As Mary and Joseph courageously journeyed through the steep slopes and unpaved tough terrains of Judea on their way to Bethlehem, 15 members from various groups (lay partners, staff, volunteers, CSsR, MPS, OSR) of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Baclaran, Parañaque City embarked on an adventure across the desert-like plains, rushing river, and mountainous terrains to live and immerse with our Aeta brothers and sisters as part of the Pamaskong Handog ni Inay Maria in Brgy, Santa Fe, Marcelino, Zambales from December 10-15, 2023. Divided into two groups, seven immersionists stayed in Sitio Kamanggahan and eight immersionists in Sitio Baliwet.
Since the launch of the Pamaskong Handog in 2017, numerous families have been reached through the generous love of the devotees of our Mother of Perpetual Help. This year, echoing the quadrennial theme of Redemptorists Vice-Province of Manila, “Courageous Hope,” approximately 600 Indigenous Peoples (IP) families from Brgy. Santa Fe received Christmas gift packs on the 15th of December during the culmination of the immersion, which was simultaneously celebrated in the two sitios or communities.
The culmination in Sitio Kamanggahan participated with the IP families from the nearby sitio, Payudpud, was celebrated with a short program– dance and cultural presentations of the communities and games. Despite being non-Catholics, with openness and respect, they attended the Eucharistic Mass presided over by Rev. Fr. Rico John Bilangel, CSsR, who travelled from Manila. After that was the blessing and turn-over of the classroom donated by the Baclaran Shrine. Meanwhile, in Sitio Baliwet, together with the families from the adjacent sitio, Unwas, also had a short program and ecumenical liturgy led by Pt. Sergio Magana from the Seventh Day Adventist and Rev. Fr. Allan Edward Pandaan, CSsR who was one of the immersionists, followed with a simple meal and the distribution of gifts.
My brief stay, particularly in Sitio Baliwet, left valuable and indelible lessons in my heart. The simplicity of their life brought me back to the manger where our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born. Their homes are marked with nothingness and lowliness, and most families have no stable source of income. Even my foster parents, who are in their late seventies, rely only on the help of their children, yet their lives resonate with peace, joy, contentment, gratitude, and hope. I have seen the richness of their faith and trust in Apo, in God who blesses their fields and provides for their needs. They lack material things, yet they were generous in sharing all of their things– their food and harvests, home and belongings, simple joys, faith, life stories, and hopes. Living with them taught me nothing more liberating and enlightening than a life lived in God’s providential love and care. A life lived in humility and simplicity is freeing.
Our journey to reach our IP brethren may not be as arduous as Mary and Joseph’s, yet the challenging paths we encountered were undeniably worthwhile, for I have seen Jesus Christ in them. In them, I have touched Jesus’ hands, wiped His face, shared a meal with Him, labored and harvested root crops with Him, looked and picked vegetables for our meal, and laid rest on the uneven and rough wood plank flooring beside Him. It is funny that we were sent to be channels of courageous hope, yet it was in their lives that I had witnessed the “Courageous Hope,” and through them, I have encountered our True Hope— Jesus Christ the Redeemer.
Sr. Aerra Mariel F. Beleña, MPS
Missionaries of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Philippine Region