Columban missionary Fr Oliver McCrossan visited the parish community of Pitogo in Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines to see how they are replanting their mangrove forest as part of their commitment to care for the earth.
Since the 1970s, the Columban Fathers, religious and lay, have held hands with the community of Pitogo and the Baganian peninsula on the common faith journey which includes care of creation.
The Columbans moved on and the parish is now under the care of the local diocese. However, the missionary spirit still lives on in the young people of the parish who are actively engaged in protecting and caring for creation.
Pitogo is a coastal community; fishing is the main livelihood for the majority of the people. Typhoons are becoming more severe, bringing heavy rains and winds as a result of climate change.
Animated by its youth ministry, the parish community have started to conserve the biodiversity of the mangrove by replanting the depleted areas of the forest.
This mangrove planting initiative began in 2012. Different species of trees were planted (miyopi/ bakhaw/pagatpat) replacing vacated and depleted areas of coastline with mangrove propagules that later became habitats for fish and wildlife.
During the pandemic the parish youth ministry and community at large of Pitogo continued the mangrove planting and monitoring initiatives. When the community quarantine restrictions were eased in 2021, more coastal areas were planted.
The parish also signed a memorandum of understanding with the local government to allow the monitoring of mangrove sites in the locality.
I was once assigned to the area, and on my return in July this year I visited the mangrove sites and saw the recently planted areas as well as the oldest planted mangroves.
The community also disclosed their plans to focus on those areas still left to be planted, especially those degraded because of illegal cutting and charcoal-making activities.
Illegal logging and unsustainable fishing practices which are threats to the mangrove ecosystem still happen sporadically. The local parish community are alert and determined to protect and conserve the mangroves for future generations.
They are encouraged by the support they have received from the social action centre of the diocese of Pagadian and from generous benefactors in the diocese and overseas.
If you would like to support the work of Columban Missionaries, please send a donation to: Columban Mission, the Far East Office, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co Meath C15 AY2Y. Alternatively, you can donate online at www.columbans.ie/donate or call 00353 46 909 8275.