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"Yes, I grew these orchids. No, I did not plant them, but when I came, they were already here, although no one had been tending to them. They were neglected, unwatered, the fence was falling down, and weeds were about to choke them." The Bishop, my childhood friend, proudly explained.

I looked around and drank in the beauty of the garden of orchids -- pink, yellow, white in their tender strength and with just a whiff of fragrance. I remembered a friend who told me orchids are costly. They last longer than ordinary flowers, and do not easily wilt.

"I use them for the altar," the Bishop continued, "during feasts. And I send some to the priests around the province. People appreciate them."

"They are indeed beautiful," I said. "A high school teacher quit teaching to raise orchids, and was soon grossing one million pesos annually."

They are expensive, but I don’t sell them," the Bishop remarked when he saw I was about to suggest something. "Sometimes, I send them to Rome. They do not find orchids there so easily."

"How long did it take to re-grow these orchids? The garden has improved."

"Orchids are native to Catanduanes, you perhaps know -- in the mountains, in the edges of the towns, in distant fields. Despite frequent typhoons, nature has been lavish to our province, people do not realize that."

"Yes, the potential is there, waiting to be tapped."

A hand shook my shoulder, and I woke up. The lights had been switched on to signal that the plane was soon to descend, a warning to straighten up our seats and fasten the safety belt.

I had been dreaming. I had been away and was flying back to Manila after a visit to my home province. After more than 50 years, I spent Holy Week there. This time I had gone back as a priest, and saw things differently. I believe I understood my people better now.

There is so much good in Catanduanes, I realized gratefully. The Catholic Faith has remained deeply rooted in the hearts of the people. Religion is not a mere cloak or blanket against the cold, but pervades every aspect of their life.

Of course, only a few can explain their Faith like theologians; but they will all die for their Faith. How else explain why many hiked under the sun to attend to the Holy Week ceremonies twenty, fifteen, ten, or five kilometers away -- mainly because of the dire lack of priests! What made them bring offerings in cash and kind to the church? I knew sacks of rice had been donated, not for the priests, but for a house of homeless and undernourished children under the care of Sisters. I was greatly impressed.

That was why I was dreaming in the plane. My people are still Catholics, just as I had known them in my childhood. Now, however, some non-Catholic churches have appeared, but few, built far apart.

And they are like the gumamelas, attractively red. They grow easily, the buds open easily. They grow, even when hedges are unkept and neglected. Under the sun, they fade quickly.

But the Catholics are like the orchids. And we must care for them; otherwise, weeds will choke them out, or they will wither away. And we must help so that their colors may explode in all their beauty and richness. We must fertilize them, clean and prune them of dead and dried leaves. And we, too, can send some of them to Rome, people there will certainly appreciate them. The Pope will be glad to receive them.

Posted on 10:04 PM, April 11, 2010
Roots -- By José S. Arcilla S.J.
Source: Business World Online

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