By: Teresita Basada Caharop , D.A.
PRAYERS, laughter and viewing God’s beautiful creation lighten a difficult journey.
Prayer, combined with acts of mercy and compassion, is truly powerful. It enhances God’s presence and provides protection to people exposed to dangers and conflicts. Such was the experience of a group of adorers of the Blessed Sacrament from the Cathedral Parish of the Nativity of Our Lady.
It is hard to believe that a group of six elderly women, ages 62-72, with not so good physical conditions, could persevere in a six days continuous land travel in a place noted for kidnapping and persecuting strangers and religious people. But the travel had to be made at the soonest possible time to catch up with potential people from whom assistance was to be solicited for putting up a foundation aimed at protecting the environment, or our “common home”, in the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical letter “Laudato Si” and caring for the poor and disabled. This is the kind of mercy and compassion we wish to combine with daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and daily attendance in mass.
Each of the six women in their very senior years had their own physical ailments—cold and fever, urinary tract infection, sore throat, painful forefinger slated for operation, on and off severe shoulder pain, and feet swelling. These were the physical conditions of the six adorers before departure which, surprisingly, all turned into fine, relaxed and satisfying physical conditions at the end of trip.
From the time the group departed on April 3, 2016 at 3:00 a.m, praying the Holy Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, sometimes recited and sometimes sung, dominated the trip. Each day, for six days, these prayer were said, two to three times a day, intermitted with jokes and laughter, and viewing the panoramic sceneries of Mindanao which virtually lightened the long travel. Kilometers of banana plantation in Davao, vast expanse of rice, corn, mango, and mangosteen plantation in Cotabato, the fish-laden seas of Gen. Santos, rolling hills covered with pineapple, sugar cane and cassava in Misamis Oriental thick forests and waterfalls and the beautiful mountain lake of T`boli tribe in the interior upland area of Sebu, Koronadal, Cotabato known for its highest zeepline in Southeast Asia, the winding roads and deep ravines with the blue ocean water sighted in Agusan and Surigao had brought us closer to God, the creator of the beautiful nature. They reminded us of what Pope Francis points out in “Laudato Si”, which is to protect “common home”. But abuse of nature must have been done in central Mindanao, resulting in the long drought in the place which is one cause of uprisings and protests.
In this travel, of which I was a part, I wish to underscore several moments when we allowed the presence of God guiding and protecting us. The miraculous disappearance of the pains and ailments we suffered was a manifestation of God`s presence in our midst. As we always said loud our petition for good health during the travel, God indeed came to join us—to lay his hands on the painful shoulder, on the sore throat, on the swollen feet, on the painful forefingers, and on the hands of our driver who wonderfully turned the wheels of our van all throughout the long journey.
What was more amazing his presence in several instances when we were exposed to dangers along the way which we did not even knew were occurring. As we petitioned for good health, we also petitioned for protection from dangers, especially from bombing and other types of violent conflicts for which Mindanao is known.
Through the Holy Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, God and Mama Mary shielded us from troubles and conflicts during our long journey in Mindanao. Thus, we were able to safely, unknowingly and amazingly pass by the following dangers and uprisings: a crossfire between NPA`s and government troops at Compostela Valley at about 8:30-9:30PM last April 3,2016 on our way to Davao City, an uprising between farmer protesters and police and military men at the public plaza of Kidapawan, Cotabato from 8:00 A,M to 10:30 A,M last April 5 on our way to the OMI District House in Kidapawan; three Muslim communities where Muslims fought against Muslims on our way to attend the barangay fiesta of Selit, Pikit, Cotabato near the Mamasapano area at 9:00-9:45 AM of April 5,2016, and several Muslims areas in Maguindanao on our way to Koronadal, Cotabato last April 5,2016 from 1:30-4:00 PM.
Abu Sayaf, MILF, BIFF-these were what we feared which might have been lurking anywhere in Mindanao looking for chances to throw terror and violence hitting anyone nearby. But in several moments in our long journey when we needed most God`s saving power, He was with us!
We never knew that the above troubles were occurring if not for the calls and texts from family members back home who kept on monitoring these crises in Mindanao as we travelled. Even our hosts were texting and calling us by cell phone asking where we were and cautioning us to stop first and look for a safe place. We were wondering because we have not noticed any trouble on the way. Maybe, they might have occurred before or after our passing by, and surely, that was God`s way of protecting us!
Our hosts, Fr. Denz Evardone Basada, OMI, in Kidapawan and Pikit, Cotabato, and CHED Regional Director Maximo C. Aljibe of Region VII in Koranadal Cotabato said that we were such a rare group of brave and daring elderly women who deserve to be awarded. We thought that how they regarded us was just a joke. But, to our great our surprise, they really honored us. Fr. Denz and other OMI priests and deacons at the OMI District House in Kidapawan headed by Fr. Jonathan Domingo, OMI Director of Media Ministry, prepared a hearty lunch for us, after which we were ferried to the town of Pikit, three hours away from Kidapawan where we were billeted at a nice lodging house and given snacks, dinner and breakfast at the convent of the Immaculate Conception Parish of Pikit aside from varied “bring home” delicacies given to us by their PPC members.
At dinner time, Fr. Bert Layson, Director of Inter-religious Dialogue Ministry and ten years parish in this town, related to us that the “all out war” between Muslims and government troops during the Erap administration occurred in Pikit, and that he accommodated and fed more than two hundred Muslims for six months at the parish gym where we were having our dinner. He said that he did this not because he was siding with the Muslims but because of mercy and compassion for the Muslims who fled from their homes and had no shelter and food while the war in Pikit was going on.
The honor given to us in Koronadal City by the CHED Regional Director, a Boronganon, was more grand. We were received with a big WELCOME tarpaulin hung at the gate of CHED Region XII compound. We were also billeted for free at a five star hotel, and put on us “garlands of valor” in an on-the-spot ceremony at the hotel lobby. Highlighting all these honors was a truly relaxing trip to the highlands of Lake Sebu, Koronadal where we viewed at close range a tall and beautiful waterfall. We were also tendered with lunch enjoying some of their 100 tilapia recipes on a floating cottage that cruised along several islands of a big, cool and scenic mountain lake, about 600 feet high from the lowlands complemented with cultural dances by T`boli tribe performers.
Our journey to Mindanao was with a mission—to ask assistance for doing some works of mercy and compassion. It was a perilous journey although we never knew that there were dangers and troubles going on as we travelled for six days. But in several moments of our journey, God was with as to shield and save us from dangers and difficulties.
God also blessed our hosts, Rev. Fr. Denz and other Oblate of the Mary Immaculate (OMI) priests who oriented us on organic farming which they manage on a 9-hectare farm in Kidapawan; and CHED Region XII Director, Dr. Maximo C .Aljibe, who helped us finalize our proposal for putting up a foundation in Borongan City to help protect the environment and to give additional income to the poor and disabled.
To briefly describe our trip—it was “a once in a lifetime experience with moments of God`s presence in us.”