18 October 2008

God's Frozen - and Patient - People: Under the Acacia, 17-10 October 2008

God’s Frozen - and Patient - People

The author is a Columban priest from Ireland who has been in the Philippines most of the time since 1971. Since October 2002 he has been based in Bacolod City as editor of Misyon, the magazine of the Columbans, and also has a personal blog (which you are reading!) This column is in the 17-19 October issue of Negros Times. Though I didn't avert to it when preparing the column, tomorrow is Mission Sunday, so it is very appropriate to post it now.

The culminating activities of the year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Diocese of Bacolod are taking place this week. One striking difference between 1933, when Sorsogon-born Casimiro Lladoc became first bishop, is that while Bacolod still welcomes missionaries, it now sends them out. One such person is Father Ronald Magbanua CICM, ordained by Bishop Wenceslao S. Padilla CICM of Ulaanbaatar on January 9, 2005, in San Diego Pro-cathedral, Silay City, in the Diocese of Bacolod. Bishop Padilla, from Tubao, La Union, has created history in two ways. He is the first Filipino to be made bishop of a jurisdiction overseas and he is the first bishop ever in Mongolia.Growing up in Silay City, Father Ronald could never have imagined enduring the intense cold of a Mongolian winter. His story here first appeared in Misyon in July-August this year. A ger is a Mongolian tent. ‘Yurt’ is the Russian term.

Fr Ronald Magbanua is on the left. The photo includes some of his CICM (Missionhurst, Scheut Missionaries) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It was morning again; the caretaker of the church staggered to the main door of the ger-church to open it. Pulling out his key, he realized that the padlock was frozen. So he went back to his house nearby to take a piece of paper to heat the frozen padlock. “I wish the sun would shine,” he said to himself. “If not I will have a hard time opening this main door”. After some time he was able to open the frozen padlock. Now he had the challenge of lighting the frozen firewood and frozen coal. “I should light this firewood fast because it’s already 8:30am and the workers will be here soon”, he said. The yurt needs at least an hour to warm up and he only had only 30 minutes to go. “Ah, I better put more firewood because it heats faster compared to the coal”. So he filled the fireplace with firewood. At 9:00 o’clock the first worker arrived, “Ovoo (meaning ‘old man’), how come the yurt is still cold?” the worker asked. “Oh, I am very sorry, my daughter, the firewood is frozen and it is difficult to light”, answered the old man. So she helped him. Then the other workers arrived.

“Is there hot water?” one worker asked. “Let’s check, the water here is frozen too. Anyway, let’s heat it”.

At 10:00 o’clock, the yurt is still cold. One sewing trainee started her sewing machine and found it wouldn’t work - it too was frozen. It created only some strange sounds. “Stop the sewing machine”, shouted the sewing teacher, “You will only destroy it.” The secretary wanted to print something but her printer was frozen too. The Sister who prepares the Mass paraphernalia was worried because the holy water and clean water in the chapel was also frozen. The cleaner who wanted to sweep the floor couldn’t start her job of cleaning as well.

“Is their anything that is not frozen in this yurt?” one worker exclaimed.

“Nothing!” jokingly answered the youngest sewing trainee.

“When are we going to have our church building?” they asked each other. The parish priest answered, “Don’t worry, one day we will have our own church building, just a little sacrifice is needed”.

All of a sudden, there was an explosion. “What happened?” they asked. Then they heard the parish Sister shouting for help. Some workers rushed to help her, and a big fire greeted them. “The kerosene heater exploded!” one worker shouted. All then came to help. Good thing there were enough fire extinguishers to put out the fire.

“Father, will there be sewing classes today?” asked one sewing student. “I guess we’d better cancel the classes for today since the classroom needs to be cleaned”, answered the parish priest.

“We live in a yurt, we come here, it is still a yurt, is there no change in our daily life?” asked one youth. The parish priest once again answered, “Don’t worry, one day we will have our own church building”.

Afternoon came. It was still cold inside the yurt. Mass was about to begin but the amplifier, microphones and keyboard were all still frozen. The parish Sister was really worried now. She went to the parish priest and asked, “Father, is it okay not to use the microphone? Just please speak louder”.

“Yes, it’s okay, Sister”, the parish priest replied. During the Mass the congregation was complaining about the cold. They couldn’t concentrate on the Mass. Some were stamping their feet and therefore looked as if they were dancing. The yurt floor was frozen. Some wanted to be near the fireplace. The parish priest struggled to deliver a good homily.

The cold made many of the workers and even the parish priest sick. Some of the workers later approached the parish priest to ask permission to go home early.

At the end of the day, the parish priest thought to himself, “How come other people don’t understand our need for a church building of our own? Some have made their buildings very beautiful but we have nothing, even our appliances are exploding. All we have is a frozen yurt and the patient people of God”.

Without noticing, he answered himself with, “Don’t worry, Ronald, one day we will have our own church building”.

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