After having been unexpectedly and abruptly transferred to join the mission team in Tacloban, I was given another unexpected and sudden assignment as parish-priest of our parish in Davao. Again this was a change in venue and type of apostolate I was totally unprepared for. On top of this, it happened in the middle of the triennium (the usual three-year term).
God must have smiled when He let our Council approve this assignment. Their decision was a response to a request made by Fr. Sean Purcell, then parish- priest of Davao. As Fr. Purcell put it: he had been parish priest for 23 years and he was now 60 years of age. So, he wanted a change to a more restful and reflective assignment. He then suggested that in his place be assigned a “younger man that we could let loose to gallop around the barrios.”
The “younger man’s” appointment “to gallop around the barrios” did not materialize. Instead the Council appointed me, one senior to Fr. Purcell in age by three years and in ordination by two years. My galloping around the barrios as the new parish priest of our Davao parish lasted two years (2002-2004) when I was again abruptly given another short-term appointment.
Now at 71 years of age, I was appointed parish priest for the first time. At that time our Bajada (Davao) parish was a sprawling territory covering some 62 small chapel communities, spread out from the national highway in front of the church to the rural communities into interior villages from behind the church. Challenging as the task ahead might have seemed to me after Archbishop Capalla officially installed me as pastor of our Bajada parish, I started in my old age to learn to be parish-priest by doing.
Fortunately, by this time the struggle for “liberating” the parishioners of Buhangin area from their eviction the agitation for relocation had become a thing of the past. This is a story that is told in another article “The Buhangin Story”.
When I started taking over the care of our Davao parish, I faced many challenges, but at the same time I was blessed inherited many blessings. I had no full-time parish assistant. All the other priests in the community were engaged in formation or teaching work in the Davao Studentate (Redemptorist Major Seminary). However, one of the formation teachers was officially assigned as my part-time assistant. The other priests on the teaching staff generously helped with the sacramental and liturgical services in the busy parish church.
I was also blessed in having inherited a very active parish, thanks to the creative and tireless efforts of the previous parish priests and their parish collaborators. The parish was noted for its liturgical celebrations and social concerns ministry. Evangelization and catechetical activities kept the parish workers on their feet most of the time.
The youth in particular were actively involved in parish life. They participated fully in National Youth Day celebrations and held parish Alphonsian Pilgrimage gatherings. Contests among the BEC youth groups included “Cheer-dance” and talent competitions.
The youth revealed their talent in a special way in colorful and reflective liturgical celebrations of Christmas and Holy Week. These celebrations are memorialized in album pictorials of the Nativity and Passion plays.
With all these activities to animate and accompany, this ageing parish priest was not given a chance to grow old! It did not take me long to not only adjust to but even to get to love my uncharted journey as parish priest in my twilight years.
But just as I was getting to feel at home in my assignment as parish priest of our Davao parish, I was shaken out of my comfort zone by a new appointment. A phone call from Archbishop Capalla informed me that the Apostolic Nuncio was in the archbishop’s residence and wanted to speak to me. His Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Franco, after getting me to sit down in front of him, broke the news of my new appointment as gently as he could, saying, “I have come to ask you a favor in behalf of the Holy See. The bishop of Iligan is resigning officially for ill-health and they are asking to take care of the diocese as its Apostolic Administrator until a new bishop is assigned. It was the last “favor” I would have dreamed of being asked no matter how gently.
Thus ended without a formal goodbye my short two-year term as parish priest of our Davao parish. I had to rush my entrance to Iligan as the outgoing bishop said he had no more jurisdictional power once I had been formally appointed as administrator of his diocese. So, in the evening the following day, I took the night bus to Iligan arriving there at dawn to begin my life in the uncharted life in the unknown.
Thank God for the Tacloban hiatus, even though it was only for two short years. One never knows what lies ahead.