Rosa Mystica On a Mission in the Sarangani Mountains

March 13, 2023

The following is from our special correspondent in the Philippines.

As in every year since 2007, so in this month of March 2023, the 16th Rosa Mystica medical mission brought together around 30 volunteers from all over the world, including 4 doctors, 1 pharmacist, 13 nurses, 1 caregiver, and 1 midwife.

Leaving from France, Switzerland, Croatia, the United States, and Australia, they flew over half the world, for more than 24 hours for the most part, to reach the city of General Santos in southern Mindanao, where is located the Acim-Asia dispensary, which will be the base camp of this new mission.

It is from there that, for six days, the medical team will travel to six villages in the Sarangani region to the east of this great city. An area liberated since September 2022 from the communist militias where for many years guerrillas warfare and terrorism reigned, with its corollary of misery.

Peace finally returned allowing Yolly, the permanent nurse of Acim-Asia, to consider holding the mission in these deprived places that she had hoped to reach for a long time. She was able to rely on the mayor of the municipality of Alabel who put his infrastructure at the service of the mission. The city councilor, a few years ago, had consecrated his municipality to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

There are six barangays or villages attached to this municipality, lost and perched in the mountains, which the mission will be able to visit thanks to the assistance provided by the municipal staff placed at its disposal, and by the loan of trucks for the transport of equipment and …troops, and with police supervision, as well as that of the army security is ensured in these recently pacified areas.

The mission opened on March 5 with Sunday Mass celebrated by Fr. Alexandre Maret, who came from Switzerland to accompany the French-speaking volunteers. The “elders” of the mission have seen the beautiful improvements made in this large Rosa Mystica de General Santos church since 2019. The walls have been whitewashed, the windows installed, and the bamboo scaffolding has been taken down.

But Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer, who serves it, hopes one day to be able to cover the floor with concrete and have a ceiling installed. The person that everyone here calls “Father Tim,” is also the Rosa Mystica chaplain and he wishes, through this new mission, to spread his apostolate in these villages that have been abandoned for a long time by the Catholic missionaries, and heavily colonized by the protestant sects.

A lavish Sunday lunch, preceded by a small show of traditional dances, is offered to the volunteers and, with renewed strength, they embark on finishing their journey to the charming Pinobre “tourist complex” with traditional huts - Spartan comfort but with a splendid view of the sea – located in Kawas where the youngest will stay. The less young will sleep at the hotel.

This site is generously provided for the mission by the municipality of Alabel. This is where each volunteer is assigned their task, some to triage patients, others to take vital signs, still others to help run the pharmacy, or the itinerant analysis laboratory or to the referral desk where they register all the patients who need analyses, additional examinations, or interventions that cannot be done on site.

During this preparatory meeting, the team of volunteers is joined by an entire class of student nurses from the Notre-Dame de General Santos school where Yolly taught before devoting herself entirely to the care of and the apostolate for the most poor with Acim-Asia. These nurses come to lend a hand and they can’t do too much!

Above all, of course, the Mission must be entrusted to its patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mystical Rose. And Fr. Tim, our tireless missionary, takes us down the slope of the hill to process unapologetically behind the statue of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows on the four-lane road below our meeting place. This caused slowdowns and braking of vehicles, piquing the curiosity of local residents – but this was the goal of the missionary! –, and the bewilderment of a buffalo that was grazing quietly by the side of the main road and that our crew made jump.

Datal Anggas means “the plain at the top of the mountain.” It is an aptly named village. “The plain at the top of the mountain” is indeed the translation into B’laam, one of the countless Filipino dialects, of the name of the first village visited: Datal Anggas. We were able to get there after an epic journey in a dump truck, sometimes by paved roads, sometimes simple dirt or rocky tracks, which followed the slope of the mountains without detour!

We experience some heightened emotions when we had to wade through a tumultuous torrent by gripping the edge of the bucket as a safety belt. However our eyes were treated to the splendid spectacle of these high mountains of tropical greenery all along the way, until landing in this village perched on a small plateau surrounded by high peaks and whose name suits it so well.

Traditional dances of welcome and then to work! Patients have been waiting for a few hours already; some will meet a doctor for the first time in their lives. Twenty years ago, 90% of Filipinos died without ever having seen a doctor, explains Doctor June Viray, our Filipino referral pediatrician for the mission since its foundation.

In this way 180 patients are able to benefit from the presence of a Filipino dentist, the pediatric consultation with Doctor Viray, minor surgery, and the prenatal consultation with Florence, a midwife from Valais. General practitioners are busy with their 71 patients among whom pancreatic cancer will be detected.

Two cases of hydrocephalus in 3-year-old and 1-year-old children will be referred by the mission to hospitals in the valley. A trip to the hospital costs about 1000 pesos (17 euros), which is too much for these extremely poor populations. It is easy to understand why one can encounter such advanced pathologies.

The apostolic mission accompanies the care of the body. Fr. Tim is assisted by two sisters, his team of catechists, and members of the Militia of Mary. He goes into the “waiting room” to give the patients a miraculous medal, and to enroll them in the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

He will encourage the forty Catholics, surrounded by very many followers of the many Protestant sects, to recite the rosary in common and not to join these “churches.” Fr. Tim will also try to convince the two mothers of the little hydrocephalus children to have them baptized. He recommended prayers and sacrifices for this intention to the volunteers of the mission and to all his benefactors!

At nightfall, we had to pack up quickly, the storm had knocked out the electricity and plunged the pharmacy into darkness. This made the last drug distributions particularly difficult, the end point of the long journey that the patients have been following since the beginning of the day.

The threatening and often torrential rain in these regions risked making the tracks impassable and the torrent impassable. The return trip was as bumpy as the outward journey, but accompanied by the loud singing of the young people crammed into the dump trucks. A traveling scout vigil in the jungle of Sarangani. Volunteers will remember that!