Last week (Oct. 29-30), I visited San Fernando, Bukidnon. It has been 24 years since I left this place. This was the mission area of the Redemptorist mission team from 1987 to 1989. The parish priest at that time (Fr. Pat Kelly) invited our team to build-up and strengthen the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in his parish. When we arrived, logging was rampant in the area and the people complained that the forest, including the watershed were fast disappearing. We helped mobilized the BECs to protect the environment together with the support of Bishop Gaudencio Rosales and the clergy, the NGOs and the local government units. After two years of struggle, with the people barricading the the highways against the logging trucks, the government declared a total log ban in the whole province.
I left San Fernando on December 15, 1988, a few weeks after the people's successful campaign against logging. Although the mission would go on until April 1989, I left earlier since I was asked by my superiors to go for further studies in Berkeley, California and then Rome.
I left San Fernando with a backpack, running to Malaybalay - which was 55 km away - it took me 5 hours and 15 minutes. That was my last memory of San Fernando.
So last week, I finally came back - walking-running 32 km from Valencia to San Fernando, with a 8 kilo backpack. The last 16 km was mostly uphill and it rained twice. I used to run the route in 2 hrs and 45 minutes when I was training for the marathon 24 years ago. This time it was over six hours with plenty of stops and rest. Well, I did a lot of walking - especially during the first 16 km. I was careful because I had an attack of gouty arthritis two weeks earlier. But once I was up the mountain I was running slowly, with tears of joy, remembering the long runs I did on this road and trail when I was 24 years younger. I knew I was older and slower, but I could still do it and that is what matters most.
When I reached San Fernando, I meet some of the BEC leaders. I also met Rev. Frank Vendor, whose ordination I came to attend. He is the son of the BEC leader in Kawayan. Frank was 5 years old when I occasionally visited his village and he used to guard my motorbike. When I met him many years later when he applied to the diocesan seminary, he told me that the desire to become a priest started during our mission in San Fernando. I helped looked for a benefactor so that Frank could realize his dream. Frank was ordained by Bishop Manny Cabajar - who used to be the coordinator of our mission team. Bro. Karl Gaspar also attended the ordination. He was just a newly-professed Redemptorist at that time and this year he is celebrating the silver jubilee of his profession.
After the ordination, I hitched a ride with Bishop Cabajar up to Cagayan and then proceeded to Iligan to celebrate All Saints & All Souls' day with my siblings.