HomeCommentaryRural Reflection: The Gift of Journey (Part 3)

Rural Reflection: The Gift of Journey (Part 3)

Bishop Manny, The Itinerant Missionary.

Even before coming to the diocese, Bishop Manny already told me about his itinerary in Mindanao. From Cebu, I’ll fetch him in Butuan for the following day’s talk in Lianga.

After which, I’ll drive him off to Davao City (roughly 6 hours straight private ride), then from there he will take the bus to Pagadian City (roughly 7 hours public commute) before going back to Cebu again.

It’s already quite hectic for an 81-year-old Bishop to move around like this but I was more amazed to find his reason in doing so. He chatted me earlier: (after a short greeting and inquiry, he humbly requested) Duna koy duawon nga pamilya akong nakaila since 1969 ug nga abtik kaayo sa choir ug ubang kalihokan sa among simbahan sa Davao. Namatay ang inahan (91yrs old) ug very seriously ill (in fact dying with cancer) ang anak nga babae.

This may be my only chance to see her alive. (I wish to visit a family, that I’ve known since 1969, who were active in our choir then and other works in our church in Davao. The mother died (already) and the daughter is very seriously ill.

This may be my only chance to see her alive.) The moment I received his message my heart simply melted. This man values relationships that developed in his ministry, a genuine friendship that can only come from a pure and selfless heart.

Bishop Manny thought that I had designated a driver for his travel after his talk since it’s a Sunday the following day. But after hearing his very noble intention, I personally asked my bishop, Raul, to replace me in my Sunday masses so that I could personally attend Bishop Manny’s itinerary.

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Not only that, when I finally met Bishop Manny, I told him that I would be the one driving and offered him that we pass by Hinatuan and Mangagoy (Bislig), his one-time pastoral field. Unknown perhaps to the good bishop, that this trip could be his last (God forbid!), given his age and the hassle of travel. And I considered it my privilege to be of service to this humble man of God.

After his talk in Lianga, Bishop Manny was ecstatic to see again Fr. Frank Olvis, the former parish priest of Hinatuan at that time where RIMC (Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Council) did their mission works.

The latter is already a retired priest of Tandag whom I also personally requested to come for the said event. In his talk, Bishop Manny mentioned many episodes about Fr. Frank. To see them together warming up, as they recall the ‘good old days’ of mission under the pressure of martial rule, is both a source of joy and consolation.

They have not only survived, they persevered! A short while after lunchtime, Bishop Manny had to bid farewell to his old friend again as we were about to start a long ride. At the side, my heart crashed to see them walk apart again, only God knows when they will meet each other again.

When Fr. Frank left, Bishop Manny told me to give him ‘five minutes’, then off we go. His gesture immediately gave me the image of an itinerant missionary – mobility. As a diocesan priest, I see this as a perennial problem, especially during the reshuffling of assignments. Some priests (including myself) would take days to transfer to another location under different circumstances.

Bishop Manny could have requested me for a siesta or so, given his advanced age to travel. But he did not. Motivated always by mission, his feet are like those of a young gazelle. His sense of mission goes beyond the comfort of human friendship; it is primarily ministerial. He would want to spend more time with his friends but can readily move on to another for the sake of the mission.

Considering that he did his mission here forty (40) years ago, I was surprised by how much he had known the place and the people he used to work with. On our way to our first stop, Hinatuan, Bishop Manny easily identified places we passed by, the route of roads, and some stories to tell. He seemed surprised too to see the development of these places, compared to forty years before.

When we reached Hinatuan, we found the parishioners, at the parish, busy preparing for their upcoming fiesta celebration. Since we came unannounced, we did not expect anything at all as we toured around the church and rectory. When I introduced him to a parish servant-leader, Bishop Manny managed to mention a few names but unfortunately were not residing there anymore, which I felt sorry for. However, when he mentioned the name of his former youth leader, Nancy Forones, my heart jumped!

Having been assigned fleetingly to this place, I’ve known also Nancy or ate Nené or as I fondly called her, Maring for kumare. She has been an active lector until now and is reliable in many parochial activities. Little did I know that she was a product of the RIMC mission.

When the two finally met, I was teary-eyed. Maring or ate Nené is already in her early 60s but when she met Bishop Manny, she behaved as if she was that youth of the mission still, forty years ago! She was just so happy to see the bishop that she cried as she tightly hugged him.

They talked about how they lost communication and enumerated people whom they both knew. She recalled many lessons she learned during the mission, including that of standing up against a repressive regime. Bishop Manny conversed with her like a long-lost friend, cherishing every moment, joking most of the time as if they never aged.

It was almost endless until it was time to say goodbye. He would have wanted more to listen to listen to her stories, but it was he who painfully reminded me that we keep going. When we left, I dreaded not to look back at her, albeit in tears of joy.

Our next stop was the parish in Mangagoy (Bislig City) where RIMC used to spend its mission in what used to be the place of the biggest paper mill in Asia. Going there, Bishop Manny already told me about beautiful stories they had here. Unlike in Hinatuan, this was his first time to return after leaving about forty years ago, and yet he remained familiar with the places he mentioned.

When we reached Mangagoy, he was dumbfounded to see the development of the area as if the old face were totally replaced. He said the same to the ‘new’ St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Mangagoy as he was so impressed by its transformation.

We did not have the luxury of time anymore to tour around the hilly ground of the parish. Instead, we climbed up to the rectory. Lo and behold, we met Msgr. Florio Falcon, his erstwhile dear friend. Msgr. Flor is already a retired cleric of Tandag but is still active in the ministry.

Both of them were so delighted to see each other even for a limited time. When we left, Bishop Manny repeatedly mentioned how grateful he was for this travel to have an eventual encounter with ‘Florio’, his dear friend. It was already dusk when we left Mangagoy, but I could see the light in Bishop Manny’s eyes.

As we trodded the lonely road to Trento (Agusan del Sur) connecting AH26 (Asian Highway 26) until we reached Davao City, we were never bereft of words. I bombarded him more with questions while he showered me with stories: from his athletic days to driving motorcycles, from the case of Fr. Romano to the ongoing repression today, from his family saga in Cebu to resolving the hostage-taking crisis in Pagadian.

I can only wish to remember them all. But in all those stories, I’m always fascinated by how he narrated them sincerely to me. All those stories, no matter how trivial for some, are closed to his heart for a very simple reason that he found the hands of God in them.

The most painful part of the story was when we finally reached Davao City, for this time it would mean bidding each other goodbyes. In practically two days that I’ve been with Bishop Manny, I felt my soul is being sheepishly drawn to him. I felt this in the values and principles that he live by. I saw in him the Church that my soul longs to work with. Without romanticizing it, I wish to work with those people who do not dichotomize faith and reason, religion and life, and the Church and the Kingdom of God. On these past two days, Bishop Manny showed me that there is only one life lived among many; one faith that calls for freedom and justice, and one God who aspires for total human liberation. These two-day journey with Bishop Manny had been extremely difficult for me in trying to balance other pastoral duties but I simply cannot exchange for the enduring lesson I learned from this itinerant missionary.

During his talk in Lianga, Bishop Manny recalled the episode in the Gospel where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the wheel. That encounter changed the woman as well as the village where she lives.

Jesus did not stay long. He left as an itinerant preacher. And this is how I understood Bishop Manny now. Like Jesus, he is always on the go yet he continue to touched many lives of people he encountered with.

Life is an endless journeying, where we meet people along the way who come and go. The journey with each one take differs in time, some short, others take long. But what matters is not how much the time we journey with but the intensity of presence we made.

For a very simple gesture, Bishop Manny showed me that it is possible to live with the basic Christian values amidst the evil that is happening around. Thank you Bishop Manny for this short but meaningful journey.

Fr. Raymond Montero-Ambray is the Ecology Ministry director and head of the LGBTQIA+ apostolate in the Diocese of Tandag in the southern Philippines. The priest is a staunch environmental and Indigenous Peoples’ rights activist. 

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