Evangeline Musaling-Pacinabao poses for a photograph with her husband and daughter outside their hut on Balut Island in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)
Her parents' religion did not prevent Evangeline Musaling-Pacinabo to embrace the Catholic faith and help spread the Good News on a remote island in the southern Philippines.
Evangeline's Muslim parents migrated from Indonesia to the small island of Balut in the southern province of Davao Occidental in the 1940s, during the height of World War II.
As years passed, some of the migrants and their children became Catholics with the blessing of their non-Catholic parents.
"A catechist was instrumental in my embracing the faith," said Evangeline, who later married a Filipino, and became a catechist.
For the past 22 years, Evangeline has been going around the remote municipality and its nearby islets to share her experience to people and teach them about the faith.
Balut Island is the sleepy center of Sarangani town, an island that can only be reached after a nine-hour boat ride from General Santos City, the nearest urban center in Mindanao.
The 24,000-population of the island comprises of Muslims and members of the B'laan tribe who mostly rely on fishing and coconut farming to survive.
It is around the fringes of this municipality that Evangeline shares the teachings she learned from seminars and workshops she attended in the parish church.
"Most of my time is devoted to church activities," she told ucanews.com inside the family's small thatched hut a stone's throw away from the parish church.
Aside from giving recollections, workshops, and seminars to the parish's 12 basic Christian communities, Evangeline also teaches religions at the local elementary and high schools.
"Since I became a Catholic, I feel I have a bigger family although we're not related by blood," she said.
Evangeline said up to 10 percent of the Indonesian households on the island of Balut has embraced the Catholic faith.
Data from the Indonesian consular office in Davao showed that there are up to 9,000 "persons of Indonesian descent" across the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
The island of Balut is the gateway to Mindanao for Indonesians who cross the Celebes Sea that separates the Philippines and Indonesia by about a four-hour journey by boat.
Evangeline said she and six of her 10 siblings became Catholics "not only for its teachings but also because of the unity of the people in the parish."
The Catholic community on remote Balut Island celebrated its 20th foundation year this month.
"Life is great if God is at the center, even if we are poor," said the mother of three children. "If one's faith in God is strong, the difficulties that we encounter become easy," she added.
Father Saturnino Andoy, parish priest of the island's Santa Teresita del Nino parish, said the Indonesians "became Catholics on their own volition."
"We don't force or actively recruit them to be one of us," said the priest who attributed the Indonesians' attraction to the faith to the parishioners "witnessing."
Father Andoy said the devotion of the Filipino Catholics on the island is "very solid" and does not discriminate the other religions in the area.
"Our doors are always open to anybody who wants to join our faith or our celebrations," said the priest.
During the anniversary activities of the parish early this month, non-Catholic residents joined the celebration by sharing lunch with the faithful at the parish convent.