It was the end of another day. The sky displayed a soft glowing ray of light as the sun dipped into the horizon of Solana town in the northern Philippine province of Cagayan.

The animals had been brought to the shed, but for Father Manuel Vicente Catral work was far from over. The priest still had to meet his neighbors – all farmers living around the small hamlet they call home. “I asked to be assigned to the poorest villages of Solana,” said Father Catral. The priest explained he wanted to understand their situation.

He started organizing the people and later conducted a study to understand the state of agriculture in the area and its impact on the community. “My driving force was to convert the land where my hut stands into a model of sustainable farming,” he said. As time passed, the priest was able to implement the idea of diversified but integrated farming by creating his own farm. Pigs, cows, a number of goats and sheep, and a couple of water buffaloes now roam there.

“The integration of animals in the farm provides another source of income,” the priest said. In front of his hut, which also serves as his convent, is a fishpond surrounded by vegetable plots, climbing plants, and root crops. Around the compound is a rice field where 50 varieties of rice grow.

Archbishop Sergio Utleg of Tuguegarao saw the efforts Father Catral made on his small farm and thought the community was ripe to be turned into a parish. The community already had 79 basic ecclesial communities, with up to 60 families in every community. Several ministries – lay liturgy, family life, social action, youth, and education – were established in the 16 villages.

“The farming program we introduced and implemented contributed to the people’s willingness to participate in Church activities,” said Father Catral. The farmer-priest said the Catholic Church is a “church of the poor,” that is why Church people “should address not just their spiritual needs but also the people’s social needs.” (Mark Saludes, Tuguegarao)

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