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Cardinal Tagle’s statement on drug-related killings -

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Journeying with the Youth of Ilocos Sur

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Back in August, Filipinos for Life Speakers and Trainers were invited by the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia in Vigan to do a series of talks for their youth. Last Saturday, F4L members Rommel Lopez, Anna Cosio, and Juan Carlo Vitasa and I went on the long trip to Vigan to respond to the call of evangelization. I was asked by Pro-Life Philippines to document our journey there in the north.

Day 1: The Arrival

We arrived in Candon City, Ilocos Sur around 4 AM, way earlier than we were expected to arrive by our host, Fr. Willie Jones Ducusin. Fr. Ducusin is also the superintendent of the Nueva Segovia Association of Catholic Schools. It was a good thing that Candon has a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant where we waited for Fr. Willie. He promptly arrived before 5 AM, and escorted us to the rectory of the St. John de Sahagun Parish Church where we freshened up, had breakfast, and heard mass.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights and heritage spots of Ilocos Sur. Highlights of the day were our visit to Sta. Maria Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a church built atop a hill much like forts of medieval times; the zoo owned by former governor Chavit Singson called “Balwarte”. We had an idea of how rich Chavit Singson was through Balwarte, as the money involved to procure the animals and maintain the zoo itself costs an unimaginable amount of money.

at Sta. Maria church, on top of a hill. It is a UNESCO world heritage site church.

The poor horse must have been terrified at the thought that I would be riding his Calesa.

Fr. Willie saved the best for last and drove us to an eatery for a taste of the famous Vigan Empanada. It rained in the evening, which meant that we were not able to visit the renowned Crisologo street of Vigan. That had to wait until the next evening.

Day 2:  Vigan to Sto. Domingo, and Vigan to Narvacan

We woke up at 5 to make it to the 6 AM mass presided by Fr. Willie. We had breakfast afterwards and went on a short drive to Sto.  Domingo, around 8 kms away, to Benigno Soliven Academy, where more than 300 students were waiting for us. Mr. Lopez talked about the sanctity of life, and how life is both a gift to be cherished and a treasure to be nurtured so that eventually we can share this gift to others through the talents we develop. These talents, in turn, will give us an indication of what career to pursue after college. One student revealed to the whole crowd that she wanted to pursue her studies in college in Baguio, but she was being pressured by her friends to stay behind so they can always be together. Mr. Lopez told her and the all the students that true friendship transcends distance, so you will always be friends where ever you go; and that true friendship means you and your friends are free to pursue whatever will make you happy and fulfilled, including pursuing your dreams – even if it meant that you might spend less time with one another.

Anna Cosio talks about chastity at the Benito Soliven Academy

Ms. Anna Cosio expounded on the idea that our lives are suppose to be selfless and self-giving, giving our young ones especially on the matter of chastity and purity. She also emphasized the importance of dressing appropriately, being a gentleman and a lady, and  the benefits of living a chaste life.

We went back to Vigan after lunch, but promptly took the 31km trip to Narvacan Catholic School run by the Reparatrix Sisters. After the discussions, we were met by a most curious question from one of the students: Bakit masarap ang bawal? (why does it always feel good to do the bad thing, roughly translated )

 

Ms. Cosio’s answer was nothing short of brilliant: that it is a mistake to think that all the good things in this life can only be achieved though doing what is bad or evil. In fact, that was the original spiel of the devil during the temptation of Adam and Eve: that doing something against God is not only good, but also beneficial. Anna explained further that there are consequences in doing good and in doing evil, and that usually it is the consequences of doing evil that isn’t being advertised openly, e.g. if you eat too much, you get sick. Have sex with a lot of partners and you get STD.

A student from Narvacan Catholic School asks Mr. Lopez a question

As we drove home to our base in the Arzobispado of Vigan that afternoon, we saw this great sign:

 

God's promise to His people: I will never leave you!

Was it a sign of approval from God of what we were doing? I have personally been through a lot of problems, and after being so overwhelmed with what I saw I realized that God was telling me that no matter what I went through, He was always there for me. For all of us.

Back in Vigan, we enjoyed good weather, which allowed us to visit the famous Crisologo Street, the UNESCO World heritage site. It was a street straight out of the Spanish times where (almost) every house was preserved in its beautiful antiquity. Even the road made of stone is preserved. At night, the magic begins as you are transported back in time as the calesas transport people and the lamp posts illumine the streets with romance and melancholy. We strolled around, took pictures, went for a calesa ride, and had beer and pizza in a restaurant along Crisologo street as a nightcap.

Having fun at Vigan!

Day 3: Vigan to Sta. Lucia, Sta.Lucia to Sta. Cruz

We had to wake up even earlier in order to make it on time to our talks in Sta. Lucia, 68 kms away from Vigan, then from Sta. Lucia we went to Sta. Cruz, 12 kms away. The church in Sta. Cruz was almost filled with students, with an estimated 600 youngsters. Ilocano students tend to be more reserved and shy than their counterparts in the big cities of Manila; however, what struck us was that the schools were spick and span, way cleaner even with our standards here. Perhaps cleanliness is a common Ilocano trait. It is a trait that everyone should imbibe. We also realized that the Ilocano youth behave in a more dignified manner than the ones here in Manila. They laugh if there is something funny, they cheer on for their companion if necessary, but there is hardly any hooting or boisterious behavior on their part.

My talk to these young ones was about their lives as their journey. I myself made mistakes before, as I admitted to the kids, and it was during those times that I felt so lost, without any compass guiding me. I spent three years living in sin, not going to mass nor even prayingduring those times. In my journey back to God, however, I realized that it was God who made the first step to come back to me and look for me. Then I told the students about the rainbow we saw yesterday. That rainbow, I said, was God’s way of telling me – and telling the youth – that whatever comes our way in life, with God’s strength we will be able to weather any storm and endure any hardship.

It was a packed church for our talk in Sta. Cruz

It was an uncomfortable trip that afternoon going to Cervantes, a sleepy little town up there in the Cordilleras (elevation around 1.500 feet above sea level)  with a population of no more than 20,000 people. The drive was a long trip where the road kept twisting and winding, lasting for close to three hours. It was like a trip from Manila to Quezon Province, except that the road was steep at times and turned left, right, and sometimes turned U every 6 seconds.

We arrived that evening at St. Agnes School and were greeted by the community of nuns that run the school. During dinner, the nuns told us how excited the students and the teachers were when they learned that we were coming, but the grade 7 and 8 students were quite disappointed because the talk was only for the senior high school students. Mark 6:34 came to mind: “And Jesus going out saw a great multitude: and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.”

I decided for the group that we were going to have to go home a little bit later than usual to accomodate the lower grades. We hit the sack early due to exhaustion, and the cool Tagaytay-like weather was the perfect lullaby as we gave way to sleep.

Day 4: Cervantes

The students in St. Agnes may be more isolated than the other students in Nueva Segovia, but they sure are the most jovial students so far. We were met by warm smiles and greetings by the students we encoutered, and the small ones must have mistaken me for a priest. They kept greeting me “good morning father!” and making mano.

the students of St. Agnes in Cervantes listen intently to their speaker

One of the students from the senior batch asked if those who engaged in same-sex marriage did feel true love for their beloved. Since I opened the talks with the topic of our personhood as a gift from God, and that we should all share this gift to the world – I told him that marriage is very much an exchange of gifts – the man gives his masculinity to the marriage, and the woman brings her feminine side. The complementary gifts allows God to give them another gift: a child that is supposed to be a gift to the whole world too, enriching all of us in the process. What happens in same-sex unions is that the person receives a gift he or she already has: a man receives masculinity, a woman receives femininity. Not only does the gift seem useless (ever received too many mugs for Christmas?) but the purpose of the giving of the gifts is lost too – as this union will never bring forth another gift, biologically speaking.

The whole community was so profuse in their gratitude that they made us bring along a whole box of vegetables they had grown – Baguio Beans, potatoes, and cabbages. Enough to make me put up my own stall at the local market here and sell them in the morning and still have enough to cook for lunch and dinner. As we went down the mountain, we saw for ourselves the breath-taking view of the Cordillera mountains in Ilocos Sur, leaving me awestruck for the nth time in 4 days.

I, Anna Cosio, and Fr. Willie Jones Ducusin pose for a picture high on top of the mountain path going back to Tagudin

We had dinner at a local parish in Tagudin, south of Candon, and after that we caught a bus going to back to Manila. Before we left, I told Fr. Willie that it was a pleasure serving God and his people here in the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia. I also told him that we will definitely come back.

We arrived at the terminal in Pasay around 4 AM. I went straight to the Pro-Life office to work as I was worried that if I went home I couldn’t muster the strength to get up and go to work. I was tired, exhausted, but at the same time my spirit was refreshed. Building the Kingdom of God here on Earth seems to be an impossible task, but it’s worth the try.

 

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