Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Hallows' Eve

I felt a chill wind blowing through my legs today. I was sitting on a bench in school, waiting for my brother to finish rescheduling an appointment with the Guidance Office; since classes had all but ended already, I found myself alone, under a (thankfully) bright and sunny day with nothing but my iPod to intrude upon the blessed silence of it all. Jarring, though, was the wind; it reminded me of stories the pious old women of our family would narrate, seemingly always at this point of the year.

I remember Tia Luisa, my grandmother's cousin, visiting us some years ago. She was a kind, frail old woman, a member of a powerful charismatic Catholic sect; she had once worked as a teacher, but old age had gotten the better of her. To augment her meager pension, she would sell shoes to people in her neighborhood. She happened to know a shoemaker from her charismatic group, who made quality shoes and who was willing to give her a commission at her strong insistence. I've always admired her; it takes a lot of guts for anyone to hop into a moving jeepney at 11 in the evening, much less for an 80 year old woman nearly bent from old age. Anyway, it was on a stormy October night in 2002 or 2003 that saw her visit us. I remember she was dressed in an immaculate white blouse and a purple skirt that almost reached the ankles. All she needed was a Sacred Heart scapular and a long white veil, and she would look like your typical Filipina church lady.

My grandmother served Tia Luisa tea and some hot soup. One thing I notice with Filipinos of an older generation is their insistence on deference and politesse; my grandmother addressed her with the characteristic 'po' and 'opo' with which many children here still address their parents. To think they were separated by probably ten years at most. Tia Luisa had brought with her some beige pumps, a pair of loafers, and some sheets of paper to trace an interested party's foot on, in case he wanted his own pair of shoes. Thunder raged outside. Tia Luisa then motioned for my grandmother to come closer and proceeded to narrate a rather strange tale.

'I saw my father a few days ago', she said. 'It was him all right; he had the same piercing eyes which he always focused on me so intently whenever he looked at me. But at the same time, he wasn't really looking, or if he was, he probably wasn't aware that I could see him. I was scared, all right, and I started to pray the holy rosary haltingly, since I was so scared.' My grandmother listened to her story intently, but with some incredulity. I have mentioned before that that side of my family is no longer Catholic; but, I think, having been raised in the very much Catolico cerrado milieu of the early twentieth century, when all the Evangelical sects and the Iglesia ni Criso were not even a pipe dream in history, my grandmother retained a large part of that ethos. Thus, it would not have been that hard for her to be convinced of the story. Tia Luisa continued, 'When I finally snapped out of that trance, I immediately hurried to my room, where I had a blessed candle stashed in my altar. I lit the candle and started to pray for the repose of my father's soul. The wind howled all the more and lightning and thunder crashed outside my window. I was so scared. To think I already had palaspas (blessed palms) tied on my windows!'

'After some minutes, the rain and the storm and the thunder subsided. But I was still afraid to go near the window. Our elders always told us that on the days before All Souls' Day, the souls in Purgatory are permitted to roam about the earth to remind the faithful to pray for them. So that's what I did; I had Mass said for his repose in seven churches, but I remained inside the house for the rest of the month. I was especially fearful to go out at night.'

Tia Luisa ended her story by taking a swig at her hot tea. All that time, I sat nearby, listening to every detail of her story. I, too, was shaken. My grandmother asked her if she wanted some more tea and soup, but she declined. The rest of the details are now fuzzy, but I recall my grandmother saying something like, 'There is too much in this world that we really do not know about. We should all pray for God's guidance.' At around 9pm, and exhausted from the day's activities, Tia Luisa retired to her bed. My grandmother told us all to be very quiet; it would be very disrespectful of us children to cause a ruckus at night and disturb an elder's sleep. And besides, we were all quite tired ourselves.

A few days later was All Souls' Day. We left for Sucat in the early afternoon, and arrived at the Manila Memorial Park at around three-- the Hour of Mercy, I thought. There were candles, bibles, and rosaries a plenty, but mostly confined to the Catholic side of the family. As usual, I spent a good amount of time roaming the cemetery, soaking in all its somber beauty, the silences of which were seemingly ready to burst with screams of anguish and lamentation. At 5pm, we gathered at my grandfather's puntod, the last golden-red rays of the sun stabbing through thick foliage and casting an eerie glow about the place. And for the first time in my life, I saw my Protestant grandmother pray the holy rosary.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Christian, Catholic -- What's the Difference?

(Note: Please allow this little rant from me, as I have not had one in such a long time that I felt compelled to post this. Thank you.)

I read an article in the Sunday paper that mildly annoyed me, but at the same time raised some interesting questions. The author of the article, apparently a Protestant of a more 'historical' stripe (a Methodist, I think), wrote about the Evangelical phenomenon that has swept the Philippines since the 1980s. In the article, the author wrote about how many prominent fixtures in Philippine society, including (and especially) actors and some businessmen, had been transformed over night, from drug-snorting, womanizing hedonists, into spotless paragons of virtue. In it, he cites the example of a particular actress, who was once heavily into drug abuse and premarital sex, but who has now turned over a new leaf and has rediscovered her poetic side. I think I was most annoyed, however, when the author calls these conversions 'becoming Christian,' as if these Evangelical sects have the exclusive right to call themselves such.

It must be understood that in the Philippines, where Catholicism reigned supreme (and still does) for more than four hundred years, the arrival of Protestantism naturally posed a question and a challenge hitherto left in the open-- namely, what does being a 'true Christian' entail? For centuries, being Christian exclusively meant being Catholic; but with all these johnny-come-latelys hopping into the scene, with their new-fangled angelistic concepts of sanctity, it is not as clear cut as it used to be. Many Evangelical groups try to capitalize on this question. They cite the millions of average joe Catholics who know squat about their faith and who would rather sleep and fornicate than attend Mass on Sundays. In contrast, they present their 'prized converts' and explain how they have since put on Christ since switching over to the other side. It can be argued, though, that with 8 out of 10 Filipinos belonging to the Catholic Church, the lion's share of troubled members would naturally come from Her.

Perhaps I sound bitter, but I think a point has to be made. Let us be honest; majority of the Evangelical groups that have sprung up in the Philippines come with the paradigmatic baggage of Protestant America. There is a heavy emphasis on personal decency that seems to be more important than actual sanctity itself, as well as an (I think) unhealthy preoccupation with 'goodness', or at least, keeping the appearance of it. To be honest, many who do join these groups do so with the right intentions, and some of them do change for the better. What I do not understand, however, is, Why could you have not done the same as a Catholic? One could perhaps fault the clergy and the dumbing down of doctrine and discipline as complicit in the gradual descent into the laxness of faith of these people, but ultimately, the struggle against sin is a personal one, and not something that outsiders will win for you.

I'll admit, a lot of Catholic priests today are too lax, too forgiving, too nice. Maybe that's one reason many ex-Catholics leave the Church for the sects; but I think another angle could be that it is simply easier to be seen as good than to actually be good. Again, I'm not saying that all Evangelicals are image-obsessed, but there's something about the non-restrictiveness of the sects, whether liturgical or otherwise, that seems to appeal to many people. If I may be so bold, I would say it is the lack of the human element that does it. Anyone can admit to being a sinner; the difficulty lies in acknowledging its ugliness. For Catholics, of course, this means going to confession, and subjecting yourself to the 'judgment' of your fellow sinner. There's nothing more humbling than that.

Permit me to be somewhat crude at this point, but just because you finally have your head out of your ass, and you finally begin to see what a mess you've made of your life, doesn't guarantee that you are better off than the rest of us. To be sure, I will be happy for you. But please don't assume that we are 'inferior' for having our human moments. Even St. Augustine prayed, 'Lord, make me chaste-- just not yet.' Something smells fishy here; and it sure as hell isn't the odor of sanctity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario de La Naval

“Many an October evening while watching this procession of La Naval, and having divined, by a general excitement, the approach of the image, he has heard the cries and trumpets of the passing concourse. He has seen her blaze into vision against the skies of his city, born upon cloud of incense and music, her face on fire with jewels and mysterious with the veneration of centuries, with gleaming rainbows forming and falling all about her and silken doves bobbing whitely among her flowers of gold and silver -- Oh, beautiful and radiant as an apparition! -- the Presence at Lepanto, Lady and Queen and Mother of Manila, the Virgin of the Fifteen Mysteries.”

- Nick Joaquin

The Feast of La Naval de Manila-- the so-called 'procesion de procesiones'-- is certainly one of the grandest celebrations of Old, and Contemporary, Manila. The story of Lepanto is familiar to all; familiar to us, too, are the stories of the miraculous intercession of the Blessed Virgin, routing the Turkish hosts from Europe and preserving Christendom from destruction. In the Philippines, this story is echoed in the Saga of La Naval-- and how the miraculous Virgin was able to rout a superior Dutch force from the shores of Manila with only a handful of decrepit ships, and a paltry number of Spanish and Filipino forces manning them. This was a feat repeated all of five times, each seemingly more miraculous than the next. And it is for this reason that Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario is hailed as the Queen of the Philippines, her mighty and unfailing champion in times of distress. Over the centuries, jewels and gold and silver and all sorts of precious ornaments and elaborately embroidered dresses have been given to the Virgin. Jewels from visiting royals and medallions from National Artists (Joaquin, notably) have all been laid at the feet of this Grand Lady. In her magnificent, boat-shaped triumphal carriage of silver, La Naval, as she has come to be known in this part of the world, was an imposing-- and majestic-- presence indeed.

Though the intercession of the Virgin of the Rosary has saved this country multiple times in the past, the Great War which wrecked Manila and reduced it into a burnt-out cinder nearly threatened to destroy the image. Ultimately, though, the faith of her devotees persevered, and the savior herself was saved. Here follows an account of the 'rescue' of La Naval from the ruins of the Old Sto. Domingo.

The image of the “Santo Rosario,” along with her regalia — her gold crowns and renowned jewels — along with the other Great Treasures of the Manila Dominicans — the jewel-encrusted gold chalices, monstrances, reliquaries, ecclesiastical accoutrements, silver tabernacles, candlesticks, torcheres, missal stands, banners, ornate ewers and basins, important centuries-old documents, and many other valuables — had been stored by the Spanish Dominicans in their large vault located on the ground floor of the Church Complex. The late Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, O.P. described the Santo Domingo Church Vault to Rafael del Casal as having had very thick walls. As The Fire raged for many days and nights, and while the Manila Dominicans prayed for the safety of their Greatest Treasure — the 350 year old miraculous image of the “Santo Rosario” — The Great and Terrible Possibility loomed that the image of the Virgin would not survive the Extreme Heat from The Fire which had completely permeated the vault — and the entire Church Complex as well…

An Eyewitness recounted:

“”In December of 1941, the Japanese warplanes bombed Intramuros. One of the first casualties was the Santo Domingo Church and Convent. The towers were destroyed and only the walls were left. The Church and the Convent burned for many days. Wisely enough, days before the bombings, The Dominican friars had stored the centuries-old image of the “Santo Rosario,” along with her crowns, jewels, and vestments in the “Tesoro del Convento” The Convent Treasury, which faced Plaza Isabel II. But because of the intensity of The Fire, No One really knew if the image of the “Santo Rosario” had survived…”"


But She did, miraculously as always. The Extreme Heat of The Fire had bent, twisted, deformed, and in fact almost melted several of the important gold and silver objects. But the 350 year old [ elephant ] ivory and hardwood image of the ”Santo Rosario” actually survived The Conflagration which had consumed her beautiful, rose-colored, Gothic-style temple from 1875 — the Santo Domingo Church and Convent in Intramuros, a masterpiece by the Europe-trained, patrician architect Don Felix Roxas Sr. — and it also finally laid waste to the historic site of her home beside the Pasig River since 1593.

An Eyewitness recounted:

“”The Prior of the Santo Domingo Church and Convent, Rev. Fr. Aurelio Valbuena, O.P. — a respected and trusted man — decided to transfer the image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ and her crowns, jewels, and vestments to a safer place, to the University of Santo Tomas in Sampaloc District. That was, of course, if She survived…”
“On 30 December 1941, three days before the entry of the Japanese Ground Forces, the Japanese Air Force had started the aerial bombardment of The City. Electricity had been cut off; Blackouts were the norm. Word went around that Massive Looting would take place. Rev. Fr. Aurelio Valbuena, O.P., the Prior of the Santo Domingo Church and Convent, was advised by well-meaning friends and devotees to finally secure the treasures of the Manila Dominicans, paramount of which was the centuries-old ivory image of the “Santo Rosario.”
“And so, on 30 December 1941, at 4:00 p.m., Everyone concerned — the Manila Dominicans, their friends and devotees of the “Santo Rosario,” two Augustinian Recollect priests, and some Manila policemen — got together at The Ruins of the Santo Domingo Church and Convent in Intramuros to see if the ivory image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ had possibly survived The Conflagration within the confines of the “Tesoro del Convento” The Convent Treasury, and if so, to bring her to relative safety at the University of Santo Tomas in Sampaloc…”
“The Vault Door of solid metal was extremely difficult to open. The Group initially thought of blowing it up with a grenade but they found out that it would not be necessary…”

“They decided to use an Acetylene Torch. But The Vault Door resisted to a remarkable degree.”
“Nearly four hours later just before 8:00 p.m., They were still firing away at the mechanism of The Vault Door in Complete Darkness [ Electricity had been cut off; Blackouts had been imposed ]. It was very difficult to open!!!”
“Finally, by 8:00 p.m., They had already succeeded in making a small opening… A few minutes later, the mechanism finally gave way and They were able to force The Vault Door open…”
“The Dominican priests were eager to enter The Vault but an Infernal, Boiling Heat gushed out from it so they had to retreat!!!”

“But from the Vault Entrance, They saw that The Image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ was intact. She had survived!!!”
“Tears of happiness gushed forth as They All immediately knelt down on the wet stone floor of The Convent and prayed the “Salve” aloud. They had never prayed more intently. The Silence, The Blackout, the Faint Moonlight, the Deep Shadows, the Wet Walls… all contributed to the dramatic, almost ‘theatrical’ experience…”
“The Silence was broken by the bursting of canned goods in The Convent ‘Almacen’ Storerooms. All the factors: the Darkness, the Bombings, the Fear, the Assault… all contributed to the Great Emotion of the scene.”"
After the image of the Virgin was retrieved from the smoking vault by the Spanish Dominicans, the Ortigas brothers, their Ramirez-Ortigas nephews, along with some other brave souls, undertook the perilous and heroic task of transporting her secretly, in a rundown “camioneta” truck through the back streets of Sampaloc District, to the Chapel of the University of Santo Tomas, where She remained throughout The War.

“”The image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ was wrapped in a thick blanket. Her image, the wooden chests containing her crowns and her jewels, and the wooden boxes containing her elaborate vestments were all loaded in the same truck.”

“The truck exited through the Colegio de San Juan de Letran side…”

“The silent caravan made its way to the University of Santo Tomas through the dark and deserted streets.”

“The truck was followed by several other cars who escorted the “Santo Rosario” to the University of Santo Tomas.”

“Several people were waiting for the rescuers at the University of Santo Tomas. In fact, there was quite a crowd waiting to receive the ’silent procession’ from Intramuros.”

“Although the ‘Santo Rosario’ was not appropriately dressed, the priests lifted the thick blanket so She could be seen by the assemblage. The crowd knelt reverently and gratefully prayed the “Salve”…

“The Virgin was Saved!!!”

“The next day, some priests returned to the ruins of the Santo Domingo Church, to the “Tesoro del Convento” the Treasury, to retrieve boxes of documents of lesser value, but these had already disappeared in the intervening hours. Had they not retrieved the image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ the previous night, She too, might have disappeared!!!”

“The most important thing is that the historical Virgin is still venerated at the new Santo Domingo Church with the vestments, jewels, and crowns given to her by the Filipino nation.”"


Truly a miraculous story. Today, hundreds of years after the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary saved the Philippines from the Dutch, she still continues to work her miracles. They may not be as grand as before, but they are certainly still as powerful. May she continue to protect this country from certain disaster. Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.

Click this link to view photos of the procession last Sunday. They are some of the most sublime photos of it that I have ever seen on the internet: La Naval de Manila 2009.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Santisima Trinidad, Quetzaltenango

The image of the Most Holy Trinity venerated in the cathedral of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala. Yes, that is real, beaten silver that clothes God the Father. Found on Flickr, as always.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Note

Please forgive the rather sparse number of posts as of late. I am trying to catch some deadlines which are proving to be quite tricky. Some of you may have heard about the 'rotating blackouts' in Metro Manila; our area has been hit three times now, with a combined number of electricity-less hours nearing 13. While I certainly cannot complaint about my bad fortune-- as I type this, Baguio up in the northern Philippines is still buried under 2002mm of rain, at least half a year's worth in six days-- it is really stressing me out. I still have to type a twenty five page paper in time for Wednesday, on top of several other requirements. The storm(s) and its/their aftermaths truly boggle the mind, not just because of the scale of destruction, but conversely, also because of the undying lights that are the hearts of some selfless people whose bravery, audacity, or perhaps even foolishness, I will forever try to understand. But really, what can one do in such times? It is dark again outside. It will probably rain again. For once, I wish the sun would shine hot enough to fry me to a crisp.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No Words Need Be Spoken

Here are some photos of the devastation caused by Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) across Metro Manila, Philippines, and some parts of Vietnam.

Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) 0 The Big Picture

Barely a week after Ondoy, another supertyphoon threatens the country-- Pepeng, Parma in the international realm. Already we are being warned that this is THE big one-- it is already classified as a category 5 storm, like Katrina. Pepeng brings with it winds with speeds up to 195kph. Many parts of the National Capital Region are still submerged in water, and if the speculations are true-- that Pepeng threatens to bring a similar amount of rainfall-- then God help us all. Your prayers will be greatly appreciated.