May 30, 2023

“I did not go to school. I was a happy-go-lucky guy and never did I enter the church and I even criticized churchgoers.”
Rev. Fr. Vicente Bongabong, fondly called “Fr. Bong,” was a priest in the eastern and northern part of Sagada in the ‘90s. He is happily remembered for his kindness and goodness. Lakay Aclop Obo-ob, one of the elders of the Kiltepan communities who is an active lay minister, a member of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name Society after his significant conversion, testified of Fr. Bong’s faith and priesthood that transformed people.
From a non-believer, lakay Aclop met Jesus in the person of Fr. Bong. He learned to read and write from the patience and kindness of Fr. Bong. He was illiterate and aloof. But he later began to see the beauty of faith and started to reform himself. Fr. Bong boosted the confidence of lakay Aclop until he became a lector and a lay minister of St. Joseph Church.
I did not learn of Fr. Bong and lakay Aclop’s story if not for the company we had driving to Barangay Tanulong. I absented myself from our scheduled concert practice with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines to attend lakay Peter Dumanog’s funeral service in Tanulong. Funeral is only once, but having a meeting and practice can be provided by time. I am grateful Bishop Brent Alawas understood and happily accepted my apology for my absence.
Going back to Barangay Kilong, lakay Aclop rode with me. The drive was not just about going home but a moment of beautiful life and thought-provoking faith sharing.
Lakay Aclop is grateful to Fr. Bong for his loving and animating priestly life. Truly, Fr. Bong was a man of prayer and a priest who did not put infrastructure project as first priority but building the faith of people, which they dearly miss and appreciate. He did not only feed the mind of the people but also their souls and their hearts. As a human, he may have committed mistakes and lapses, but his goodness overcame all of them. God made Fr. Bong a model for the young to emulate, especially his services, humility, authentic simplicity, natural humor, and his love for the poor.
Fr. Bong retired from his priestly responsibilities but he did not tire of doing his priestly services to the people. As a retired priest, he went to different mission stations for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in administering the Holy Eucharist. Fr. Bong is remembered for the famous line, “I am retired but not tired.”
Fr. Bong hailed from Lubo, Kalinga. Impressions will tell that an iLubo is impulsive and can easily get angry. Fr. Bong tried to master his anger. He was able to control his compulsion to turn him kinder and full of wisdom. He died in 2010 while on his way to Manila. He was buried in Teng-ab, Bontoc, Mountain Province.
Going back to the funeral service of lakay Peter on Jan. 23, 2020, I must share these wonderful reflections. Lakay Peter was fondly called lakay Okyo. His funeral revealed many significant things and events to me as the mission rector of Kilong Catholic Mission. Canceling my schedule in Bontoc for the funeral service in Tanulong was a blessing for many reasons.
Jan. 23 is considered memorable day for me. It was my first funeral service in Barangay Tanulong to an old and respected man of Sagada. Lakay Okyo died at the age of 91.
I had a quality time with two lalakays, Emiliano, 78, who narrated the life of lakays Okyo and Aclop, 75, who narrated about Fr. Bong’s notable contributions to the Kilong Catholic Mission.
Tanulong is located in northern Sagada where majority are Episcopalians. Yet when we had the prayer service, everyone joined us. Religion was not an issue because we realized that we all went there to pray for the eternal repose of lakay Okyo and to lift the bereaved family from sorrow.
I was elated to be accompanied by a good number of Kiltepan parishioners who sang the liturgy and assisted in the prayer service.
It was an occasion to personally ventilate the request of the active Tanulong Youth to Vice Gov. Francis Taule. The Tanulong youths are enthusiastically engrossed with music. I was fascinated one day when I was walking along Tanulong to the church and heard their band playing music. I visited the place and a group of young people were singing and playing their instruments. I was impressed but at the same time felt pity upon seeing the musical instruments they were using. Through the story, I hope people would see that this group is worth supporting. They are in need of musical instruments. If you want to donate or help them, I will assure you, your help will not be wasted.
Who is lakay Okyo? Lakay Okyo was born in Tetep-an, Sagada and married to a woman from Tanulong. People remember this old man for his spirituality and loving services. According to lakays Dontogan and Aclop, lakay Okyo accompanied Fr. Mauricio Lidwino in his early apostolate to Sagada, especially in the eastern part. He took care of the mission lot in Tanulong and he was able to keep it until a church was erected in 2015 during the time of Fr. Pablo Lumiwan.
Lakay Okyo, therefore, is remarkable in the history of Kilong Catholic Mission. He was never paid for his services but he loved serving. That is what we call authentic public and church service. He may have not become rich economically but he is rich in the eyes of God who will grant him eternal life and welcome him in glory. The time, treasure, and talent he shared will turn to more blessings to the family. They may not see them but surely experience them.
Lakay Okyo may have left the world but he left many virtues to be lived. He may have died but his good examples are alive to be emulated by the young. He lived the virtue of selfless service and living a good life, which means it is doable.
In my homily, I mentioned about these things and I felt the joy of the family over the sorrowing atmosphere. Vice Gov. Taule and Councilor Domoguen were among those who joined us in the prayer service.
Here are Sagada lalakays of our contemporary world who will teach us values and make virtues still relevant amidst the growing virtual relationships and virtual realities.
We learn the virtue of determination from lakay Aclop. We learn the value of selfless service from Fr. Bong. We learn the value of relationships from lakay Emiliano. We learn the value of sacrifice from lakay Okyo. We see the beautiful marriage of faith and culture from these old respected men of our times.
Lakay Okyo deserves our prayers and respect. We pray for his eternal repose and we thank him for his services to the church.
Reach me at [email protected] or 0905-1653-669.