Saturday, December 24, 2011

I am the Innkeeper

Before my final installment on my World Youth Day Saga, I would like to tell you my experience of Christmas as the Innkeeper.

In the office, we were asked to have a costume of a Christmas Character and I picked the Innkeeper. I complained right away because I didn’t like it. I said the character was insignificant and that he was a bad person. The innkeeper is famous for his words “There is no place in the Inn”. It was like throwing away Joseph and Mary in their dire needs. I did’t like the innkeeper and I was not gonna wear the costume. But reflecting further and upon putting myself in the shoes of the innkeeper in front of the Belen, I learned that I was wrong.

I am the innkeeper. For the whole day, I was busy – cleaning, doing the dishes, washing clothes, the usual things that I do. But today, I did the chores with more intensity than before because my workload has doubled.  There were more visitors now in Bethlehem as ever before because of the census. The inn is full. Good for business.

I was standing in the doorway resting and breathing fresh air when I noticed that a star was shining brightly above my stable. I thought that the star was also doing its job (to shine) with more intensity. Was it also because of the Census? I smiled. It was then that a tired looking man came to me asking for a place to stay. I explained to him that there was no place in the inn. Then I saw a few meters away a young girl riding a donkey. It was obvious that she was in pain and that she was giving birth. “Oh no! The girl needs a place to stay!” I thought. I was rattled. Because I was looking at my stable when they came, I pointed it to them. The man carried his wife right away and ran to the stable. I followed them. I helped the girl deliver the baby. When it came out, the couple was very happy. Their countenance changed. The tired looking man’s face glowed and the pain in the girl’s face was gone. They were joyful… happy. I looked at the child in my arms and I suddenly became happy too. I forgot about my tiredness. I looked at the child again before handed Him to His mother.

“Here He is, the Messiah!” the man exclaimed. I couldn’t believe my ears. Is the Child really the messiah? My question was answered when shepherds came to worship the Child, followed by wise men who gave gifts to Him. I suddenly felt ashamed that I was only able to offer a stable for the Child. I busied myself in cleaning the place while the wise men and the shepherds gave their tribute to the Child. It was the least I can do for the moment. When the visitors went, I apologized to the couple. I learned that their names were Joseph and Mary. I advised them to rest because I’m sure they were so tired in their journey and in Mary’s giving birth. I pointed to them the place I cleaned up. They laid the child in the manger which I filled up with hay and they slept beside Him. I could breathe now. I couldn’t believe it happened, yet, I feel so blessed that of all the homes in Bethlehem, our home was chosen to be the birth place of the Messiah.

I stepped out of the stable gently. I went back to the inn to look for things which the baby might need. I got blankets and water and food. I walked back to the stable. I noticed that it was already dawn and the sun was going to rise soon. When I arrived at the stable, the man Joseph was already awake and He was waking up his spouse, Mary. He quickly packed all their things and they got ready to travel again. Mary held the Child in her arms and rode the donkey. I did not have the chance to ask them why they were in a hurry. Joseph and Mary thanked me for my “generosity”. I gave them the blankets and the food and water and bode them goodbye.

Later on, I found out why they were in a hurry. Men on horses came to Bethlehem looking for all firstborns and they killed all they found. Many parents were in agony. But in secret, I told them what I witnessed and I assured them that the Messiah, who will save us all, has come. The lives of their children has not ended up in vain.

Disclaimer: This is merely a result of my personal reflection and it does not represent actual events.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

World Youth Day Saga Part 2A: Cuatro Vientos Miracle

(I will do you the favor of making it short today. :)

August 19 marks the day that I saw the Pope in the streets of Madrid. We waited for him in the side streets. When the Papal Mobil passed, one of our friends screamed with joy the cheering the youth had for the Pope.

Esta es! La jventud del Papa!” (We are the Youth of the Pope)

I can only think, “Wow! How she loves the Pope so much that she screamed at the top of her lungs (like a crazy woman hehe).

The Pope was pinkish. Clearly he was affected by the so much heat in the summer of Madrid. Clearly he was suffering but wow! There was a smile in his face. Perhaps the heat was nothing compared to the energy of the youth which was channeled to him. The experience was all worth it.

On August 20, we headed to Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome (Cuatro Vientos means “Four Winds”). It was where the Vigil with the Pope took place. We went there as early as 12 noon. We were under the scorching heat of the sun, 41⁰C the news said. We felt that we were being baked alive. And knowing that the sun sets at about 8:30pm did not make us feel better.  A number of firefighters roamed around the place, spraying us with water like plants which needed to be watered. One of my friends shouted to one of the firefighters “Ei guapo, agua por favor” (Handsome, water please) (Pogi, tubig nga). The firefighter pointed the water hose to the one beside her, also our friend, and she was splashed with water, bull’s eye. You could only imagine her shock.

The Firefighters spraying water to World Youth Day Pilgrims
Photo by: Joy Torculas

We spent the afternoon taking photos, eating, cheering, getting to know other delegates, etc. while waiting for the Pope.

At about 7:00pm, the clouds finally hovered the sky and the four winds of the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome were felt. It was a relief to us to finally feel cool. The Pope arrived and chanting and cheering and clapping was heard in the aerodrome. We stood in front of one of the wide screens because our place was far from the stage where Pope Benedict was. Our hearts were filled with joy as we await the address of the Pope for us. Just as he began his speech, the sky opened and the rain began to pour.  Angry thunders were heard and ferocious lightning were sketched in the sky. I can only laugh and ask the Lord, “Are you kidding me?”

What an irony, we were exposed to the scorching heat of the sun in the afternoon and drenched in the rain in the evening. Surely, the Lord wanted to tell us something that night.

The widescreens went off. We didn’t know anymore what happened to Pope Benedict. Later on we discovered that the Pope’s garb and his paper where his speech was written was so drenched and soaked with water. Still he was determined to continue and wait patiently for the rain to stop. The youth gave encouragement to the Pope shouting “Benedicto!” then they would clap their hands three times.

 The Master of Ceremonies spoke. She said, “This is the answer to your prayers.” Then she added, “Let us pray with the Pope.”

Everyone fell silent, at least me and my group mates. In the split of a second, I was transported to a different dimension. I recognize the place and I recognize the faces. It was also a stormy night, like the night at Cuatro Vientos. I was in a boat along with some disciples. We were so scared. At a distance, we saw something that is like a ghost walking on the water. But when He came closer he said “Do not be afraid, it is I.” I shouted with great courage, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you”. He answered, “Come.” I was happy and blissful that I forgot about the wind and the rain. But in the middle, the wind blew harder and I became suddenly afraid again. I began to sink. But before the water swallows me entirely, I shouted “Lord, save me!” He grabbed me with His Holy Arm and gently rebuked me “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” I thanked the Lord, happy that He did not abandon me and He allowed me to call Him when I was sinking.

Jesus saves Peter. "Lord, save me."

After envisioning myself as Peter in that particular scene in the bible, I the rain suddenly stopped. Was this God’s way of saving me? In the silence of our hearts, we saw God. Even if we were subjected to the scorching heat of the sun and drenched in the rain, we felt different. A miracle happened. 5 to 10 seconds passed when the emcee asked us to pray with the Pope and the rain stopped! I looked around and all the other delegates were silent, perhaps, filled with awe like me.

The Pope continued his speech. "Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is stronger than the rain. Thank you. The Lord is sending us his blessings with the rain. With this, you're leading by example."

The theme of the World Youth Day Madrid is “To be planted and built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith”. That night, I believe that it was achieved as more than One Million Pilgrims stood in the rain, unshaken, like a “house built up on rock” and a “plant deeply rooted in the ground”

Benediction followed. We knelt on the ground in silence, thanking the Lord for the miracle. Many hearts were transformed that night, including mine. After the benediction, the Pope left and the rain started to pour again, as if it only gave way to Our Lord. "Who is this Man that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"

I slept with my pants still wet. I was unprepared for it that I did not bring extra clothes. Yet, I felt at peace. There was inner peace with me that only the Lord can give.

Want to witness more miracles? I think this writer has written it better than I did. Check  it our here. 

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Friday, November 25, 2011

World Youth Day Saga-Part 2

This is a sequel to the first part of the series World Youth Day Saga(France)

She Woke Me Up Early

            After the Candle Procession in Lourdes, we took a last look around Grotto then we went back to the inn. I slept at about 1:30am after unpacking and re-packing my clothes inside my bag. I told one of my fellow delegates, her name is Joy, who was also one of my roommates to wake me up at 3:00 am because we had to leave at 4:00am. I was still dreaming when I felt someone pat me and call my name softly. I struggled to open my eyes and saw my friend in my blurry vision. I looked at the time and it was still 2:30am.
            “Haa? You woke me up 30 minutes early”, I said in my cute bedtime voice.
            “Oh no. I’m so sorry”, she said laughing.
            It’s funny how 30 minutes of sleep was so significant during that time.

The Bus was Late (Or so we thought)

            It was 4:00 in the morning and we were waiting outside the inn for our bus for Madrid to arrive. 30 minutes passed and we were still waiting. Some of my world youth day friends decided to look for it. And the rest of us decided to take our breakfast. The owner of the inn was kind enough to pack breakfast for us.
            We were asked to get our breakfast inside. But I saw one of my friends get a plastic and put bread in it, so I thought she was volunteering to distribute for us who were outside. So I waited for her to give us. But she didn’t, instead, she told us again to get our breakfast inside.
            “How about those breads you are holding?”
            She let out a deep sigh. She was clearly annoyed. Maybe I asked too many questions, which I cannot anymore remember. But she managed to speak calmly although irritation showed in her face.
            “They are for our friends who went to look for the bus.”
            “Okay.” I replied.
            Temperance. Temperance. The word echoed in my mind. She was trying to practice temperance. I tried too. I didn’t understand why she would get annoyed. I was only asking a question, wasn’t I? Now that I analyze it, perhaps, it was because she was tired. Perhaps, she didn’t also get enough sleep and I was there just sitting and waiting to be served. (Haha) Besides, she was so thoughtful to set aside bread for our friends.

How Many Angry People are There in the World?

            6:00 and the bus hasn’t arrived. Are you kidding? We could have had 2 more hours of sleep, well, at the most. But it turned out that the bus driver parked the bus in another area. There had been a misunderstanding. The driver also waited for us since 4:00 in that morning. It’s funny, but at that time, maybe because everyone was tired and sleepy, it seems like everyone was irritated – even the bus driver.

            He spoke in Spanish I couldn’t understand. (Again, I was stubborn enough not to take our Spanish lessons seriously. Spanish lessons was part of our 1-year preparation for the World Youth Day) But clearly he was angry. I can sense it in his voice. Everyone was listening as our group leaders conversed with him. The original plan was to take a detour to Torreciudad before going to Madrid but because we started late (and the bus driver was angry, hehe) we headed straight to Madrid. What I admire in our group leaders is their patience and kindness. They didn’t want to fight with the bus driver, considering one of them is choleric, a little hot tempered. (Her personality would be confirmed later on.)

Sleepy head, Sunflowers, and Sleepy Head

            It was a long bus ride, that’s for sure. I would sleep, wake up, admire the sunflowers in our way, sleep again, sleep some more. Okay, we did have some stopovers for lunch and snacks. And oh, an interesting note is that we were not allowed to eat inside the bus. It is very different here in the Philippines because when we take a long bus ride, we always eat along the way. I wonder if all buses in Europe are like that. It’s okay though. We just obeyed. We didn’t want to trigger his angry bones.
Sunflowers on the way
Photo by:  Joy Torculas

            We arrived in Madrid at about 3:00 in the afternoon. It might have been a blessing in disguise that we did not pass through Torreciudad because if we did, we might have missed the opening mass presided by none other than the Archbishop of Madrid himself. We were welcomed by a Filipino travel guide Mr. Exequiel(+). He held the microphone in his hands and began to entertain us with his stories. He told us stories of Filipinos in Madrid and some of his experiences in his years of stay in Madrid. He also showed us some historic sites in Madrid that we passed by. He spoke fluent Spanish and conversed with the bus driver. A little later, guess what? The driver was angry again. Haha! Mr. Exequiel(+) asked us “perhaps you have noticed that he was angry?” Then he went on to explain that many Spanish are like that. They become angry easily but after a while, it’s gone. They will talk and laugh with you again like nothing happened. Okay, that explains it.

The First Taste of World Youth Day Madrid

            We were the last to arrive at the school assigned to us. It was in Nazaret Oporto. There, we were welcomed by three friendly volunteers, Anghel, Sylvia, and Carlos. One classroom was assigned to us. The volunteers said that we could sleep outside if we wanted to. I guess I prefer outside. It was really hot inside the classroom. Anyway, we prepared to attend the opening mass in Plaza de Cibeles. We were escorted by the volunteers to the place. When we got there, wow, there really were many people. We squatted on the ground while we heard the mass in Spanish. After the mass, the people dismissed. There was a lot of cheering. The spirit of the youth was on. We tried to compose our own cheering, but well, I don’t know, it seemed that I was the only one cheering. I guess I was the only youth in our delegation. Haha!
After the Opening Mass at Plaza de Cibeles
Photo by: Joy Torculas

More Than Camping

            If there was a word that can be compared to the World Youth Day, it was more like a camping. We slept in our sleeping bags that night, with the moon overhead. It reminded me of my high school years when we went camping. But the World Youth Day was more than that. As I have mentioned in part I, it was a pilgrimage. It was a totally different experience for me. I don’t know, but remembering it now is so euphoric. I will never regret going there.

The delegation with the volunteers
Photo owne by: Joy Torculas

Lucky of All Lucky

            The next day, we met other delegates in the school. There were delegates from Chile and also from the Philippines, but they were from another Parish which is in Novaliches. (Our delegation came from Bel-air Center in Makati. Our leaders were lay persons.)
            Part of our group’s World Youth Day Agenda was to hear mass daily. Even if we did not understand it? Yes. Because the very purpose of the Mass is to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. So even if we did not understand the mass, we still heard it. But we were lucky. Why? Because the person heading the Novaliches delegation was a Priest. We requested if he could administer our mass for that day. He agreed. And for the first time in our trip, we heard a mass in a language that we could understand. It was a blessing, wasn’t it?
Inside Cathedral de Madrid
With the Saint that brought us together

            The breakfast, morning prayers and the mass took almost half of our day. But it’s okay because the sun sets in Europe late so we still have time to do what we had to do.
            First, we visited the Cathedral of Madrid. The tour guide of the Cathedral let us find a bear sculpture in the one of the columns of the crypt, which is below the Cathedral. The one who could find it would have a price, he said. One of us found it. It was true, she had a price – a magazine about the faith. But we had a share of her price because we also were given magazines. Haha. The guide went on to explain that the bear was an important symbol of Madrid. I didn’t quite get why. Can someone explain it to me again?
            By the way, each column of the crypt has a unique design. Isn’t that amazing?

A Special Get Together

            Did I tell you that our group was special? It is because we were invited to a Special Get-together with the Bishop Don Javier. Thousands of other young girls, who receive the same formation as we do, gather together in one of the stadiums in Madrid to hear what the Bishop has to say.
Get together with thousand other girls
Photo by: Joy Torculas

            The most vivid thing he said is that “Do not be afraid to follow God’s call for you”. It was perfect for me because sometimes, I am afraid. At that moment, I was afraid. Perhaps, I had many doubts. What if I fail? I am aware of my weaknesses. But the keywords are do not be afraid. Jesus said that a couple of times too. I recall Bo Sanchez say “your availability is more important than your ability.” Just make yourself available for God and do not be afraid because He will arm you with the necessary resources. Even if you are weak, He will make you strong.

Wasted Time in Transportation(?)

            The rest of our time was spent looking for a place to eat, eating, walking, and getting the train to get back to our “camp” (the school). Our camp was a bit far from the World Youth Day Activity Venues so it was not a surprise that we spent most of our time in transportation. Wasted Time you say? No. Every minute in our trip was not wasted because we prayed while we traveled and the favorite prayer was the Rosary. Sometimes, we did it ourselves, but most of the time, we had a partner/s. For me, a minute spent in prayer is never wasted.

            The next day was again a very meaningful day. We learned that the famous Jason Evert was going to give a talk that day at 3pm so we went to line up outside the Stadium even before 12:00 noon. It became a little difficult for us to enter the Stadium because of the volume of people and the tight Security. There was a rally in Spain that time that’s why there was a need for the extra security. Aside from the talk of Jason Evert, we were also looking forward to the Mass inside the Stadium. We were getting anxious and impatient. We asked ourselves, will we be able to hear mass? Our human nature started to show. We started to divide. One of our group leaders (the more choleric one mentioned earlier) really got impatient. We are not judging her. The circumstances surrounding us that time can really cause a person to be impatient and irritable. We were hungry, we waited in the line for more or less than two hours, the security is hard to deal with, there was the language barrier, and being one of the leaders of the group, she perhaps felt the weight of the responsibility of making a decision. She wanted to get out of there and do something. So she made us decide if we still wanted to stay or go and do something else.

            The group divided. One stayed. I stayed because I’m a huge fan of Jason Evert. My friend Nichole stayed because she was tired and she does not want to walk anymore. Actually, all of us were tired. The others who stayed were perhaps more patient and maybe they thought that the waiting would be a waste if they left. For us who stayed, we prayed to our Guardian Angels and to the Blessed Virgin so that the doors would open for us and maybe, one of the security people would take pity on us.

            The other group went to the plaza to wait for the Pope. The Pope was scheduled to be in Madrid that day. My friend Tina is a huge fan of the Pope, maybe that’s why she went. And the others perhaps were also very excited for the arrival of the Pope. As for me, I am also a huge fan of the Pope. But I opted to stay because I was hoping that I would still be able to see the Pope in the next days, and especially in the final day, the Vigil with the Pope.

Love and Life

            Thanks to Our Guardian Angels and Our Lady, one of the security people took pity on us after we almost begged, and after we forced smile on our faces despite our hungry stomachs. We were able to enter. We were a little late for the mass, but it was still considered a mass (Thank God). After the celebration of the mass, we did not go out anymore because we knew how hard it was to enter. We just sat down in front and waited for the talk to begin. We tamed our hungry stomachs with bread and biscuits and juices that were leftovers from our breakfast.

            The benefit was worth the wait. We had a clear view of Jason Evert and the other speakers. We were able to focus on the talks and were moved by the messages. (We were all emotional ladies in our delegation by the way.) One particular sentence that moved my friend Sha, (and made her cry, I think) was this: “My life is a question that only Love is the answer.” It was said by one of the speakers who is a nun.

I had a clear view on Jason Evert but my camera doesn't. Sorry :)

            Jason Evert talked about relationships, about his own marriage and how men should be proactive. He said, if you love her, give her the 24-K Ring. Marry her. (To all men out there, ahem…) He also said that there is a lot of inaction with the men while in the beginning, men are created to be proactive. I wish I could duplicate the whole talk here. But Jason Evert made marriage attractive to me. When we went out of the stadium, we felt in love. (I know, we are crazy.)

(More on Jason Evert on Life and Love, click here.)

            While the other group was looking at the Pope personally, we went to look for a restaurant because we have not eaten a decent food since morning. We contented ourselves at looking at the Pope in the TV monitor inside the restaurant.

A Celebration
            After dinner, we surprised our friends Chinky and Mae because it was both their birthday. I hope they felt important and loved by us.
Mae and Chinky celebrating their birthday

Different Tales

            We went home that day, again, exhausted but fulfilled. We knew that the day had been fruitful. We met with the other group and we told them how the talk went and how wonderful it was. They told us how they welcomed the Pope and how wonderful it was. We were joyful after all, both of the groups, even if we have taken different paths.

Another Celebration

             I woke up the next day expecting an adventure, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Anything can happen. The World Youth Day was full of Surprises. It is true. That morning, I witnessed a miracle.
            Do you remember the Priest in the Novaliches delegation? He was to celebrate his First Year Anniversary as a Priest. The date was August 19. We were invited to join the celebration with him with a solemn mass. We sang songs, we recited the Creed because it was a special day. But when he was about to read the Gospel for the day, he cried. Hi cried with tears of joy. After reading the Gospel with all his heart, he told us in his homily how he became a priest.

Father Rolan celebrating his first year of ordination as a priest

            As a child, he felt God calling him to be a priest. Even as he was growing up, he had inklings that God wanted him to be a Priest. But he didn’t want to. He said, “Sayang ang guwapo ko.” (My handsomeness would be put to waste.) He even bargained with God, “Lord gagawin ko ang lahat huwag mo lang akong gawing Pari.” (Lord, I will do anything, just don’t call me to be a priest.) Perhaps because God was insistent, he decided to try out for the Seminary. His first try was a failure. He was not accepted to the Seminary and he said it was the happiest day of his life. Yes! Little did he know that God has another plan. I don’t know how or why but he was assigned to the UST hospital and one day, he saw poor a poor elderly woman in a wheelchair. There, he was filled with compassion for the woman and he started to cry. He again heard God calling him to the Priesthood. And that moment, he saw that his vocation is to be with the poor, to help the poor. At the moment, he said “Yes” to God. “Fiat”.
              We all cried and were moved by now Fr. Rolan’s story.

To be Continued...

Friday, November 18, 2011

World Youth Day Saga-Part 1


From August 11 to August 25 my life has been like it was never before. It was breathtaking, full of fun and adventure. I have never been as active as those days in my entire life. Why? I went to Europe along with 20 others for the World Youth Day. 84 days had passed and I can still recall every moment.

My Travelling Companion

On the night of August 11, we were lucky to have a meditation with a priest. He told us the story of Tobit and how the Archangel Rafael guided him on his travel. In the same way that the he guided Tobit, the Archangel Rafael would also guide and guard us in our journey. Europe is a strange continent to me. It was my first time to go out of the Philippines, let alone to ride an airplane. Although excited, I was a little nervous. But knowing of a travelling companion with me gave me peace of mind. I was confident that everything would go on just fine.
Archangel Raphael and Tobias in the book of Tobit.

I Set My Foot on the Road
The trip was superb. We had a nice meal in the Airplane. I watched four movies. I was super relaxed. And I felt super happy. First because I was going to Europe and second I was really super excited about what would happen next. We had prepared for the World Youth Day for more than a year. We had waited for this for more than a year. And we had been excited about this everyday for more than a year.
We arrived in Paris, France at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Our itinerary included visiting Paris and Rome aside from the main event which is in Madrid, Spain. We walked to our Hotel. We got lost and we were really tired when we got to our hotel after about 2.5 hours walking.
Me and my backpack in front of one of the train stations in Paris 

An Opportunity for First Times

After freshening up, we went to have mass in the nearest church which is the St. Ambrose Church at 7:00 pm. It was my first time to attend a mass in a language that I could not understand. It was in French.

 It is interesting to note that it was still bright even if it is already evening. The sun sets that night at about 10:30pm. 

            The next day, we woke up at 6:00 am, did our morning prayers and other preparations and breakfast at 8:00 am. We had French bread, Croissant and coffee for breakfast. It was my first time to have those at breakfast. The World Youth Day really was an opportunity for first times. Well, practically, everything that happened to me during our trip was my first time - to go outside the Philippines, ride an airplane, go to Europe and eat European food, travel for 15 days with only ten shirts and 4 pants (Whew! How did I survive?) Etcetera.
            While I was there, I couldn’t help but think that there’s a lot to be thankful of. First of all, I thank God for the opportunity, my sponsors for making the World Youth Day happen to me, my friends and my family who supported me, our group leader who put a lot of effort to organize this event.

What? I’m not On a Vacation?

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France

            After breakfast, we went to the famous Louvre Museum. It was kind of euphoric going there. Going to a place I’ve only read in books is amazing. I just couldn’t explain my emotions. We were given 1.5 hours to explore the humungous place. At first, we were taking our time looking at the famous sculptures and paintings but as the time allotted came to an end, we ran from one place to another just to see the famous Mona Lisa and Venus. We even got lost. Lucky the guards were friendly. But we arrived at the meeting place 10 minutes late.
            Our group leader was getting furious and was trying hard to hide it. We needed to go to Notre Dame for the 12:00 noon mass. It was already 11:45 am. We only had 15 minutes to go there. And guess what, no one among us knew how to get there. Of course I couldn’t be trusted on this. It was my first time, remember? I just put my confidence on the group leaders. They look at the map and off we went. So from Louvre, we walked to Notre Dame. It was far from a leisure walk. We had to walk fast while it rained. I didn’t have my umbrella. I was so not prepared. I thought it does not rain in Europe during summer. Lucky one of my fellow delegates had her umbrella. I walked with her.

Under the umbrella on the way to Notre Dame
Photo: coutesy of  Joy Torculas

            As we were walking in the rain, many thoughts came to my mind. First, I was in a foreign land. I knew no one. No one was there to offer me shelter. It’s like I’m all alone. We were all alone. It was the first time that it dawned on me that we went there not to have a vacation. What we were doing was a pilgrimage. And a pilgrimage requires a sacrifice. A sacrifice we can offer up to Our Lord for all our intentions especially for our love ones.

Identifying God in His Creations

            We arrived at Notre Dame a little late for the mass. There were many people and we had to fall in line just to enter. There were more tourists than people who attended the mass. I can’t blame them because Notre Dame is a really beautiful place. We went around the Cathedral after the mass that’s why I know. The two Rose Windows were beautiful. And so were the Gothic Architecture and Gargoyles and Chimeras. Everything was awesome.

Notre Dame, Paris, France

Don’t get me wrong. I know I told you that we went there for a pilgrimage. Why then did we go to Louvre in the first place and why did we go around Notre Dame admiring the place? Isn’t that what we do when we are on a vacation? Sure we went there for a pilgrimage. But we cannot eradicate the tourism side of us because we are humans. We also admire places. Besides, recognizing God in His creation is also a form of prayer, right?

We Went From One Station to Another

How many places can you go to in one day? I’m not really sure. Because when I go out, which I usually do, I only go to one place, take a stroll, chat with a friend over a cup of coffee and then go home. But that day in Paris, we went to 4 places – Louvre museum and Notre Dame, Basilique du Sacre Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart),  Chapelle de la Rue du Bac (Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal), and the famous Eiffel tower. (These are places far away from each other.) Take note that the sun sets at 10:30 pm so we were able to go to these places. We were so tired and exhausted. Our feet were aching. We felt the consequence of lack of exercise. (Our group leader told us to exercise but we were stubborn.) Nonetheless, we were happy. The reward of our pilgrimage was far greater than the pain we experienced.

The Historic Site of Versailles Palace

            The next day, already August 14, we went to the Historic Site of Versailles Palace. It was the most amazing place I saw. I felt like a true princess when I went there. I would imagine being dressed up very nicely while walking through the Hall of Mirrors with the chandeliers above my head and visitors around, partying and having fun! The palace was really huge. Not only that, it has a very wide garden. It was the most beautiful garden I ever saw. I even couldn’t believe my eyes that a place like that exists. But it exists! It was overwhelming.
To tell you the truth, I knew nothing about the place until we got there. Again, I was stubborn because I didn’t do my assignment, which is to research about the place we were going to visit. I should have researched. Because when I went there, I was totally blank. Empty. I could only admire but I can’t tell the relevance of the place to me. Luckily, one of my fellow delegates studied the history of the place. It was her (term) paper! So she told us the story of the Last Queen of France Marie Antoinette, the French revolution, her execution, etcetera. Oh, the history is really interesting. You should read it too.
A shot from the window of Versailles Palace
Photo: Courtesy of Joy Torculas

Then we went back to Notre Dame to hear the 6:00 pm high mass in honor of the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady which is the day after – August 15. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the procession after the mass because it was time for us to prepare for the night train to Lourdes.

A Bath at Lourdes

Our last stop in France was in Lourdes. Just a backgrounder, Lourdes was the place where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette 18 times and where Our Lady revealed the “Miraculous Spring” which supplied water to a huge part of France later on. Our Lady asked St. Bernadette to “drink at the spring and wash in it.” Since then, many pilgrims have followed that instruction of Our Lady of Lourdes. We were one of them. We also drank at the spring and not only washed our face. We bathed.
Bathing is a custom of Pilgrims in Lourdes. Many testified that their illnesses were cured after bathing and after drinking water from the spring although it was not scientifically proven that the water contained medical properties. St. Bernadette said that they were healed by their faith and prayers.

Our Lady in the Grotto
Photo:courtesy of Joy Torculas

The water from the spring was really cold. It was freezing. When I got out from the water, the water on my body dried immediately. Perhaps my body released some kind of a heat to dry the water faster. I felt different. I felt so fresh. A kind of joy enveloped me. It was like Our Lady was there to watch me and assure me that everything is going to be alright.

The Way of the Cross 

The leaflet given to us in Lourdes said that the bath is not complete unless we do the Way of The Cross and have confession. We were able to do the way of the Cross. However, we were only able to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Madrid. The way of the cross in Lourdes was like really walking in Calvary although I believe that the Calvary of Jesus was more difficult. I cannot really testify on this because I have not been to Jerusalem or the real Calvary. I can only imagine. (Pardon my wild imagination)
 The lifelike bronze statues that depicted the 14 Stations of the Cross helped us to picture the Passion of Christ (as if we were also one of those women who marched with Him in Calvary) and to meditate on the kind of suffering He has gone through and the meaning it has to our lives.
The 14th Station - Jesus is Laid in the tomb and covered with incense
Photo: Courtesy of Joy Torculas

It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that night (August 15) so we attended the candle procession in Honor of Our Lady where thousands of Pilgrims gathered. Some of the people we met there were also World Youth Day delegates who took a detour in France. That concluded our pilgrimage in France. The following day, we were on the road to Madrid, Spain, the venue of the World Youth Day Proper.

PS. Next on Life is Beautiful: World Youth Day Saga-Part 2 (Spain)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Remembering World Youth Day

When asked “how was the world youth day?” I would respond, “It was fun. I enjoyed.” It is the shortest and simplest response. But actually, the experience cannot be accurately described by those 2 words – fun and enjoy.

In fact, it was not “a lot of fun” like partying or having a vacation. There was a lot of walking with the weight of our backpacks on our Spinal Cords. We run sometimes.  There were also some misunderstandings between the group leaders and among us delegates. We would sleep very tired and late past midnight and wake up as early as 6:00am. And the scorching heat in Madrid was almost unbearable.  But even if our journey was a little bit difficult, we still walked with smiles in our faces. We still had some laughs. And most of all, the journey was meaningful to us because of the prayers and sacrifices we offered – all to see the Pope, our fellow pilgrims all over the world and to strengthen our faith in the Lord.

We gained more friends. We learned to be cheerful. We learned to practice charity, temperance and understanding.

I believe that after joining the World Youth Day, all of us were changed to the better.

Waiting for the Pope at the Cuatro Vientos airport, Madrid
Photo: courtesy of Valerie Averia

PS. In my next post, I will tell you our Journey in France before we headed to Madrid for the actual World youth Day. Stay tuned by joining this site or by subscribing to posts. You can find the link at the right side of this blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are You Depressed?

Are you depressed? This prayer might just be for you. I got this in one of the seminars I attended in Don Bosco, Makati last year and I’m sharing it with you.


Dear Lord, Father and Mother of us all, as we journey through this dark passage which threatens to swallow us:

Be the Light that guides our weakening feet that we may not be lost;

Be the Voice that whispers in this deafening silence that this too will pass;

Be the comforting Arms that embrace even while we feel so alone;

Be the Heart that warms us with the assurance of your all-abiding love;

And bring us to Your mind that will reveal to us the wisdom of what has been brought before us, confident that “for those who love You, everything will work out for the good.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

There Be Dragons: Footprints in the Snow

Many people dread the snow but young Josemaria doesn’t. In fact, he walked in the snow barefoot.

Before he did that, he was so angry at God for taking away his three Sisters. But on one fateful night, he saw footprints in the snow. Those are no ordinary footprints. Those are footprints of a barefoot person. Puzzled, Josemaria followed the footprints. He found out that those footprints belong to a Franciscan Monk who delivers firewood to the poor people in the neighborhood. He was deeply moved. He felt that God is calling him. He removed his shoes and walked in the snow. For Josemaria, the coldness of the snow was the start of his conversion.

 What I have told you is an excerpt of the movie There be Dragons – a movie depicting the life of Josemaria Escriva.  Showing in Glorietta 4, Trinoma and SM Megamall extended until November 17, 2011. Save the date.

This movie is a story of love,  of forgiveness and of friendship. Be inspired by every scene.

“Every Saint has a past. Every Sinner has a future.”

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