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!