Catanduanes is a remote and isolated island province in the eastern part of the Philippines located in the Bicol Region of Luzon. It is known for its rolling hills, stunning beaches, and lush green landscapes. The capital city of the province is Virac.
The island of Catanduanes is a predominantly Catholic province. Catholicism was introduced to the island during the Spanish colonial period, and over time it has become deeply ingrained in the local culture and tradition. The Catholic heritage in the province is vibrant, as manifested in the colorful festivals and religious celebrations, notably the Fiesta of the Immaculate Conception, a significant event in the province. Touring around the island, one finds several historic churches and sacred sites, considered as architectural landmarks of the province.
However, Catanduanes, as an island province, is susceptible to typhoons and other natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and earthquakes. This island is situated in an area known to experience frequent typhoons. In recent years, the province has experienced several devastating typhoons, which have caused damage of properties and loss of lives. The local government and the Church have been working to mitigate the impact of future typhoons and other natural disasters. The good bishop has a continuing project of building typhoon-proof houses for low-income families in the coastal areas, which significantly helps the recipients around the island of Catanduanes.
DIOCESE OF VIRAC
The Diocese of Virac received its ecclesiastical jurisdiction in 1974, with Bishop Jose Crisologo Sorra as the first bishop who hailed from Catanduanes. When Bishop Sorra was transferred to the Diocese of Legazpi, he was replaced by Msgr. Manolo Alarcon de los Santos in 1994, the current and second bishop of the diocese.
During Bishop Sorra’s tenure, SOLT was already spreading its mission in the four island parishes of Legazpi. Bishop Manolo, who was also familiar with the SOLT’s presence in the Bicol Region, had been expressing his desire to the Regionalate for SOLT to mission in Virac. In May 2022, Bishop Manolo met Fr. Ronald de Jesus at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), where he reiterated his invitation for SOLT to work in his diocese. We are grateful that we are now ready to send missionaries to Virac.
At present, the Diocese of Virac has forty-four Parishes. As part of the preparation for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese, Bishop Manolo aspires to establish six more parishes, to bring the total to fifty parishes. According to him, given the province’s geographical location and the faithful’s deep pastoral need, the diocese is aptly called a “mission place.” Hence the parishes should instead be called “Mission Churches.” Indeed, this island province presents a deep apostolic need for pastoral service, particularly for the inhabitants of another small island adjacent to Catanduanes, the Panay island.
Panay Island is a mission area offered by the Diocese to SOLT. This is the 44th Mission Church under the jurisdiction of the diocese. It faces the Pacific Ocean. Previously it was used as an American military outpost tasked with the defense of the Benham Rise. Today, it is the base for the Philippine Coast Guard. This mission parish comprises four small villages: Babaguan, Suchan, Quigaray, and Panay. The priests at Bagamanoc have been in charge of providing religious services to the residents of Panay island. Since there is no parish on that island, the priests can only serve them by crossing the sea to get to Panay, depending on the favorable weather conditions.
After initial dialogues between SOLT and the diocese, we made a trip to Panay Island on November 23, 2022. We visited Quigaray and Suchan. Led by Bishop Manolo, we had a fruitful conversation with the people about opening up a mission on the island. Fr Oliver Estor and Deacon Victor Andeza were introduced to the faithful as the team being prepared to serve them. People warmly received us and gave the assurance of their support. Some villagers from Barangay Suchan had pledged to donate a parcel of land for the future location of the parish church and rectory. Another family offered land to use as a Catholic cemetery.
During the conversation with the people, the Bishop mentioned the possibility of having the SOLT team serve during the Simbang Gabi (a traditional nine-day novena before Christmas). It would be an opportunity for SOLT to assess the mission and have the team experience living with the people. The villagers were very excited about it since it would be the first time they would experience this beautiful tradition.
So it happened, in December 2022, Fr. Oliver and Deacon Victor went to Panay island and served the people there until the first week of January 2023. Since no rectory was available, they stayed at the Barangay Health Center of Suchan, where people brought daily provisions.
While the people, of their own initiative, are starting to build a makeshift rectory out of light materials available in that place, Fr. Oliver and Deacon Victor are preparing for the formal mission opening in Panay island, Catanduanes.
In line with the mission and evangelization thrust of the Diocese, our team will begin to conduct house to house visitation in the four barangays (districts) of Panay island. They desire to engage deeply in the people’s lives and hopefully develop a pastoral plan. They plan to build a parish church and a rectory to prepare for a complete ecclesial family team to serve on the island. This place presents the deepest apostolic need and a potential avenue for volunteers in education, livelihood, and primary health access. We hope our two missionaries can prepare the place for the complete ecclesial family team to work according to SOLT’s charism and mission.
One remarkable feature of this new mission is that the parish will be dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Santissima Trinidad. Bishop Manolo de los Santos suggested the name as he prepared for SOLT to work on Panay Island. Hence, this will be the very first parish to be named after Our Lady of the Trinity in the Bicol Region, if not in the Philippines.
Submitted by Fr. Ronald de Jesus, SOLT and Fr. Fausto Rodel Malanyaon, SOLT from the Asia-Pacific Region.