During the recent Advent and Christmas seasons, a Redemptorist mission team from the Anfonsus community of the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila visited mountainous areas in the province of Zambales, Philippines.
The two mission areas the team served were Sitio Mandaloy and Sitio Coto, located about 300 km from Manila, an 8-hour drive by car. Two remote villages belong to the Parish of St. Andrew in Masinloc, Zambales.
The mission team consisted of two priests, one brother, two seminarians, one lay missionary and a volunteer. They carried out the 10-day mission from December 13th to 25th. Following Philippine Catholic tradition, the nine-day Simbang Gabi novena is held before Christmas to prepare for the feast day.
Mandaloy and Coto are quite similar – majority Catholic with some Protestant denominations present too. For many years, these were mission areas served by Columban missionaries. But around the 2000s, the Columbans withdrew from the diocese, and the two missions became part of St. Andrew’s Parish in Masinloc. The chapels are about 26 km from the parish, but it takes about 2 hours to reach them due to the rough, rocky roads. Because of the difficult terrain and pastoral pressures in the central parish area, priestly presence here is very rare.
During their days here, the Redemptorist missionaries tried to maximize time visiting each family, inviting them to Mass, retreats, Scripture studies, and Christmas preparations. The youth were also gathered for a separate retreat and Christmas presentation. It’s safe to say the over ten days of mission kept the missionaries very busy. The highlight was Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
The mission ended with fond farewells from the parishioners. Sharing his impressions, one mission member said: “When I arrived in this remote area, I felt it resembled the region of Scala in St. Alphonsus’ time – a high, mountainous area with rugged roads, lacking regular pastoral care, where the spiritual life of the faithful faces many difficulties. This place truly needs the presence of Redemptorist missionaries.”
Brother Regan, mission leader, also said: “This is a genuine call for the Redemptorists. We will certainly return here to continue the mission work, at least for the upcoming Holy Week.”
The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country with many clergy and religious but truly lacks vocations dedicated to serving God and the Church. For example, as of 2022, the Diocese of Zambales has 712,043 Catholics, 80% of the total population, served by 41 diocesan priests, 5 religious priests, 6 religious brothers, and 61 sisters across 23 parishes. On average, each priest must care for 15,479 Catholics. A parish here and in the Philippines is generally very large in geographical area, population and territory. For instance, the parish we visited has up to 20 chapels, meaning at least 20 villages. Just rotating Mass schedules is a burden for the current number of parish priests.
Let us pray for vocations, especially Redemptorist missionary vocations in the Manila Vice Province. May the Lord send more capable labourers as the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Duc Trung Vu, CSsR