by Portia Awayan, FLARE

***From March to May, the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team was in the Parish of San Isidro Labrador, Balabagan, Lanao del Sur to help and facilitate the Golden (50th) Jubilee of the Parish. The three-month mission which was aimed as a way of RENEWAL AND ACCOMPANIMENT began with the Lenten Recollection in the Small Christian Communities of the Parish.

 The theme of this year’s Lenten Recollection for the parishioners of San Isidro Parish of Balabagan was “Gifted to Give,” taken from the theme of the celebration of the 5th Centenary of Christianity in our country.   The recollection aimed to deepen their reflection of this theme and relate it to the meaning of Lent. 

  The theme is taken from Matthew 10: 8, where Christ told his apostles: “Freely you have received; freely give.” It’s actually Christ’s command for his apostles to do all, to give all they’ve got for the mission.

To jump up the activity, each participant was given 5 small pieces of paper and were asked to write five of the most precious gifts they have received in their life. These could be be material things, relationships, experiences, character, etc.   Then, one-by-one, they were requested to give any of their treasured gifts to the poor, to the church, to the people of other religions, and to the mission.  

Miss Portia giving the input of the Lenten Recollection – GIFTED TO GIVE to the Christian Community in Lower Itil, Balabagan, LDS

It was interesting to note that most of them were willing to give and share their precious gifts, even their own family, their own lives, and their own faith to others.  Although it was just a kind of a game, but they showed how generous they are as a people.

During the recollection, the participants began with the insight that today, with the idea of “being deserving of something you receive” or “of being entitled”, not many of us have really appreciated our gifts. Some would even lose their sense of surprise, even their gratitude and joy. However, a gift is something one does not expect, even something one does not merit, yet freely given according to the desire of the giver. Indeed, we are all gifted at an unexpected moment. So, one wonders!

But this year, the parishioners of Balabagan reflected that they cannot only be grateful and joyful but should be awed by the gift of Christianity which the nation received 500 years ago.   At a closer look, it is not just faith that they received but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

At the closest and last look, it is neither just the faith nor the Gospel that they received: It is Jesus Himself!   Thus, the celebration is not just about them; it is about Jesus.  They do not only see the gifts, but the Giver.

Moreover, during this Lenten Season, the parishioners are reminded of the greatest gift of salvation that they have received from Jesus, through His passion, death, and resurrection!   He has reconciled the people back to the Father!  They are saved from the darkness of sin!   They have become people of the Light!  This is truly a gift that brings genuine joy to all believers, like the parishioners of Balabagan!

The parishioners then reflected on the meaning of the centennial Logo, and on their mission as lay people.   Most importantly, they echoed that they are called to build Christian families. They put into their hearts and minds that the Vatican Council II calls the laity to develop their own family spirituality and to make their families schools of holiness and defense of family values.

As we ended every recollection in different communities in Balabagan, they were asked to offer the remaining piece of their treasured gift to the altar, in front of Jesus’ cross.  Without hesitation, they gracefully offered their last gift, showing their generosity as a people.  The members of the mission team could attest to this during their three-month stay in Balabagan.  They have experienced how the people welcomed them, and shared their time, talent, and material goods in all mission activities.  The team especially witnessed the kind hearts and helping hands of simple people, despite their underprivileged conditions.  No wonder, Jesus loves the poor, and reserves for them the Kingdom of God!


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