He's at home in the Philippines
BY FR. JEFF SCHEELER, OFM
There are two major take-aways from my trip to visit Fr. Harold Geers in Palo, Leyte, in the Philippines: He is well loved by the Franciscan Handmaids of the Lord whom he has served as chaplain for 32 years, and after 50+ years in the country, he is very acculturated.
Harold lives in an apartment above the postulancy house on Mt. Laverna, the beautiful hills which are also home for the motherhouse, novitiate, and San Damiano Retreat House. The sisters told me more than once how much they appreciate his support, wisdom, and presence. The sisters consider Harold to be a co-founder of their community. Now almost 84, he celebrates daily Mass, serves as confessor, and gives periodic talks to the sisters in formation, always careful not to interfere in community decisions.
While I was there, we celebrated the 37th anniversary of their foundation, and they invited me to give a talk on St. Francis as part of their day of recollection, which we ended by singing karaoke songs. Harold has made many other friends as well; since he has given up driving, they often come to his aid. His friend Tony Canete, a former friar, took us on the two-hour trip to the Custody of St. Anthony novitiate in Ormoc, the community to which Harold is attached and where he goes by bus every other month.
There we happened to meet former SJB friar Roger Covero who was giving a retreat to their six novices and we saw the very large and well-organized flower and vegetable garden which provides food and income for the friars as well as employment for several 2013 Typhoon Yolanda refugees. Over lunch, there was much interest in the U.S. presidential race and the revitalization and restructuring process going on among the U.S. provinces! The friars asked about all the SJB friars who spent time in this mission.
Harold often forgot that I did not speak Waray-Waray, and explained much that we saw along the way: rice drying in the sun; the various modes of transportation (pedicabs, jeepneys and tricycles); the custom of cockfighting; how the people take your hand to their forehead as a blessing; but most importantly our SJB history in the Philippines. We visited his friends Awie and Marnellie Llamera and their sons Clyde and Joaz. In their home, 14-year-old Clyde demonstrated his ability with the guitar and did magic card tricks for us. Harold is practically a member of the family, a grandfather figure; in fact, there is a professional family portrait on the wall, taken a number of years ago with Harold. Harold jokes that he used to hold Clyde’s hand when they crossed the street to keep him safe and now Clyde takes his hand to keep him safe!
The road back
I last visited Harold in March of 2014, several months after Typhoon Yolanda. Though her wrath was still apparent, much reconstruction has happened. Road repair is happening everywhere, and that is not an exaggeration. The sisters’ convent and retreat house is back. The Cathedral is repaired and there is a mass grave and memorial in front of the Cathedral where an unknown number of people are buried. The official death toll was 7,000, but speculation is that it was significantly higher than that. Marnellie, mentioned above, lost parents, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The cargo ship that landed on shore has been made into a permanent monument. There is now a bustling mall that serves the area as well. But the poverty and devastation is still remarkable. We saw shacks made of wood scraps and corrugated steel along the coast, and not-much-better public housing that has been built for the refugees.
A trip like this is always educational and vision broadening; one learns how so many other people in the world live, eat, bathe, get around, and pray. You see monkeys in trees and pigs in pedicabs. You see water buffalo and Christmas decorations in September. It’s a great world. Thank you, Harold (salamat!) for this great experience.
More photos on our Flickr Page.