by Vijayachandar Chigurupati
My neighbor knocking my door: “Chandar wake up it’s time!” begins the day! In fact, I had set my alarm at 5 AM; he just woke me up one minute ahead. I could recall the times when my family members used to wake me up to be on time for Mass, since our house is near the parish church. We had an early morning breakfast, and I was reminded also of the many daily workers in India who take their breakfast before sun rise and get ready for their daily work and go to the haired working palace waiting and hoping to be hired. I felt I am the worker of Christ’s vineyard. The difference is that my work is always ready since the Master is ever ready to welcome me like we read in the parable of workers in the vineyard. We, the twenty-six participants of the Euntes summer course got ready to go to the island of Basilan, South of Zamboanga City. Two jeepneys took us to the seaport. We had fun during our 15-minute journey to the port; our jeep horn is so different than those of other jeeps so every time the horn blows, we all laugh in different tunes. On the first day of our course itself we got the title as the laughing group from the director of the center. Perhaps while Jesus travelling in different places he might also have been laughing with his disciples.
As we reach the seaport, I could see small boats waiting for passengers. The image of boat or ship reminds me of the early missionary travel. In PIME the boat symbol is very much linked with the missionary journey. I often read in PIME’s journals about the struggle of our missionaries taking months to reach their mission place. The Euntes Center also uses this symbol of boat in its logo. As the Latin word ‘Euntes’ implies, today it calls us to go out and witness the reality in the island of Basilan. Present day means of travel are much more comfortable than they were for the early missionaries. It challenges us on how much more we need to make an effort to reach God’s children. As we all know, Jesus traveled in boats reaching the people to proclaim the kingdom of God. We landed safely in Lamitan. A bus was arranged for us to travel in the island. The marines accompanied us to insure our safety. In fact, we knew that in this Island many foreigners had been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf (a local fundamentalist Muslim group). Through my daily newspaper reading I know that some kidnapped people were killed and others were freed after payment of a huge ransom. While we were traveling my seatmate told me that the last priest kidnapped was Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, PIME who apparently was also brought to this island. I had heard and read about this island but now I was on it. We reached safely St. Peter parish. The parish priest, Fr. Bong Agoo, warmly welcomed us. He gave the history of the parish and its struggles that it had undergone. All throughout the trip, Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF was our guide, as he wanted us to deepen the understanding of our first Euntes topic: “Experiencing God in the Margins”. He drew the map of the Basilan and showed where we were at the moment. He also shared on the year 2001 incident in which a young Filipino Claretian missionary was kidnapped and killed. The parish priest continued this topic explaining the recent attacks to his community. In the midst of these struggles people never lost their faith in God. They gathered together and had Mass ending with a meal together.
We continued our journey to Maluso municipality. I could see that the land is blessed with abundant vegetation and green pastures. Regarding the land, socio political cultural issues are involved. Traditionally this Island belongs to the Yakan tribe. As the days passed most of the land was taken over by the Christians coming from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. At present around 5000 hectares are under the University of the Philippines and thousands of hectares are owned by politicians, foreigners (Chinese business people) and other private business people. We passed by the cooperative of local lands which are much smaller than private business people. It reminds me of the land issue of Naboth’s vineyard (1Kings 21:1-15). We reached safely Maluso where we had our lunch in the parish hall. According to our schedule we were late to reach this place. While we were having lunch the Samal-Bajaus tribe children performed their cultural dance. I too joined with them and tried to follow their steps. We immediately went to see the parish project of the Bajaus tribe families. Basically they are nomads. Their houses are built on water. They don’t have much connection with the landside world. The Claretian fathers have been working trying to improve their life; as a result they now have a wood bridge connecting to the land enabling the Bajaus to communicate with others. The parish also built a small house for them, where all gatherings and prayer services take places. When we reached the place people were waiting for us. We had interaction with the Bajaus in the house built by the parish. I asked the Bajaus a question how they could experience God in the midst of their daily life struggles. One of the men responded to my question saying that they have hope in God that one day God will wipe away all struggles. God is seen as a protector.