The orientation program was setup to help the six students entering the novitiate to begin to settle down in a new country and new culture for many, and to get to know one another better before the novitiate begins. This program was made up of eight weeks, each week with a different focus, and was run by Fr Gavin Foster and Fr Anggong Ingente.
Week 1: Where in the world are we?
Wow! We’ve actually arrived in the Philippines! It was a good idea to have two months before the Novitiate starts to settle down here and get to know the culture a little better – this heat is killing me! At the beginning of the week we move into our new accommodation for the orientation program, in an area called Nova Tierra in Davao City. This week we act like tourists and visit the many different attractions that Davao has to offer, as well as learn to get around on those funny Jeapney things. I’m glad we have our Filipino confreres with us! A highlight of this week has to be the trip to Paradise beach resort on the island Samal. This is the perfect place to unwind – white sand, clear water that’s incredibly warm, and if we got bored with lying around there was always the table tennis and foosball! This week we also enjoyed an authentic Marist gathering when we went to Mintal (very close to Davao) for the first profession of three Marist sisters. It was a special event, not only because we are here for the novitiate as well, but also because we met people from the five Marist branches: Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Missionary Sisters and Lay people.
Week 2: Who are you?
This week was set aside for the “novices-to-be” to get to know each other better. Wow, what a diverse group of people! The six novices represent five different countries: The Philippines, China, New Zealand, Spain and Germany. Our ages vary from 21 to 36. If you would like to learn more about us, see our profiles here.
Week 3: Brothers in Jesus and Mary
This week we moved to the CB Sisters’ retreat house to do a course on Multiculturalism and Enculturation with the Marist Brothers who are part of a program called “ad gentes”. This is a formation program for the mission in Asia.
The first step of the course was a tour around Davao to experience some different cultures. We visited a Buddhist temple and a Filipino hospital, we had a chat with a Muslim Imam in his own house (certainly very poor), and we had lunch in an indigenous school. In the afternoon we visited a famous Filipino artist’s hotel, filled with his paintings and sculptures.
The course lasted from Tuesday to Friday and it was led by Br. Carl Gaspar (CSSR). During the course we learnt many things about the Filipino culture and how to face “culture shock”. This is a psychological process which you have when you have contact with a new culture. For most of us the Philippines is really different to our own country, so we have to be patient and very open to embrace the new reality. Certainly, it was a very helpful course.
Week 4: The best Language teachers…
…are those who use the language to be taught in everyday life. We were very fortunate to have our Filipino fellows, Niño and Roque, as our teachers in Visaya, as the local language of Davao is called. The two of them did a very good job. Having two of us as teachers was far better than a “professional” language school, because alongside teaching and learning there was a lot of bonding and joy.
Week 5: Filipino Family Exposure
In this week, we split into three groups of two and spent a week living with different Filipino families in Mindanao to get an experience of what a typical Filipino family lives like. Daniel and Roque went to Tagum City, Thilo and Niño stayed with a family in Digos, and John and Phil stayed with a different family in Digos. Here’s a snippet from each of them…
Tagum City (Roque and Daniel)
Roque and I (Daniel) went to Tagum City, which is about 45 minutes North by bus from Davao City. Our foster family included Boy and Elionor (in late sixties), and two of their four sons who are married and have one child each – so we shared the house with six adults and two children.
They took us sightseeing within Tagum, visiting the huge new cathedral there, and many other parts. We shared the Filipino culture (food, costumes, language, manners…) and how they usually live. They were extremely kind and hospitable. Indeed they welcomed us and took care of us as if we were their own family. We are really thankful and amazed by this experience. It was very challenging but at the end it was absolutely great.
Digos (Niño and Thilo)
Niño and I (Thilo) spent our exposure in Digos about one hour by coach from Davao. Here you can see a photo of the two of us together with our foster parents and Fr Joel sm who organized the exposure in Digos.
We had a great time in Digos! Many thanks to our foster family. It really was a very enriching experience to be part of your family.
Digos (John and Phil)
I must say that this week was probably the best week I have spent in the Philippines so far. John and I (Phil) stayed with an amazing family who bent over backwards to make sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed. I don’t think I have ever experienced hospitality like this before.
During the day we visited many places in Digos; the Cathedral, the high school, college, Diocesan centre, kindergarten, and many more, and we met a lot of people who were all very kind to us. In the evenings we would spend time with our foster family where we tried some Filipino delicacies such as Durian and Tuba (coconut wine), and also spent a night on the Videoke (aka Karaoke). We both had a lot of fun there and I now have very fond memories of Digos and the people there that will be with me for a long time. Thanks to everyone who made this so special.
Week 6: Time to unwind
After the great experience of the Filipino family exposure, very exciting and enjoyable for all of us, we needed break time and a time of reflection. Therefore, this week we had two days free (Monday and Tuesday) and the rest of the week we had recollection to reflect about all the experiences that we were living. One of the highlights of the week was the celebration of Phil’s birthday.
Week 7: One tree with five branches – Marist Family Exposure (SMSM)
The Philippines are an ideal place to meet all the branches of the Marist Family. We met the Marist Brothers (FMS) already during the 3rd week of our orientation program. We also met the SM Sisters and many members of the Lay-Branch already. Therefore it was decided that we will have this week together with the Marist Missionary Sisters (SMSM) and experience some of their missionary work.
Gensan (Niño and Daniel)
Niño and I (Daniel) went to General Santos City (Gensan), 200 km from Davao City for our Marist Family exposure. In this city the SMSM Sisters collaborate in two different projects with the Marist Brothers: three of the sisters are professors in the University of Gensan, and one works in the Marceline Foundation. They have their house in Lagao campus, where Marist Brothers manage a big school.
The three teachers (Sr. Gladys, Sr. Keioma, Sr. Cynthia) give lessons on religious subjects. Sr. Gladys leads a “peace club”, where they work for peace, especially here in Mindanao, where there are several conflicts with the Muslims.
Sr. Pushpa works in Marceline Foundation, a place where Marist Brothers take care of children who are on the streets or have family problems. There are about 90 children lodged, from 8 to 23 years old. There these children are saved from drugs, begging or stealing and they can study at the primary school. It is one of those little miracles that you still can meet in this world. That was a marvellous experience, for me, the best of all that I have had in the Philippines, so far.
Kalilangan (John and Thilo)
John and I (Thilo) travelled to Kalilangan, which is about 4 hours from Davao. We are very thankful to Sister Noemi and Sister Tomoko for their great hospitality. It was a pleasure to share their community life and to get an insight into their ministries: Teaching Catechism in the school, supporting the local parish in their work, especially with the youth groups and young people, but also travelling in the rural areas in order to help children who were traumatised by bomb attacks from terrorism groups in Mindanao. Here you can see a picture which was taken during a vigil-night to welcome the Diocesan-Youth-Day-Cross in Kalilanghan.
Maitum (Roque and Phil)
This was quite a mission, but turned out to be another great week. Roque and I (Phil) travelled over five hours (the last two being in a cramped minivan) to get to a place neither of us had been to before, and all we knew is that it was somewhere in the bush! Once we got there though, my fears disappeared fairly quickly when the SMSM Sisters told me they were cooking fish and chips for dinner! They are a great couple there, Sr. Tupou and Sr. Pele, very hospitable.
Roque and I spent most of our time there at the Notre Dame of Maitum (NDM) high school, just talking and laughing with the students. On Saturday the students invited us to the beach and we all had a great time there. Everywhere we go we are treated like kings or celebrities – I better not let it get to my head!
Week 8: Wrap it up
What a helpful support the orientation program was!
The last week of our orientation program was about evaluation and handing over to the novitiate. We were very happy to welcome Fr. Craig Larkin from the general administration of the Marists during this week. Earlier it was already mentioned what a diverse group we are; different countries, different cultures, and different languages. Because of that time is needed to make adjustments. All six of us agreed that these two months were very helpful and gave us time to get adjusted to many things. We think that working through issues about diversity when the novitiate had already started would have been a challenge probably too big for us. The program was very carefully set up and accompanied by Fr. Gavin Foster from the District of the Philippines, assisted by Fr. Fernando (Anggong) Ingente the Socius of our novitiate, and the General Administration.