The said renewal visit is mandated by the Constitutions of the Order. Number 66 says, “The prior provincial is to personally visit the whole province once during his term of office. If he is legitimately prevented from doing so, he is to designate a visitor to carry out the duty on his behalf.”
The Recollect community in Saipan which was established by the Provincial Council on February 11, 2016, and confirmed by the General Council on March 4 of the same year, is currently composed of three religious-priests, namely: Fray Allan Rubett Cabatian OAR, local prior and parish priest of San Roque Parish; Fray Leo Neil Bullos, procurator and parochial vicar of Kristo Rai Parish; and, Fray Felipe Rollon OAR, house chronicler and parish administrator of Sta. Remedios Parish.
In compliance with Constitutions 464, Fray Selma achieved the main purpose of the visit: “to know the state of the community, to re-affirm religious life more fully and the charity and unity between the brothers, as well as to correct any abuses.”
The chronicle of the visit which started on the evening of February 22 also includes the two-day side-trip to Guam, home of the missionary works of the Recollects from 1768 to 1908, then from 1974 to 1989.
February 22: Getting ready for the evening PAL flight to Saipan. Father Provincial will make an official visit to the Recoletos de Saipan community housed at San Roque village, in the northernmost section of Saipan, and, therefore, also of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands).
February 23: Hafa Adai! Bien Binidu! Those are Chamorro greetings in the hallways, equivalent to “Mabuhay” and “Welcome”, respectively.
Having landed at 0423H in Saipan International Airport after a four-hour flight and having passed through the long queue at the immigration, we were welcomed and fetched by Fray Allan Rubett Cabatian, local prior. He drove us to the convent which is just 20 minutes away from the airport.
Breakfast at 0700H—actually 2 hours ahead of the Philippine time zone. Shortly after, the resident friars went out to their respective assignments.
At midday, the community consolidated in the chapel for the prayers, then took lunch at Aqua Resort Club, a seaside resto.
After siesta, at 1500H, the brothers gathered again in the chapel to be immersed in the holy presence of the Blessed Sacrament, for the official start of the visita de renovación.
Then ensued the talk of the Prior Provincial to the community, with the LAMP of the Order and of the Province as guide and yardstick. The convivial and inspiring exchange of experiences and ideas marked the roundtable meeting at the refectory.
The Eucharist at San Roque Parish became the zenith of the day's program. Father Provi presided it, and gave his elucidating homily primarily addressed to the parishioners who, afterwards, disclosed to having understood better the meaning of religious life in the ministry.
Dinner was served, compliments of the people's love offerings with an array of Filipino foods that dominated the table. Socialization with the mass-goers who are our active collaborators in the vineyard of the Lord in Saipan. Si Yuû's Ma'asi Asaina (Thank you, Lord).
February 24: A morning shower and a rainbow greeted our second day here in Saipan. The customary praying of the lauds and office of readings preceded our desayuno.
By midmorning, we readied ourselves for an alternative schedule since our trip to Rota (around 30 minutes by a 6-seater plane) was called off. It should have been a visit to this mission territory of the Recoletos which began in 1768 when the Jesuits were expelled. Instead, we met the ever accommodating Bishop Ryan Jimenez, a genuine Visayan (born in Dumaguete and grew up in Siquijor—places which used to be territories administered by the Recollects of yore) and his vicar, a Jesuit Fr. Kenneth Hezel, just 82 years young... On the way to the cathedral, we passed by Kristo Rai Parish church where some Recollects a couple of years back and prior to this current group had extended a month-long pastoral assistance. Fr. Leo Neil Bullos is the parochial vicar here.
After the Provincial's tete-a-tete with the bishop and some picture-taking sessions, they met a common friend who invited them for lunch at Coral Ocean Point Hotel. The conversations seemed like a sequel to the sharing about the fruits of the Recollect missionary saga here in the Marianas! From where we stood the vista of the nearby Tinian island (evangelized by the Recollects since 1887) was a reminder of our predecessors’ heroism to spread God’s Word.
Después, our group traced the route to Laolao Bay Golf and Resort (entrance was free) just to have a breathtaking glimpse of the southeastern seaboard of la isla bonita.
Then, we took our midafternoon siesta. Meanwhile, Father Provi met the friars here individually to get a feel of the religious temperature... At 6PM Father Allan presided the mass at Sta. Remedios Parish church, a 5-minute drive from the convent, while Father Philip took charge of the mass at San Roque. The former is the parish priest of San Roque while the latter, parish administrator of Sta. Remedios. Well, speaking of "in solidum" arrangement of parish administration.
Dinner was at Grandvrio Resort, upon the invitation of the bishop who intended it to be a fraternal bonding of the diocesan clergy and the OAR religious. Really a rich opportunity of sharing our priestly life and ministry to one another...the ups and downs, the different seasons and weather conditions we face along the way...because of Him who called us and assured us: “I will be with you always.” “Do not be afraid.”
February 25: Morning has broken, bringing with it a crisp reminder of how God works in mysterious ways, as in allowing an iron hand to rule for years only to stop it dramatically using human instruments such as the one that has become famous worldwide—the People Power Revolution 31 years ago.
This special gift for us Filipinos, and to the world in general, was well remembered here in Saipan especially during the 6AM mass presided by the Provincial Secretary at San Roque Parish church, with Father Provincial and the 3 resident OAR friars. Being a Saturday, the morning prayers that followed were participated in by the people, a practice introduced by this 6-month old community.
The presence of the Prior Provincial was opportune enough so that the newly refurbished parish office and confessional would be blest. Afterwards, everybody partook of the potluck breakfast in the social hall.
We never knew the Provincial was pestered by his cough the whole night and even almost decided to awaken us that he be brought to the hospital until after breakfast when we invited him for a day tour. He begged off since he had to take some rest. Fathers Philip and Neil volunteered to stay put in the convent while Fr. Allan brought Fr. Tol to some historical places in the north and the northeastern section of the island, which are still part of the parish. (San Roque is the vastest village and parish in terms of land area which includes those zones environmentally protected by the Wildlife Division.)
The morning "quasi" (to loan the vocabulary we used during our seminary days to roughly mean "outing") began at nature parks which were practically everywhere particularly as one heads north. The landmarks also silently led us to some interesting phase of history: the remnants of WW II when the Japanese and Korean forces took advantage of the strategic terrain and rock formations, the remnants as well of the destructive super typhoon Soudelor that buffeted CNMI in August of 2015, the Suicide Cliff (where around 8000 Japanese soldiers jumped to their deaths to avoid capture by the Americans), the Banzai Cliff (at the tip of the island), the Bird Island, and the Grotto (with 110 steps down to where the seawater enters in what looked like a cave, similar to the Enchanted River of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur). What a great relief it was to hear from the locals that in Saipan there are no snakes!
The refreshing tour by way of those neatly paved roads snaking through (the only kind of snake there was) the hills was punctuated by a short stop at Paupau Beach Resort where we waded in the cool waters of the Pacific... The natural barriers or breakwater some half (at least) a kilometer away had preserved the coastline of the western border from erosion. Amazing architectural design especially if viewed from a higher vantage point.
Lunch was at the residence of a retired US army and a very active parishioner, "Uncle" Rey Crisostomo. (By the way, uncle or auntie is used here as a generic address of respect to older members of the community.) One quotable quote from that simple Chamorro friend: "My weakness, Pali (=Father), is that I'm a sinner; but my strength is that I'm a believer." This visit was like a reenactment of the way our former missionaries immersed themselves in the local culture...
In the afternoon, after taking siesta, the Provincial met the local prior for the scheduled dialogue. Then, at six in the evening, the Provincial presided the concelebrated mass at Sta. Remedios Parish church. The liturgical songs were in English, Chamorro, and Carolinian. A very solemn celebration.
Just like in San Roque, after the mass, the Prior Provincial and his Secretary had a brief dialogue with the parishioners. There was a lively and clarificatory open forum.
Potluck dinner was shared at the parish hall, with the attendance of more diverse groups that characterize this parish—Filipinos, Chamorros, Carolinians, and Chuukese (from Chuuk island in Micronesia).
February 26: It's the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (the last of the first set of the current liturgical calendar). Being the day of Lord, the day’s schedules were distributed by dividing the house this way: Fr. Allan took the 7AM mass at San Roque. Fr. Tol presided the 8AM schedule at Sta. Remedios, with Fr. Philip as concelebrant. Contempraenously, Fr. Provincial officiated the one at San Roque with Fr Allan concelebrating. Fr. Neil was at Kristo Rai for the 8AM and later hopped to the cathedral for the 11AM Tagalog Mass.
The 5PM Tagalog Mass at Kristo Rai, with the 5 OAR priests, was presided by Father Provincial; Fr. Philip was the homilist.
After the mass, different groups requested to have their pictures taken with the friars. There they met the honorary consul, Hon Glicerio "Eli" Arago. There, too, they met (as in other parishes) some generous souls who donated for the OAR missions in Africa.
As the Gospel recounted, God surely takes care of the humans just as He takes care of the birds in the sky—and even far more than that! And so we were blest to have different culinary experiences, again, today... thanks to the joint efforts of Fr. Philip and Fr. Neil for the convent-made breakfast: a unique "chotilog" (let 'em guess...). As for lunch, we thanked the Tanapag (Sta Remedios) parishioners for hosting the seaside treat at Paupau Beach Resort. Our good friends Gary and Nora Orpiano (our surprise guests during the Christmas Party at the Provincial Curia) brought us to a buffet dinner at Fiesta Resort in Garapan. (Note: Garapan is the central district now where the first settlement in the island was.)
With the official closing rite of the Renewal Visit done at midafternoon in the convent chapel, and the official books having been checked, we could say: Mission accomplished! Congratulations, brothers, for those jobs very well done. Keep up!
February 27: Visit to former Recollect Parishes in Guam. That's the main menu of the day.
As we left Saipan we thanked the brothers for everything, and for bringing us to the airport to catch our 840AM flight to Guam. Father Provincial also e-mailed his message of gratitude to the Bishop who responded with equally grateful words.
United Airlines flight UA 6392Q touched down in Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport 5 minutes ahead of arrival schedule. After claiming our baggage, we met Fr. Jose Antonio “Lito” Abad, a full-bloodied ForSOAR, a former Chancellor of the archdiocese of Agaña (Guam), parish priest (a low key office he chose) of the Blessed Diego de Sanvítores Parish in Tumon. This key figure of the archdiocese volunteered to be the driver, tour guide, and sponsor of the visiting brothers!
From the airport he brought us to the Dulce Nombre de Maria cathedral-basilica in Agaña (Guam's capital). This edifice reminds us of Fr. (now Blessed) Diego Luis de Sanvítores SJ and his catechist (now Saint) Pedro Calungsod...
Then we proceeded to a hillside building—the Chancery Office of the archdiocese. Among the VIPs there was Archbishop Michael Byrnes who succeeded Archbp. Savio Hon Tai Fai, SDB who ordained Bp Ryan of Chalan Kanoa to the episcopate.
Fr. Lito was proud to bring us to Saint Fidelis Friary of the Capuchin Franciscans. Perched on a plateau overlooking the ocean, the place is conducive for reflection that could make a difference in one's life. No wonder this is very dear to him!
From there, we descended via a serpentine road with verdant hills on both sides, leading us to the municipality of Maina. We visited one of the 5 parishes entrusted to the Recollects: the Our Lady of Purification Church.
Lunch at a Chinese resto on the 16th floor of Nikon Hotel. What a breathtaking view of the Recollect territory, as seen today!
After lunch we went to St. Anthony Parish in Tamuning, another parish dear to the hearts of the Recoletos. At the side altar, there was, among other images, that of St Augustine.
Passing by a roundabout where stood the statue of Bishop Flores, Fr Lito drove us to his kumbento. Over a cup of coffee, he shared to us his interesting journey, his admin style and ministry in the archdiocese, particularly in this parish, etc. In the end, he promised that his parish extend support to the Sierra Leone Missions of the Province.
He brought us to Ocean View Hotel which he himself took charge “as my way of giving back...” For dinner he invited us to a Japanese resto, then, we made a tour of Guam by night...
February 28: Last day in the Marianas, second and last day of island tour in Guam, thanks again to Fr. Lito who spent 100 miles today (not just for us but also to break in his new car).
Checking out from Ocean View at 830AM, we were fetched by Fr. Lito so we could meanwhile cache our baggage in his convent. We took our breakfast at McDo, then moved south, tracing the footsteps of our Recollect missionaries. First stop was in the village of Mongmong where the Our Lady of the Waters Parish Church is located. Next stop was at the village of Toto which is under the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. These are the two erstwhile Recollect-administered parishes in Central Guam.
We also dropped by the Father Dueñas Memorial School (exclusive for boys and offering Grades 9-12). Fr. Lito was once a Vice-Principal here, so he looked back to those “memories and heartaches” as he called them, with a big smile. Fr. Jesus Dueñas was the second Chamorro diocesan priest from the island, who was a WW2 martyr.
After a brief chat with some of Fr Lito's friends, off we went crossing the island and enjoying the coastal sceneries of Pago Bay in the southeast, heading towards the village of Talofofo. Taking the right side of the bifurcating road, we climbed the hill up to the Notre Dame High School run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND). The current president was, decades back, the Principal and companion of Fr. Thomas Devine OAR who then doubled as the pastor of the parish of Inarajan, some 20 minutes away to the south.
From here we hit the road again, winding through the littoral highway towards the village of Malojloj which is under the San Isidro Parish and where people here used to listen to the sermons of those Recollect priests assigned in the area. Annexed to the church is the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites. What remained now are the empty buildings which were recently renovated by a Filipino priest, Fr Romy, presently working here.
Around 10 minutes by car in distance is the St Joseph Parish Church in Inarajan.
We continued the "visita iglesia" pointing out those newly constructed ones (ergo, no longer under the OAR). We reached the former mission stations of our forefathers, such as the village of Merizo, the southernmost, then that of Umatic (formerly Umata), and that of Agat.
Taking the Marine Corps Drive whose lower endpoint is occupied by the Navy Base, we "circumnavigated" the southern loop that brought us back to Agaña, the capital. It was almost 2PM and we were ready to take our heavy lunch at Kings.
After replenishing our tank, we resumed the trek, this time going north.
We passed by the village of Dededo to have a glimpse of the parish church and the laidback life in this village where, in 1974 upon arrival by the quintet in the Marianas, the Recollects had their home base ad experimentum. After having practically exhausted the northern highway until reaching the Air Force Base, we made a U-turn, drove to Micronesia Mall (by Lucio Tan), and returned to Fr Lito's abode. We took time for coffee break and wash-up, then got ready for the airport.
We profusely thanked Fr. Lito for sponsoring our stay in Guam. Despite the one-hour delay, our 840PM flight back to Manila via United Airlines was relaxing.
Adios Marianas. Hasta la proxima. Muchisimas gracias, Señor.