Monday, July 4, 2016
Filipino priest spreads the good news via organic farming Church should not only address spiritual needs but also social needs Mark SaludesJune 16, 2016 Philippines
Filipino priest spreads the good news via organic farming Church should not only address spiritual needs but also social needs Mark SaludesJune 16, 2016 Philippines Global Pulse MoreGlobal Pulse PrintGlobal Pulse More Filipino priest spreads the good news via organic farming Father Manuel Catral visits a trial farm in the town of Baggao in Cagayan province. (Photo: ucanews.com/Mark Saludes) t was the end of another day. The sky displayed a soft glowing ray of light as the sun dipped into the horizon of Solana town in the northern Philippine province of Cagayan. The animals had been brought to the shed, but for Father Manuel Vicente Catral work was far from over. The priest still had to meet his neighbors — all farmers living around the small hamlet they call home. "I asked to be assigned to the poorest villages of Solana," said Father Catral. The priest explained he wanted to understand their situation. Father Catral first arrived in 2007 and stayed in a hut in the middle of a farm. He had nothing but the view of vast green rice fields. "You know it’s five o'clock in the morning because you will hear people working in the fields," he said. In the evenings, the priest sits with the farmers. "They tell their stories," said Father Catral. "They talk about the irrigation fees, usury, and the oppressive situation they are in." He started organizing the people, and later conducted a study to understand the state of agriculture in the area and its impact on the community. "My driving force was to convert the land where my hut stands into a model of sustainable farming," he said. The priest, who was born to a middle class family, soon got his hands dirty. He became familiar with the animals and tended the vines, vegetables and root crops that flourished in the dark earth. As time passed, the priest was able to implement the idea of diversified but integrated farming by creating his own farm. Pigs, cows, a number of goats and sheep, and a couple of water buffaloes now roam there. "The integration of animals in the farm provides another source of income," the priest said. In front of his hut, which also serves as his convent, is a fishpond surrounded by vegetable plots, climbing plants, and root crops. Around the compound is a rice field where 50 varieties of rice grow. "We are testing which kind of rice grain should be planted in different weather conditions," explained Father Catral. In the shade is a compost pit where the farm's organic fertilizer comes from. "It's one of the most important things in the farm," he said. "It’s a big help for us," said Melecio Elchico, a 46-year-old farmer who claimed that he has cut his expenses by 70 percent from using the organic fertilizer. "It also brought the land back to life," he continued. "The land is slowly recovering from acidity and poison caused by synthetic fertilizers." Father Manuel Catral sits on the steps of his old hut in Solana town where he first experimented with organic farming. (Photo: ucanews.com/Mark Saludes) Integral evangelization Archbishop Sergio Utleg of Tuguegarao saw the efforts Father Catral made on his small farm and thought the community was ripe to be turned into a parish. The community already had 79 basic ecclesial communities, with up to 60 families in every community. Several ministries — lay liturgy, family life, social action, youth and education — were established in the 16 villages. "The farming program we introduced and implemented contributed to the people's willingness to participate in church activities," said Father Catral. In 2007, the Holy Family Parish was officially created through the efforts of the community. "The poor communities built the parish," the priest said. "It was not us who brought the church to them," he continued. "But it was them who saw the need for a institution that recognizes their plight and serves their interests." The trial farm that Father Catral and the farmers of Solana built was turned into a model farm in 2009. The archdiocese created a socio-pastoral institution to teach farmers the diversified-integrated farming system. "The center is a model of how to translate Laudato si [the Pope’s recent encyclical] into action," said Archbishop Utleg. He said the promotion of organic farming would help poor farmers in the archdiocese. "One way of fulfilling the Jubilee Year of Mercy is for the church to lead the poor into the betterment of their lives," said Archbishop Utleg. As for Father Catral, he now serves as parish priest of another town where he continues his "mission to deliver the good news to the people through organic farming." The farmer-priest said the Catholic Church is a "church of the poor," that is why church people "should address not just their spiritual needs but also the people's social needs."