Under the Acacia (Introduction)
The author is a Columban priest from Ireland who has been in the Philippines most of the time since 1971. Since October 2002 he has been based in Bacolod City as editor of Misyon www.misyononline.com, the magazine of the Columbans, and also has a personal blog at www.bangortobobbio.blogspot.com.
"When I was in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, from 1978 till 1981, I often found myself chatting with people under the big acacia outside the old convento that was built by Japanese carpenters before World War II under the direction of the then parish priest, an American Jesuit. I’m sure the Japanese carpenters sat in the shade of that tree, as did Jesuit parish priests from the USA and Columban priests from that country and from Australia, England and Ireland down the years, chatting with their parishioners.
The Columbans took over the parish of St. Michael in the town of Tangub in 1938 under Australian Father Francis Chapman who later led the first Columbans in Negros in 1950 in what is now the Diocese of Kabankalan. He died in Cagayan de Oro in 2004. I happened to be the last Columban parish priest in Tangub City, holding that position for less than three months. However, I stayed on there for two more years in the newly-established Paul VI Formation House set up by the bishops of the “DOPIM” area – Dipolog, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi for their post-college / pre-theology seminarians. The one-year program there was moved to St Mary’s Seminary, Ozamiz City, in 1982.
When my late father John, who spent all of his working-life as a carpenter and as a foreman on construction sites, visited the Philippines in 1981, he spent about a month with me in Tangub. Though he didn’t have a word of Visayan and those who spoke English couldn’t understand him because of his accent, he was able to communicate friendship, especially to children, sitting on one of the benches under the big acacia, even though he was basically shy. His visit, in particular, made me aware of the acacia as a meeting-place.
When Juanito V. Jabat, then editor, now publisher, of The Freeman in Cebu invited me in the late 1980s to write a weekly column, I chose the title Under the Acacia. I wrote every week for about nine years. Editor-in-chief Edwin Karl G. Ombion of Negros Times has kindly invited me to appear every Monday in the paper and so after a break of nine or ten years I take my place “under the acacia” once again.
Until 1994, when I moved from Lianga, Surigao del Sur, to Manila, I relied on a sturdy typewriter which I had used for more than twenty years. Lianga didn’t even have a single telephone that time and I knew nothing about computers. I left my old typewriter with a parishioner who was trying to make ends meet by typing term-papers for students. She had been using an old machine in the convento, as I recall. I was delighted at not having to take my typewriter to yet another location. But I was even more delighted that it could help a hardworking person to earn an honest living.
I visited Ireland between Lianga and Manila in the summer of 1994 and took a short course in computers for missionaries. Our instructor was a religious sister who had worked in an African country for many years. She wasn’t great at teaching computer-skills but was a great motivator, telling us stories of lives that had been saved because of modern communications. I’m grateful to her for that. I learned how to use the computer mainly by practice, often feeling frustrated, as I still do on occasion when I’m trying to learn some new procedure.
When I started as editor of Misyon six years ago, we had only dial-up service on the internet and often it was impossible to connect. Broadband has been a blessing, not only in terms of speed and accessibility, but for research and, at times, even crisis counseling with persons on the other side of the world. I’ve also found the PLDT service here far more reliable than in Manila, especially at weekends.
The editor, like the editor of The Freeman before, hasn’t asked me to write on any specific topics. My column before wasn’t a “religious” one nor will it be now. I believe in the opening words of Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, issued by Pope Paul VI and the world’s bishops on December 7, 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”.
Each of us has many layers of identity. When I travel abroad I identify myself as an Irishman living in the Philippines. I’ve spent nearly all of my adult life here and so have developed a different identity in some ways from that of my brother, who has never lived outside of Ireland. But he and I, as the sons of the same father and mother, share an identity that goes far deeper than being Irish.
A basic part of my identity is being a priest. Holy Orders touch and change a man at the heart of his being. But even more fundamental than that identity, because without it I could not be a priest, is being a Catholic Christian, by virtue of my baptism, a son of God the Father.
It is my hope that whatever I write, on any topic, will somehow reflect that basic identity and the words of St Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on Negros Times, September 22-23, 2008.