This has been a lovely few days sharing with each other the consolations of the long retreat. Very inspiring and there is a great joy in the tertianship.  Today the focus has changed, looking forward as we prepare to leave on Friday for our ‘Christmas ministries‘.  We are all travelling north to the Mountain region.  This is a very beautiful region, famous for its 3000 year old rice terraces. In spite of its remoteness – its population speak English as well as their tribal languages, a testament to a truly remarkable networks of schools and hospitals developed by Belgian missionaries.  Half of the group will be based around Bontoc – which is fairly developed.  However four of us (including me) are going further north – to Kalinga region, where the bishop will assign us to various places. A previous tertian reports having to walk 5hours a day to various mission chapels scattered in the mountains to celebrate mass and also how happy the people were to have a priest for Christmas. Excited – I decided to do a bit of research  to find out what the next three week might have in store.  This is what the Lonely Planet  (thanks JP!) says about Kalinga.

This rugged inaccessible province north of Bontoc attracts those who are looking to escape from civilization entirely. Kalinga is a place where weekends aren’t even a concept, let alone a reality; a place where animals are frequently sacrificed in ritual feasts and where traditional law still trumps the laws of the contemporary world. Here you might meet the last of Kalinga’s notorious head-hunters and see tattooed tribeswomen with snake bones in their hair.  You’ll dwell amid free ranging livestock and hike along ancient mountain trails to villages enveloped in rice terraces. 

Reading this has made feel a bit of trepidation as well as excitement.  I sent an email back to the province Treasurer yesterday telling him about the head hunters – he is in charge of our insurance policy 🙂  –  and he very helpfully told me to make sure I got a picture before I went in the pot! I have lost about 10kgs in weight since arriving here – so I am afraid I won’t be the most tasty Christmas Dinner. Anyway we have been assured that we will be quite safe at the moment because the tribes are not warring, and having a priest come for Christmas is very special for such a remote area.  However the animals might not be so respectful – I have been told not to wander off the paths into the bushes as I might attract hordes of voracious pigs looking for a tasty meal….. Luckily I am assured of a guide with me (catechist or youth worker who will probably be wearing flip flops )

Christmas is very special in the Phillipines – commemorated by a novena of masses that start on Dec 16th – the Misa Aguinaldo.  The one catch – each one starts at 4am!  yes 4am….. So I have invested in a powerful head torch – to help me trudge through the mountains and paddy fields.  At least the stars should be stunning!