March 3, 2024

Sharing dreams is what binds people and keeping the dream for life is another. The dream of a life devoted to prayer is what this group called Caryana, a lay monastic community at the foothills of Mt. Arayat, sustains daily, as it also attempts a life of self-sufficiency.

This group called Caryana Lay Monastic community was introduced to us by the late BishopCarlito Cenzon sometime in 2012, the group that he and Fr. Odon de Castro inspired in the early 1970s through a retreat conducted when the ladies were about to go to college.

This piece is perhaps in time for the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the patron of this community that opens its gates to the public for a feast day of prayer and fellowship.

To greet you when you arrive are peacocks and Shetland ponies grazing in the lawn. These animals are free to wander about and are not frightened by people. We were welcomed by lay sisters with warm smiles and are guided to our rooms for the duration of our stay. We brought our bags to the quaint cottages built for two with a bathroom with hot showers. There are air conditioners in the rooms now and a ceiling fan for comfort at bedtime. The refectory good for 30 is in a larger building with two quarters. This section keeps the guests in one section of the area that is far from the main residents. Coffee, tea, and snacks were served before we were toured by brother JM in a golf cart good for 10.

The adjacent area is the yard with the stations of the cross surrounding an open court where more than a thousand chairs are set once a year. Thisserves as the center for prayer with a stage and wings to accommodate the choirs. The left side for the males and the right side for the females. The songs that rise to the heavens during the high mass in December are some kind of divine harmony because it is the first time that the two groups sing the songs together. The white sculptures that make up the stations of the cross around this open court inspire prayerfulness.

The next part to view are the residences of bishops, dorms, and the cemetery that has accommodated patrons, famous people, and family members of some residents. There is a neat order in this part of the estate too. A series of basketball and tennis courts are available for the young ones to use in their free time. Interspersed with the quarters are workshops for welding, tanning, carpentry, and tool sheds.

Along the perimeter of the estate are the rice fields and groves. The fruit trees have the seasonal fruits growing or bearing fruits. These are picked easily because they are within reach. The grains and fruits can be dried in solar drying facilities for storage and preservation. Some of the vegetable gardens grow in greenhouses with timed distribution of water and fertilizers. The nutrients drawn from organic sources in the vermiculture sheds that are tended, operating on kitchen and waste materials from the surroundings.

There are chickens, ducks, and Peking ducks. I am unsure if I saw geese and turkeys, but I am definite about the ostrich. The breeding of the ostrich became a trend three years ago, when they had ostrich in different growth stages. This was because it was healthier to serve ostrich than lechon to the residents and guests. The dark meat is tastier than beef and more tender. They are easier to tend and feed.

There are areas for cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs too. There are sheds to keep them in at night and areas for roaming during the day.There is a ramp for the goats to go to the second level of the shed without prodding.

But our favorite are the fishponds where the pangasius, tilapia, and the catfish abound. We spent hours having fun with the fishing rods and filling the buckets with fish. These fishes do not share common ponds but are kept in different parts of the estate. The catfish in the murkier sides and the tilapia in the wider ponds.

These are also scientifically grown with the harvest scheduled according to the need. Bishop Otto, on our first trip said, “You have to catch your dinner.” At that time, we were at the pangasius fishponds, these fishes hardly took the bait as we spent an hour or less holding on to our rods before we caught one. Only to find out that we were having tilapia for dinner.

It is perhaps not the available produce that is astounding in this place but the shared responsibility among the members of the community. Those who have given up the life in the corporate and the competitive society for one of devotion to prayer have brought with them their brilliance from their fields of expertise.

The engineers are the ones who figure out the mechanical or electrical needs for the facility. There are those whose experience in livestock or farming have ensured the proper care for the food sources. The children share the joy of hooking the worm on your rod with their bare hands but speak in fluent English.

They are allowed the use of gadgets, but they are in charge of feeding the fish (but not when we are scheduled to enjoy fishing in the morning so they think we bear their food and willingly come to the sides). The man roasting the ostrich on live coals was a pilot once upon a time. The lady serving coffee is a daughter of a prominent businessman.

There is laughter with soft tones, humility but confidence in their speech knowing that God is their guide. In their community, actor Lito Legaspi was their willing wood chopper before his death in 2019. This is the kind of participation in this enclave of prayer that sustains the food that is provided on the table and food for the soul.

In these times when survival is primary, we look back and realize that it is not so much what is there but the attitude that is urgent.

In Baguio, it is like the chayote. We are confident that there is the fruit or the leaves to pick but we must plant it and tend it.