“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” This French adage that Mother Foundress loved to quote took the form of a house in Sapad, Lanao del Norte, a former mission area of the Good Shepherd Sisters from the 80s to early 2000. The house, aptly called “Balay Handumanan sa Maayong Magbalantay” was built on the same spot where the sisters used to have their old house, right at the back of St Joseph Parish and was blessed last May 20, 2022. It now stands as a testimony of the gratitude of the people of Sapad for the presence of the Good Shepherd Sisters who journeyed with them for twenty three years.
The occasion was attended by former working scholars, old friends, families, parishioners and sisters who were previously assigned in Sapad, the PLT Apostolic Council and other guests. The celebration began with the Holy Mass at 9:30 AM in the parish church, followed by the blessing, lunch and program. Fr. Deo Cabiles and Fr Jonald Apaon, friends of the community who were also previously assigned there concelebrated. Fr Nazer Zaragosa joined for lunch. Bishop Jose Ramirez Rapadas III of the Diocese of Iligan presided the blessing together with the parish priest Fr Marvin Baliog who was also celebrating his 3rd sacerdotal anniversary that same day.
During the program, Ms Amormia Daarol Jambonggan, one of the former scholars who spearheaded the project shared how the Balay Handumanan was conceived from informal sharing and storytelling. They noticed how the people deeply cherish the time when the sisters were with them and long to have something “concrete” to always remember them by. This was how the idea of building the house began. The initial concern was the finances. However, generous blessings started to pour in through donations, both in kind and in cash, until they were able to finish and furnish the house. God’s providence through St Joseph which sustained the mission then was palpably felt once more. A simple “Good Shepherd Shrine” was also built beside the house. A statue of the Good Shepherd was made through the generosity of Aliw Sadangsal our former temporary professed sister who was also assigned in Sapad.
It was a trip down memory lane as everyone watched and listened to the performances and messages given. Each song, dance and poem creatively expressed the joy and gratitude for all the love shared then and which has now borne fruit in many various ways. Laughter filled the air as funny and heartwarming memories were recalled. The sisters, especially those who were assigned in Sapad gave their messages. Sr Edna Fuentes during her message asked everyone to dedicate a time of silence for all those who were a significant part of the Sapad mission and have gone home to God. Messages of Sr Marcia Mercado and Sr Rebecca Jameiro were also read while Sr Cecille Torres was connected live through a phone patch. Through the messages and stories shared, one can recognize that the mission of the Good Shepherd then was made more remarkable and unforgettable by the fact that the sisters came at a time of great difficulty and challenges, when life was hard and where “buto-buto” (gunshots) was part of daily occurrence. And yet life continued with joy and hope for the people and the sisters as simple joys (that sometimes come through a bottle of coca-cola), shared blessings, mutual care and deepening faith kept the community together.
In his message, Fr Marvin affirmed how the house speaks of the invaluable contribution of the sisters to the formation of the community through their presence, care and teachings. It can be remembered that the Good Shepherd Sisters were particularly requested by Bishop Fernando Capalla, then Bishop of Iligan, for mission in Sapad as there were no priests to minister to the people during that time.
With tables overflowing with food generously prepared by the people (there were 3 lechons!), everyone went home with full stomachs and much fuller hearts. All praise and thanks to our Good Shepherd!