A Missionary's Diary - A letter
from Fr. Alan Meechan
Inarawan - where Fr Alan works
A History of the Inarawan Pastoral Area
Fr. Alan is a native of Kilsyth and a member
of the Divine Word Missionaries.
He is currently based in the Philippines.
We have asked him to write to us, when he can, to keep us updated about his work.
Fr Alan is only home every 5 years and is currently back with
us - October 2013.
For more information on Fr Alan click here: Fr Alan Meechan S.V.D.
Click on any image to get a
Inarawan - Fr Alan Meechan
talks to the people
Tagumpay Village Pastoral Council
and their Eucharistic Minister
Inarawan - Meal after meeting
(food brought by the people)
Click on any image to get a
Inarawan - Old Parish House
Inarawan - The New Chapel House
Inarawan - The Village Chape, inside
Click on any image to get a
Inarawan - The Village Chapel, side
Inarawan - The Village Chapel, front
Inarawan - The Village Chapel
Inarawan - Formation Centre and Lay Missionaries House
A Missionary in Mindoro – Fragmented Observations
When I first came to the island of Mindoro in mid 1987 after
some months in Manila, I was appointed as assistant in Socorro,
a medium sized Parish in the centre of the island with a sickly
Filipino Parish Priest. After two and half years I was suddenly
transferred to Bulalacao, a rather wild parish in the south
of the island with a communist insurgency problem, where I stayed
on my own for seven years. This was followed by almost three
years in Inarawan, a relatively remote, recently founded village
parish which was desperately poor and where the people suffered
greatly from recurrent flooding of the river. I was then transferred
to San Maraino, another parish in the south of the island, where
I spent the next six years. During this time Inarawan was closed
as a Parish. It now became part of the larger Barcenaga, twelve
miles away. On leaving San Mariano four years ago I was surprised
to find myself appointed as assistant in Barcenaga with responsibility
Apart from our interprovincial noviciate and a college with
a very high reputation, there are no specifically SVD apostolates
or parishes in Mindoro. SVD’s serve in diocesan parishes
or ministries and SVD missionaries in Mindoro are on exactly
the same level as diocesan clergy. They have the same benefits,
the same respect and the same is expected of them. Only, the
foreign missionaries and those with parents in the USA are allowed
to have some months’ home leave from time to time, although
many diocesan priests also go abroad for various reasons.
The diocesan clergy is still quite young. The oldest (apart
from the bishop himself) is only 1 year older than I am. Some
diocesan priests have died due to illness or accident, but only
now is there a policy being formed for them, and also a retirement
house for which there was no need in the past.
Some years ago there was the feeling that the missionaries should
leave Mindoro because the diocesan clergy was already established,
but in recent time our bishop, the first non SVD one, has acknowledged
that there is still a need for the foreign missionaries. He
invited us to retire in Mindoro, rather than elsewhere, suggesting
activities in which we could still be involved, even in retirement:
‘I hope you die here!’
Many years ago, when I was working in Bulacao, a very difficult
parish, a visiting priest in Manila asked me how things were.
I said, ‘There are far too many problem!’ to which
eh replied, ‘There are always problems in the parish and
the only way to deal with them is to take things easy.’
I’ve followed this advice for a long time and it has served
me well, particularly in adjusting to the different world view,
attitudes and habits of the people with whom I am living. I
no longer rush into situations and expect a quick, simple solution,
instead, I tend to act more slowly now and deliberately, allowing
things to happen rather than forcing them to happen. Some time
ago I heard someone say, “He celebrates Mass very slowly”,
and the reply was, “He’s slow at everything except
for the bike!”
On the mission you soon see your weaknesses. There is always
the temptation to blame other people for what happens, especially
when you are an assistant in a parish, but when you are alone
or become Parish Priest, you may be able to blame the people,
but really you eventually see that the fault lies with yourself
– your ideal of a fruitful apostolate when you are completely
in charge falls to pieces in the cold light of reality. You
know however, that there will be future possibilities where
you will have the benefit of the perspective of experience and
perhaps more ideal conditions, but nothing is ever as good as
has been hoped. Of course nothing is ever as bad as you had
The missionary – the sign of hope.
What greatly stuck me and even gratified me when I returned
to Inarawan in 2006 was the attitude of the people. I heard
one high school teacher say to her principal, “Father
Alan used to be here and was always together with us in the
parish youth apostolate. Then he was transferred to the south...
but he has come back” The former parish priest had been
suppressed and made part of a distant parish. Three times in
the past the local priest has been taken away from Inararwan,
with no immediate successor, and the people feel that they are
abandoned and that they are not valued by the Church. They aalso
feel that no priest wants to stay with them. Now they actually
have a priest that has come back of his own accord! I have also
noticed this recently when I came back home from leave. The
fact that there is a priest in the area seems to mean for the
people that the Church is interested in them, also that God
has not abandoned them, Mass and the sacraments are celebrated
Also there is the fact that the foreign missionary is seen to
be making an attempt to adapt to the environment in which he
lives and works. When I came back once from home leave, one
person said to me, “You have grown fat and become white,
but in a few weeks you will become Filipino again.” For
me it would suggest that the people know that this country I
have adopted is important to me.
A retreat giver encouraged us all to learn by heart the prologue
of John’s Gospel. The Word became flesh and lived amongst
us. I have always felt that as Devine Word Missionaries we should
follow upon the incarnation of Jesus in our lives and mission.
Jesus became Jewish. I know that I could never become Filipino.
St Paul the embodiment of the Church’s missionary thrust,
tried to be all things to all people. I think I would be content
just to be vaguely assimilated Mindoreño.
What I feel should happen in Mindoro, or at least in my place.
For a long time I have felt that Church was far too large to
have regular and continuous contact with all her members. Also,
while there was a Chapel in every village, these were usually
locked except for perhaps an hour every month. Was that the
mission of the Church and of the priest, to go to each village
once a month, just to celebrate Mass, preach, hear confessions
and baptise? If that were so there would be no growth. The church
would be priest-centred. This was an impossible situation. The
people would gradually lose interest and the Church would weaken
or die in that part of the world – or perhaps some sect
would come along, which could be there constantly, or more often
than a priest could. In which case the Church would again weaken
or die in the area.
What would seem to be needed in the Parish is a ministry of
presence. How do I achieve this? In a way I am doing this already
by being there for the people, but that is not enough. I can’t
be everywhere at the same time.
It would appear that this problem is fundamental to the response
of the local Church to the situation in Mindoro. Of course,
I have been brought up in Europe, in a totally different situation,
and the local view was at first incomprehensible for me. I have
for time been trying to answer this question for myself. I feel
embarrassed that after many years in Mindoro I have still not
come to terms with my situation. Or rather, perhaps I have in
fact come to accept the situation, but I am not yet ready to
put it fully into practice in my ministry. It has taken me a
very long time to understand that founding small communities
is apparently the only way to meet the problem in the Philippines
and elsewhere. Perhaps this would be the way ahead also in the
West. Pope Benedict seems to feel that it doesn’t matter
if the Church is smaller so longer as it is better. In Larbert
in central Scotland, where I once replaced a priest on holiday,
I attended a St Vincent de Paul meeting. While the society’s
work in Britain has been in many ways circumscribed by the state
which now provided for most material needs, I was impressed
by the apostolate of the members to elderly, sick, lonely and
housebound people in the area. Also, in the daily Mass community
in my home parish I have discerned much goodness and care for
each other among the people. Through these people the love of
Christ reaches out to others who cannot attend, people who are
working, the sick, the housebound, often people who would be
a part of the daily worshiping community but for their infirmity
or other commitments.
Inevitably, however, this community is comprised for the most
part elderly people who were retired and therefore had the time
to meet for Mass every day. Would such a community die out or
would it be replaced by other people as they themselves reach
retirement? I think the Church in Scotland is alive but in some
ways it is a church of the elderly.
How do I see myself?
I am part of a process which I do not fully understand myself,
to work for the purpose of God in the world.
Sometimes I ask myself why I should be a missionary in Mindoro
and not elsewhere. The Mangyan tribes people were the original
inhabitants of Mindoro but they have been marginalised due to
the massive influx of settlers from other islands in the Philippines.
While no one can deny the magnificent work that the Church has
done in the past and is continuing to do in the present, I think
the great failure of the Church in Mindoro is that she has in
the past neglected the Mangyans people, but the bishop told
me that it was felt that my mission should be with the lowlanders.
I do not know why I was not accepted to work with the Mangyans,
but I feel this must be part of God’s plan for me.
The vicariate is at present highly involved in education and
development. I feel that I cannot be involved as much as I would
like to, due to the language, culture, and , perhaps, attitudes
and expectations of others working in the vicariate. Possibly
this is changing now.
However for some time I have seen my role in the vicariate as
to search for God and at the same time to share this with other
people. I think my contribution, for what it is worth, is valued
by my fellow priests and by the people whom I am trying to serve.
Recently I have found myself chosen as confessor for priests,
nuns, seminarians, and perhaps this may become my main apostolate
as I grow older.
Sometimes I feel that I should be working in my home country,
especially when I see the difficulties of our local diocesan
priests with the falling off in vocations. However if I did
go home, I would probably end up in our parish in Bristol, where
i do not see any real need, although of course there is a need
What have I done since I came to Mindoro?
Since I came here I have always been in parish work. I have
done little more than celebrate Mass in different places, and
been there to help the people when they needed me. I have noticed
and been surprise by how many people contact me just to talk
when they are worried. I have worked in four different places
during the last 27 years (7 months at the start helping with
the scavengers in Smokey Mountain, the big rubbish dump in manila,
and to a lesser extent helping the student teachers at the Philippine
Normal College, in manila. I Mindoro, I have usually been on
my own, though I have been parish assistant 2 times. I also
do a bit of confession/counselling at the novitiate and the
local Benedictine monastery.
In my previous place, Inarawan, I have had the unusual experience
of formerly having been parish priest there, but later returning
as assistant parish priest. It was a fascinating and enriching
experience to meet people whom I knew in the past but who are
now, like me, more than 10 years older, with much experience
accumulated in the meantime. I could see this both on the levels
of the adults, often previously young people who were now married
and settled, and of the small children whom I had baptised or
who used to wave and shout when I passed by on the bike, but
who were now at high school or even married and working already.
Recently I was moved to a new parish sandwiched between the
sea and the mountains where everyone is engaged in either fishing
or coconut harvesting. I found life much easier than in all
other places where I had served, partly because I did not have
any expectations of myself as the saviour of the parish or the
people as my unquestioning helpers. Perhaps this has helped
with the reawakening I have witnessed in the parish and the
growth and enthusiasm as we prepare to celebrate the parish
jubilee next year.
My dear friends,
I’m sorry I’ve not been in contact for so long.
With Easter over I should have been able to get a bit of a rest
but things never work out that way.
May is always a busy time for us because there is a great devotion
to Our Lady here, many villages celebrate their annual fiesta,
and both the parish church and the villages have their daily
Flores de Mayo celebration. Children, but also young people
and adults sing, dance and offer flowers to Our Lady every day
in the parish church or village chapel. I’m always amazed
at the idea of 16 or 17 year old boys offering flowers to a
statue of Our Lady, and I can’t imagine it happening in
Kilsyth, but I think that often the young men are there not
so much for Our Lady as for the young ladies! The Flores de
Mayo culminate on May 31 with a procession through the streets,
a special offering in the church, solemn Mass, a big communal
meal and then often dancing or a variety show in the evening.
It is a great social occasion and really brings the community
together. Thankfully, the priests don’t have to get involved
in everything, though I usually try to attend at least one offering
in each village – a couple of days ago in one village
a very nice wee lassie grabbed me and made me offer flowers
with her – but in the final few days it’s murder
trying to celebrate Mass in as many villages as possible. Some
priests actually boast eight or nine masses on May 31, which
is just not right. I had six once but I’m making sure
it won’t happen again. I had four yesterday, plus more
than four hours of travel between the chapels, while my parish
priest, who never preaches a sermon, had six.
Some weeks ago I heard that Fr Karl, a German priest in a parish
across the river, had decided to go home to look after his aging
mother. A couple of days later the Episcopal vicar for clergy
and religious chased me up and asked me to replace Karl. I’d
already had time to think and I was able to give him the reasons
why I thought I shouldn’t leave my area – nobody
else wants to go to Inarawan, I would be the fourth priest there
to be suddenly removed in fifteen years without an immediate
replacement, I’ve just got started on certain programmes
which as yet couldn’t easily be put in the hands of the
lay leaders, who would lose heart anyway if they were left alone
again, etc. I know it sounds as if I am on an ego trip and making
myself out to be indispensible, but I’ve thought and prayed
about it for some time and I honestly feel it was the right
thing to do.
The other priests of course think I’m daft to refuse my
own parish. Karl said to me, “You’ll enjoy it there,
it’s small, no problems, and you’ll have your own
cemetery!” A cemetery makes a small parish financially
secure. My parish priest has been trying to get me to accept:
“Don’t worry, I can adjust my schedules (35 villages
and a couple of diocesan committees) so I can look after that
area too.” I discussed it with two of my leaders and they
asked me not to tell anyone else because what little progress
we’ve made so far would come to an immediate halt if the
people knew they might be left on their own again.
I bumped into the vicar general in the cathedral one day and
he told me they would respect my decision. Later, when the bishop
came to the area for confirmation and was duly shocked when
he saw the damage the floods had done to the place, he took
me aside and said he could perfectly understand my wish to stay,
but that something would have to be done about the parish house
where all the doors and windows are rotten and where the silt
now comes up almost to the windows. I did not say anything,
knowing that the vicariate has never been very good at helping
with priests’ houses in the past – they expect the
priest to find the money somehow himself – but then he
went on to say, “I’ll see what we can do for you,
just let us know what you will need.” Our catechist told
me to hold him to that but I’ve a feeling that the best
he’ll offer me when the time comes is a loan that I couldn’t
possibly repay. I am a bit worried about the house – and
the whole village – because the government has not repaired
the dyke that burst on the river, so it looks as if the severe
flooding in the months after Christmas will come back with the
approaching rainy season. However, the formation centre we have
been slowly building, largely with stipends from Kilsyth, will
soon be com-plete, God willing. It looks as if two community
organizers who were to come and live there might not come after
all, it is on slightly higher ground than the parish house,
and if necessary I can move there. In the four months after
last Christmas the parish house was repeatedly flooded, sometimes
up to the waist, and I used either to sleep in upstairs houses
nearby or else escape on the bike to the home parish. You can
take a bike through a flood much more easily than any other
I’m more worried about the coming floods for the people’s
sake. In some places last time their land was simply washed
away and deposited as silt elsewhere and the place where they
used to plant has been turned into a stony desert. Making a
living is now very difficult for them and it looks as if things
will get worse in the near future. This is a very good reason
why the Church shouldn’t abandon the people at this time.
I have to go back to Calapan tomorrow – I’m taking
Masses in the home parish at present – because though
I got two injections I’ve to get extra vaccine, put it
in the fridge and take it with me to get injected with it on
certain days during the next month or so. It’s a lot of
bother, but they say it’s a lot more trouble dying from
rabies. The bite on my ankle doesn’t look as if it’s
going to get rabid, but I’ve been bitten five times in
the last ten years, including a bad one by the bishop’s
dog. It was disposed of shortly afterwards because it had bitten
too many of the bishop’s visitors. The people who ate
it showed no ill effects, so I knew I hadn’t got rabies
from it. However, one Eucharistic minister I knew recently died
after being bitten by the dog of the parish priest in my previous
place, and I think I’m tempting providence if I don’t
finally get myself injected. I’m supposed to observe the
dog for two weeks, to see if it dies, but I don’t want
to go near that brute again! Maybe you remember you got me an
address on the internet so I could order a dog deterrent. I
got it before I left London but I’d left it in the house
last Tuesday. I’ll make sure I take it on my home visits
in future. I’ll see if I can get this e-mailed tomorrow
– I won’t add to it because it’s far too long
already. I promise I’ll try to write more frequently and
briefly in future.
Thank you and God bless.
|My dear friends,
Christmas is always a memorable occasion here with a lot of unexpected
things happening, and it now seems I wrote to you not at the end
but in the middle of things. Although the weather in the previous
days had been such that we thought the rainy season was ending
early, the rain came down heavily again the day after I wrote
to you, especially in the evening, and there were jokes about
the floods coming back. The next morning water did in fact start
coming into the chapel house at 5 o’clock, we made sure
everything was high up, and before long the house and the church
were knee-deep in water. It seems that a flow of water about the
size of a fairly large river came from the broken dam about 2
miles south and went straight through two villages, including
ours. It separated into four or five branches, following the different
streams in the village, flooding the whole place. Our area is
both flat and low-lying, but we are about five feet higher up
than the main part of the village, and by the afternoon the flooding
was stabilized in the house. There are concrete barriers at the
base of our two doors to stop water coming in, but really they
only stop it going out, so I thought I’d better make a start
in getting the water out of the house. I knew it would take ages
to get the house cleared, especially since I was alone, but if
I didn’t do anything nothing would happen, so I kept on
going. Of course it was not long till people passing came in to
help and by evening the house was for the most part free of water.
We left the chapel and by Saturday it was free of water and a
number of us cleaned it in time for Mass on Sunday.
Down in the main part of the village all the houses were flooded
up to waist-height and I pitied the people who had no split level
or upstairs part and so had to spend their next few days in the
water, unless they could go off to relatives till the water had
gone down. As the road went out of the village towards the villages
of Tagumpay and San Andres, where I had to travel by water buffalo
through another flood two weeks before, the water got deeper and
I couldn’t even take the bike – it would have meant
carrying it for most of three kilometers. Tagumpay, Batanes and
San Andres are still cut off. The navy brought in inflat-ables
there but they couldn’t use them because of the rocks and
the current. My visits there are postponed for the time being
and I’m doing extra work in Barcenaga, the home parish.
On the other side of Inarawan where the road goes off to the villages
of Mahabang Parang and San Luis, the situation was at its worst.
The flood here followed the course of our local river which was
now about four hundred yards wide and very deep. The road, which
was particularly low lying, has been regularly flooded in the
past and recently the provincial government built a sort of dyke
to carry the road out of the village. This dyke now served as
a dam with water piling up about ten feet on one side of it, passing
over the top in a very strong flow which could easily sweep you
off your feet. The noise of the water could be heard all over
the village. Our high school, originally opened by the Divine
Word Missionaries in 1993 and abandoned for some years after a
horrible flood, was swamped. Though the water has gone down in
the past few days there are still no classes and the pupils and
teachers who have turned up are trying to clean the place. Yesterday
they got hold of a mechanical shovel and were trying to clear
out the pipes below the dyke in the hope that the water would
go down. Six of my Mass centres have been cut off but I managed
to get to three by bike, carrying it through waist high water
and changing into dry clothes at the chapel. I still can’t
get to the other three. We were cut off from the outside world
for two days but now the road going out is free of water. I can
get around easily by bike but I’m not risking bringing our
old jeep near Inarawan because of the state of the roads since
the flooding. However, the weather is getting better, you can
now often see the mountains again, hopefully by the end of the
month the rivers will be low enough to cross and I’ll be
able to get to the home parish by bike in 45 minutes. This place
is really beautiful when it is not raining, the mountains serving
as a backdrop to the rice fields, but it rains far too much here,
and the rainy season itself is really awful.
I’m sorry, as usual I’m going on for far too long,
and I’ve got Mass in a barrio this afternoon, so I’d
better stop now.
Thank you for everything, and God bless,
|December 29, 2007.
My dear friends,
I’m sorry I have not been able to write for a long time,
but I have been very busy in the run up to Christmas, and a lot
has happened. However, I’ve got my sermon sorted out for
tomorrow, I’m in Barcenaga, the mother parish, to collect
some things, having come by bike because the road is very bad
and the jeep is falling to pieces, and I’m going to wait
till about 4pm when it is cooler before going home, so I’ve
got a couple of hours to spare, and I’ll try to get something
down now for you and sent off on Monday, if I can get in to the
city for a short time to e-mail it.
After our last abundant harvest the land was left a short time
before it began to be prepared for planting. Then whenever I passed
by I could see people ploughing with water buffalos and hand tractors
and fixing up the pilapils, the low earth dykes that separate
the rice beds. In certain corners you could see squares of a very
vivid green, where seedlings had been planted close together temporarily
before being transferred to the fields. Planting itself began
about a month ago and is now still going on. Bundles of seedlings
are tossed into the field to land about perhaps a couple of yards
from each other. Then gangs of 10 - 20 people move in, each person
takes up a bundle and plants individual seedlings in rows about
six inches from each other, working very fast. It’s very
tiring work, they’re almost bent double the whole day, but
it is a living for the people.
While the planting is going on we are preparing what we hope will
be another kind of abundant harvest. In the past few years the
Church in the Philippines has been particularly concerned with
the fact that we do not reach many people and has been trying
to give emphasis to the place of the family in the Church. At
Christmas the vast majority of people do not get to Church –
if they did the churches would burst at the seams.
Every parish has a number of village chapels in addition to the
parish church, ideally each with its own church council and served
by a Eucharistic minister every Sunday, with the priest visiting
each village for Mass once a month. However, in my area we have
eleven chapels and only one active lay minister who takes two
chapels on a Sunday. I have Mass every Sunday in two more chapels
but the seven others have till now been used only once a month
when I went to visit them. In an attempt to remedy this situation
I have begun revising missalettes which come from Manila, and
sermons from the bishop’s office, simplifying the language,
and producing an easy to follow Sunday service each week, using
the readings of the Sunday and with a sermon or sharing. This
can be used by lay people, for example, the man or woman who is
in charge of the village church council, with other members of
the community involved in reading, commenting, singing the psalm,
reading the short sermon, etc. It means a lot of work every week
but for the first time I are seeing almost all of our chapels
open and being used on Sundays. Few people attend at present,
but it’s a start, it is very important that the local church
community meets to pray every Sunday, and it’s much better
than letting our chapels lie empty. For the first time ever, there
has been a daily Christmas novena service in practically all the
chapels in my area.
I can see many problems ahead, notably of discouragement, tiredness
and perhaps differences of opinion among leaders, but I hope to
develop what’s being done and always to be there to lead
and encourage the people, eventually helping in regular training
sessions and recollections, with material from the diocese. The
bishop had previously a vague plan for commissioning lay ministers
of the Word, people who can lead a service when there is no Eucharistic
minister, but so far nothing definite has emerged. I am trying
to get things going from the grass roots, and perhaps what is
being done now in my area will eventually be formalized at diocesan
level. Meanwhile I am taking care that we remain in harmony with
the mind of the Church.
We will never have enough priests and while there are still many
villages without Eucharistic ministers, this idea should lead
to our people being better looked after, not only through Sunday
liturgy but also caring for each other in their local communities.
Even though I have quite an area to take care of the names of
people who can’t attend Mass though illness or disablement
are mentioned for prayer at the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy in
the central village of Inarawan. Our local unofficial census which
I started when I first came is not all that accurate, but I am
already benefiting from it in my ministry. While I cannot yet
say that all the sick or bereaved are being regularly visited
and helped, I’ve got hope for the future. At least I’m
beginning to know the people, which is something very difficult
to achieve in a missionary situation.
I began my Christmas season with a bit of an accident. One Saturday
early in the evening I was coming back to the village on the bike
in the dark after a couple of weddings in the Barcenaga. The road
has been in a terrible condition since the last harvest was taken
out of the area and the bike is quicker than a vehicle because
you can zigzag and avoid the big puddles and potholes which are
full of mud and water, sometimes knee-deep. I had just avoided
a puddle on my right when suddenly another cyclist appeared in
the beam of my light. He too had been avoiding a puddle on his
right and now we were heading straight for each other. In addition
to our twisting and turning to avoid the puddles, the road was
winding so I didn’t see him until he was straight in front
of me. Like most cyclists here, he had no light. I couldn’t
move back to the right so I swung into the trees on the left of
the road, braked and put my foot down. I thought I had got out
of his way but he ploughed right into me, his handlebar hitting
me hard on my right cheek, though it was not too painful at the
time. He fell off his bike, sat down at the side of the road and
began to cry and scream. I was worried at first but then remembered
that in an accident it’s often the least seriously injured
who is the noisiest. I made the mistake of saying I was surprised
he had run into me, and this seemed to hurt him more than the
accident did. He maintained I had run into him and that he was
in the right because he had been on the proper side of the road.
It never occurred to him that we were both avoiding puddles, that
he had no lights, he apparently did not brake, and that even then
he should have seen my powerful halogen light from a long way
off. By this time I realized he was hardly hurt at all, a couple
of gashes on his fingers only, but he was behaving like a spoilt
child, and I thought he was drunk, except I couldn’t smell
anything from him. He insisted that I had smashed his bike, the
tyre had come off, and that I accompany him to his house which
was not far away so that his wife could decide who had hit whom.
I didn’t quite understand his dependence on his wife, but
I was in a risky area where many people belong to a fiercely anti-Catholic
sect. I had had a run-in with them about eight years ago when
I was prime witness to the murder of a Catholic, and the bishop
had said, “No, you are not going to testify; these people
are ready to kill if necessary.” Therefore, I thought it
best to accompany him. If I didn’t I might have difficulties
there in the future. On the way to his home some of his neighbouring
relatives saw us and joined us, both Catholic and sectarian. One
said, “Don’t worry, Father, we’ll make sure
it’s all right.” I got the impression that he is a
bit of a problem in the area, and they didn’t want any trouble.
I’ve often felt in the past that after the murder word was
put out among the members of the sect that I wasn’t to be
harmed, and even after eight years they were following this up.
When we got to the house he was very upset because his wife was
not there. With the help of some of the neighbours I fixed his
bike, talked to him and comforted him, later, using oil to massage
what he said was a sore bit of his back at the base of the neck.
I took care not to suggest that either of us was in the wrong.
By the end he was smiling and at that moment his wife arrived
and said, “I’ll deal with him, Father, you’ve
got a long way to go so you’d better be getting on.”
I checked a couple of days later and he was all right, though
by then I had a beauty of a black eye and a doctor later found
I had two fractures round my right eye socket. I had a bit of
pain especially at the beginning of the Christmas dawn novena
but the fractures now seem to be healing. I’ll get myself
looked at in Manila next month. At least it didn’t keep
me off the bike. I notice when I pass by that place on the bike
that the people are now especially friendly.
During the novena dawn Mass period I had every day in our village
morning novena Mass at 4am (confession before Mass) in Inarawan,
where I stay, and evening novena Mass at 7pm in another village.
I usually got back to Inarawan about 10pm which didn’t give
much time for sleep, though after the morning Mass, usually over
by about 5:30am, I could sleep for a bit before going out to visit
other villages or to the mother parish where I helped at weddings
and funerals. The parish vehicle broke down on the second and
third days of the novena so I didn’t trust it any more and
went everywhere by bike. My parish priest was not too demanding,
probably because of my accident, he didn’t expect me to
go too often to Barcenga, which is some 12 miles away over a terrible
road, so my Christmas was fairly relaxed, compared with last year.
We had only one typhoon which burst a dyke on one of the rivers.
The flooding did not reach my village but I was nearly swept off
my feet at one point when going to visit two remote villages.
On the way home I travelled through the flood, complete with bike,
sitting on top of sacks of rice on a trailer pulled by a water
buffalo, the first time I’d done this for years.
Apart from that we managed to get through Christmas without any
problems and I actually thought the rainy season was going to
end without us being flooded, for the first time in fourteen years.
However, on December 26 and 27 heavy rain caused all of Inarawan
to be flooded, including the church and chapel house. Three villages
were completely cut off, boats were got from the rescue services
to help people get in and out and there were even a couple of
helicopters ferrying people for a short time. I got through to
two of the villages on Dec. 28, carrying the bike through the
almost waist-deep water and being careful with the current. I’m
luckier that I am taller than most people here. The floods have
for the most part gone down now, the church and chapel house have
been cleaned up and we are ready for the Dec. 31 evening Mass
and the Mass and baptisms on January 1. However, a lot of Inarawan
is covered in thick black mud. Still, it will make the fields
more fertile. People were asking me today if I thought there would
be more flooding and I said no, which was tempting Providence.
January should see the end of the rainy season, but you never
can tell here.
God bless and Happy New Year!
Again we are in the rainy season and already have had a number
of typhoons. Even for the few people like me who do not work
on the land our life here revolves round planting and harvesting.
Now is harvest time, the second I have seen since I came back
from Scotland, and most of the rice crop has already been gathered
in. We have had a very abundant harvest this year.
Every morning you can see people going off to work, covered
from head to toe to protect them from the sun, each carrying
a karik, a short, thin sickle which they use to cut the stalks.
Most farmers now own or rent a small diesel threshing machine
costing about 700 pounds, which is mounted on 2 wheels and brought
into the field behind a water buffalo, but the cutting and binding
of the stalks is done by hand and is very tiring. The people
fill sacks straight from the thresher and then these are loaded
onto a cart pulled by a water buffalo which takes them to the
side of the road where they are stacked to await the arrival
of the contract jeep.
A jeep is a long, sturdy vehicle, a cross between a military
jeep and a small bus with sides that reach only halfway up from
the floor to the roof which is supported by struts. It has a
door at the back and benches along the inside walls for passengers,
a bit like in the old Glasgow Subway. The benches are taken
out and tied onto the roof when rice or other produce is to
be carried. Jeeps, heavily loaded with sacks of rice both inside
and on the roof, leave our area and travel over the rough road
for almost 10 miles till they finally get to the asphalt road
going to the city with its rice mills and seaport.
The road is full of ruts and potholes at the best of times but
now it has been made much worse by the heavy rain and the regular
passage of the jeeps which groan and lurch dangerously as they
slowly and laboriously bear their loads towards the main road.
Sometimes I arrive at a village for Mass but find only old people
and children there because the others are away at the harvest.
The same people are called over and over again to help with
the harvest in different fields. Of course they have to struggle
to make their living in a place which has no social security
or free health care, and the rice has to be got in when it is
ready, a sudden cloudbust could ruin it.
The same is happening with the formation programmes that I am
trying to get going in the villages, mainly a series of bible
studies and sharing
with growth through developing themes. At present I am concentrating
on the leaders of each village pastoral council, but it is very
difficult to do anything when I can't be sure that they will
all be there. However I'm hoping to get the programme really
off the ground when the harvest has been completely gathered
in and every is happy and relaxed, and when the rainy season
is at its height and people can't do much outside. I'm finding
that more and more of the examples and material in my sermons
and teachings is related to the planting and harvesting of rice.
Jesus' parables and teachings are always down to earth and closely
to the everyday life of the people, and I think I am finally
beginning to learn to use Jesus' methods. During the past few
weeks the people have continually been looking at their fields
and those of their neighbours with expectation, and this gives
a good base for teaching about the Kingdom of God. Rice is more
real to them than mustard seeds. When the rice is first harvested,
or when it gets to the mill, a small amount is taken out of
the sack,handled, smelt and even tasted, in an attempt to asses
its quality and value. We are all familiar with the grain dying
and producing an abundant harvest, with Jesus as the first fruit
and the people seem to understand when I try to relate this
with the testing of the rice.
The harvest is now almost over,and some people are already
planting again, though most will wait till December when the
rain will be more or less constant. We are all praying that
there will be no more typhoons like the ones last year that
destroyed many fields and buildings and once flooded our whole
village to a depth of 3 feet. Although not everyone is a regular
churchgoer, all the people here have a very strong faith in
God and prayer, and we would all be grateful if people in Kilsyth
could sometimes say a wee prayer for the rice farmers of Inarawan.
Thank you, and God bless.
Fr Alan Meechan SVD.