March 16, 2020. Government had just ordered a nationwide lockdown amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, many of them fatal. For the team of pastors of the Catholic Church of Christ of the Agony-Gethsemane Parish in Casuntingan, Mandaue City, the church needed to be present among and for its faithful during this critical time.
Rev. Fr. Junly Cortes, team member, recalls the adjustments they had to make in order for them to be with their parishioners at a time when they were most needed. In-person Masses and assemblies were strictly prohibited as a measure to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
“Asa ang simbahan during the time nga ang mga tawo nangita sa presensya sa SIMBAHAN? (Where is the Church at a time when the faithful need its presence?) This was the team’s point of reflection as they planned their next moves to beat movement and mobility restrictions.
And the answer to this was —“kay dili man paanhion ang mga two, kita ang moadto są mga tawo” (Since the people are not allowed to go to church, we, the priests, will go to them.)
Parish youth volunteers
The plan was set into motion June 14, 2020, Feast of Corpus Christi. Parish youth volunteers, equipped with quarantine passes, went house-to-house and distributed packed meals of spaghetti and chicken to children in the three barangays within the jurisdiction of the parish.
“It was our way of reaching out to the people at a time when people were not allowed to go to church,” Fr. Cortes says.
The main objective of the parish community feeding program dubbed Kusina ni Juan (Kitchen of Juan) was to reach out to the people during the pandemic, he adds. Youth volunteers would prepare the food and distribute them. The weekly food distribution mode later evolved to chapel-by-chapel. As of last count, the parish volunteers have set up 41 feeding stations in chapels in the three barangays belonging to the parish. At least five thousand children are able to avail of these free meals weekly. Excess packs are given out to people of other age categories.
The menu has also evolved over time— from chicken-and-spaghetti to lugaw (porridge), pospas (porridge meal with chicken bits), champorado (chocolate-infused porridge) and ube-porado (ube-infused porridge).
ingredients are sourced from donations in cash and in kind. Since birthday parties and similar gatherings were not allowed during the pandemic, expenses intended for these celebrations were instead donated to the parish for its feeding program. Even non-parishioners and former parishioners now living abroad also shared their resources to keep the community feeding program alive. The members of the team of pastors have also lent their own personal vehicles to help transport the food ingredients to the chapels.
Youth volunteer Nino Lutchavez, one of the prime movers of Kusina ni Juan, said they are now firming up a process flow to make the feeding program more efficient and cost-effective.
The process involves menu preparation, which is largely dependent on the availability of ingredients, budgeting, purchasing, packing and distribution of raw ingredients, cooking (now handled by chapel leaders), catechizing by the animators and, finally, feeding.The entire activity takes about one to two hours.
Children aged 2-11 years also get a one-year supply of vitamins, courtesy of a collaboration among the parish and Ceelin-Unilab Foundation.
To help fund its Parish Caritas programs, the parish started in July 2020 a resource mobilization campaign called Kantahan, Sayawan, Luto-an (KASALU), a weekly entertainment program live streamed via the parish’s official Facebook page .Here, the team of pastors, youth volunteers and, occasionally, guest priests, perform song-and-dance numbers. Donations come in cash and in kind. (Note: This was temporarily suspended because of intermittent internet connection after super typhoon Odette.)
Aside from Kusina ni Juan, the parish, through the efforts of program formator Rev. Fr. Jeffrey V. Uy, rolled out the Parish Intervention Family Collaborator (PIFC), a pastoral counseling course under the auspices of the Commission on Family and Life.
The 54 hour-course covering three-hour sessions over 18 Sundays targets to graduate 53 students, 28 of whom are parishioners, on July 10, 2022. It is the only parish in the Cebu Archdiocese offering this course, says Fr. Uy, who holds a PhD in Human Resources.
“We aim for restorative Christian justice, “ he says. “Kung nakasala ang tawo, hatagan siya’g kahigayonan nga magbag-o.” (If someone has committed a sin, we give him a chance to redeem himself.)
The Disaster Preparedness, Response, Relief and Rehabilitation program of the parish also gets strong support from its multi-awarded Knights of Columbus chapter under the spiritual direction of team member Rev. Fr. Aurelio Ocarol. The All-Yamaha Motorcycle transports relief goods to calamity-affected families and individuals within the parish.
This is a picture of a community feeding a community. A community that, as one volunteer puts it, draws inspiration and courage to help from its team of mga kugihan (hard working) pastors, led by Rev. Fr. Kipling Agravante.
Attorney Paredes is a Trustee of Cebu Caritas, Inc. and Member of the Good Governance Committee. Before her retirement, she led the Public Affairs division for Visayas and Mindanao of Smart Communications, Inc. She used to work in media both for print and broadcast.