By Sarah Noonan
I AM a lay missionary from Buffalo, New York, who is volunteering in Borongan with the Oikos Sisters in their work to bring God’s love and care to His beloved poor in Eastern Samar. I have been with the Sisters for a total of one year and am in the midst of my second mission with them.
It never ceases to amaze me how God works in and through our lives. He can use His holy Word, people around us, or even our experiences to touch our lives, to remind us of His love for us and to offer us opportunities to grow closer to Him. He provided just such an experience for me right here in Borongan throughout Lent this year, and especially through Holy Week. Never before have I participated in a more meaningful Triduum, and never before have the days right before Easter awakened me so fully to the love of Jesus Christ for me, for us all, through His suffering, death and resurrection.
Holy Thursday in Borongan is very similar to how we celebrate it in America. The mass on Holy Thursday, the last mass celebrated before Easter, is so beautiful. Not only on this night did Jesus institute the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders, so meaningful for me as I have a brother who is a priest, but He also gave us a model of how we are to live and treat others in the washing of the apostles feet. Sitting at mass, with more people than I have ever seen at Holy Thursday mass, watching the Bishop kneel before parishioners, washing and kissing their feet…whether in Buffalo or Borongan, it moves me so. This year with the Oikos Sisters and the Oikos co-workers, of which I am one, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper and the washing of the feet at our mission house in Sohutan. Let me tell you, kneeling in front of someone, washing and drying his or her feet, kissing them…it is a very humbling experience!! If you’ve never done this, you should! How many times have I watched a priest or bishop wash parishioners feet, but never before this night have I so fully understood how much Jesus wants us to love and care for one another because I have done so myself.
At 5am on Good Friday, we had morning prayer at the Cathedral, and that was followed by Stations of the Cross at dawn. Not inside the church, which has always been my experience, no this was out around the city of Borongan. Walking with Bishop Crispin and about 3 thousand other people, we stopped at each station to kneel and pray right in the street. As the sun rose, we walked and prayed. It was so solemn and beautiful! Despite the fact that I am just learning the Waray-waray language, my heart understood and fully joined in the prayers and the reverence to Our Lord. Children and young mothers, grandparents and teenagers… Singing, walking, praying out in the street in a procession of sorrow laced with hope for all of Borongan to see…it was easily the most meaningful Stations of the Cross I have ever experienced.
Later that day, along with the Oikos Sisters, I attended the 3pm service including veneration of the cross and the burial procession of Our Lord. We walked with statues of Saint Peter, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Veronica, Saint John, and Sorrowful Mother Mary. Behind us was Jesus in a glass casket. This time, there were around 10,000 people!!! Oh my goodness!!! Once again we marched through the city, this time praying the rosary all together. In the time before I can remember, Catholic Churches in the United States used to have processions throughout their communities. Now, however, it is not done. They will say people are too busy to process or we don’t want to make anyone feel bad by leaving them out of our procession. But there is something so beautiful about walking throughout your town or city, proudly praying, announcing your faith to all without even having to speak to them. I do hope processions come back in the U.S.!
I have never attended an Easter Vigil mass with so many people! How beautiful it was to be there, hearing the choir ring out the first Alleluia we have sung in six weeks, and be surrounded by so many people who appreciated it as much as I did. The music, the light, the water, the welcoming of the Risen Lord joyfully into our hearts and souls… the Easter Vigil mass is full of symbolism and rituals, so full of meaning. The mass was solemn and reverent, as was the congregation. After the experience of Holy Thursday, celebrating the Lord’s last supper and the washing of feet, after the sorrow of Good Friday, this mass completed the Triduum perfectly. It wasn’t until the last moments of the mass that the true joy of Easter was celebrated among us. It filled me up!!
Easter Morning mass was celebrated at the chapel in Sohutan, where one of the Oikos Mission houses is. Oh what joy was shared and celebrated at that mass! Never have I heard the people sing so joyfully as on that Easter morn!! It was a contagious energy that swept through everyone there, and how happy I was to be a part of it!!
God does speak to us through our experiences and through others…He did to me this Easter. How blessed I feel to have not only been a witness to the beauty and reverence of Holy Week in Borongan, but to have had the opportunity to join in the experience of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection with so many people in such a meaningful way. Allelia! The Lord is risen!! Happy Easter!!