Arrival in CotabatoTour of Upi – July 28

We started early – 6 am – to get to St. Francis school in time for the opening day assembly.  Fr. Allen Padua, and Osang traveled with us with William as our driver.  When we arrived at St. Francis, Gilbert Casamina director of the tree nursery met us.

They are tearing down the old rectory to make room for a new church building, courtesy of St. Luke’s Medical Center.  The old church will be renovated for school use.  In the midst of the demolitions were two large mahogany trees; the first time I’ve seen a fresh cut mahogany.  The wood is a deep red before it is cured.

The students gathered in front of the High School building with flag raising, the Prayer of St. Francis, pledge of allegiance, national song, and St. Francis song.  The principal, Geraldine Bacas, is Bong’s wife.  She made some opening remarks and Osang introduced us and we each gave a greeting to the school.  St. Francis school has grown due to a new government policy about schools called K-12, setting the school years similar to the US.  The student population is now 960, with 36 faculty and staff. 

After the assembly we visited with some of the high school staff and had coffee.  They would like to have a website for the school and I volunteered to host one for them.  We’ll work on Friday to try to get a domain name registered (if we can get an internet connection).

From the school we went to the tree nursery and had a short tour and intro from the director.  There was a group of mahogany trees ready to be transplanted.  The nursery seedlings are mahogany, teek, banana, and coffee.  Growing around the nursery were the largest okra I’ve ever seen.  We walked out into the rubber tree stand so Jaime could see the tapped rubber trees and the latex from the tapping.

St Francis studentsWe then left for South Upi and St. Paul’s in Pandan, Fr. Alan’s church.  We made a short stop at St. Catherine’s in South Upi and met Paul, the Deacon in Charge.  We left the paved road up the mountain on a one-lane dirt (mud) road.  It’s 22 km from the highway to St. Paul’s and during the rainy season is only passible by walking, so it was quite a ride in the 4 wheel drive pickup. 

St Catherines (3)We arrived at St. Paul’s greeted by the senior warden with coffee and snacks.  Fr. Alan had to leave to do a burial for a 3 year old boy who had drowned.  When he returned other church leaders joined us for lunch.  We found out that St. Paul’s has 8 preaching stations, one priest, and 8 lay leaders.  The total membership is around 2,000, with a Sunday attendance at St. Paul’s of 160.  They are an aided parish with the goal of becoming a full parish next year.  St. Paul’s was the site for a large tree planting project two years ago.  We left St. Paul’s with a rain storm threatening and did not want to get caught on the dirt road in the rain.

Back on the paved highway we went to All Saint’s church, a congregation I visited in 2013.  Again we were welcomed with coffee and snacks.  We walked down a muddy path to All Saint’s corn field and mahogany plantings.  They now have 3,000 mahogany trees on church property and when the corn harvest is done, will plant another 3,000, replacing the corn field.  All Saints’ also grows coffee and  we each received 1 kilo of freshly ground “Robista” coffee.

On our return trip, we stopped at the tree nursery to pick up 2,00 mahogany seedlings and delivered them to St. John’s in Cotabato for a school planting project.  My friend Fr. Francis (Osang’s husband) is not assigned to St. John’s parish and school.  On Friday, we will attend their opening assembly.  I have $500 from St. Benedict’s mission funds and will give it to St. John’s school to help them rebuild their library that was destroyed in a fire.  I’ll also preach at St. John’s on Sunday; Jaime will preach at the Cathedral.

Back at the diocesan center and the internet is still down, so I’m delayed in posting travel journal and photos (lots of photos today).  We cooled off a bit and then walked across the street to a Muslim restaurant for dinner with two of the clergy from Zamboanga.  After dinner I had a couple of beers with some of the clergy gathered at the center.  They’re all headed home on Friday after a couple of days of diocesan council meetings.

The diocese is preparing to elect a new bishop; Bishop Danilo has announced his retirement in early 2018 and they will elect a new bishop during the 2017 diocesan convention.  Next year is the 5 year anniversary of our Caring for All Creation Partnership and the plan is to renew the partnership, so hopefully some people from Olympia will be able to attend convention in Feb 2017. 

It was a tiring day, with lots of walking, but a great experience.  Tomorrow should be less strenuous as our agenda is the program at St. John’s and time with the diocesan and St. Francis staff working on websites (if we can get an internet connection).  I’m still having jet-lag, It’s 3 am as I write this.

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