Saturday, January 31, 2015

Another Challenge

The past few weeks had been so awfully tough and pretty draining, both physically and mentally. I've been through hell again, contemplating and pondering where my life is heading, confronting myself what’s going on with this appalling workplace.

So again, I went through with this mentally exhausting contemplation, looking at myself, my life, my well-being, self-esteem, self-confidence, considering all available options I could think about. After careful thoughts and evaluations, citing unfulfilled path, mismatched goals, the discrimination I felt, it’s time to move on with my journey and embark into another adventure in life.

It’s a bit challenging to come up with such decision but I have to make a choice for the sake of self-respect, otherwise my journey would be totally senseless. I don’t want to be trapped in an environment that never recognized someone’s real worth. Hearing other people's comments and some degree of sympathy, I came to believe that I was severely devalued.

More than anything else, I want to be in a place where I could truly be happy with what I am doing, where quality of life is not sacrifice. I don’t want to chase with time, I just want to enjoy life because it is happening now and not tomorrow or next month or next year. So why putting off what I could do today?

I am strong-willed and risk taker, I don't mind throwing myself to some challenging path as long as it will lead me to where I should be fulfilled. Life comes only once and if I will just waste it taking a meaningless journey, I would end up regretting things when I reach the final line of my existence.

Now, I don’t want to let fear of what-will-happen-to-me-now interfere my determination of making things possible. I know there are beautiful things that await me on the other side of the road. I just want to trust God to handle everything and let Him point me to the grand plan He designed for me. I know I am destined for something great.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moment in History: 2015 Papal Mass

For Catholics in the Philippines who had watched the Papal Mass on television last Sunday afternoon, January 18, the feeling of happiness and inspiration maybe extraordinarily terrific but it was incredibly different for people who took part in the actual event.

This is my story how it felt being part of the record-breaking “Papal Audience” in the History of Papacy and one of the Largest Historic Peace Gatherings ever recorded in world history.

Aerial view of the crowd during the 2015 Papal Mass provided 
by the Philippine Air force

I attended the event with my sister and 6 kababayans from Surigao del sur. And just like the rest of the 6 million people who braved the rain, cold and other discomforts, we did so many sacrifices, but every bit of it was worth it. 

RECORD-BREAKER

Did you know that in the History of Papacy and before January 2015, there’s only one Pope who drew a large number of attendees in one single event? Pope John Paul II in 1995, when he concluded the 10th World Youth Day celebration with a Papal Mass in Manila, Philippines, it had a record of 5 million attendees, none of the previous Popes had drawn such a large crowd in one single gathering.







The 1995 Papal Mass in the Philippines appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest papal crowd in one single event in the History of Papacy. Since then, no event in the Papacy ever matched that historic gathering until January 18, 2015 when Pope Francis celebrated another Papal Mass. By an amazing twist of fate, it also happened in Manila, Philippines, on the same venue!

The Papal Mass 2015 held in Manila at the Quirino grandstand last Sunday, January 18, hit the record of being the biggest papal audience in the History of Papacy to date. Official figure given by authorities is 6 million, surpassing the 5 million-record set by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Both these events are currently recorded in the listing of the “Largest Historic Peace Gatherings Ever Recorded in World History” (under the category: Over 5 million attendees).

OUR PREPARATION

Last Saturday, January 17, at 11:30PM, we went off to Rizal Park to start preparing for the long queue. The moment we arrived, we already saw hundreds of people camping. We did not bring meals for the next day because we planned to just buy food somewhere in the park area. We only brought bottled water.

However, when we arrived, we saw people started lining up the street, without thinking of food, we immediately took part in the long line that led to the inner court of Luneta. We ended up near the monument of Lapu-Lapu because the area beyond this point was still closed to the public.

SLEEPLESS NIGHT AND THE FLOW OF THE CROWD

It was half-past midnight and we saw people took their places in the ground to sleep. We bought something to sleep on (a foil sheet) and joined others on the ground. It was my first time to lie on the ground to take rest with nothing to see above but sky. But I could not remember if I was able to drowse to sleep, maybe just nap, it was so noisy and the man who slept near us was snoring so hard. Thirty minutes later I got up and just seated and told my other companion to take my place where I lay for her to sleep.







At 2:00 in the morning, people got up to start moving, we’d no idea who instructed it, we just followed others and moved closer to the area where people stood anyway. But the move did not start until 2.5 hours later. Sleepy and tired, we endured standing for two hours and thirty minutes before we were told to proceed.

All of us came from different walks of life, from infants, toddlers, children, young-adult, middle-aged folks, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and senior citizens. At 4:30, we felt like waves while moving forward, gushing like water with the sea of people eager to reach the Quirino grandstand. I could not estimate how many we were because it was totally dark at Luneta, but I felt like meat stuck up in a small fridge with other meats hehe! But everyone was enthusiastic, others were tucking place mats, huge bags containing food, water, snacks, toiletries, and yes even thermos, others came with their families, bringing kids even infants and with their statues with the infant Jesus (Sto. Nino).

Because it was still dark, we could not see the road we walked in. Good that people ahead of the line gave precautions whenever obstacles were on the ground, for example, sharp objects, rocks, large roots, plants, slopes, etcetera. While walking, I could not see anything where we’re heading; I just followed the flow of people. I could not even breathe comfortably unless I would hold my head above.

By 5:00AM, we passed the area where electronic scanners were installed, we’re supposed to pass at these scanners, unfortunately, due to the uncontrollable flow of people and the wave-scenario motion, some of us, including me, did not pass to any scanners, the movement shoved us forward and pushed us to different directions away from the scanners.

Past five and before 6:00 in the morning, we reached the fountain area of Luneta where the first big screen was installed. It’s a bit far from the Quirino grandstand. So we decided to move forward, joined the crowd again, running and heaving, to reach the Rizal monument area.

All designated quadrants (where people must be in) were still closed so we climbed the iron barricades to jump to the other side. When it was my turn to jump off I could not move my feet, maybe because of exhaustion, but no matter how I tried to lift my thigh to the other side of the fence, I could not find my balance, so my companions pushed me up and I jumped off. Oh! The adrenalin rush! Like those moments when there’s a fire and suddenly you’re able to lift the refrigerator alone.

I WAS SEPARATED FROM MY COMPANIONS!

We reached the Rizal monument area, fronting Quirino grandstand, but could no longer proceed to the other side because people already filled the area. By this time, the flow of the crowd was so intense that moving even to your other side seems a big struggle, everybody’s goal was to reach the Quirino grandstand.

I took this shot while searching my companions
hoping I could catch one of them on camera
The sea of people gathered for the Papal Mass

When we attempted to go with the flow, people bumped in and the three of us were separated from the rest of our friends! Argggh. One of the staunchest reminders we told between each other before we left the house and during the early dawn--- we should hold one another, we should never attempt to separate because we might be drifted apart and looking for one another in a huge crowd is like an impossible mission to accomplish. While taking on the line at early dawn, we really held each other’s hand, gripping it so hardly.

But the moment we reached the Rizal monument, our most dreaded fear happened! Three of us were drifted away from the group when the large crowd bounced in and no matter how we tried to search our 5 companions we could no longer find them, it was as if they vanished instantly, it was just a blink of an eye, about 2 seconds! We could not rely on our cellphones because the signal was on and off due to the government’s directive to cut off the signal whenever the Pope is in the area or to lessen its strength several hours before the arrival of the Pope.

One of my companions decided to leave the Rizal monument quadrant to find a comfort room, we moved back but I was hesitant because I wanted to continue looking for our 5 companions within the area. While walking (which was so difficult due to the massive flow of people) I kept looking at my back, hoping against hope I could see one of them.

Then while walking and preoccupied with my thoughts how to search the others, I was suddenly separated again from my two companions! They seemed moving fast and because people kept flowing in and walking back and forth, the distance that separated me from my two companions became wider until they melted in the crowd. Oh God! I could no longer find them. Useless to move forward, I stood where I stopped, unmovable, not knowing what to do, my mind was empty, I kept stretching my stares hoping to find one of my companions, but to no avail. Where would I go? What would I do? That moment, honestly, I was ready to cry, I was so helpless.

Only one solution sprung from my mind. In times of trouble and uncertainties, prayers always make a difference. I already proved it many times in my life, I often witnessed a miracle befell in me after calling God’s help every time I am in a very difficult, dangerous situation.

I started praying, asking God’s help, seeking assistance from Jesus, Mother Mary and St. John Paul II, to let me find my companions or let them find me. Though this possibility sounded so bleak, I trusted their heavenly powers, to guide me, to grant me the miracle I needed for that moment, once again, just like in the past. I prayed intensely while standing, and started reciting the Memorare (Remember oh most gracious Virgin Mary, that, never was it known….) and prayed to Jesus and St. John Paul II.

After praying, I pulled my cellular phone and checked on the signal, it was very low, nevertheless I attempted to call my sister. It rung a bit, then went off. I tried again, it rung, finally, my sister answered. I asked her their exact location, I told her I was at the back of the Rizal monument but before she could answer, my phone went off! And there’s no way I could contact them again.

I really wanted to cry, but I withheld it, I continued praying. Then an inside force seemed told me to move back to the area where we separated by the crowd, I headed to that direction, but I could not proceed further because of the people sleeping all over the place. Then I saw a gleam of light, people were sleeping and sitting on the ground, a perfect scenario because I could roam my eyes to search my friends among the crowd and if ever they looked for me, I could be easily spotted because I was just standing.

During this ordeal, I never ceased praying, asking some divine interventions to let my companions find me or let me find them. And the miracle happened, yes, an answered prayer. I did not leave the area between the monument of Rizal and the large flag pool because I have a strong feeling they’re just within this area. It was here that we were separated by the people who bumped us. I thought.

Finally, they found me!

While roaming my stare to all directions, I heard someone calling my name. I looked to the direction where I heard the voice and saw my sister! Oh my God!! I did not know how to thank the Lord and the Blessed Mother and St. John Paul II for this answered prayer, but it was as if I saw an instant miracle, as if they specifically pointed this spot to me. I uttered a simple thank you prayer, uttering the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like crying even more because once again, I became a witness how powerful prayer is! Though I proved it many times in my life, I am still in great awe how real the Lord’s guidance.

My intuition was right, they were just within the area between the Rizal monument and the large flag pool, I joined them and told a funny story how we separated and what happened in-between. It’s so amazing how prayers can be relied when everything sounds so hopeless. Trust me, the old adage that goes: Prayers can move mountains, is infinitely true, I’ve proven it a hundred times in my life.

Just like me, lots of people were separated also from their groups/companions, but unlike me who just relied on prayers, they sought the assistance of the police within the area, so the police gave their names to the priest on the stage and announced their names for everyone in the park to hear, including the instruction where they should be fetched by their companions. 

DRIZZLY WEATHER

At 6:00 in the morning, the atmosphere started to turn pretty cold and windy, and raindrops started pouring in. We stayed on the ground and took nap then at 7:30 hunger pangs crept in. We walked around to look for food stalls, but we could not find one, we’re unable to pass to the other side of the road also because of so many barriers installed, it was very impossible to reach the designated exit area (Kalaw avenue) because of the sea of people that already flooded the whole Luneta park, even getting out to pee was a real battle.

We tolerated the hunger and just drank water. At 11:00 in the morning, rain poured in and I just protected myself with a sweater and the foil piece we used to sleep on, but others came with their poncho, however, they still looked visibly quivering due to the cold atmosphere.

THE ACTIVITIES

Despite the exhaustion that all of us felt, energy was high and enthusiasm to see Pope Francis was even more intense. Rain pelted, but it did not stop us from leaving the bare area, we stayed at the Rizal monument and just let ourselves be drenched in rain.

We were heavily drenched in rain!
Mariet and my sister using just the foil sheets 
we used to sleep on as protection from rain

I was not able to get the name of the man (whether he is a priest I am not certain) who facilitated the event prior to the arrival of Pope Francis. He drew criticism from the social media recently due to the way he handled the activities, like the chanting, the yelling, but personally, I don’t find anything wrong with it. He was just trying to lift up the spirit of the audience due to the energy-sagging weather. I even thanked his effort to make everything lively and vigorous.

In the early morning, we recited the rosary, prayed an Angelus at noon and another rosary at 1:00PM. There were video clips showed on screen of the Pope’s visits and activities. The host also gave reminders to everyone, to care personal belongings, to keep an eye with the group to avoid being separated and other stuff.

Rehearsing Sinulog chants and dance as our way 
of greeting Pope Francis, this time I allowed myself to be 
totally soaked in the rain in order to participate

After saying the rosary, we were given instructions what to chant the moment the Holy Father arrives. There was a couple from Cebu who had been participating the Sinulog Festival in Cebu for several years, with them was the dance troupe from the Archdiocese of Cebu who had been performing Sinulog dance during the festival. They taught us how to do the Sinulog dance. The host told us, we would practice the Sinulog moves and chants to perform as ways of greeting Pope Francis.

Ahead of time, it was already announced that attendees of the Papal Mass must bring candle and a statue of Sto.Nino, I have no statue of the infant Jesus so I only brought a candle. We practiced those moves and chants of Sinulog while others were told to raise their statues. It invigorated our energy more, we danced, we sung, we bellowed, under the pouring rain, I could see everyone’s excitement despite the awful weather.

I was heavily drenched in rain because I discarded the foil sheet I used to cover in my head to participate in the rehearsal moves of the Sinulog. I have less tolerance on frosty weather, so it was a great challenge for me, my jaw would lock up every time I am exposed to a cold surrounding, but that day, I could never believe I was able to endure it. However, towards 2:00 in the afternoon, an hour before the celebration of the Holy Mass, I began to tremble, but I was determined to finish the event.

We started rehearsing the liturgical songs of the mass. The hosts were very pleasant and lively. We also practiced the Sinulog chants and the line we will utter the moment Pope Francis will arrive: “Papa Francisco, mahal ng Pilipino” (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos).

After this rehearsal, we watched Pope Francis live on screen conducting mass at the University of Sto. Tomas.

THE POPE ARRIVES!

At 2:45PM, we saw on screen the departure of the pope mobile from the Apostolic Nunciature where Pope Francis stayed during the duration of his Apostolic visit in the country. The commotion in the park began, the crowd became ecstatic, yelling, roaring, heaving forward, finding a good spot to stand. Everyone prepared their camera.

Pope Francis arrived wearing a transparent yellow poncho 
over his white cassock, his smile is so charming!

I did not pull my phone to take pictures because it was raining and I was afraid when the people bumped in, it would be toppled, or worst, be soaked in the rain. I decided to just concentrate seeing the Pope rather than gets busy taking pictures. I moved closer to the area where the Pope would pass but it was filled with the thick crowd and some of them brought chairs to stand.

The crowd brought the statue of the infant Jesus during the Papal Mass
The Pope's smile is very charming, you would really be drawn to 
his personality

The pope mobile passed through many quadrants, we started our pre-rehearsed Sinulog chants: Pet Senior, Pet Senior, alternating with Papa Francisco, mahal ng Pilipino” (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos). Oh God! It was surreal!! More than words could ever describe, the feeling was extraordinary. Pope Francis was all smile and enthusiastic when he greeted the people on the street, he even stopped to kiss children even when raining, wearing a simple yellow poncho to protect him from rain, the beloved Supreme Head of the Catholic Church stood in, visibly moved with the presence of millions, while his jeep-mobile wheeled around to allow the crowd to see him closer.

Beautiful! As if my heart was bursting! Emotions flowed in and everyone seemed emotional upon seeing the Pope at the same time filled with inexplicable joy, despite rain showers and very cold weather. We giggled, we cheered, we shouted, we waved! A different degree of excitement was all over the place. Even those people, whom you would never thought had never attended Sunday mass in their lives, or not religious, joined this kind of enthusiasm, they were even more courageous, climbing the flag pool and whatever elevated area found in the park. I am telling you, energy that day was really contagious! A poignant encounter with the Holy Father indeed.

PAPAL MASS

The mass started at 3:00PM. Surprisingly, the Pope conducted the mass in English, he also delivered his homily in full English. We stood in silence during the duration of the Holy Mass. I was trembling, the weather became severely cold and the rain did not stop. Since I did not bring anything to protect me from the rain, I relied on the foil I used to sleep on the other night in the park, but it was not enough. My wet shirt and jeans sent a hair-raising chilly feeling to my skin but I managed to finish the mass.

I was comforted with the fact that it was a Papal mass, and as a Roman Catholic, this event, so far, is very rare, only once-in-a-lifetime that this encounter will happen. To date, attending the Papal Mass is one of the highlights of my spiritual experience. It’s not all the time that I can participate in this kind of celebration conducted by the Vicar of Jesus Christ himself, thus, I told myself to carry on and be inspired. The mass ended at 4:30PM. But we still refused to go, I kept on looking back, hoping to catch another glimpse of Pope Francis.

AFTERMATH OF THE EXPERIENCE

The Holy Father’s influence is immensely great! His intention to maintain a poor church and to shun luxury is massively inspiring, it reminds me to be contented with what I have, to stop desiring things that I could never afford, to be compassionate, to undergo some sort of self-mortification, to live a simple life, to value others even animals that are abandoned. My devotion to my Catholic faith deepened even more.

Pope Francis is known with his unique compassion to the poor, the disabled, the disadvantaged, the abandoned. He is also known with his deep humility, simplicity, and effort to reform the Catholic Church marred by controversies (In his Christmas greetings he gave a blatant, fearless remark to the Roman Curia “You, power hungry”), which have been the stressing points of his tenure since he assumed the Papacy in 2013.

One of the most amazing gestures he did during his stay in the Philippines, is standing on his jeepney-mobile instead of sitting, it allowed him to wave and kiss children along the routes. It was reported that the Pope beforehand, rejected the bullet-proof pope mobile, which has been used traditionally by Popes when visiting other countries, because it is expensive, so the local organizers commissioned a jeepney-mobile in an open air. Its representation is very significant, jeepney is the most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines which catered those who cannot afford the luxurious public transportation facilities, the idea sounds perfect as it reflects Pope Francis’s simplicity and love of the poor.

READ HERE THE POPE’S MESSAGES


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Spiritual Encounter with Pope Francis

I wasn’t able to touch or get closer to the Holy Father. It’s very difficult to dash near the line where the pope mobile would pass because of the thick crowd. But attending the Mass he presided was enough for me, which alone, provided me enough inspiration and different spiritual encounter. Someday, I know I can touch the Pope’s hand, I will just continue hoping and praying for this wish to come true.

According to an official statement from the Presidential staff, President Noynoy Aquino was personally told by Pope Francis before he left Manila that he is very much happy and moved with the unique enthusiasm and warmth that the Filipinos bestowed on him while in the country.  Yes and he deserved the unique treatment and love!

His Holiness, Pope Francis wearing a yellow poncho over his white cassock
on his arrival in Luneta where he celebrated the Papal Mass last January 18, 2015, it drew 6 million people, making it the biggest papal crowd 
in the History of Papacy.

To date, attending the Papal Mass is the highlight of my spiritual encounter with my faith. I cannot see Jesus but I can feel his presence through other people and on all the goodness in this world and Pope Francis is one of the personifications of this divine gift. As a Vicar of Jesus Christ through the views of the Roman Catholic Church, a Pope epitomizes holiness due to the Catholic teaching’s belief that its election to the Papacy is always guided by the Holy Spirit. St. Peter himself, considered in the Universal Church as the first Pope, was personally chosen by Jesus to lead his flock. It has a biblical foundation, when Jesus told Peter “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Matthew 16:18

Attending the Papal Mass on a very cold weather with pouring rain







Bible interpretations present that the “rock” refers to Jesus and the “church” refers to His followers, thus, a Pope, in a more sensible explanation on the view of Roman Catholics, is always Christ’s representative to the world, to speak on behalf of Him, to lead His people and to entrust His ministry. This might not acceptable to other Christian denominations and religions but we have individual church’s teachings and doctrines to believe on, that must be respected.

So how’s the aftermath of my experience attending the Papal Mass? I am still floating in the air, figuratively, because I never thought this dream would happen soon. I thought I need to go to Rome first to visit Vatican and hear mass at St. Peter’s square. But it happened!

Not long ago (hehe!) when I was still around ten years old, the first magazine I saw in my father’s desk was “Columbia”, a free Catholic magazine published in New York city circulated to all members of the Knight of Columbus (A Catholic fraternal service founded in 1882 by an Irish priest, it aims to defend Catholic education and the Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II called it the strong right arm of the Catholic Church. Most notable members were President John Kennedy and his brother, Senator Ted Kennedy) all over the world. My father is a member of this organization until it became inactive in our province in the middle of 1990s (however, my father continued to serve the Catholic parish church as a Eucharistic minister up to now), so he had a copy of this magazine every month.
The magazine had a very glossy cover and pages and one of the unforgettable images I often saw on it was Pope John Paul II. He then became part of my childhood memories and one of the most enduring images of an individual that stored in my imagination. I also grew up hearing his name during the Celebration of the Holy Mass.

One day, when I was about 11 years old, I asked my mother about Pope John Paul II (though I could not recall exactly if it was my father whom I asked) if he was Jesus, the answer I got was, he was not Jesus but he represented Jesus on earth.

Weew! Since then I dreamed to see John Paul II. But when he visited Manila in 1995 during the 10th World Youth Day celebration, I was in Mindanao and so disappointed that I could not see him in person nor attend the Papal Mass, until he died, my dream remained a dream, when Pope Benedict XVI assumed the Papacy, I dreamed to see a glimpse of him too, but he resigned before this wish could be granted. Then another dream created, to see Pope Francis or even attend a Papal mass, which seems quite impossible unless I would travel to Italy.

Then I decided to move to Manila for other reasons, honestly, to see the Pope in Manila was not part of this plan. Circumstances after circumstances rolled in, pushing me to the realization of my childhood dreams. Until it was announced in the media that the new Roman Pontiff will be visiting the country to comfort the survivors of the typhoon, Yolanda, Goosebumps big time!!! Now I know why God allowed me to relocate here in Manila - to attend the Papal Mass and became part of History!

THE POPE’S MESSAGES

TACLOBAN

The theme of this Papal visit is “Mercy and Compassion” and the main purpose of the Pope’s holy sojourn in the Philippines is to visit the people of Leyte, particularly Tacloban, which had been largely devastated by the typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The Pope wanted to comfort them and let them know that God did not forsake them.

But just as the Pope left Manila, a storm has been forecasted to land again in Leyte, however, the Pope decided to proceed with the itinerary because it was his main goal of visiting the Philippines.

He arrived in Tacloban earlier than expected and held an outdoor mass near the airport, it was reportedly attended by 300,000 faithful despite the storm. The video footage where the Pope celebrated the mass amidst the storm and saw people crying would really stir one’s heart. It was so emotional!

According to reports, the Pope had prepared his homily in English, but when he saw people in the mass, he discarded it and spoke spontaneously in Spanish, an interpreter translated it into English, “So many of you in Tacloban have lost everything. I don't know what to say - but the Lord does… He underwent so many of the trials that you do”.

Due to the approaching storm, the Pope cut short his trip in Tacloban after spending lunch with some of the survivors and returned to Manila. However, during the mass, a tragedy happened, one volunteer died when the scaffold gave in, she was brought to the hospital but did not survive. Pope Francis was informed and he met the woman’s father at the Apostolic Nunciature, they spoke for 20 minutes.

University of Sto. Tomas

Before the Papal Mass, Pope Francis met the youth and other religious leaders at the University of Sto. Tomas concluding it with a Holy Mass. We viewed this live on screen at the Luneta.

The Pope delivered his homily in Spanish, with his interpreter translated it into English. He was deeply touched with one of the stories presented by a 12-year-old girl who lived in the street before she was rescued by a Church-run shelter. She questioned why God allowed children to be abandoned, lived in the street and became victims of crimes. Why God let them suffered.

Pope Francis stood up and hugged the girl who broke into tears before she could finish her story. The Pope, known with his deep compassion to the poorest of the poor, responded, "Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question…Those on the margins cry. Those who have fallen by the wayside cry. Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don't know how to cry…I invite each one of you to ask yourselves: Have I learned how to weep, when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave'?".

The Pope also emphasized that the world needed to learn how to cry with those in need. He also spoke about the need to deepen one’s sense of compassion, to go beyond simply giving to the poor by understanding their plight.

LUNETA

In his homily, which he delivered in English, the pope called on social restructuring, urging every Filipino to reject social structures that hamper development and spiritual growth. He added that God “created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it, through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty. Through sin, man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.”





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Friday, January 16, 2015

Travel and Miracle

We can never go wrong with faith! So keep it burning.

In my recent travel abroad, once again, I felt God's presence and protection all throughout the trip.

Here’s one inspiring story to tell.

I was traveling with my two friends, Rowie Tagaan and Vangie Colastre. It was a little dicey trip because we’re taking an adventure to two Southeast Asian countries not frequently visited by most Filipinos, we’d no contact either and we did not book a tour guide, it was a do-it-yourself-itinerary (DIY) sort of thing. To top it all, most folks of these countries could not speak nor understand English very well and we could neither speak the countries’ languages nor understand a bit of it.








We crossed Cambodia on the third of January and during this trip, inconvenience crept in but it never affected our happy disposition, nevertheless, a little kick of worry showed up.

We had no Cambodian currency (Riel) because we planned to exchange our money the moment we arrive at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. We did not have any idea also how to reach the hotel and how to negotiate with transportation. 

While having our stop over few miles from the border that divides Vietnam and Cambodia, we kept discussing how we could buy Cambodian currency the moment we reach Phnom Penh but none of us found an exact answer, then few steps from where we stood, we heard someone talking over her phone in a Filipino language, we exchanged curious glances and moved closer to the woman, we approached her and discovered she is a Filipina from Bulacan (Philippine province) and currently working as a performer at one of Phnom Penh’s hotel lounges.

She told us what to do the moment we reach Phnom Penh, she also shared many things about Cambodian’s customs and traditions and how to take extra precautions. She told us to buy dollar currency as locals would prefer it than Cambodian Riel. We had a nice conversation during our long trip to Phnom Penh.

                 
My friend, Rowie Tagaan with Reychel Mendoza, the Filipina who 
helped us on our way to Phnom Penh city

When we arrive at the capital it was nearing dark, almost six in the evening. She negotiated our fare with a Tuktuk driver and accompanied us during the ride, he also instructed the driver to bring us to the hotel where we booked for the night. I gave her my email address so that she can locate me in Facebook but we never heard from her since then. I could not locate her name in FB too, she must be sent by God to guide us!

After checking-in at Hotel Luxury World (we already booked our accommodation weeks before our trip) we went out to look for a money changer outlet, we just walked on foot, crossing different streets, but we could not find one because all outlets were already closed, after an hour of walking we felt our last energy had dropped.

Hunger pangs lurked in but we could not eat because we have no local currency. One man told us to just return to a nearby outlet on the following morning as it will open at 7:30. Oh God at 7:30!

Without a local currency or even US dollar, we would be facing a dangerous possibility that our planned trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat would not be pushed through as it would be impossible for us to book a bus ticket conveniently that night.

So we decided to just go with the reality, return to the hotel, sleep with an empty stomach, eat biscuits and drink water, and wake up early to return to the money changer outlet. But during those times, we were engrossed with our own thoughts, not sure what my two friends were thinking but I kept on asking God’s intervention to protect and help us. I have kept a picture of St. John Paul II in my wallet ever since he became a saint.

We continued with our walk, finding the street of the hotel, but after 30 minutes of walking, we knew we’re in trouble, we could not find the street of the hotel and all the bystanders we asked could not understand what we’re talking about, we’re officially lost!

We crossed another street, and another, but all efforts went into drain when we realized the street and block we’re in, looked totally different. We did not hire a tuktuk afraid we would be lost even more if the driver could not get our instruction.

We started tracing back where we got in but did not dare to go further because of fear we might end on dark corners. So we decided to stop before crossing another intersection. We chose a corner with a glaring street light so that we would not encounter bad elements, snatchers, drug addicts or worst, kidnappers. We tried to figure out where on earth we were and where we started our long walk and how we could trace back where we got in.

I told Vangie that the only reminder I could associate to the street of the hotel is the road under construction with a big backhoe but we ended up laughing because the road we currently in has no traces of disruptions and no matter how we would stretch our stares no signs of road under construction. Whoaaa! Rowie joked that what if we would just revert our shirts, just like the regional superstitious belief in the Philippines of turning back the shirt when lost, to find our way back. We laughed even more.

And just as we thought everything was very hopeless. One miracle happened, right at the area where we stood in, a symbol of light flashed in!

As I turned my back to search for some solutions to our concern, I saw this really magical line “Western Union Money Changer closing time: 9:00PM”! We checked our watch and it was….8:30PM! OMG!!! I started uttering, God is so good, you are so good! Thank you Lord!!!

We entered the Western Union like kids who saw an amusement park, big smile drew all over our faces and yes this money changer accepts Philippine peso to buy dollar currency. It was a huge miracle that I kept murmuring “God you are so good, thank you for helping and guiding us”

We left Western Union in high spirit, with so much gratefulness in our heart, with a realization that indeed, God performs a miracle every day. We started crossing the street again to take our dinner because we’re extremely hungry, we did not take our lunch. We wanted to try a local style of dining, so we chose this small food stall along the road.

With Vangie Colastre having dinner at Phnom Penh city

After dinner, we got up and continued searching the street where Hotel Luxury World is located. We stopped asking people in the street because they could not understand us. When we returned to the street where we found the Western Union, it was then that I remembered we crossed two corners on the north side of Hotel Luxury world in search of a money changer outlet. We traced those corners again and puff! I found the broken road with a big backhoe! Oh my God!!

We reached the hotel with so much laughter with this blunder. We paid the hotel receptionist for our bus tickets for Siem Reap, went upstairs to our room and retired to bed with a contented heart and praising God for all His guidance and protection.

I considered all the misses as great miracles from God, using so many instruments and circumstances to identify His graces and mantle protection.

1. He allowed Reychel Mendoza to meet us to be our guide in Phnom Penh so that we would not be put in danger. 

2. He allowed us to be lost in the street to reach the Western Union outlet to exchange our money for a foreign currency. I was so surprised why the road marker near the hotel I kept putting in my mind suddenly slipped from my memory when I am very good in remembering even the slightest details of information, much more streets and landmarks. But, no doubt, it was God’s work. He allowed it to happen so that our footsteps would bring us to Western Union, had I remembered the street and saw the marker, we would never reach the street where the Western Union, the lone opened money changer outlet that evening, stood.

See, there’s no such thing as discomfort in traveling, there’s only adventure to enjoy the trip. Life itself is a great adventure and a beautiful journey to walk on. We will never learn unless we don’t go for an adventure. Discovery is a lot more exciting if we are dragged in an uncomfortable situation. As long as there’s strong faith in God, confidence and courage to wind off misses, everything would be a joyful journey.

This experience inspired me even more to visit strange places. I am no longer afraid explore the world. For as long as my faith is strong there's nothing to fear of because prayers can really move mountains and God never forsake those who trust His mantle protection.