No baptism, no walk down the aisle without first planting trees

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/18 August) — Parents who wish their children to be baptized and couples applying for a church wedding are required to plant trees before they may receive these sacraments, Fr. Noel Suarez, parish priest of the San Agustin parish here said.

Suarez told MindaNews Wednesday the move aims to align the church’s mission of spreading the faith with current realities affecting the environment.

He said church rites must be able to also serve the earth where the “faithful” live amidst the growing threat of climate change.

He said parents are required to plant at least three trees before chapel officials endorse the application for baptism to the parish office for scheduling.

Both the bride and the groom are also required to plant three trees for each other as a sign of love.

Suarez explained the three trees stand for “I love you” to symbolize the parents’ love for their child and the couple’s affection for each other.

He said the parish preferred fruit trees because “it is harder for the residents to cut down a fruit-bearing tree than a tree meant for lumber,” he said.

Besides, he said, most parents and couples who are faithful to their vocation would want to see the trees grow as a remembrance of their love.

Suarez said they are using the basic ecclesial communities (BECs) to verify if the trees are indeed planted and taken care of.

The practice is generally observed only in Valencia City not in the entire Diocese of Malaybalay.

But Suarez clarified that the priests in other parishes are implementing their own ways of showing concern for the environment.

He traced his inspiration for the practice to the anti-logging protests in Bukidnon in the late 1980s initiated by the people of San Fernando town.

Suarez was ordained by then Bukidnon bishop Gaudencio Rosales in 1988, at the height of the anti-logging protests.

After the Department of Environment and Natural Resources imposed a logging moratorium in the province, Suarez was among 45 priests of the diocese who were deputized as forest guards.

Threats to the environment are still haunting us, Suarez said.

He said he also imposed the planting of trees in his previous parish assignments – Salawagan in Quezon town, Cabanglasan town, and Pangantucan town.

But he cited that the faithfulness of the church’s community leaders and the priests who replaced him in continuing the practice is a challenge. He said he can only trust them to be sincere in their duty to God and his creation.

“The idea that we plant is already something, we have something to look up to for the future of the children. But if we plant nothing today, that’s another thing,” he said.

Aside from its environmental thrust, the church is also implementing “FAITH” or “Food always in the home” gardening project through the BECs, he added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)