My Holy Week last year would most probably be the holiest Holy Week I will ever have, it is because I got to spend it right where the holy Holy Week happened, in Jerusalem, Israel. This year I am in San Francisco USA. And though it is definitely less divine compared to last year, I nevertheless got to observe Holy Week here.
I got to attend and celebrate Holy Mass at Grace Cathedral last Palm Sunday. I actually arrived 30 minutes before the mass started that is why I got the opportunity to take photos and go around the holy church.
One funny thing happened though. As I was about to leave the church after dipping my fingers into the Holy Water to make the sign of the cross, a lady approached me with the biggest smile. She expressed that she was so glad to see such a young man like me attending a Holy Mass on a Palm Sunday. She further expressed in a very gentle voice that new generation whom according to her I belong no longer attends a Holy Mass. She then uttered “God Bless you young man!”
I did not say anything. I just stood there. Listened to her and smiled. If she only knew how old I am and that I may actually older than her. I decided not to correct nor rectify her statements. Besides, I don’t want to ruin her beautiful morning. I just left the church smiling and thinking how much love I have for my anti-ageing cream….
Lumelebel… o baka naman malabo lang ang mata ni Inday.
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!
According to history, Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv was a place that was monopolized by the Canaanites and Philistines. It was also the ancient town brought to knees by Biblcal King David, ruled by King Solomon and vanquished by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Phoenicians. It was the historic site where Alexander the Great stationed his troops. And it was reconquered by the Jews through the Maccabean rebels and also fell into the hands of the Romans. Old Jaffa is also where some of the stories in the Holy Bible about Jonah and Apostle Peter took place.
Old Jaffa is also even written about in some Egyptian letters by an ancient pharaoh. It is also believed to be the place where Andromeda (of the Greek mythology) was chained to a rock by her king father so as to pacify the tantrums of Poseidon.
And in the event I happen to become very famous and significant, let me pronounce and put in writing (so that people would know) that this historic site is where I attended my first Holy Catholic Mass in Israel. Not in Jerusalem, not in Nazareth neither in Bethlehem. It is in old, historic and colorful Jaffa! This I guess would be one notable event that will be recognized in the future!
And for the record, the Holy Mass me and my sister fortuitously attended was celebrated in the Spanish language. It was a special Mass for some Latin American looking tourists. Too bad I did not intently listened to my profesora in Spanish language subjects during my schooldays, only little could I understand on what the priest was saying.
But since me and my sister knows the dynamics of the Holy Catholic Mass – when to say amen, when to kneel, when to do the sign of the cross, when to pray a specific/standard prayer, when to stand and bow the head, when to respond (our response was in English though), when to say “peace be with you”, etc. – the experience was as divine and as hallowed like attending a Holy Mass which we could totally understand.
No, I don’t have plans of conquering this awesome place but it can now be said that Old Jaffa is now a part of my soon to be famous life. Or the other way around, that is, I have at least in some strange twist of fate have been part of the historic Old Jaffa.
Parang gusto ko tuloy sakupin at ikongker ang baryong ito.
The Western Wall (which others call The Wailing Wall) has been regarded by the Jews as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple. It is considered to be the closest accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism known as the Foundation Stone which lies on the Temple Mount. Because of these, the Western Wall has become a place of pilgrimage among the Jews around the world.
Since it is the holiest accessible site, the Western Wall would be the site where Jewish believers would lament about the obliteration of the temple as well as the site where they would pray for intentions. As a tradition, people would write a note on a piece of paper about their intentions, their petitions, their requests, wishes, longings and yearnings. And insert the paper into the crevices of the walls for the heavenly beings to grant such wishes, requests and appeals.
Though a non-Jewish, I have been gifted by the heavens to set foot, see, smell and feel the massive and majestic walls of the Western Wall. Some perhaps must be envious that a pathetic underachiever like me was granted the rare chance to pray and ask for anything that I need and want to the Holy God of the Jewish world.
But honestly, I failed to write any petition neither did I fail to even murmur on the stones about any wish. It is because I was too overjoyed and too thankful to ask for anything at that moment. The mere fact that I was blessed to be in the Holy Land is already a massive and colossal gift from the heavens. I was so thrilled and delighted I could no longer ask for anything else at that moment.
I would like to believe that I must have done something beautiful in my past life that my present one has been so blessed. One particular blessing is the opportunity to go and visit the beautiful and mystifying Koyasan, a unique Buddhist town nestled high in the peaks of Mt. Koya in Wakayama, Japan.
But what is so amazing by such a blessing is that I did not only visited this UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the holiest places in Japan once. I was given by the heavens the generous chance to visit Koyasan twice. First was during the springtime of 2014 while the second was this year’s richly colored autumn season.
Selected 2014 Photos
Selected 2015 Photos
What captivates me most about Koyasan is the peaceful aura and zen-like atmosphere it emits. Visitors will truly feel the positive serenity and explicit spiritual side of Japan. I am not religious, but each of the visit I did in this holy place made me feel so moved, it makes me wanna pray!
Koyasan is one great travel destination, no way will I hesitate if in this lifetime, I would be given the chance again of visiting this holy place for the third time.
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.