Almost a year as head of one of the two CFC chapters in Sta. Lucia, one of my most eagerly anticipated activities to conduct has finally been realized. Chapter members met at the nearby La Mesa Ecopark last May 17 for a half day corporate family affair of fun and fellowship!
The venue was chosen primarily due to its excellent proximity and family-oriented facilities. It has been quite a awhile since I last visited this place and I do remember fond memories there as a child with my parents and siblings.
In case you are relatively new to the place, let me give you a short background.
Situated on the northeastern tip of Quezon City is the La Mesa Watershed area, a 2700 hectare area which provides potable water for around 12 million Metro Manila residents. Of this watershed area, 700 hectares covers the reservoir while the remaining 2000 hectares comprises the surrounding forest. Both natural resources are extremely vital as it provides both water and serves as the "lungs" of the metropolitan area. Unfortunately, the watershed through the years fell into disrepair and exploitation.
In 1999, ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. in partnership with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) embarked on the Save the La Mesa Watershed Project through its environmental advocacy group Bantay Kalikasan (Nature Watch). In order to sustain the continuous preservation and protection of the watershed area, Bantay Kalikasan in collaboration with MWSS and the Quezon City government rehabilitated and renovated a 33 hectare public park just adjacent to the watershed and 40 meters below the reservoir. In 2004 it was reopened to the public as the La Mesa Ecopark. All revenues generated by the park are then utilized for the watershed project.
The Shell Flower Terraces: As a child, I remember rolling down this hill
Stairways leading to the reservoir
The Ecopark features many environment and family friendly outdoor activities and amenities. You have the Lopez Picnic grounds, 5 hectares of picnic spots under the shade of various trees. There is the renovated Salt Water Swimming Pool which the management believes is probably the only salt water pool open to the public. They constructed the Superferry Boating Lagoon which replicates the paddle boat ride experience one has at Baguio's BurnhamPark without the hassles of a long trip to the country's summer capital. There is a fishing lagoon, a mountain bike trail, an Ecomuseum, a butterfly trail and hatchery facility, and many more.
As a young kid I remember my parents bringing us to this public park and I remember running up and down a hill with my younger brothers. The steepness of the hill would often make me lose control of my running resulting in me tumbling down one too many. By God's grace, we only had bruises. Yep, those were the days.
That "hill" is actually the dam wall of the reservoir and is now called the Shell Flower Terraces, a two hectare area filled with various flowers.
Our chapter finds its sweet spot at the park
Kids enjoy the sprawling playgrounds
We join in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist
After a considerable time of searching, our chapter finally found a suitable spot for our group size at the Orchidarium. The park's public address system announced a 10:30 am celebration of the Holy Mass near our place. At that point we didn't realize the extent of that blessing.
As members of our chapter joined the celebration of the Holy Mass, we noticed a number of participants wearing shirts bearing the name of a break away group from the CFC community, members of the Foundation for Family and Life or FFL. Of course their leaders would always claim they were the genuine members of the community and we the members of the greater majority who stayed on would say otherwise.
But I sensed the convergence at the Holy Mass was no accident and almost prophetic. Later I learned that they had come from the south, I think somewhere in Paraňaque. They probably had no idea that they would come across so many CFC members here in the northern part of the metropolis.
At first, I felt awkward as I knew a lot did that morning but in the end, despite our differences, I felt we were all members of God's family and that's what really counts.
The liturgical readings that Sunday were resoundingly appropriate for the moment. Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15: 9-17 talked about the Holy Spirit, God's love and His commandment for us to love one another. What could be more prophetic!
The mass celebrant, a foreign priest gave a beautiful homily about love emphasizing three major elements: tolerance, sacrifice and appreciation. Again, what could be more prognostic than those messages from the Lord!
I came out from that Mass more tolerant and bearing less animosity towards our separated brethren. It is my constant prayer that one day all believers will someday be truly united in Christ!
Bonding time for our chapter family
What's a family day without lots of food to share!
My family does a little trekking...
...on a trail less traveled
Love God's creations...
...love your family!
As the family activities drew to an end, my family went on our own little adventure, a hike along the Ecopark's less traveled trails. It was a little challenging especially for my younger kids and wife who are not so accustomed to taking long walks much less in a forest setting. But they endured and everyone learned a little bit more about our natural environment.
Learning for the day - Love one another as the Lord commands us in that Sunday's gospel. That love I believe includes loving all God's creations! We should protect and conserve our natural resources for all generations to share and appreciate!
The Church of the Holy Sacrifice inside the UP Diliman campus
Despite the blistering heat of summer, I always found peace and solace going around churches and praying to God during Holy Week. In addition, one gets an exceptional time to appreciate the various places and structures that you visit along the way. More satisfying is when my whole family comes along for that short but special spiritual journey.
This year, even without a family vehicle, we were able to do just that.
We decided to go on a Visita Iglesia, last April 9, this liturgical year's Maundy Thursday when we commemorate how Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during the famous Last Supper and washed the feet of His disciples to denote the service and love Christians had to give to one another.
Many Filipinos often prayed the Way of the Cross during Holy Thursday and so many churches are expectedly filled with similar pilgrims. Incidentally, April 9 also marks the National Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) in memory of those heroic soldiers who died defending the country during the Second World War.
The family that prays together, journeys together
Our spiritual trek began at the Church of the Holy Sacrifice inside the University of the Philippines' Diliman campus. Built in the 1950's, the church is an example of contemporary architecture of its era as the first circular chapel and first thin-shell dome in the country. Declared a national treasure by the National Historical Institute (NHI), its architecture was designed by Leandro V. Locsin while national artists like Vicente S. Manansala (with the assistance of Ang Kiukok) painted its famous Stations of the Cross murals and Napoleon V. Abueva sculpting the altar and massive crucifix.
A variety of colorful fresh fruits and other foodstuff adorn one UP sidewalk
Hearing Mass or simply visiting the Church of the Holy Sacrifice is such a wonderful family experience. On many occasions, we would come here to UP on weekends, visit the church, have lunch at the UP Coop, have a stroll and let the kids play at the university's football field. I also have many fond memories about this campus since my grad school days during the late 1980's. At the end of almost every one of those fond memories is a good serving of UP street food! My personal favorite - what else but good old fish balls washed down by good old Coke Light or ice cold buko juice (hopefully without the formalin!).
Historic Franciscan landmark: The San Pedro Bautista Parish Church
The parish church of my early youth, our next stop is the San Pedro Bautista Parish Church. About 420 years ago, the site was donated to the Franciscans (OFM - Order of Friars Minor) by colonial governor general Santiago de Vera in the name of the Spanish King Philip II. From a humble structure made of thatch and bamboo, it originally opened as a house of retreat and novitiate. Later a chapel was built and rebuilt several times. In 1699, a church made of stone was constructed and the convent was restructured. Under the title Nuestra Seňora De Montecelli (Our Lady of Montecelli), though it was more popularly known from its very beginnings as San Francisco del Monte.
I was baptized in this church our family being parishioners in this area. I often heard Mass in San Pedro Bautista, active in a local Legion of Mary Praesidium and the Block Rosary movement. Eric, one of my brothers served as an altar boy in this parish. On several occasions, we would have group activities at the nearby parish social hall. The parish priest was a Spaniard then, Fr. Diez who spoke Tagalog quite well as I remember from his homilies. Nowadays, most parish pastors are native-born priests.
Beside the statue of the parish patron
and martyr San Pedro Bautista
Junior stands inside the Franciscan church
A closer view of the Baroque altar
This cave-like structure is said to be the prayer room of San Pedro Bautista
There are subterranean tunnels underneath the church. A church worker we talked to that day showed us one such one tunnel that went several floors down. According to him, this passageway was used by the revolutionary Katipuneros. This was likely true considering the Franciscan friars in 1895 abandoned the place and was later occupied by the Katipunan. In 1898, American soldiers occupied the church then remained idle until it was repaired in 1912. In 1914, it was blessed and a town fiesta was held in honor of San Pedro Bautista. By November of 1932, it was declared a parish named in honor of its saintly founder.
The map traces the route of San Pedro and his companion missionaries during their fateful journey across Japan which ended in their martyrdom at Nagasaki on February of 1597
Family picture at the church's garden courtyard
The kids walk through the church's rebuilt hallways
Another garden area is used for prayerful meditation
The frames narrate the story of the parish and of its saintly patron
The Franciscans' Museum nearby
Next stop: Sto. Domingo Church along Quezon Avenue
After an austere coupon-using fast food meal at Jollibee- Del Monte Avenue, we proceeded to another church of my youth, Sto. Domingo Church along Quezon Ave.
In the past, Santo Domingo Church would often be in our Holy Week itinerary either as part of the church visits or to hear the Siete Palabras (Reflections on Christ's Seven Last Words).
Home to the miraculous Our Lady of La Naval, the church was designated
the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1954
Home to many Dominicans in the country, it is also the home to the miraculous image of the Our Lady of La Naval. Interestingly, it was sculpted in 1593 by a non-Catholic Chinese who later converted through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. It was also through her intercession that according to documented accounts, led to the triumph of the outgunned Spanish forces in two cargo ships who prayed for victory over the warring Dutch who utilized all in all 15 fully equipped and well manned warships in a series of famous naval battles near the old city of Manila in 1646.
This is the church where Lovey and I made our marital vows way back in 1991
During my high school years, I often served as an acolyte during school sponsored Masses in this church, being an active member and officer of the Knights of the Altar school organization.
Later on in life, this church also became more memorable for me and my wife Odette, as we got married in this very church way back in January of 1991. Our celebrating priest of choice wasn't a Dominican though but a fun-loving but active social worker and Jesuit cleric, Fr. Guido Arguelles.
We did however avail of the angelic singing talents of the parish based boys choir Tiples de Sto. Domingo to sing during our late afternoon wedding.
Bastion of Christianity in the Philippines - the Manila Cathedral is at the heart of the historic walled city of Intramuros
From Quezon City, we travel to the old walled city of Intramuros in Manila. There, our next destination: the Manila Cathedral.
Also known as the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Manila. Like many old churches in the country, it has been damaged and destroyed several times (typhoon, fire, earthquakes, and World War II) since the first structure was first constructed in 1581. On its sixth rebirth, the present neo-Romanesque structure was completed in 1958.
Intramuros' guards with modern day firearms are dressed as turn of the (20th) century Katipuneros
Under the tympanum of the Cathedral's main doorway
The Latin inscription on the tympanum reads "Tibi cordi tuo immaculato concredimus nos ac consecramus" . The cathedral is dedicated to Mama Mary under the title Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the Philippines.
The Cathedral was filled with the faithful
At the top of the Cathedral rests a 52-year old pipe organ
By His wounds we are healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
The Christ statue hung in this cross gruesomely bears the agonizing pain and brutality
the Lord had to suffer for the atonement of our sins
Walking along a multitude of Lenten pilgrims
The Church of San Agustin and adjacent Museum
Not far from the Manila Cathedral is another historic church - San Agustin Church.
Built in 1587 and completed 1607, the San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the country. The architectural design of Juan Macias has survived many earthquakes since 1645 but was desecrated during the British occupation of Manila in 1762. The remains of the earliest Spanish conquistadores like Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, Salcedo and Lavezares and even of Blessed Pedro de Zuniga can still be found in the easternmost chapel of the church.
San Agustin Church's altar
Intricate baroque designs and 19th century glass chandeliers
embellish the church's vaulted ceiling
The San Agustin Church is a declared World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Deeply rich in history, the terms of the Manila's surrender to the Americans in 1898 were drafted by Governor General Fermin Jaudenes in the old vestry of this church (now part of the San Agustin Museum). The first ever Philippine Plenary Council was also held in this church in 1953. It therefore comes as no great surprise that the church was chosen as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO in 1993.
A delectable side trip to classy Ilustrado Restaurant
The ambiance of the Spanish colonial period was really sinking in to me. So upon seeing Ilustrado Restaurant, the idea of having a soothing merienda was a 'temptation' I simply couldn't resist.
During the Spanish colonial times, this would have been where the horse-drawn 'calesas' would have passed to the homes or establishments on the other side of the street
A serene walkway beside the restaurant
A statue of St. Michael the Archangel welcomes customers inside
Ilustrado's Kuatro Kantos Bar
A stone's throw away from historic General Luna St. (Calle Real del Palacio), inside the Amanecer Compound, Ilustrado Restaurant is a reassuring blast from the past. With its neo-classic motif, it combines the class and beauty of a time gone by with the amenities of our modern era. Anyone who has the resources for any important occasion or gathering in their lives like an anniversary or wedding should seriously consider such a captivating place.
Nothing like cool 'halo-halo' on a hot mid-summer's afternoon
Literally meaning 'mix-mix' - halo-halo is a popular dessert composed of shaved /crushed ice, sugar and evaporated milk with a generous mixture of a myriad of countless combination of ingredients which often include leche flan (custard), white kidney beans, red beans, tapioca (sago), jelly (gulaman), nata de coco, kaong, ube (purple yam), macapuno, banana, garbanzos (chickpeas), pinipig, nangka (jackfruit), etc. Special halo-halo like the ones we ordered were topped with scoops of ice cream.
Like many reconstructed buildings in Intramuros, this building retained much of its original Spanish colonial architectural features -
ground floors made of stone with second floors made of wood
Faith and nannies May-may and Cha pose near the statue of Lapu-lapu
(whom many recognize as the country's first national hero) at the Luneta Park grounds
The cross at the top of the Vatican-inspired dome of St. Peter's Church
along Commonwealth Ave shined brightly against the dark April evening sky
From Manila, we walked, and then traveled by bus back to Quezon City to our penultimate stop, St. Peter's Church along Commonwealth Avenue. Relatively new and definitely the youngest of all churches we visited today, its dome design is highly reminiscent of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
St. Peter's Parish Church is also filled and overflowing with the faithful
Believers pray and lay vigil before the Tabernacle inside the Good Shepherd Parish
After dinner at a family favorite, Tapa King Restaurant near St. Peter's Church, we proceeded to our 7th and final destination, the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of the Good Shepherd in West Fairview.
There we found a pool of humanity in deep vigil as the tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist is displayed for veneration of the faithful.
It was a tiresome but fitting ending to a day of family bonding, discovery, rediscovery and communion with God. May every family decide to travel in a similar journey, a time for reflection to reconnect with your loved ones and a time to draw oneself closer to God.
In the frailty of our humanity we have often fall prey to sin and wrongdoing. As a consequence of our sins, we remove ourselves away from a state of grace that does not only entail spiritual wellness but often includes physical and emotional well being as well.
Spiritual healing cleanses not only the soul but our physical bodies. How many times have we confessed our sins to the Lord and felt relieved, unburdened of the guilt and unworthiness which often manifests itself in bouts with depression, anxiety, stress and sickness. True healing is a reestablishment...a renewal of our connection, our relationship with God. Friends again!
I will be posting prayers of healing from various sources hereon in the fervent hope that they will bring restoration of your well being but more importantly, that these prayers will bring about renewal of your relationship with Christ Jesus, the true source of our healing and very life!
Prayer for Healing
(Author - Anonymous)
The Good Shepherd Healing Ministry
Cathedral Shrine and Parish of the Good Shepherd
Quezon City, Philippines
Most Holy God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I call on You right now in a special way
It is through Your power that I was created.
Every morning I wake and every moment of every hour,
I live under Your power.
Father, I ask You now to touch me with that same power.
For if You created me from nothing,
You can certainly recreate me.
Fill me with the healing power of Your Holy Spirit,
Cast out anything that should not be me,
Mend what is broken, root out any malignant cells,
Open any blocked arteries and veins,
Rebuild any damaged areas
And re-energize all cells in my body,
Remove all inflammation and cleanse any impurities.
Come into my body, Lord, make it a faithful
and beautiful friend of my soul.
Let me recognize that my senses are sacred thresholds,
Let my eyes, ears, nose, hands skin,
Become holy and mindful gazing, hearing, feeling and touching.
Let Your healing light visit the neglected,
tormented places of my memories.
Heal the hurts and woundedness
of my childhood and my relationships.
Fill me with the gift of compassion
And forgiveness toward others and myself.
Let me experience inner healing and peace
As You recreate my body, mind and spirit
In the way it was originally created
Enable me to harvest the abandoned
And neglected areas of my life.
So that I can come home to myself in peace,
And to You, the ultimate place
Of my belonging and my rest.
Oh, Most Holy Trinity,
Even as I pray for my own healing,
I also bring to You my friends and loved ones (name them)
And all others who are sick and suffering
From all kinds of illnesses.
Touch them with Your healing power
As You are touching me now.
Recreate them and make them whole once again.
Through the intercession of Mary
Your Most Favored Daughter
Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of Your Son
May all these prayers find favor with You. Amen.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning is now and shall be
Forever and ever. Amen.
It was a good thirty minutes before anyone arrived to meet me at the gates of the New Capitol Estates (NCE). It has been a relatively cold and early February morn with a slight drizzle of rain pouring down on my face. I didn't want to be late not realizing I would be the first to arrive at one of the two rendezvous points for the service team. In the end, you recognize that the standing and waiting in the rain is all part of the adventure.
For the past few months, Bro. Terence Grana our cluster head for North B-1 has been priming our cluster household for an out of town mission for our CFC brothers in Nueva Ecija. The original invitation from Bro. Fortune Ilaya, Provincial Area of the said province was to serve in a MER 2 activity to be held in Baguio City. Unfortunately, that did not push though. Instead, a MER 1 was to be organized at Cabanatuan City and we were again eyed to serve as speakers for this event.
As in the past, whenever available, I looked forward to such mission trips. It gave me opportunities to meet new friends and see wonderful places, new and old ones that I have been to, amd most importantly, having a strong sense of fulfillment for serving the Lord.
The service team was composed of Bro. Fortune and Sis. Ethel Ilaya (Provincial Area leaders of Nueva Ecija), Bro. Terence and Sis Thelma Grana (NB-1 cluster leaders), Bro. Ernie and Sis. Cathy Balarbar (North B Sector leaders), Bro. Buddy and Sis. Virgie Villarey (GK Caretaker leaders at Melchora Aquino) and myself.
Our two groups later converged at a gas station at NLEX before passing through the Sta. Rita exit en route to Nueva Ecija. Next stop though was first to the ancestral house of the Ilayas in Gapan, Nueva Ecija where we were treated to a sumptuous brunch. Then off to Cabanatuan we went.
Our Mission Team enjoys a big breakfast at the Ylaya old house at Gapan, Tarlac
Arrival at the MER 1 venue in Cabanatuan, Tarclac
The venue for the MER 1 was called Fred's Apartelle, a fairly huge establishment in the city with its own restaurant and multi purpose hall suitable for pastoral formation activities.
Participants are members from a CFC chapter in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija. I estimate there were around 10 to 12 couple participants (20-24 persons) while the rest of the people present were members of the local service team.
I was the first to deliver a talk in the service team handling Talk 2 which discussed how couples can effectively serve as pastoral leaders.
Delivering MER 1 Talk # 2: The Christian couple as a pastoral team
Participants and Service Team members share a light moment during my talk
The good thing about finishing early is you get the rest of the afternoon to relax and do whatever comes up. When I heard that Bro. Fortune and Sis. Ethel was going to meet the provincial leaders at a council meeting later that day at their mission center, I tagged along.
I joined the Ylaya couple to the CFC Mission Center for the province
Inside the center, there are several classrooms for kids under the GK SIBOL Program
The CFC Mission Center is adjacent to tracts of rice paddies
It's always a good learning experiencing when I visit CFC mission centers around the country. This time around I got into a very informative chat with CFC brods about the rudiments of rice farming. On a related note, the province of Nueva Ecija has been known as the rice granary of Luzon. Also, it has been known for its substantial share in production of vegetables like onions.
The sight of rice fields and beasts of burden contrasts to the rapid urbanization in the city
Members of the Nueva Ecija CFC Provincial Council meet
I was quite hesitant at first to sit beside the council members when their service meeting started. But the sector leaders were warm and friendly enough to dissipate my initial uneasiness to be beside so many elders in one room. Moreover, it's always comforting to know that when merienda time came around, CFC members here as in any other place in the Philippines are all hearty eaters like me.
Back at the MER venue: Fred's Apartelle
It's Bro. Buddy Villarey's turn to give a talk (Talk # 4 Effective communication in marriage)
Like in many provinces where hospitality and great appreciation for the efforts of people are still very much alive, we were given token gifts by the people which included various fresh vegetables and green mangoes, among other things.
The Ilayas treated us to another sumptuous home cooked meal at their old house in Gapan before the long trek home. I think it was pass 11pm when I arrived back at Fairview that night. Tired but the lengthy trip was again all worth it for God's glory!
I thank God again for the privilege to be part of this mission trip and look forward to the next one!
"What greater thing is there for two human souls
than to feel that they are joined for life,
to strengthen each other in labor,
to rest each other in all sorrows,
to minister to each other in all pains,
and to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories."
HAPPY WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!
Our brethren from the Couples for Christ (CFC) community, Bro. Terence and Sis. Thelma Grana sent this wonderful message via SMS to me and my wife Odette on the morning of the 26th, the day that marked our 18th wedding anniversary.
We didn't go into much fanfare that day, both going on leave from work, eating out at the Fish & Co. restaurant at the Trinoma Mall with Joshua and Faith. We even went home earlier than planned because Joshua just wasn't feeling right. Back in the house, Odette and I pampered ourselves with body massages from our favorite CFC sis and reflexologist, Claire Nicolas.
But beyond the sensory enjoyment and relaxation, there was my deep appreciation for the poignant message the abovementioned text reminded me of. Through richness and poorness, in sickness and in health, my wife and I have gone through our share of joys and pains, of exuberance and despair, of trials and triumphs. We continue to be works in progress, we continue to search and achieve a level of marital intimacy to last us a lifetime.
We're a lot older now...hopefully a lot wiser too.
I've been blessed by God with my family - my loving wife and four amazing kids. Every time I look at them at night before I go to sleep, I am constantly reminded of this wonderful reality. I thank God for my loved ones. Without a doubt, I wouldn't be the person I am right now without their understanding, support and inspiration.
This appreciation leads me to another clear truth:
"As a couple settles down in marriage,
big things and little things mean a lot.
Faithfulness, generosity, kindness, concern, forgiveness,
and love all combine to make marriage an adventure."
Andrew M. Greeley and Mary G. Durkin
Through my 18 years of married life, I have learned that big things and small things both do mean a lot. Nothing is to be taken for granted because that's where most of the hurts start. Marriage is an adventure indeed, a lifelong journey where we constantly learn new things. Things that hopefully lead to better understanding of ourselves and of our spouses. There is more, still much more to learn and to share as a married couple. As our theme song says "we've only just begun."
Please join me in storming the heavens with prayers for the complete healing and recovery of Teresita Lu and Badette Ines Ruales.
Mrs. Lu, the mother of Cheryl Lu, a co-worker and friend in the Office of the Ombudsman - Mindanao area office in Davao, was admitted to the hospital yesterday. Laboratory tests are currently being undertaken but the initial diagnosis was she might be ill with gastroenteritis.
Badette is a sister - in - law of Sis. Thelma Grana (wife of CFC NB-1 Cluster Head Bro. Terence Grana). She underwent a successful spine operation last Monday night but underwent the same procedure today because latest MRI results showed another clot for removal.
Please include them and their respective family members for God's healing and protection.
Thank you and may you all be blessed by God the Almighty!
The work of a Couples for Christ (CFC) community member is never done.
It's a lifelong commitment to serve God through evangelism and spiritual renewal. In fact that how it starts with all CFC members, through hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ and spiritual renewal.
For this post, I look back at two of the most recent Christian Life Program (CLP) activities I've had the privilege to be a part of.
The CLP is an integrated course aimed at leading the participants into a renewed understanding of God's call to Christian couples and how we should respond to that call.
Specifically, the CLP seeks to bring the participants to repentance and a renewed faith in Jesus Christ; empower their lives through the infilling of the Holy Spirit and incorporate them in a strong environment of Christian support and continuous formation.
Consisting of three modules with four sessions each, the CLP would normally run for 13 weekends as sessions are usually done on a Saturday or Sunday. The first module reiterates the absolute truths about Christianity. The second module presents the Spirit-filled life God call us to live. The third module provides the participants to further receive the Holy Spirit, thus enabling participants to empower their lives with His presence and, lays down the basis for continuous spiritual growth.
From February to May 2007, I was tasked to be a Unit Supervising Head to a CLP for North B-1D. Prior to the CLP, we conducted a Facilitators Training to prepare them both mentally and spiritually for their forthcoming responsibilities.
It was practically a unit effort as all households in our group shared tasks. Bro. Jun and Sis. Ivi Palma were the CLP Team leaders while Bro. Manny and Sis. Grace Cajipe served as Assistant Team Leaders. Another set of household leaders from our unit, Bro. Dodie and Sis. Eva Espera served as our CPL Servant couple. We're also grateful to the other units in the chapter for their support in terms of food for the participants throughout the CLP.
Then on the evening of my eldest son's birthday (Feb. 25), we conducted the orientation session at the Sitio Ruby Multi-purpose Hall. And the rest is history.
Bro. Vic Cabuquit - Psychiatrist and medical school professor
powerfully delivered Talk # 4: Repentance and Faith
Photo ops with our CLP speaker
(Included in this picture are Bro. Ted and Sis. Heidi Khan, Sis Eva Espera,
Sis. Grace Cajipe, my wife Odette and myself)
The NB - 1C CLP Service Team
Fast forward to July 6 of this year.
Just a little over a week has passed when I said my "goodbyes" to our household leaders in our unit as I have been tasked to serve as acting Chapter Head in North B - 1C, a neighboring chapter in Barangay Sta. Lucia. I just met our CLP Service Team at home the night before and they had asked me to deliver the orientation talk at the start of the CLP.
I felt good and excited about this service and the people I was to work with. I miss our old unit and their dependability. Now with God's grace, I pray that I may be able to inspire other brothers and sisters to have the same fervor andreliability we had nurtured in our old unit and CLP Teams.
Brothers pray over our Talk 1: God's Love speaker Bro. Mar Ona and wife Sis. Emily
Not surprisingly, Sta. Lucia's current CLP Service Team is not devoid of God's faithful servants. Week in and week out, I saw many brethren who consistently served during the 3 month long activity.
Participants learn the various songs during the CLP
Fr. Mike Rabino, Assistant Parish Priest of the Good Shepherd Parish
delivers Talk # 2: Who is Jesus Christ?
KFC Kuya Aaron and Ate Ianz ministers to the participants' children
Consistent with my thrust for better integration by all service and family ministries to the chapter, I had asked certain Youth for Christ (YFC) leaders to take care of the participants' young children during the CLP sessions as to focus on the talks and discussions rather than be distracted by their children's hyperactivity or tantrums. The kids would be encouraged to join coloring or writing activities at one corner, calming their minds and channeling their energies into doing more productive activities.
CLP Service Team with Fr. Mike Rabino
Throughout the CLP I had personally invited many speakers to bring in fresh perspectives and a renewed interest in CLP talks. Fr. Mike Rabino, a relatively new priest in our Fairview parish is one of those speakers with fresh perspectives in life. Gritty in his homilies, Fr. Mike often conveys the hard truths in a very interesting and somewhat comical way without losing the relevant points of his message. By the end of his talk, you could feel the sensation that people wanted to hear more.
As in previous CLPs, we faced some challenges and difficulties...and overcame.
I remember the first CLP I headed in 2005. Early on the day itself we scheduled the important "Receiving the power of Holy Spirit" session, my family's two nannies ran out on us, leaving me with my youngest baby roughly 3 months old to take care of along with her three other older brothers. Odette my wife was still in Sweden at that time virtually at the end of an official trip. I decided to stay at home that day and tend to my family knowing full well the rest of the service team's capacity and competency.
In Bro. Jun Palma's CLP last year, he had to take on one of the talk while I had to handle another over and above the other talk originally assigned to me due to last minute hitches with regard to speakers.
Sta. Lucia's CLP was no exception. During our own Baptism in the Holy Spirit activity, wherein I came in very tired from two previous CFC related speaking engagements (one in North B - Feria, the other in another sector North A - Caloocan City), I was informed that our invited speaker had failed to show up or respond despite several calls from various people. In his default, people turned to me for a replacement...or more correctly as the replacement.
It was a "baptism of fire" as well for me that day as I had to ask strength and resolve from God as this was my first time to lead participants into receiving the Holy Spirit. I had consciously avoided or would have declined any invitation for Talk 9 because of the preparation and proper disposition I believed that every Talk 9 speaker would have to undergo for himself. I was going to do this task for the very first time...under these circumstances.
You know what? I did it and I believed I did I well! Not because I thought I was great but because God was good...and God was great! As always, I was able to do things by God's grace. I relied in Him and He did not fail me.
Were these all oppressions from the evil one or were they tests from God Himself? I'm not sure I could generalize. But my countenance was always based on God's unfailing promises. I knew I was on the victorious team...the winning team and He would never allow us to encounter such difficulties just to suffer. He always pulled us through. In the end, God just made us stronger.
NB - 1C Music Ministry household sings during CLP graduation
Speaking of strengths, a major strength of this service team and chapter is its music ministry. The members are all committed in their service and this was seen during the whole run of the CLP.
CFC International Council (IC) member Bro. Ernie Maipid, Jr. puts across the message of Talk # 12 (Transformation In Christ)
...as the participants listen
During the participants' graduation last September 27, we had the opportunity to have invited one of the CFC's International Council (IC) members, Bro. Ernie Maipid, Jr. A staunch advocate of pastoral formation, I had always appreciated his willingness whenever available to speak down to the chapter level. This time he delivered the last talk, Transformation in Christ where participants are encouraged to actively live out their new life in the Holy Spirit and excite them in becoming a part of the CFC's mission and vision.
CLP Graduation picture
Couple participants share their experiences
The Lord's Day celebration is introduced to the participants
A short informal program followed
Bro. Serge de la Cruz and Bro. Gus Balite announces
prize winners and distributes souvenir gifts to participants
A fellowship program was held after dinner where CLP participants showed their talents through short presentations. As a matter of tradition, some prizes are awarded to couple participants based on categories like complete attendance and every couple are given souvenir gifts like bibles or songbooks to help them in their renewed lives.
The end of every CLP is a new life for many people and an expansion to the CFC family. I welcome our new brothers and sisters to the chapter where God has presently placed me to serve Him.
Welcome to the CFC family!
May you continue to experience and share God's love in this community!
Last Sunday (Aug. 31), marked the first ever Gawad Kalinga (GK) build I helped organize and participated in my new CFC chapter.
The GK site's name, Melchora Aquino was taken from the street in front of the area divided by a canal which you could through several footpaths. Melchora was a heroic elderly lady who helped the Katipuneros during the Philippine Revolution before the end of the 19th century. In the midst of our country's political and socio-economic problems, such heroism and patriotism of our revolutionary fathers needs to be revived from many of our countrymen.
Before I started my service at the Sta. Lucia chapter, several people warned me about the obstinacy of people in this particular GK site where there are around 89 beneficiary families on a 2,757 square meter piece of land. That day, I personally experienced a taste of what they meant.
Of course there several members of the CFC chapter present and a number of Youth for Christ (YFC) members in Sta. Lucia, majority of whom were not beneficiaries of the GK site.
The youth of Sta. Lucia help in transporting the construction materials
The soil and cement rubble are used as filler
in the ground work of some GK houses
There were residents there in their homes as expected. But the "bayanihan" spirit seemed to have taken a leave from these parts as many helped only when their houses were being built, later becoming invisible to provide assistance to their co-beneficiaries.
As we sweated out shoveling dirt among big cement rubble into sacks under a hot sun, you can even see some residents not far away from us, drinking the day away under the shade of some small trees. They didn't make trouble for us, just plain apathetic and seemingly oblivious even to the physical exertion found in the faces of the young and heroic kids that carried the heavy sacks of soil to the houses being constructed.
YFC members mix gravel and cement
Still, when you serve, you don't always get warm responses. I learned that when I started serving in GK Ruby where it took a lot of even younger kids to inspire some of the residents to pitch in during GK Build activities during the early days. But wherever I went, it was always one's consistent example of loving and caring for others that made the long term difference. When people see that you are sincere, hearts change. At least some do.
Though the challenges may make me disappointed at times, it is the approval and happiness of God that I seek, the One who we ultimately serve.
Lunch time at a GK beneficiary's home
That's why in a special way I honor those YFC members who helped us during the build. They are an example for all of us. As long as the heroism, patriotism of our forefathers coupled with a strong moral and spiritual foundation that the community provides is nurtured in this youthful generation, there is great hope that these same YFC members will continue to be sources of light to the world...for Christ!
St. Paul wrote:
"Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity". (1 Timothy 4:12)
Bro. Eman and Sis. Baby Vilela, Kids for Christ Cluster Coordinators for North B - 1, asked me to speak during the Aug. 10 Cluster Kids Day at the 2nd floor of the Multi-Purpose Center in Sitio Ruby. The topic: The Holy Mass.
I knew it would be a challenge for me to explain the sacrament of the Holy Mass to children aged 7 - 13 who would be there, considering some adult Catholics have difficulty themselves understanding the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
Then, like manna from Heaven, I came upon a book I think my wife bought for our younger kids entitled The Mass Explained to Kids - A Coloring Book...and More by author Jess P. Balon and published by Word & Life Publications known for its religious publications.
The book was a tremendous help during my talk. True to the author and artists' objective, the book was a useful guide for young children "to understand not only what we do in church when we participate in the Mass, but especially what the Lord does for us in it."Furthermore, the book was intended to help kids take part better in the Mass and feel the real presence of the Lord before, during and even after the Eucharistic celebration.
Knowing children with their short attention span and need for visual reference, the book's pictographic format with its simple and very understandable narratives explaining the celebration's rites and rituals in a chronological manner was quite effective in enabling me to respond to these important considerations. The only major challenge left for me was to in effect translate the book's content into the local vernacular. Like in many parts of the country, the lack of a strong mastery of the English language among the Filipino poor was evident in the children of Sitio Ruby. I'm of the belief that in the long run, it will be the presence of a sound educational background and foundation in their lives that will truly uplift poor young Filipinos from their poverty. But I guess that should be the subject of another blog post.
1st service meeting with Sta. Lucia Chapter leaders
Just at the end of last month, my wife and I said our goodbyes to our CFC beloved unit household. By the afternoon of the next day, I informally met most of the leaders in North B - 1 C (Sta. Lucia chapter) in a meeting held at the residence of Bro. Buddy and Sis. Virgie Villarey. The Villareys are the chapter leaders of NB - 1 C scheduled to be on a prolonged trip to North America to visit their children who now reside there.
God works in the most mysterious ways indeed and His plan had brought me to this chapter to act as chapter head for the next six months.
That first meeting I thought was very productive as I became familiar with the senior leaders, pillars you may say, of the Sta. Lucia chapter as many of them where there from the day it was created.
I had led in prayer and presided over the meeting during this month's First Friday scheduled chapter assembly. Arriving early, many were I think surprised and a little embarrassed that I had arrived earlier than everyone. Still, I thought it was a very fruitful night as I had now the opportunity to introduce (which I strongly believed) as much needed reforms. Some of these 'adjustments', they were already doing. Such was in the case of organizing a Mass prior to the corporate assembly. The leaders believed that notwithstanding the Holy Mass' great importance, it wasn't practical to hold one before the prayer assembly rather encouraged members to attend the parish scheduled and/or CFC sponsored masses at the parish.
The succeeding first meeting I organized and led with the chapter's CLP team in our residence on the first Saturday of July was equally productive. The CLP was to start the next day and as the acting chapter head, I was asked to give the orientation talk.
Our Christian Life Program (CLP) is well under way
The Christian Life Program (CLP) at Sta. Lucia was held at the old HealthCenter of the barangay. It was a small, dark room where the air wasn't well ventilated. But it served its purpose quite well without much cost for the CLP team. The chapter had invested on some equipment such as wall mounted electric fans that were very useful during CLP sessions.
1st Home visit (Marquez residence)
After the first talk, I had some free time to spend before hearing the Mass at the Sta. Lucia Parish with my family. So when Bro. Mar and Sis. Myrna Marquez invited me to visit their home, I was fully obliged. This was my first home visit to a member of this chapter.
By Friday, July 11, I had called for an action planning session with various leaders of the chapter. I wanted to share my plans for the remaining months of the year and provide a clear direction as to what activities and thrusts we should focus into.
As in many chapters, a major concern has been the apparent lack of pastoring and spiritual formation for the members. Unfortunately, many new members end up not being guided and cared for by untrained or uncommitted leaders. It continues as a vicious cycle with the entry of new members being handled by the previous set of untrained or uncommitted leaders and the cycle goes on. It no wonder why despite several CLPs conducted in a year, some chapters' membership continued to decline through the years.
1st Pastoral Prayer Meeting with Chapter Household
I followed the service meeting with my first ever pastoral meeting with members of the chapter household held at the Barros residence. I had expanded the household to include family and other service ministry coordinators for most of the forthcoming meetings. Again, like in many chapters, I had observed the growing alienation of several ministry coordinators from the mainstream CFC community particularly at the chapter level.
As many chapter leaders pointed out during last year's pastoral congress, ministry coordinators' presence was wrongly associated with "fund raising tickets" to be sold and seemingly nothing more. As a response, I decided to include the KFC and YFC chapter coordinators into the pastoral meetings of the chapter household. Better integration and coordination between the service ministries and the chapter was a major part of my plan.
Home visit to the Marinas family
After the second CLP talk delivered by Fr. Mike Rabino, I spent my free time while waiting for the Mass at Sta. Lucia Parish at the residence of the Marinas family.
The more families I get to meet in this chapter, the better appreciation I have for their service, their friendship and the community as a whole. As I very soon found out for myself, there are lots of good families in Sta. Lucia.
1st Visit to GK Melchora Aquino
The following weekend, I scheduled a visit (my first one) to GK Melchora Aquino, the local depressed area being helped by the chapter. Bro. Terence had forewarned me of certain difficulties with this Gawad Kalinga site. Again, the problems I observed during the visit seem to come from the same source - a general sense of apathy on the part of many beneficiaries.
This indifference is not really exclusive to this GK site. Based on my personal experience as a Kapitbahayan Membership Training (KBMT) sessionaire who has held talks on the value of community organizing and value formation in GK site community development, a major error on the part of the leadership during the early years of GK was the over emphasis on building houses. The pay forward scheme or sweat equity arrangements didn't become very successful as beneficiaries interest to serve waned soon after their own houses were built.
This phenomenon only strengthened my view that Kapitbahayan training, community organizing as well as value formation should have been given equal if not more premium especially during the onset of our work with the poor.
Going through the GK neighborhood
The soft programs of GK like SIBOL, SAGIP, and SIGA (family ministrycounterparts of GK) were practically non-existent in Melchora Aquino. Unfortunately, livelihood through TEKTON or OIKOS for environmental projects were also not yet undertaken. I understand only GKare (Health) had some projects that were undertaken for the beneficiaries.
With their houses built, many CLP participants I was informed also became inactive in the community.It was quite obvious that these participants as in other sites were not spiritually mature enough to continue their Christian service even after construction of their houses have been completed.
I also got to know several good CFC families living in GK Melchora Aquino. However, they were simply too few to sway the general apathy of their community, The lack of ownership by many of these beneficiaries of the GK program courted disaster as in some previous efforts that acted more as dole outs than genuine community development.
Much work is still to be done with our GK beneficiaries
Beneficiaries have to be made to see themselves as partners in this work. More importantly, they have to act as responsible stewards and stakeholders in GK efforts. To do this, the people have to view GK beyond building houses. GK also means peace and order for their locality, cleanliness in heir environment, various programs for their children, health care for their families and possibly even livelihood for themselves and their community. In the core of it all is a strong, organized and united community.
Another good thing I see in this chapter is that it has a separate acting Project Director - Bro Phenchie Mariňas for GK Melchora Aquino who can really focus on major concerns of the site along with its Kapitbayan (KB) leaders. Chapter heads then are 'freed' from the nitty gritty day to day activities of the program to give more focus on the pastoral concerns of his chapter.
Catering to this pastoral concerns I believe will be the hallmark of my Christian service in this chapter.
Creek in front of the GK village
A month has passed already...very quickly. Much I felt has been started...but much, much more is yet to be done.
I am very thankful for the support and friendship that I have so far received in Sta. Lucia for the past month. It has given me greater confidence and energy to pursue what I have humbly started to do and face the other challenges ahead.
I thank God for my new service, my new friends, my new brothers and sisters in Christ.
Recent developments in my CFC chapter have made me deeply reflect on my current status as a Unit Head and Coordinator for various service assignments. After much prayer, discernment and consultations with leaders and members of the community I had arrived at some hard but I believed were necessary decisions. I had verbally expressed these plans to our chapter head last June 1. On a letter I sent to him dated the following day, I formally resigned as our chapter's Pastoral Formation Office (PFO) Coordinator, Kids for Christ (KFC) Coordinator, GK SAGIP Program Manager and Unit Head effective immediately.
This personal decision was intended to provide the chapter leadership with a free hand to determine the appropriate persons to implement new policy directions for the chapter, strengthen unity among its ranks, and further empower its leaders.
Moreover, in the letter, I requested that I be allowed to join Bro. Omin del Castillo's household as one of its members.
It was a difficult decision to make but I thanked the Lord God for giving me the honor and privilege of serving Him through these various service ministries for the last 6 years.
At this point, I was actually looking forward to some "quiet" time in my life. Little did I know, God was preparing me for a new task.
It wasn't long after that when Bro. Terence Grana, our Cluster Head for North B-1 met with me and Odette at Tapa King - Commonwealth Ave. for a very important task. Bro. Buddy and Sis. Virgie Villarey, chapter leaders of Sta. Lucia chapter were bound for the United States. According to Brod Terence, the Villareys were expected to be there for around six months. He determined that we should be their temporary replacements aside from his desire that I assume the role of Cluster PFO Coordinator.
I was of course honored that I was even considered for such service assignments. I gave a tentative positive answer to the chapter head position, asking that I be given the chance to also discuss the matter with my unit brothers and sisters. I had to politely decline the latter explaining that I have just resigned from being a chapter PFO Coordinator and, if I finally accepted the chapter head position along with that service, I would be spreading myself too thinly. But at that point, I wasn't convinced God had planned me to be the man for the job. I was looking for the proverbial "sign".
So the very next day, God sent me a sign. As I walked out of my home to nearby Dahlia St. to look for a taxi cab to go to work, lo and behold ! I saw Bro. Buddy in a motorbike. He looked surprised as well, as we never bump into each other in Fairview. Yet I saw him the very next day. Coincidence?
As a Boston Celtics fan, I was quite concerned with my team's 2nd game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. They were leading the Lakers 2 games to 1. But as I left home watching the games, L.A. was ahead by around 24 points I think at some point in Game 4. I thought at the back of my mind, Lord, please help us climb out of this hole and I'll know that you really want me to take on the chapter head position.
Later, it was a welcome surprise from the TV at the office canteen that the Celtics didn't only overcome the huge deficit, they won the game by at least six points. The rest of course was history. The Boston Celtics later won the NBA Finals, the 17th in their illustrious saga. God seemed to be telling me, "Anything, else?"
I led unit members in an assembly that Friday night, my last one with them. It was an opportunity to bid brothers and sisters in Sitio Ruby farewell and a chance to thank them for everything. I still got to meet my unit household in a formal household meeting after that on the 27th (held at home) for Bro. Terence to meet and tell them about the my new assignment. It also became a chance for them to air out views and opinions they had about the chapter. The Villareys had dropped by and stayed for a while to also meet the unit's members.
Since its formation by mid-2005, my unit household had become more than just a group...it was a family.
It was a family born out of the Christian Life Program (CLP) which I headed in the early part of 2005. Eventually, I was appointed Unit Head of the new households. Under this household were Bro. Dodie and Sis. Eva Espera, Bro. Jun and Sis. Ivi Palma, Bro. Manny and Sis. Grace Cajipe. All had a household that they led and served. Bro. Lito Cajipe, father of Bro. Manny, for a time handled the Servants of the Lord (SOLD) members in the unit. Again, the rest as they say was history.
The final member to this family was the entry of the Del Castillo couple, Bro. Omin and Sis. Grace, who also led a new household integrated into the unit in 2007. Their entry further reinforced our camaraderie.
More than just a group...it was a family
Those three years with this household were some of the most productive and memorable years my wife and I have had so far in the CFC community.
Privileged to have served with some of the best "imperfect people" in the community
Still, my unit household is composed of imperfect men and women. People, who like me, had their own strengths and weaknesses, shining moments as well as faults and blunders, trials and triumphs in life. "Works in progress", all were we. But they were some of the best imperfect people I had the privilege to lead in serving the Lord.
United in purpose 'til the end
Everybody shared their time, talent and resources for the greater glory of God. We showed unity of purpose and paved the way for others to follow Christ.
I honor each one of them.
I will surely miss the unit gatherings, the mission trips, the food trips, the fun times and the laughter, the bonding moments we had...I shall miss them all.
By God's grace, we will work together again soon enough for some common mission, some common purpose for the community and for God.
I didn't get to sleep too well last night due to the hot weather.
But that did not weaken our high spirits at the camp. After a good breakfast that sunny Sunday morning with the Del Mundo family from North A, we joined the rest of the participants for the celebration of the Holy Mass.
Fr. Paul celebrates the Holy Mass in the morning
Later, there was a crash course in making rope knots that preceded another challenge. The challenge was straight to the point. You will be asked to make one of the rope knots previously showed at each of several stations set up. Unsuccessful attempts will bring corresponding "punishments." In this challenge, that meant being splashed with a pail of water. Since rope tying wasn't our family forte, we got quite wet that morning! Our only consolation, so did a lot of the other families!
The camp's final activities are conducted at a nearby facility
Those activities include lunch, the camp's awarding and closing ceremonies and swimming under the summer sun!
With our packed stuff, we all moved to a pavilion in the vicinity for the simple closing program and awarding of prizes. The place and surroundings were familiar to me. I'm sure I have visited this place at least once in my youth with my family and fellow members in the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization I was once active during my teenage years.
Like many of the participants, Joshua loved playing in the water
Every family received a framed family picture memento for their participation in the camp
Our family won 2 awards - Early Birds Award (for being the first family to arrive) and Best in Jingle (the jingle we sang that Saturday night was based on an old Cub Scout song that I learned in camping).
More valuable than these awards were the priceless bonding moments that we experienced during the camp. I would even say that this activity so far has been the best among the various KFC activities we have attended. And those activities have been quite a few. I loved the Family Ties Camp because it tries to involve the whole family not just one or two. I would definitely recommend it to everyone who wants to spend quality time with their family!
We thank the Lord for the priceless bonding moments and precious learnings during the camp
Near the gate of the National Arts Center of the Philippines
The boys and I just came from a grueling obstacle course this afternoon and the day isn't over as we rest for while, expecting more challenges later in the evening.
The BSP-UPS Challenge Valley was the site of the previous family obstacle competition
Back at home base
The kids play computer games during the early evening break
Youth members of the service team give out a dance number
Our family sings out during the jingle making contest
The evening's emcees pose for a picture with the Kids for Christ campers
After the family candle blowing competition, we had the final challenge for the day. This challenge involved complete trust on the youngest of your family present in the camp. In our case, that meant five year-old Joshua.
The last challenge requires trust from the youngest member of each family
Everyone else was blindfolded and instructed to walk single file, hands on each other's shoulders with only the voice of your youngest family member to lead you back to the camp base.
Base camp was a few hundred meters away going through some uneven and muddy terrain. But we trusted Joshua to get the job done. And despite the obvious difficulties, before the night was through, Joshua would shine and show his fine character.
'Little' Joshua led us through the whole task...
...and performed his duty very well giving excellent directional instructions
We near the finish line
"Just a few more steps!" shouts Joshua
With Joshua's excellent contribution - mission accomplished! (with SFC Ate Cha)
Great lesson learned from this challenge - everyone in the family though unique is equally important and special. Even the youngest or the least experienced could much contribute to the family's well-being, development and good sense of direction in life. Tonight, Joshua proved that point well!
Joshua by the evening bonfire
We relax through the rest of the evening roasting hotdogs!
The amazing race style obstacle course that Saturday afternoon was a true test of our family's mettle.
True grit stuff I tell you. In a way, I was almost thankful my wife wasn't here to go through the hard and daunting physical challenges. On the other hand, she may have come out a much stronger, stronger and enduring person. Next time.
The race involved both your family's physical and mental prowess. It needed coordination and cooperation down to the very last task. More importantly, at least to my mind, the course engaged everyone in the family, young and old, big or small. There were tasks that only Joshua could go and do. I'm proud that every single one of us delivered. We may have not been the fastest or the strongest team in this event but we took up the challenge and delivered.
Up the mountain for our first task
Joshua's keeps up with his older brothers
First task is a mental puzzle
Sonny Boy and Joshua does the second challenge
Out in a jiffy
Another family picture pose...
...and the amazing race continues
The obstacles courses get a lot rougher
Sonny and Joshua again go through another obstacle
It's Junior and my turn to run the hanging rubber tire obstacle
Man, was I dog tired after that obstacle!
Junior and Sonny go up the rope bridge...
...and successfully go down
Junior and Joshua this time go through a small rubber tire obstacle
Joshua has a difficult time...
...but doesn't give up...
Same with Junior who despite his size wriggles his way through
Junior and I again take on the next rope challenge
Just when I thought we had already gone through the toughest challenges...
We hit a concrete wall (to climb!)
Up goes Junior
I think I pulled a muscle (or several ones) doing this obstacle
Sonny and Junior go through the next rope obstacle
Sonny smiles as he gets stuck for a while in these tires
Joshua and I hike up the mountain
The final challenge - reconstructing a Family Ties puzzle
Mission accomplished! And the day isn't even over!
When I learned about this Kids for Christ (KFC) camp being organized for the month of June which involved the whole family, I immediately got very interested. Seldom do you get the opportunity to spend quality time with your family members especially in the great outdoors.
So it was with sadness that my wife and daughter couldn't come with me and the boys to this Family Ties Camp. Odette isn't exactly the nature tripping tent sleeping type and Faith at three years old is just to young for this adventure.
So by the afternoon of June 6, the three boys and I set off to another new adventure - camping in Los Baňos, Laguna.
We took a provincial bus to Laguna from Cubao. After what seemed like an eternity of traveling, we arrived at a junction along the national highway in Laguna near the University of the Philippines (UP) campus. We bought some provisions from a 7-11 convenient store and ate dinner at the nearby Jollibee fastfood restaurant. Not familiar with the area, we sought the assistance of KFC full-time workers to come pick us up. That's how we formally met KFC Kuyas Jay Lucena and Kuya Norman Tarala who brought a vehicle and brought us to the camp site.
It had been raining that evening and power was out when we arrived at the camp site. There the rest of the camp service team led by Bro. Arnel Dizon of CFC West A welcomed us, the first participants to arrive for the activity. The camp actually starts tomorrow but since we didn't have any car and I wanted to avoid the horrendous SLEX summer traffic, I decided that we travel earlier. As what we observed the following day, I knew I made the right choice.
Chilling it out with the SFCs on our first night
It was sometime that Saturday morning that power came back. Due to the traffic I anticipated, participant families came in very slowly. Still, that didn't really dampen out camping spirits and the program went ahead relatively on schedule.
It was almost pitch black last night with occasional flashes of lightning to illuminate the evening sky so you couldn't see much. It is only in the morning you begin to appreciate the beauty of this area. Luna Hall where we slept last night beside the camp area itself is near the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP) Jamboree site inside UP Los Baňos.
Pitching our tent in the morning
The tent we bought was good for all four of us
After pitching our good looking and very functional tent, an outdoor equipment which I recently bought for this very activity, everyone was called to join the morning worship to the Lord.
The public worship was followed by an orientation on what the camp was all about. As the name implied, the Family Ties Camp is all about strengthening the bonds that tie each member of the family to each other and in Christ by means of related activities and workshops in a very natural environment.
Joshua by the tent
Others have also pitched their tents
The room inside Luna Hall we slept in last night
The boys roam around the camping grounds
1st speaker talks
Joshua holds the Mendoza family insignia
The first family activity involved creating a family insignia. We agreed on incorporating a Green Beret - Special Forces inspired emblem but with a cross overhead to symbolize Christ's lordship over my family. In this regard, Team Mendoza was also to be known as Team Zildjan!
We then worked on the KFC Family Ties shirt design
Next, we had to come up with a KFC shirt design. Junior came up with the brilliant design of featuring the KFC acronym using horizontal brush marks while I thought of using the contrasting neon colors of orange and green to emphasize the rock and rock roll theme. The outcome of the design was brilliant (in more ways than one)!
Eating time was always a pleasure during the whole camp! Everyone was so generous with their food blessings nobody had any food problems.
My only frustration was getting the charcoal we bought to fire up! Not giving up, we eventually got to cook some Spam luncheon meat that everyone in the family loved, and share with the other families, and for Joshua to savor after patiently waiting for it to be grilled.
Kids from the various chapters of CFC North B - 1 cluster again met last May 24. This time they converge to participate in what is known as the Champ Camp, a sports camp that encourages the Kids for Christ values of Discipline, Perseverance, Patience and Teamwork.
Geared towards senior KFC kids aged 9-12 (13 for SAGIP kids), the objectives of the camp may be summarized as the following:
To let the kids realize that God loves them and provides for all our needs
For the kids to know Jesus and his values of prayer, perseverance and sacrifice
To advance sports as a means of evangelization among children
To cultivate athletic abilities and skills of the kids
To strengthen the bonds of lasting friendships among KFC members
Originally planned to be held at the St. Joseph School of Fairview, in North Fairview, it was moved and held at the covered basketball court in the Barangay Hall compound of Barangay Sta. Lucia. Also, due to economic reasons, the original two day schedule had to be revised and reduced to a one whole day program.
Highlights include the sports competitions where Sonny Boy actively participated in with the 3 on 3 Basketball Competitions. His team started well but bowed to eventual winners from GK Ruby Phase 2 which included a girl who ironically but deservingly was later awarded MVP in a male dominated sport category.
In the end, there was an honoring event as selected kids were given awards based on the results of the competitions and special awards on account on several specific criteria. Sonny's team was awarded 2nd runner up in the basketball games plus he got a special award.
Of course, during the camp the kids were taught that one need not have trophies to be a champ. A person only needs the love of his family, friends, and most especially God to be a champ.
Yup, loving and beloved...those are the marks of a true champion.
After years of thinking when would my wife and I be able to attend the much awaited MER 2, the moment finally came.
In a sense, it was largely through our CFC unit's own initiative and eagerness that the sought after activity at long last became a reality last April 26 and 27.
After the successful conduct of an MER 1 late last year, we immediately set our sights on the conduct of an MER 2 in 2008. It was high time that one was conducted as many leaders through the years have simply been unable to experience this wonderful bonding retreat.
For the unfamiliar, the acronym MER stands for Marriage Enrichment Retreat. The second part like the first one forms part of the formation program available in CFC and should be offered to all member-couples starting from their second year in CFC. It is an optional program for the general membership and for household leaders, but is supposed to be required for unit leaders and up. Sadly, a number of our elders have yet to undertake this memorable activity.
Content wise, MER 2 does not replicate what has already been discussed in the first MER. Nonetheless, a number of principles and points unsurprisingly are again given focus.
Recommended for all CFC member-ouples, MER 2 is also suggested even for those who might perceive some topics to be of limited relevance to their lives (e.g., those with no children).
In the end, the retreat is an excellent opportunity for the couple to have time off by themselves to strengthen their personal relationship, and to further gain wisdom on marriage and family life, especially for those holding leadership positions in the CFC community.
Normally, MER has a similar three day schedule as the MER 1 does, starting on the evening of the first day (usually a Friday) and end by noon of the third day (Sunday). Otherwise, it may be held over two days, beginning early morning of the first day and ending in the afternoon of the second day. The retreat schedules, not necessarily on a weekend, do not provide for a Lord's Day celebration and a Mass which we usually have in the MER 1. There should be a Lord's Day celebration though, if the retreat includes a Saturday evening.
Bro. Omin del Castillo lead us in worshiping the Lord
Service Team Roster
Bro. Omin and Sis. Nette del Castillo
Bro. Aster and Sis. Tess Pena Assistant Team Leaders (House Rules and Registration)
Bro. Manny and Sis Grace Cajipe
Assistant Team Leaders (Music Ministry and Program)
Bro. Ferddie and Sis. Odette Mendoza
Supervising Unit Leaders
SOLD - Bro. Lito Cajipe Support group
Bro. Aster Peňa gave out the house rules
As Pastoral Formation Office (PFO) Coordinator of our chapter, I had to be both organizer and participant. Difficult as it may seem, I had the advantage of handpicking some of the most reliable and dedicated members of the community to make this pastoral event work.
I had already talked to the Del Castillo couple about the MER 2 for this year as early as when we went home after conducting the MER 1 last year. Other leaders like the Pena couple who have taken the retreat in the past, seemed a perfect fit as assistant team leaders. We were not disappointed. We worked and raised a substantial amount similar to the last MER 1 so that many could go through the same experiences previous participants have felt in our chosen venue for the second time around - the Sacred Heart Novitiate and Retreat House located along Quirino Highway in Novaliches, Quezon City.
Bro. Rey Reyes delivered Talk # 1: "What makes a Christian marriage work"
I invited Bro. Rey Reyes of North A to handle the first talk. The Reyes couple are North A's Family Ministries Sector leaders. As it turned out, his wife who used to work at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) office, recognized a former officemate in Sis Grace Cajipe. Small world, isn't it?
Bro. Terence Grana delved on the importance of "Unity of Marriage"
After lunch, Bro. Terence Grana, our Cluster Head for North B-1 emphasized the importance of unity in Christian marriages.
We give Thee thanks for the tasty afternoon snack
Junior, Sonny Boy and I went home around 4 o'clock that Saturday morning from a free street concert in Tomas Morato St. in line with Quezon City's celebration of Earth Day. So as the day went on, my eyelids became increasingly heavy and I had to fight it to listen to the very good talks.
Bro. Nonoy Dalman talked on the value of "Communication" between spouses
Giving thanks to our Creator during the Lord's Day Celebration
The fellowship program highlighted the various talents of our couple participants like those of the Dabuet couple - Bro. Gildo and Sis Estring
Like the fellowship nights of previous MER 1, we wanted to make our fellowship activity that Saturday evening something to remember for participant couples.
We were able to ask permission from the Retreat House that we be allowed to use the pavilion near the swimming place at the far end of the facility where our program would not disturb close retreat participants. With the pavilion and poolside adequately lit, the ambience was just right.
The highlight I think of the night was when participants had one song from the CFC songbook to sing according to a specific musical beat. And the rest of the night was a time of rollicking fun and laughter!
The singing Esperas - Bro. Dodie and Sis Eva!
Bro. Tata and Sis. Jasmine Conte belt out a marching rendition of a CFC song
Odette and I had to sing our song to a Jazz beat. I applied the upbeat tune of Manhattan Transfer's "Boy for New York City" and it worked! We won the game and got a nice wall clock as our prize!
Hearing the Sunday morning Mass at the Main Chapel
Lovey and I woke up early to catch the early morning Mass at the Main Chapel. Several participants and other retreatants were present during that very solemn Eucharistic celebration.
Prayers before the breakfast meal
I have the say that the food in Sacred Heart Novitiate is worth your money in this spiritual oasis. They give out generous servings of tasty meals that you wouldn't feel shortchanged.
While the rooms and facilities might look old and Spartan-like to some, they do serve their purpose and in a way, adds to the charm of this holy place.
Praying over the next two speakers
Bro. Oty Narciso tackled with the 'tabooish' topic of "Sex in marriage"
Bro. Edwin Aquino shared his experiences regarding "Christian parenting"
"Empowering our marriage" was discussed by Bro. Hermie and Sis. Remy Vargas
MER 2 "Graduation" picture of NB - 1 D (Batch 2008)
I felt quite tired by the end of the activity but much fulfilled by what we have quite accomplished for the participants and for ourselves as co-participants. It is an experience which like MER 1, is an experience that I wish every married couple shall take together. I thank the Lord for the insights, the sharings, the encounters, the fellowship and the tools to strengthen our respective marital relationships.
Parents worship the Lord during the 1st Kids for Christ (KFC) Parent's Assembly
The very first Kids for Christ Parents' Assembly was held last March 5 at the Lay Force Chapel inside the San Carlos Seminary compound in Guadalupe, Makati City. I was fortunate to have been one of the KFC coordinators and parent to have been part of this significant event.
I actually came in early when practically nobody was yet around. As the organizers started coming in, I had the good opportunity to talk to Kirby LLaban, KFC's International Coordinator on a number of things about the kids and the ministry.
It was nice to know that a number of the participants who came were not KFC coordinators but simply parents of KFC kids. I think that is the best target audience for this assembly because many KFC parents remain untapped for this ministry especially in view of Kirby's vision and plans.
There were two speakers who gave inspiring messages that night after the corporate worship. Bro. Mannix Ocampo emphasized the point that "Evangelization starts at the Church of the Home." Parents play a vital role in the work of evangelization. He cited the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI - Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World).
While this document was released way back in December 8, 1975, its message remains relevant today in the 21st century. I did some research and the following excerpt from the exhortation laid out the role of the family in evangelization:
71. One cannot fail to stress the evangelizing action of the family in the evangelizing apostolate of the laity.
At different moments in the Church's history and also in the Second Vatican Council, the family has well deserved the beautiful name of "domestic Church." This means that there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church. Furthermore, the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.
In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them.
And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms part. Families resulting from a mixed marriage also have the duty of proclaiming Christ to the children in the fullness of the consequences of a common Baptism; they have moreover the difficult task of becoming builders of unity."
Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi
Whole families - should be evangelizers. Fathers and mothers as evangelizers should be seen in how they live out our lives as parents.
How do we evangelize our own families?
Parents, particularly the head of the family has three main roles: the priestly, prophetic and kingly roles.
How does my family touch the lives of other families? Basically through the roles - each family acts as a prophet to the community, a priest or mediator between other families and the Lord; bringing them closer to God and the kingly role by being servant leaders to other families.
In the light of the current and constant attacks on the family, Bro. Mannix states that Christian families should form communities of persons, serving lives and participating and sharing in the life of the society and mission of the Church.
Sis. Nini Villaroman, on the other hand, shared her experiences with their KFC children, Sam and Dave. Through the years, she saw the fruits of their KFC experience. As the boys grew up, they maintained a strong sense of discipline despite peer pressures.
Due to this strong formation, she wasn't afraid for her kids' future. Moreover, through KFC, the kids developed a strong belief in the power of prayer. Prayerful children surely are not far from God and His grace and blessings.
She therefore urged parents present to bring their children to KFC that their children may experience the same formation and love. She called on all parents to be champions of the family ministries!
Bro. Kirby also gave a presentation as to his vision, mission and plans for the KFC ministry. He encouraged parents to form Parent Support Teams (PST) in their respective chapter to help KFC Coordinators and the ministry. This move was to get more parents involves and gather feedback from the same parents as a means to hold more relevant activities for the kids (i.e. recollections for kids and parents).
He also shared an acronym for parents present to remember:
D - Develop the CFC Parenting Culture
A - Advocate Christian Parenthood
D - Deepen the Bond between Parent and Child
M - Modules to help parents in bringing their kids closer to God
O - Outpour of human resources for KFC activities & advocacies for
M - Model families sharing about their experiences
I am very hopeful that these plans will further bring more kids closer to Christ. As a parent, I pray that many more parents will be aware of their respective roles and be evangelizers of their domestic churches and society in general.
Sis. King Basco leads children in praying the rosary
Have you ever made your own rosary?
Well, KFC/SAGIP kids of Sitio Ruby had their very first chance to do just that. Last Feb. 24 the kids were taught how to make their own rosaries at the Sitio Ruby Chapel. More importantly, the young ones were taught to pray during the said activity.
I was surprised to observe in the past that many kids in the Sitio Ruby area didn't really know how to pray. A lot of them still couldn't recite the Lord's Prayer by heart or any other structured prayer, much less pray the rosary. Thus, I recommended to our cluster coordinators to hold a Kids Day specifically to address this concern.
The kids are given rosary kits which include the beads, crucifix, thread, as well as a small prayer booklet
Sis. King Basco was requested to assist us in this Kids Day. With husband Bro. Joan, she has been teaching kids in their own mission area how to pray the rosary and how to make one. By the way, no I didn't get their names mixed up. She is really named King and her husband's name is Joan.
North B-1 KFC Coordinators oversee the event
The children started putting the rosary beads
They present their well made rosaries
Back during my high school days, I was very active in an organization called the Legion of Mary. At the same time, I was much involved in the local Block Rosary Crusade. Unsurprisingly, I often got to pray the rosary during the Legion's regular meetings and the Block Rosary's weekly transfer of the statue of the Our Lady of Fatima from one home to another in San Francisco del Monte, where I spent the first 21 years or so of my life.
My wife Odette and baby Faith also make their own rosaries
In the years to follow, during college and even when my family moved to GSIS Village in Project 8, I felt I continued to be involved with the church and religious matter in one way or another. But somewhere along the way I also kind of "lost" my Marian devotion. My Christian faith had by this time focused on the plight of the masses, the theology of liberation and left-leaning radicalism. "Pray the Rosary" was drowned by shouts of "Serve the People" and "Down with Clerico-Fascism!"
Faith poses as the activity winds up
My entry to the CFC community galvanized my need to make perfect my faith through action, a balanced "praxis" of equally promoting genuine total human liberation and establishment of a close personal relationship with God, of which one or both are often lacking in the lives of many believers at present.
By God's grace, I hope there would also be a time I would be able to renew and strengthen ties with my Savior's loving mother.
Without a doubt, Mother Mary remains to be my most powerful intercessor and channel of God's blessings.
With their rosaries at hand, may these kids also realize that the Blessed Virgin's intercessory help is just a prayer away.
With members of the MER 1 service team
(Bulacan South Sector A & B)
The pastoral work to enrich Christian marriages is all year round.
Bro. Lito Depanes from CFC North A has time and again honored us with opportunities to serve the Lord through participation in pastoral work with many brothers and sisters from various different chapter and areas. Last February 2, Bro Jun Palma and I were again able to answer the call to serve. This time we were invited to deliver MER 1 talks to brethren from various clusters and chapters from the province of Bulacan. The venue though was relatively closer to home, a building owned by a fellow CFC leader in Camarin, North Caloocan.
The music ministry leads participants in practicing the songs
Some of the leaders and participants even came from the Municipality of Bocaue where my father has many relatives. It's always a pleasure to know people from different places which gets a lot more interesting when you discover common roots or friends.
Bro. Jun Palma delivered Talk # 1
Brother Jun Palma how CFC couples should serve God through their Christian marriage. He emphasized the need to recognize our families are central to God's plan, to understand what He wants us to do to our families, and carry out such work in accordance to His plan. This starts with rededicating our families, our homes and our marriages to Christ.
I gave the second MER 1 talk
My talk underscored the role of couples to act as pastoral leaders in their respective families. The task to build strong families for Christ entails help from the Holy Spirit who empowers and guides husbands and wives and children to perform their respectively roles effectively.
Our own pastoral work as CFC leaders is always ongoing. As new families are established, the task to assist them to develop strong Christ-centered families will always be there.
On a similar note, our work with the poor is never over too.
KBMT participants mainly came from Sitio Ruby's Phase 5 area
I gave a Kapitbahayan Membership Training (KBMT) talk the following day at the multi-purpose building at Sition Ruby. Many of the participants came from the newly created Phase 5 which falls under the auspices of the caretaker team led by Bro. Edwin Aquino. The main benefactor of this area is St. Paul's University (formerly St. Paul's College, Quezon City).
My talk (the first of four KBMT talks) orients the participants about the concept of a genuine community and local versions such as "Kapitbahayan" and "Bayanihan". The vision and mission of Gawad Kalinga (GK) is also presented and explained to enable participants to embrace it and experience a true sense of ownership of its programs. During the workshop stage, participants are broken down to several groups and tasked to identify common problems encountered in their community as well as to determine agreed solutions to these problems.
Phase 5 GK Caretaker team led by Bro. Edwin Aquino
It's always heartening to see common folk rediscovering their self dignity and trying to establish unity in their community. I can only hope that they will continue to pursue these admirable ideals as their very own. For what is GK but "less for self, more for others, enough for all!"
"Moved by the Holy Spirit, one with the Catholic Church,
Blessed to witness to Christ's love and service,
Couples for Christ is a united global community of family evangelizers
That sets the world on fire with the fullness of God's transforming love."
According to Bro. Joe Tale, the Couples for Christ's (CFC) current Director, "the seven-point statement was arrived at after months of deliberation, discussion, prayer and reflection triggered by the Pastoral Congresses held in the latter part of 2007." The objective of those congresses was to re-examine the vision and mission of the community taking into consideration the events that occurred the year before. In North B, I became part of that consultative process. In my own little way, I conveyed to our leaders the problems that I have observed based on my personal experiences including many of those I have served with in our community as well as steps to address those concerns. Not surprisingly, many of these concerns were echoed by the various cluster during the pastoral congress held at the sector level. Surely, many of those concerns likewise resonated across the various sectors.
The resulting vision and mission was extensively elucidated during the CFC Leaders Conference last January at the Araneta Coliseum.
Essentially, the community hasn't really changed its original vision, "Families in the Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth." Our leaders explain this remains what we should do. The 7 point statements stress how we are to achieve it. It is believed that along with the refined mission of "Building the Church of the Home and Building the Church of the Poor" such changes will provide a clearer direction for the CFC's future.
I share my thoughts on the said 7 points:
Moved By the Holy Spirit
This community is a creation of the Holy Spirit. Through the years, despite human frailties of its members, it has continued to manifest the leadings of the Holy Spirit. I hope that more and more of our leaders and members realize the importance of this certainty. The more we positively respond to the callings of the Holy Spirit, allowing God to use us as His instruments, the more powerful our lives shall be as His disciples.
One with the Catholic Church
While CFC remains open to brothers and sisters of different Christian denominations who willingly decide to join the community, the refined vision further emphasized the need to express the Catholic faith of majority of its members, working hand in hand with the Church's clergy in our shared responsibility of global evangelization.
Blessed to Witness to Christ's Love and Service
We model our lives on Christ's example. He shows us how to genuinely love God and our neighbor. By this same selfless love, Jesus showed us how to serve God through serving others.
Through the CFC, we are given the humbling task of serving as light for others.
Couples for Christ is a United Global Community
The CFC is a world wide community. It is united in vision, mission and culture. I have experienced this truth time and again. Anywhere I went, I could always count on brothers and sisters to extend a helping hand to a person they have only met for the very first time. Yet, because of the sense of belongingness to just one big family, you are not treated as a stranger in distant lands.
Of Family Evangelizers
The Community is a community of "family evangelizers". What once focused only on the relationship of married couples now ministers to all the members of a family. Thus the womb to tomb thrust of evangelization. A strong family ministry in God will ensure the future of the community.
That Sets the World on Fire
Families in the Holy Spirit are filled with the fire of God's Love. Members of this community have to rediscover the charisms, the gifts that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one of us. Furthermore, invoking the power of the Wonderful Counselor and Paraclete and submitting ourselves to God's Will strengthens our commitment and passion to do His work to the ends of the earth.
With the Fullness of God's Transforming Love
CFC members are "works in progress". Through the years, God continues to transform persons and families through spiritual renewal, a renewal that involves a deepening of our personal relationship with the Lord through prayer, scripture, service and fellowship. It was in this community that I began feeling the fullness of God's unconditional love.
Members of the CFC community are defined by their vision, mission, values and culture. These are the things that give us our identity as members of the Body of Christ. I share the prayer of the community's leadership that these statements are not only remembered but lived out in our daily lives.
"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
You created human in love to share your divine life.
We see humankind's high destiny
in the love of husband and wife,
which bears the imprint of your own divine love.
Love is our origin,
Love is our constant calling,
Love is our fulfillment in heaven.
The love of man and woman
Is made holy in the sacrament of marriage,
and becomes the mirror of your everlasting love."
from the Preface of the Nuptial Mass
In two days time, my wife Odette and I shall be celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary. 17 years...has it been 17 years already?
Time has been so fleeting...and I only had to look at our children to acknowledge and appreciate that it already has been 17 years since we exchanged our marriage vows.
Junior will be sixteen this February, while Sonny Boy is now 12. Joshua is 5 while Faith will be three this March. When did they grow up so fast?
Our children of course have been the most concrete blessings we have enjoyed out of this sacrament.
Getting into a marriage was a risk, everyone knows that. But it was something all true lovers longed for - a long term commitment and covenant with the one you loved. So even in these times when marriages are so conveniently annulled, when faced with the sad fact that in 2005 married couples in the United States became a minority of all American households for the first time in recorded history, and when marriages that have lasted 17 years so far or more are the exceptions rather than the rule, people in love take the risk.
But beyond the strong human love for each other that compels us to risk everything - our individuality, our time, our freedom, ourselves in marriage, there is something else. Unfortunately, I believe that most fundamental element of a marriage also seems to be the most lacking in many failed marriages the "imprint" of God's love.
I remember Odette and I having a terrible fight many years ago while we were in my parents home in Project 8. It was so bad that my mother couldn't help but intervene in an effort to reconcile us. Her loving words were as fresh to me now as when she spoke them then to both of us. My mother said that we might think it's corny to say, but she believed we should put Jesus in the middle of our relationship.
There wasn't anything corny in what she said. Looking back, a little older, a little wiser now, it would have been extremely foolish for me and my wife, or for any married couple to have thought otherwise.
Married love mirrors God's everlasting love. Not divorce, not live-in or trial marriage, none of those things. If God is in the center of one's married life, husbands and wives will become more loving and submissive to each other. I should know, that's what we've been trying to do for almost the last seven years especially after we entered a covenanted community - the Couples for Christ or CFC.
I pray for all marriages including my own to place God in the middle of their relationships. Place Him right in the middle and experience your love's fulfillment not only in Heaven but in the here and now.
A gathering that has become a tradition of sorts through the years happens every evening of Christmas day when my family meets up with my first cousins' (the Velasco family) and other relatives from my mother's side of the family.
It started way back at least during the early 90's. I remember our family hosting one of these reunions at my parents' home in Administration St. where a lot of our relatives really came together.
Cousin Arsenio and wife Gigi sweetly share dinner on one plate
The event is really quite simple. People come and catch up with one another's lives, have a nice pot luck dinner followed by a much anticipated talent and raffle prize packed program.
Baby Faith gives her Tita Emy a kiss
People anxiously await the next raffle prize
The prizes aren't really expensive and the money raffled off isn't in the millions but everyone still feels the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat". The talent portion lets the kids show off their stuff. It's a great way to shed off their shyness and build self confidence early on. And when the prize money is large enough even the "shy" adults join the fray!
People look at their numbers
"Show me the money!" Arsen displays the cash prize
I think Eric won this time
The Mendoza family racks up some cool prizes
The kids show off their dancing skills
Faith dances a solo performance
My niece Patricia calls out another winning number
Moms do the world famous "Papaya" dance
What makes everyone come back to such a simple event?
The camaraderie, the joy, the competition, the winnings, the gifts, the smiles and the fun of doing it all over again!