We have been enjoying two days in Baguio City – it feels a little like our base camp – before we are sent to our respectives areas for Christmas. It has been nice to relax and acclimatise away from the heat and noise of Manila. Known as the “Summer Capital” Filipinos by their thousands flock to Baguio to enjoy family vacations in the cool temperatures and dry air of the mountains. The City is at an altitude higher than Ben Nevis – and was developed by the Americans as a resort town in the mountains. The Jesuits have a beautiful house called Mirador. It sits at the top of one of the hills in Baguio and has itself become a tourist hotspot. Over a hundred years ago, Spanish Jesuits built a Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes which is accessible by climbing 252 steps! And at the weekends it attracts many Phillipinos as much for the views it commands as for devotional reasons. Anyway we all managed to make it up the steps with our full packs- a little bit of training before the Christmas masses in the Mountains.
Mirador was once the site of a Jesuit Observatory and Seismology Station early in the last century which has since relocated to Manila. For 20 years it became the theologate for the expelled Chinese Jesuits (at the time of Mao) – who have since moved on to Taiwan. Now Mirador is a retreat/villa house for Jesuits who needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is under the management of the CLC. Tonight – four of us are catching a night bus to Tabuk – where we will be assigned our areas by the Bishop. The journey may be about 12 hours – we have to go the long way round because the direct road is closed due to a combination of landslides and warring tribes!! Please keep us in your prayers.
For me the highlight of our tour of Baguio has been visiting a quite remarkable work by the Good Shepherd Sisters. They have been training and educating many of the young people from the remoter regions of the Mountain Provinces. At first they had to rely on begging to support such scholarships – but now they have built up an incredible social enterprise where the youngsters support themselves through studies through a series of practical work – from making a nationally famous strawberry jam, coffee, baking, needlework, making peanut brittle. In 1990 there was a terrible earthquake which destroyed much of the plant – and so the sisters considered pulling out – but the youngsters insisted that as long as they could still be educated they would carry on the work for free until they built up the business again. Another important element of the sisters work is to encourage the youngsters to be proud of their indigenous heritage (see pic) – and to preserve it as it is often looked down on by the locals! You can read about this remarkable and inspiring project here -journey form charity to social enterprise.
I have made a small video called a taste of Baguio – it shows you some of the scenery, a beautiful hermitage in the grounds of the retreat house, the stained glass windows with the famous rice terraces and indigenous villagers depicted (where we will be giving our Christmas Ministries), also some of the work of the sisters, as well as a lovely scene outside the Cathedral in Baguio, with two young girls enchanted by the angelic Holy-water stoops and learning to bless themselves, Don’t worry it is only 90 seconds long!