Lord is not yet consummated. There will certainly be trials amidst the joys and challenges. But what should assure everybody is that Christ is closer to them – with the new parish church in the center of their lives. Jesus is there to comfort, to guide, to love, and to minister to their needs .
Fr. Mon aptly wrote down their sentiments and motivating force in a poem, “Christi Sumus”
At the beginning...we are Christ’s!
During the world’s continuous existence...we are Christ’s!
At the certain end...we are Christ’s!
Wake up...look back...move forward...towards the Lord.
Don’t hesitate and don’t be afraid!
This world may be melancholic and unfair...
but always remember, my friend:
CHRISTI SUMUS...WE ARE CHRIST’S...
NOW AND FOREVER!
by Fr. Ramon Mariano
Parish Priest, Parokya ng Mahal na Birhen ng Lourdes, Barangay Nagbalayong, Morong, Bataan Philippines
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