One of the highlights of Nengkoy’s birthday celebration last week was my whole family’s visit to the National Shrine of Padre Pio located in Sto. Tomas Batangas (80 km south of Manila). Except for my younger sister Joie, it was everybody’s first time in the church.
Before proceeding to the main church area all of us took time to roam and check out the grounds of the holy national shrine. We even lighted a number of votive candles to give thanks and pray for some groovy and awesome intercession.
We failed to attend and listen to a Holy Mass but we were nevertheless lucky and were at the perfect time to have attended an awesome Healing Liturgy. And part of the blessed ceremony is that people got to kiss a sacred relic of St. Padre Pio followed by an anointment of a fragrant oil on both palms and the forehead.
Though it initially freaked me out, because I thought my lips are gonna burn (hahaha!) when it touches the relic, the experience was something serene, calm and divine. I definitely felt God’s blessings and Padre Pio’s embrace.
Visiting Padre Pio church in Batangas was one beautiful experience. It was one blessed experience!
It has always been my belief that entering a house of prayer or a religious temple for the first time goes with a lot of perks. I am with the faithful belief that you can ask for three wishes if it is your first time to enter a church. This of course is aside from the opulent opportunity to pray for your loved ones, express your heartfelt gratitude, catch-up with God and in a way save your soul.
But my first time visit to the church of Our Lady of Caysasay in Barangay Labac, Taal has more than what I expected. I only knew through a brochure write-up of the hotel were we stayed in Taal that pilgrims and visitors of this church as decreed by Vatican may actually receive the rare and priceless plenary indulgence. This means, if you visit and pray at Caysasay Shrine all your sins, wickedness and impiety will be washed away. Upon knowing this, and since my wickedness is already up to the brim, I made sure that I and my friends must go there.
Aside from washing away all my evilness, I also got to meet one remarkable kid in Taal. His name is Mark Vincent. I actually met him right inside the church. After saying a solemn prayer, this kid approached me and asked if I wanted to personally hold the image of Our Lady of Caysasay. I of course agreed. He then told me to follow him outside, led me to the back of the church and asked me to go up the stairs which leads me to the back of the high altar.
When I reached the top floor, the main backdoor of the church was locked. Mark Vincent noticed that I could not get in so he hurried downstairs and told the church’s personnel to open the door for me and my friends. This is where the amazing and rare opportunity of touching the miraculous image, her vestment and even the hair of Our Lady of Caysasay happened. This beautiful experience was indeed sublime and mystifying.
When I told Mark Vincent that he is supposed to be in school that Wednesday morning, he told us that his teacher ordered them to report halfday after lunch because it’s the feast day of St John the Baptist. In Batangas province, part of its local tradition is to splash water to people passing by the streets from morning ‘til noontime during San Juan day. The teacher then, as I supposed, must not want her students reporting at school in the morning all drenched wet.
I was expecting Marc Vincent to ask money from us upon making sure we experience what we experienced. Usual Pinoy cunning and scheming kids would charge or ask tourists for money for the service they believe they’ve rendered. But what is so remarkable about this kid is that he never asked anything from us. He simply wanted us to have a deeper encounter with the Lady of Caysasay. This is the point when I surmised that Mark Vincent, the genteel and well-mannered kid, must be some angel sent by heaven. (I will write further about my encounter with this remarkable kid in the days to come…)
Sa wakas nahuhasan din. Grabe. Ang linis linis ko. Hahaha!
A miracle happened in Luneta hours before the Holy Mass was about to be officiated by Pope Francis. It was a miracle that involved me and my elder sister. Both of us did not whine nor whimper about going to and from the people-infested Luneta right in the middle of the storm. In fact, we both actually enjoyed it!
My relatives know that in case I am subjected to any discomfort, I whine and grumble to the highest level. While my elder sister is the most cautious and the least adventurous in the family. So if we are together, nothing really happens and everything seem so dull.
But not today. I would like to claim that I and my sister were rebooted and were recharged by the visit of Pope Francis in Manila. At exactly 12 noon, I, my sister and her son Luis converged at Vito Cruz. In our respective jackets and rain coats, we walked our way heading to Luneta to attend a once in a lifetime Holy Mass in Manila by Pope Francis. Both of us surprisingly did not complain nor felt tired nor whine about the long walk, the drenched feeling, the muddy puddles, the dizzying swarms of people as well as the cold and heavy downpour of typhoon thrashing above us.
And when we were heading back, we were actually caught in a throng of people crammed and tightly squeezed together. People were so compact, it was like a wave of people. You cannot just standstill because the wave of people would thrust you in varying directions.
I actually got nervous for my sister and my nephew for it really takes a lot of energy to survive the shoving force of such surfs of moving people. The three of us got separated along the way after about 25 meters. But when the crowd got a bit loose and no longer too crammed together, I found a concrete planter box and stood up to look for them.
Luckily, in about five minutes my sister saw me high on the planter box and headed towards me and then suddenly my nephew appeared smiling walking towards us. My sister told me that she was pressed towards a group of old ladies while my nephew was prodded towards a group of young foreigners also attending the Pope’s pastoral visit in Manila.
At an ordinary occasion, I would have wailed, whined and complained. While my sister could have simply passed out. But we kept our composure and actually smiled and congratulated ourselves for surviving such a deadly throng of people. We headed back home happy and feeling accomplished.
Now that I am writing this, only now that I realized that I would definitely will walk that far or get drenched that drenched or brave a smashing typhoon or subject myself to be crushed by hordes of people if it is in the honor of the Holy Vicar of Christ.
This experience is definitely nothing but a miracle.
Maganda din pala kapag iniiwan ang kaartehan sa bahay.
Because of a couple of hot-button issues that I don’t agree with the Catholic Church, I consider myself a “Catholic in bad standing”. Though born a Catholic, I don’t even have a friend or even an acquaintance who’s either a Catholic priest or a nun. Nevertheless, I participated in welcoming with huge open arms His Holiness, Pope Francis to my country, the Philippines.
I think I like Pope Francis. I like him because he has an effective way of changing the public’s perception about Catholicism. His tone is totally different as compared to a traditional, strict and highly conservative Catholic.
I think like him because he is not out in the world to evangelize the non-Catholics. He is out of Vatican and visits parts of the world to re-evangelize the Catholics (like me) to reconsider the Catholic virtues of compassion, love and service to fellow human beings.
I think I like him because he is not the usual judgmental type of a Catholic. He seem to be the type who would just let you be what you be as long as you mean no harm and it is in pursuit of love or of helping the poor.
I like him because he concedes to the idea that God shall be your judge at the end of the day and not those people with ostentatious robes running the Roman Catholic Church.
Lastly, I think I like Pope Francis because he seem to possess the power to warm hearts. Through the feeling of warm hearts, this opens up people’s appreciation towards the beauty of Catholicism, the strength of Christianity and the love of Jesus Christ.
After seeing Pope Francis in person, I know what the phenomenon dubbed as the “Pope Francis Effect”. Seeing him was like one of the coolest things. It seem like an out of body experience!