'Fallen in Love with the Filipinos'

I can't believe it, but my visit to El Salvador, Mindanao, is coming to an end. Brother James Cervantes, MIC, and I are completing our five-week visit here, and we will be going on to Manila on Saturday, July 11. There, we will be staying at the Archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City.

Brother James and I have had a very blessed and grace-filled time here at Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador. View a photo gallery of our trip.. The first week here was difficult, but now I'm accustomed to the slower pace of life.

Many things have happened since I wrote my first Journal entry (which was posted yesterday, but was written three weeks). Ziggy Chodzko-Zajko joined us here in El Salvador as a Marian lay missionary. Ziggy is of Polish descent, but he was born and raised in London, England. His wife, Ela, is tentatively scheduled to join him in September. On June 24, the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the priests finally got their own vehicle after a year of being here. Prior to that, they had relied on public transportation or asked people for rides into Cagayan de Oro. The vehicle made Fr. Jan Migacz, MIC, very happy, especially since it happened on St. John the Baptist's feast day. (Father Jan was named after St. John - "Jan" is Polish for "John.")

On July 6, Br. James and I gave a vocational talk at St. Joseph Academy here in El Salvador to about 60 male high school seniors. We talked about vocations and delivered our conversion/vocation stories. We also gave PowerPoint presentations on our Marian Congregation and our mission here in the Philippines. During the talk, Br. James also led everyone in a brief spiritual meditation. At the end, we presented a slide show of the Marian seminary in Washington, D.C. Our presentation was well received, and we could see our Lord and Our Lady at work as we prepared for it and then presented it. As a side note, Br. James and I are scheduled to give more vocational talks when we will be in Mandaluyong City.

The following day, July 7, we traveled with the priests and Ziggy by ferry boat to Camiguin Island, which is just next to Mindanao Island. We were there for two days, and we had such a blast! We stayed at a monastery in Mambajao, and one of the priests there was kind enough to show us around. First we visited Kabawasan Falls and swam in the cold springs during the day. Then we went to Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring Resort and swam in the hot springs at night.

Early the next morning before sunrise, we took a small boat to White Island, which is one tiny island with no palm trees, but it had plenty of white sand and the water was a clear turquoise color. I fell in love with the place! The water was so warm to swim in. Our next stop after that was the Santa Nino Cold Springs where - guess what - we did more swimming. We then took a siesta and returned to Ardent in the evening to continue swimming in the hot springs. For two days, I think I spent more time in the water than I have in my entire life. The water has a very calming affect on me. Mind you, in between all the swimming, we did manage to do a little bit of sightseeing and do a lot of eating.

Speaking of eating, that's one thing Filipinos love to do. Instead of three meals a day, it is a custom to have five meals a day in the Philippines. There's breakfast, the mid-morning "merienda" (snack), lunch, the mid-afternoon "merienda," and dinner. There are plenty of coconuts in the Philippines, and so they are used in a lot of the food. Coconut juice is very popular. Filipino feasts always include "baboy lechon" (whole roasted pig), and I've lost count now of how much lechon I've had since I've been here. When it comes to drinks, Coke seems to win out over Pepsi, and the popular beer is San Miguel, which is produced here in the Philippines.

For the most part, the people here in El Salvador have been warm and friendly, but it has been difficult getting to know them more closely since I cannot speak Visayan (the local dialect) or Tagalog (the national language). Many Filipinos do speak English, but sometimes they are reticent about using it with English-speaking people. Even with the language barrier, I still have been able to connect with some of the people here. However, I have vowed to learn Tagalog again and maybe even Visayan as well.

In my last journal entry, I mentioned that I was discerning possibly serving here as a priest after I am ordained. I had great difficulty with this because I knew how much of a sacrifice I would have to make. But the Lord has been working on me while I have been here. And guess what? I have fallen in love with the Filipinos, my own people. I really want to get to know them and to serve them as a priest in the future. For me, it's a way of reconnecting with my Filipino heritage. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who was of Albanian descent, went to India to become Indian. I'm a Filipino-American who now has a desire to go to the Philippines to become Filipino again.

However, there is one thing that still "bugs" me sometimes and that's the darn mosquitoes. They must be the most annoying creatures on the face of this earth. I can put up with the humidity, the cold showers, the roosters, the geckos, etc., but I have no mercy now when it comes to mosquitoes. Here in El Salvador you become neighbors with all sorts of creatures. In our house, I've seen small and big gecko lizards, big hairy brown spiders, beetles (no, not John, Paul, George or Ringo), and a variety of insects. Ants are aplenty, and sometimes they get into our food and add extra protein.

Father Jan and Fr. Walerian have been wonderful fathers and brothers to Br. James and me. They zealously give of themselves to the pilgrims who visit the shrine and the people who work and volunteer here. It is not easy being here for them, and I commend them for everything that they do. Both of them can also be quite funny at times, and we have a lot of fun just laughing. They really know how to foster good community life. I'm going to miss them after we leave.

Please keep Br. James and me in your prayers as we travel to Manila next. I know another adventure awaits us there as well.

• Read Part 1: 'Hello From Divine Mercy Hills!'
• Read Part 3: 'Beyond My Expectations.'

Please consider helping the Marians in our new mission in the Philippines.

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