THE SEEDS THAT BROUGHT US TO ABORLAN
by Christine EV Gonzalez, NMD, Ph.D.
In the summer of 2010, we joined the Feast of the Forest in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It is an annual reforestation project where the citizens of Puerto Princesa as well as national and international guests flock to the city to plant thousands of different tree species in denuded forest zones. They have planted more than two million trees to date, making Puerto Princesa the first city in the Philippines and Southeast Asia to be declared “carbon-neutral” and “carbon negative”using the international guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
That same day, I was asked to help create a livelihood program at the City’s environmental estate using organic farming methods. Immediately, I wrote to a few friends in the US asking for donations of heirloom organic seeds for the project. Several months passed and packages of organic seeds arrived in Manila, but I had not heard from the main organizers of the project. Meanwhile, the seeds were starting to grow inside my drawers. I went around the Batangas area looking for affordable land so I could plant the donated seeds. After several months of searching, I realized there was no way we could afford even a small piece of land near Tagaytay City, the headquarters of Wellness Institute and where we live. I came back to Palawan and explored different communities in the province until we came to Aborlan.
Our purpose for acquiring the Aborlanproperty was not just to plant the donated seeds for healing and food,butalso in the interest of our sustainable development projects for poor communities: organic farming, environmental sustainability, assisting indigenous communities to achieve food sovereignty by increasing local, diversified food access and nutrition, and empowering the indigenous population in the documentation and protection of their traditional knowledge, habitat and genetic resources. Our two main objectives are health and education for the community.
Two years later, on August 15, 2013, the former mayor of Aborlan, Chelsa Adier,offered their 37-hectare property in Sagpangan after working together in several community projects for the indigenous peoples. Several months later, we began propagating the land. Like most of our projects in the Philippines, we experienced a series of setbacks. In one instance, the manager we hired to manage the workers cut and burned some of the trees on the property for charcoal to have more money, a common practice of people in the Philippines especially in remote areas. I felt terrible and cried, had to let go of the manager on the spot and temporarily closed the project in January 2015.
After more obstacles and delays, I could not understand why we had the property with nothing coming to fruition. Meanwhile, when Nim visited the property for the first time last year, he thought he saw Our Lady of Lourdes standing on top of the waterfall. Inspite of my conversion in 2007, it is difficult for me not to question what we see. We dismissed it as a trick of his imagination, maybe caused by the intense heat and long walk to the site. We had already planned and designed a Lourdes grotto next to the chapel that we built in Iraan, seven kilometers away from Sagpangan. We even gathered all the stones and boulders needed to build the grotto, but for some reason it never materialized.
On July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, we finalized the master plan for a one hectare Marian healing site in Iraan, a few meters away from the proposed Integrative Cancer Research Center. The following month, August, my daughter Mary and I scheduled a pilgrimage to Europe to spend three weeks visiting and praying at several Marian pilgrimage sites. Our itinerary included Nevers, a two-hour train rideaway from Paris, to see the incorruptible body of St. Bernadette. While praying in her chapel, a thought came to me that we should set up the Marian Healing Shrines at the Sagpangan Mountain rather than in Iraan as planned. My eyes filled with tears of built-up frustration, and I murmured to myself, “There you are again, playing tricks on me.” All of the reasons why this would be a ridiculous idea flooded my mind. The master plan for Iraan was just finished last month! Besides, we were certainly not prepared to have two projects in two different places simultaneously creating problems in manpower, management and funds.I threw the idea to Mary hoping that she would agree with me that Sagpangan was not the right place. Instead, she inquired with probing eyes and asked, “Why not?” I replied grudgingly that the master plan for Iraan was already finished, and listed a host of other reasons why I thought it was obviously the wrong location.
I dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. However, the nagging thought of it did not leave me in peace throughout our entire Europe trip- from Lourdes, Monserrat, Fatima and back to Notre Dame de Paris. Finally, during our last two days in Paris, at the Miraculous Medal Chapel, I said in surrender,“Okay, God. If this is your will, we will build the Marian Healing Shrines on Sagpangan Mountain.”