John Paul II rouses town that hosted Viet refugees

/ 06:18 AM May 03, 2011

MORONG, Bataan—The visit of Blessed John Paul II, cherished through a shrine fitted with a wooden cross sculpted and presented to him by a Vietnamese refugee in 1981, stirred this sleepy town to life Monday.

“We’re a very happy town today. Our people are very excited about the event,” Mayor Cynthia Linao-Estanislao said, referring to the inauguration of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine inside the Bataan Technology Park (BTP) here.


The late Pope celebrated Mass on Feb. 21, 1981, at the BTP, the former site of the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) that served as a temporary home for thousands of “boat people” who had fled Vietnam after its fall to communist forces in 1975.

During the Pope’s visit in 1981, Msgr. Victor Ocampo, who attended the papal Mass, said the Pontiff asked the refugees not to lose hope amid their displacement.


“God loves you,” Ocampo quoted the Pope as telling the refugees.

The care for them by the Filipinos and foreigners working in the erstwhile PRPC, a facility that was overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was the manifestation of that love, the Pope was said to have told some 20,000 refugees during his homily.

But the people of Morong and its local government are celebrating without the extravagance. There are no marching bands, blaring sound systems or buntings. Around 10 tarpaulins were hung along the route to the shrine in Barangay Sabang.

There is no visible fiesta mood. Beach resorts did not capitalize on the shrine to draw in tourists but some resort owners reported getting more pilgrim guests on Sunday night.

The Our Lady of Pillar Parish is clean and orderly. Large photographs of Blessed John Paul II and the Divine Mercy are on the sides of the altar. In the right wing is a mini-museum of the 1981 papal visit and Mass.

“Our people feel that in spiritual terms, they’re uplifted because our small town continues to be blessed by the presence of the Pope,” Estanislao said.

“Pope John Paul II is back with us through his image,” a copy of the missal for the shrine’s opening said. The late Pontiff is shown in the sculpture traveling with a refugee family in a rough sea.


Estanislao said she is proud that although the town is small, the Pope chose to visit its residents in 1981.

The town’s name used to be “Moron” until Congress, through then Bataan Rep. Jose Nuguid, passed Republic Act No. 1249 in 1955 to change it to “Morong.”

Founded in 1578 as part of the Corrigimiento de Mariveles together with Bagac town and Maragondon, Cavite, Morong had its first ecclesiastical parish in 1607.

The town is at the foothills of rainforests fronting the South China Sea. Some 17,140 hectares of the town’s total land area of 21,190 hectares are forest lands.

A poor fishing and farming village, the town’s economy has been given a boost by the investment of Ayala Land Inc. in Anvaya Cove and the development of about 50 beach resorts.

“I foresee that Morong will be a pilgrim site,” Estanislao said. Most residents are Catholics while some are members of the Philippine Independent Church and Iglesia ni Cristo.

At least 2,000 people attended the shrine’s opening at 3 p.m.

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