Rising from the ashes

LAST Saturday, the prelature of Ipil was “elevated” to become a diocese. There was a big celebration out there with at least 22 bishops, led by Papal Nuncio Edward Joseph Adams, attending.

The explosion that killed two people and injured 24 others in nearby Zamboanga City last week, or two days before the celebration, did not deter people from rising to the occassion. They have been waiting for 30 years to become a diocese.

Ipil is that little town out there in a province called Zamboanga-Sibugay, somewhere on the Zamboanga peninsula in Mindanao.

It’s that little town where people have extraordinary big faith that we believe can literally move mountains.

The new bishop credited the Basic Ecclesial Communities for being the foundation of the prelature in moving forward.

He said the Church of Ipil’s “most valuable resource” is its people and their “strong Basic Ecclesial Communities” that respond to issues and concerns.

“The believers shared everything in common” in the midst of poverty, the bishop said.

He said that from the BECs sprung their vision and mission toward “communion of goods,” “responding to everyone’s needs” and reaching out toward “dialogue of life and culture.”

The Church of Ipil has a colorful history. It started as part of Zamboanga when Jesuit missionaries arrived in what was then a “mission territory” in 1635.

In 1980, Jesuit Bishop Federico O. Escaler was named prelate of Ipil, which had only nine parishes with 13 priests, all Jesuits.

The local Church played an important role in promoting human rights during the 1980s, the peak years of militarization and frequent armed encounters between the military and the rebels.

In February 1985, Escaler was kidnapped while prelature worker was shot dead.

On April 4, 1995, two months before the prelature celebrated it 15th founding anniversary, members of the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group attacked the town and set it on fire, killing a lot of people.

Today, there are 19 parishes, 431 chapels and about 1,500 basic ecclesial communities with 30 priests, 41 religious sisters and 40 lay workers in the diocese.

“They seem to have a very strong community, very cooperative and moving in one direction,” one bishop commented.

What makes Ipil inspiring is how its people rose from the ashes of the 1995 attack that killed many residents and left to rubbles the once prosperous town center.

Despite all the threats to their lives and livelihood, the strong-willed people of the province survived and moved forward. Today, they are proud to be part of their own diocese, something they’ve been waiting for so many years.

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