Bishop J P Andaya – 15 years a missionary in Africa before being appointed to Apostolic Vicarate of Tabuk. Its remote nature makes it a mission area and thus not a diocesis …. yet!

Well it promises to be a Christmas we will never forget!  In the West we are used to a slightly frenetic round of anxious present buying, potentially hazardous Christmas Parties and then maybe a blow out followed by a few lazy days  in front of the box.  Here in the Phillipines Christmas is celebrated slightly differently.  Come Boxing Day everything is back to normal – all the energy builds up before Christmas. Simbang Gabi,  the nine-days before Christmas in the Philippines, is where all the action happens. Masses begin as early as 4 a.m., a tradition that is said to date back centuries, to the time when Filipino farmers under Spanish rule had to rise early to find time to worship before toiling in the fields. The priests saw that the people attending the novenas were tired and numb from work in the fields, even though they continued to want to come.  As a compromise, the clergy began to hold Mass early dawn when the land would still be dark, a break in tradition prevalent in Spain and her Latin American colonies. This tradition has been enthusiastically embraced and continues till today.

Four of us met the very impressive Bishop of Tabuk this morning, and he has assigned us our places.  I am to be posted to Tanudan, perhaps the most remote parish, although one of my companions has to cross a river more than thirty times to get to his mission station.  The Bishop himself is going to accompany me for the first few days.  I was surprised and very impressed to find out that he tries to visit the more remote areas when he can,  He seems to be a bishop that doesn’t need his comforts!  He informed me that it will be about a 10 hour hike to get to our base.  I was told later told me that the Bishop said 10hrs because he has shorter legs!  Then the daily routine is a five/six hour hike – arrive at a mission station – rest – rise early for mass and then off again to the next stop.  The place has no resident priest at the moment, its thin mountain air makes it a challenge to fill the spot –  so it may be possible that for some of the villages it may be their first mass for months.  We were given a detailed briefing of the different social situations we would encounter/ possible tribal tensions / as well as rather worringly stories of four priests who have been killed in the last 30years. In my place Fr Elias Baleng was caught up in a tribal conflict and was killed protecting two women -he was probably a martyr.  The Church has responded by establish a peace-makers movement, which has significantly reduced tit-for tat tribal killings. Due to this it seems I much safer and stable, and the priest is seen as a valuable commodity – at least at Christmas time!!   It will almost definitely be safer from the streets of North London.  Strikingly hearing about  the tribal tensions and violence reminded me of the gang violence and postcode ‘wars’ in London.

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas!

Everywhere we have been told to expect packed churches. So today I am shedding some weight from my backpack to prepare – but I have invested in a wireless broadband so I am taking my laptop! Hopefully there will be a few mountain tops en route where I can get a signal and post photos and news!  Having just googled Tanudan – I will share one of the images (on the right) which has got the juices flowing! I just hope I can navigate the rope bridges safely – without making too much of a fool of myself!

This may be my last post till Christmas – that is up to the Smart Bro network and how much it penetrates the Cordillera mountains!  If so have a lovely holiday and thanks for reading!