Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Mountaintop Experience


You know, the more I travel in the Philippines, the more astounding natural beauty I see.

We tertians traveled very far this time, through some very rough, even dangerous roadways to reach what is known as the Mountain Province in north central Luzon. But, the long bus and truck rides (about 12 hours total) were well worth it, for it brought us to the heart of the Cordillera Mountain Range, similar in beauty and grandeur to the American Allegheny Mountains -- without the snow, of course!

Our first stop was Baguio City. Known as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” Filipinos by the thousands flock to this town to enjoy family vacations in the cool temperatures and dry air of the mountains. The Filipino Jesuits have a beautiful house called Mirador. It sits at the top of a hill in Baguio, which was once the site of a Jesuit observatory early in the last century. The observatory has since been relocated to Manila, but Mirador remained as a rest house for Jesuits who needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We stayed for a few days, relaxing in the before moving on to begin our Christmas ministries. We enjoyed beautiful public gardens in Baguio and visited Camp John Hay, which was built by the American armed forces in the 1940s as a vacation getaway for military officers and their families.


After a few days in Baguio City, we pushed on into the heart of the Cordillera Mountains. The roadways (many of them yet unpaved) snaked up the steep hillsides, offering dramatic views of vegetable and rice terraces, some of them centuries old, cut like giant green staircases into the mountainsides and river valleys. Landslides are not uncommon in these mountain passes, and while we saw evidence of recent landslides here and there, we were fortunate to be making our visit in the early part of the dry season, when the chance of landslides is significantly less. Our five-hour journey ended in Bontoc, a town in the Chico River valley where native Igorot tribes were evangelized a century ago by Anglicans and later Belgian Catholic missionaries. Elevation in Bontoc is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level. Consequently, temperatures in Bontoc are what Filipinos call “cold,” but a hearty Clevelander like me calls these temperatures “mild.” Occasional morning fog burned off by noon, giving us sunny, blue skies by day and starlit skies by night.

We arrived just in time for the start of a three-day fiesta, celebrating the centennial of the CICM (Congregation of the Sacred Heart) Missionaries’ arrival in the Mountain Province. Highlights of the fiesta include an elaborate parade and cultural presentations by young people, dressed in native Igorot and Ifugao costumes; a visit by the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines; presentations by the former and current bishops of the Mountain Province vicariate; native games; playing and singing of tribal music; festive native foods (some 30 pigs were slaughtered to feed the huge fiesta crowds); and a grand centennial Eucharistic liturgy in Bontoc’s Santa Rita Cathedral. In the course of those three days, my fellow tertians and I were overwhelmed not only by the pageantry and spectacle, but also by the deep sense of joy and pride of the Igorot and Ifugao peoples who have come to embrace the Christian faith whole-heartedly without losing their native identity.

In my next few blog posts, I'll share some of my ministerial experiences among the native Igorot people of the town of Bauko in the Mountain Province. Thanks, as always, for reading. May this be a prosperous New Year for you and your loved ones!

6 comments:

bkelley said...

Hi Ray,

Thanks for sharing the intriguing descriptions of your time in the mountains. A wonderful cultural experience for you. I look forward to reading more.

Saludos,

Bill

Rory said...

Fr G, how you be? I hope all is well. You are in our prayers. Hope to see you soon. Till then, take care, take Christ, live the faith and until we meet again may the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand :-)

Greg said...

A hearty former Pittsburgher (now in Richmond,Va) like me can appreciate that you sweat like crazy there and enjoy the cool mountains' airs.

Now that I know you're a Browns fan and I am a Steelers fan.... well we may have another fun discussion goin' on with you'ins.'

If you can look up Father Joe Smith, (he's my uncle) tell him that we both love to watch the Bills loose to the AFC Central Division.
Greg Peters
(son of Eleanor Smith)
804.378.0770
greg_peters@comcast.net

Greg said...

The Leap Year Saint..
In the Greek Orthodox Church calendar, today, February 29, is the feast of St. John Cassian...... a feast that occurs only once every four years.
John Cassian was born about 360. The son of wealthy parents in what is today Romania, he was well-educated. As a young man, he visited the Holy Land and decided to live a monastic life in Bethlehem.
To deepen his spirituality, he visited Egypt, and then Constantinople where the bishop ( St John Chrysostom) ordained him a deacon. When John Chrysostom was exiled, Cassian was among his defenders and went to Rome to plead the bishop's case before the pope. While he was in Rome, Cassian was ordained a priest.
John Cassian later founded two monasteries in Marseilles. He wrote three books on the ascetical life, all of which have been preserved. Good readings
Greg Peters

Toon Six said...

Hi Father:

I am Toon Six, Belgian but living now in Morris Plains, NJ, US. My aunt Sister Gabrielle Six was teaching at the ST Vincents high school in Bontoc. I think that it was St. Vincents high school. Have you or your colleagues ever met her? She was born in Elverdinge, Belgium. She was in the Bontoc from about 1948 till about 1974. She taught the kids weaving. She might have been the headmaster. She belonged to CICM. I know that she is buried in the cathedral of Baguio.
My email id: toonsix@intercs.com
Please let me know if you have any record of her. Thanks a lot.

Toon Six

Toon Six said...

Hi Father:

I am Toon Six, Belgian but living now in Morris Plains, NJ, US. My aunt Sister Gabrielle Six was teaching at the ST Vincents high school in Bontoc. I think that it was St. Vincents high school. Have you or your colleagues ever met her? She was born in Elverdinge, Belgium. She was in the Bontoc from about 1948 till about 1974. She taught the kids weaving. She might have been the headmaster. She belonged to CICM. I know that she is buried in the cathedral of Baguio.
My email id: toonsix@intercs.com
Please let me know if you have any record of her. Thanks a lot.

Toon Six