By Fr. Vergel Dalangin, sss
“How to change from a fortified trench into an open field”: This was the challenge of Fr. Sebastian “Bong” Luistro to the members of the Junior Religious of the SSS-POLA, during their 8-day gathering in the Province of Surigao last August. In his sessions, attended by Frs. Nelson Roque, Kenny Joe Parlingayan, Vergel Dalangin, and Lennen Deciar, Fr. Bong emphasized on the need for religious life to be an inclusive society, for it to inspire and achieve true ecclesial communion.
This inclusivity calls for a restructuring, not of the charism of our Congregation, but of our expression of this charism, as guided by three foundational values: freedom, compassion, and communion. Thus, the fortified and self-preserving trench of an increasingly exclusive religious life has to be challenged by its own members to courageously transform itself into an open field of Christian witnessing, where the way of life interacts actively and prophetically to the modern world.
This heavy-weight message of the speaker accompanied the Junior religious into reflecting on the past 6 to 10 years of their life as an SSS religious. Sharings were rich, diverse, concrete, and personal, drawing deep from the well of their own experiences in the different communities of our province. The play of light and shadow, a spiritual chiaroscuro (the interplay of light and shadow) if you must, in the stories of Frs. Nelson, Kenny Joe, Vergel and Lennen painted a nuanced image of how it is to be a Sacramentino who has already gone past the honeymoon stage of religious life. The tension between aspiring for an authentic self-giving and falling into functionalism and inconsistencies has become an all-too-real struggle for them, especially in the context of pastoral communities where a life in common poses difficulties.
Of course, the group was not “all work, no play.” Guided by the very able hands of Fr. Lennen, the group explored the different parts of Surigao del Norte: we marveled at the islands, mangroves, sandbars, inland lakes, caves, coral reefs, and especially the high surfing waves that the island of Siargao is famous for; we discovered the dynamism of local church life in the parishes of Dapa and Placer; we were regaled by the Surigaonons with their delicious food and unequaled hospitality; we met and were inspired by many people whose passion for nature is equaled only by their passion for God.
Even though it’s been quite a while since the last Junior Religious Gathering, this one had covered for all those missed opportunities in the past. And it wouldn’t be successful without the help of others: Thanks to Fr. Joseph, our provincial superior, and Fr. Roel, our provincial treasurer, who encouraged and supported the group to organize such a meaningful experience. Thanks to Fr. Lennen to whom we owe this perfectly planned trip to Surigao. Thanks to the SSS-Placer community for the fraternal dinner you so lovingly prepared for us. Thanks to Fr. Renren and Nanay Arlene for opening their house for us, and to many other Surigaonons who never failed to be welcoming and generous to us. Most especially, thanks to Fr. Bong Luistro for sharing his wit and wisdom, for listening to us, for patiently accompanying us in our trips, and for inspiring us to move forward in our lives as SSS religious and as lowly servants of God.
The Junior Religious cannot help but sumigaw sa galak (exclaim for joy) towards our Eucharistic Lord for this unforgettable Surigao experience. It afforded us that much-needed opportunity to relax, be refreshed and to bond with our fellow religious. We cannot wait for the next Junior Religious Gathering!