YOU WILL DISMISS them, even if they glare at you, two signages, not of tarpaulin made, posted upon walls that are separated only by a glimpse, painted thereon, medium and message. As good as any proclamation of warmth and welcome, if you are to receptions familiar,except that this is your first (therefore perfunctory) time. Once you go past the signages and enter the house, you realize the proclamation meant what it heralded and your eyes meet much further than more.
Inside their home (this sinks in soon and doubtlessly enough), your awe-struck receiver of a spontaneous hospitality drops its guard, belongs, conveys into whatever conversation that crops up, because every nuance thereof manifests an innate naturalness of the hosts to treat people as not mere guests but friends of long standing, never mind their numerical order. They have a mutual, sincere ear. Evidently in the center of “h
Teddy and Joanne Siapno were total strangers. I didn’t know we were going to meet them in Dagupan, where Ate Relly said we were bound for, to participate in another launch of the Totus Tuus Journey (TTJ), this time for Grades 9 and 10 students of that city’s high school
As in past prospects of meeting a person or going on a trip, my night before was of little sleep. I was even roused by my 3:20 am alarm telling me that a nap wasn’t what I needed. But that was exactly why I set the alarm, to compel me up and not be late or punctual is not my middle name anymore. And I so appreciated Ate Relly and Kuya Arnel being two minutes early in front of our gate. It got better. Kuya Arnel would not allow himself to drive us up to the highway only, where we’ll get a cab to take us to SM North, the pickup point, so drove us exactly thereto. Like minds develop a propensity for mutuality, as soon as we got to the fenced area of SM Annex, Ate Bubbles and Sis Ana Marie were already heading our way to lead us to the van where Fr. Richard and Kuya Nonoy waited.
That Fr. Richard is SMM Provincial Superior did not preclude the rapport that the missionaries took to another jocular (no pun this time) level during the long trip. Our first stop was the regulation breakfast at the initial pitstop. It was followed by a brief discussion among those who will be directly involved in the TTJ conduct. Then we were face-to-face, first with the structure, then the people who inhabited the dwelling with the same grace that goodness and living well imbued it with.
They were comfortable entertaining one group here and another there, their house in silent agreement to a common scenario, crossing over faces and spaces as easily as appreciating pleasantries. As Teddy and Joanne bussed and escorted the entry of each arrival, the happy sound of conversation picked up until lunch, continued at the venue of the launch and sustained through snacks and parting shots. Despite the changes in places, the happy camaraderie never lagged.
One of the speakers was Dr. Mel who, upon arriving, announced he wants to borrow a toilet. It was so retort-provoking I chimed in “After you,” which made unnecessary to ask permission to use the john.
Ä grandfather clock would chime every hour, blending with the pleasant noises. The Siapnos’ living room was meant for long, leisurely conversations with the couches reclined; to its left, a smaller receiving room stood by should the party spill over. Fellowshipping is an obvious feature of the house, evidenced by two long dining tables. Lunch was a well thought out preparation to suit all palates, with an array of drinks and desserts that left nothing to be desired. Before the couple broke bread with their callers, they have made sure everybody was personally looked after. Such was their handy, hands-on hospitality.
The kindred cluster that animated the vibrant household was made up of Andrea Bendigo (with her sister), formator at Christ the King Church, Green Meadows (she presented the Fatima apparition which, coming from a bio-chemist, spoke of a powerful message of the miracle of the sun); Dr. Mon Alaba was a team-building mentor; Fr. Melvin Castro was from the Our Lady of Sorrows in Tarlac; and Fr. Richard Mag-araru, Lester Bonete, Marco Gamboa, from the Montfort Mission; and Sis Ana Marie, Ate Relly, Ate Bubbles and yours truly.
Back to our hosts, Teddy is a day older than my septuagenarian self. He was quick on the uptake, took his time respecting my humor and deftly submitted, after my two Ilocano jokes (if you know the routine, Wrangler, bumper-to-bumper and the train that, on the Ilocos approach, whistled “Didjay, didjay weeen!”), a novel brief Batangas rejoinder that took me completely off-guard,“Tsug-tsug e!”
The highlight of that visit was an audience with Joanne, who shared her dream, while we were savoring the blessings of the day and relishing whatever residue seemed to endlessly emerge and, therefore, refused to end. Engrossed, I did not see it coming (or going) and was ill prepared to take my usual notes. Only at her concluding strains did I gather my senses and thought aloud of having a second go at it, so I can reduce the experience into writing. The lady acquiesced and we agreed to meet at another place and time, given the gap between us and our equally diverse, dynamic communities.
And so it came to pass that, because God is so good to bless them with an ancestral nest in Dagupan and another house in Quezon City, He added Fr. Fed in the equation; it was Pads who arranged for the second encounter in the abode of the dreamer.
Like it did to Simeon, the prophesy fulfilled on February 19, 2019.
This time, Ate Joanne (between then and now, the sibling address between us – she calls me Kuya – happened naturally I cannot care to recall how) was in her freest and most gracious nature. No necessary niceties got in the way of her welcome to Pads, Ate Marivic (our Grab chauffeur), Sis Ana Marie (a little later) and me. No preamble either for she knew why Pads had me in tow . As soon as the second-nature pecks were delivered on accepting cheeks, she made the throw pillows more recline worthy and prepared to regale us with her tale. On cue, I took out my ipad and braced my entirety for her story. Pads and Ate Marivic looked cool and comfy on their chosen couches. Every now and then, Lana, their dog, would submit to Ate Marivic’s petting, a virtual participant to the encounter.
Probably because she must have noticed that all three of us were gaping at the montage of paintings in her living room (it was hard to ignore a monstrous art looking down on you), she used our awe as her opening spiel. She started by drawing (pun incidental) our interest back to the artwork and confiding that the medley is representative of the seven (that perfect number again) messages contained in her dream. We knew better than to prolong our suspense so saved our curiosity for the inevitable Q and A later. Egged on by our collective, silent assent, she continued.
Ate Joanne deems her dream as, like Simeon proclaimed when he met the Child Jesus in the Temple, the fulfillment of a prophesy. Like him, the prophesy fulfills her, makes her ready. Even if, for her and unlike Simeon, the prophesy fulfills daily.
The first painting is that of Jesus with a sole sheep signifying His flock. It says, “Take care of my people. Be the shepherd among the last, least and lost.”
Painting number two has a silhouette of a man on his knees, indicative of his supplicating God for grace, not for himself but for the human race.
Number 3 painting is a portrait of an evidently fuming person, the message of which imparts, “Never get angry without a strong, valid reason. One of the seven deadly sins, anger is falling from grace with rage.”
The fourth artwork is in the center of the collage and shows Mary at the foot of the cross. It describes her hard journey that started at Jesus’ birth and did not stop at His death. As long as there are people, there will be journeys. They will die but not the journey. Like Mary’s seven sorrows were fulfilled and ceased upon her assumption, only when we rest will our journey find fruition.
Portrait number 5 is a bucolic rendition illustrating a man in the middle of a farm, at the outset of tilling it and sowing seeds to reap future grains. “Work hard.” is the message. “If I’m with you, the yoke is easy and the burden light so there is no reason to ever give up, no matter the strife.”.
The sixth picture is Mother Teresa surrounded by children, proclaiming Christ’s call to “Let the children come to Me. Be with the poorest in any gathering. Let the people pray, be sorry for their sins and pray with them.”
The seventh and final frame, easily the favorite of Ate Marivic she posed to mimic it, portrays a man gripping his mouth shut, in compliance with Christ’s command to “Mind your mouth. Whatever enters it does not make a man unclean. What comes from the heart goes out through it in a manner akin to the source. The mouth is the medium of the heart’s message. Watch it before it exposes curse instead of grace.”
We did not think she would end there and were happily right. For she was as eager as her listeners to keep at it. For Ate Marivic’s healing, she proceeded that it was in 1984, while she was having a holy hour vigil, the tabernacle was open and exposed the Blessed Sacrament, she saw the Holy Face on the veil and could not take her eyes off it. At Mass, afterwards, during communion, she saw the lips of the Face moving. She wanted to draw what she saw and, wishing to be affirmed, asked her companion Choleng if she sees what she sees. A lady called nanay ng bayan was there, too (both are now deceased) and gave her story approbation. It was raining hard and she didn’t want to lose the moment so she went to the town painter, Manuel Ticsay by name, who was also popular as a pig roaster. It was already 8 in the evening but she urged him to come with her to church and paint Jesus. The man said sorry he could not because he was finishing a portrait of the late Ambassador Fernandez. She was disappointed. Months later, Ticsay died in his mid-60s. Because she did not have the skill to draw, Ate Joanne employed what she knew, lip-reading, and that was how the seven sacramental messages came to be reduced into moving, goose-bumping illustrations by another artist she commissioned. Her children warned her against putting up the paintings, lest their house be mistaken for a museum, but she would not budge. (Inwardly, I nodded my encouragement, thinking “not now that we’ve seen and been convinced thereby”.)
After 30 days of not seeing the Face (she saw it only once but she saw Mary as well), she envisioned a catastrophe, whose aftermath was devastation, a big fire, either a nuclear war or a meteor hitting the earth. She saw herself on a hill, it was dawn and there were three men talking outside a military-like building. Its door was open and, inside, people were moaning on double-deckers,. She had two candles and gave one to a soldier. She, a nominal Catholic, knelt down looking at the sky and said, “Lord, I consecrate (the word she didn’t understand just came out) our lives to You. That selflessness must have enabled her to see an emergent, radiant cross moving, getting bigger and brighter and, along with it, the figure of Mary in reddish brown evolving from beneath the cross. Both stopped when the foot of the cross touched the hill. That, she said, was the turning point of her life, and the grotto she had constructed in a lot behind their Dagupan house was in honor of the self-same cavern in her dream. People go there, some get healed, some do not, she simply pointed out.
Somewhere during her story-telling, Sis Ana Marie came, briefly cautioned us to carry on and, when Ate Joanne repeated that her visions started to appear in 1984, cut in that Montfort began the TTJ that same year. Goosies time again.
Ate Joanne admits that “Take care of my people” consumes her, and started to tell of another dream about the dream. She is a breast cancer survivor. Right after her first chemotherapy, where she was being discharged and vomiting profusely continuously, Teddy took her to Makati Med and, since there was no medicine for puking (she goes though the stomach-turning ordeal every time she gives birth), was required to stay overnight. Still groggy, she remembered uttering “Lord, I feel very weak.” before she succumbed to sleep. Before she dozed off, however, a vision of the Holy Family appeared with Mary reassuring her, “Sige, anak, matulog ka na, kami na bahala sa iyo.”Whereafter she slept like a baby. After her chemo treatment, and feeling strong enough, she went to church. On the communion queue, Christ in a brown cassock was beside the priest and told her, “Joanne, just go through this, Ako bahala sa iyo.”and held her elbow; all she could muster was a “Thank you.” For she was sobbing uncontrollably. In thanksgiving for this haunting incident, she has lost count of the people she has taken to a friend who is a top oncologist.
Then she asked if we noticed the proliferation of fish in the house, which was like asking if the Pope was Argentinian. She meant icthus, a symbol made by two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. A replica of the sign greeted visitors at their gate. The originally Greek word was a legacy from Bishop Socrates Villegas and she proceeded to parse the acronym.
I is for integration; C for catechesis (and evangelization); T is thanksgiving; U is for unity (in diversity); and S stands for service. As sure as her fishtory held water, fish kept us company. A pair held the napkins together in a glass; one was embossed on a pedestal top; a framed pair hung in the dining room; odds and ends in the house contained the Christian icon.
Seamlessly, our non-stop conversation transferred us from the living to the dining rooms. It was incredible how she shifted from host to server, without losing her train of thought, clearing our dishes and replacing them with dessert saucers, asking whether we prefer coffee, tea or coke (Sis Ana Marie was the only soda-taker), plugging the water heater again and again because as her endless stories unfolded we were constrained to have one cup after another, to our consensual laughter.
As if to divert us from the topic, Ate Joanne remembered one of us mention the phrase“from the womb”and recalled that when she was born, it was the Feast of St. John and there was a procession which passed by their house (which featured the saint with Mary) while her mother labored to deliver her. She was later registered with the name “Mariwana,”a heady, unusual merging of John and Mary. When she was in the second grade, an aunt -pharmacist visited and changed that odd-sounding moniker to Maria Juanita. The name has since been a source of strength, the procession and the band standing out to remind her, from Bulacan to Dagupan, places that she inhabited whose patron was the saint, a very defining specialty, a God-given grace. She cut our attention to Divisoria, circa 1990, when, looking at her left shoulder, she saw a man lying in a puddle of water. She asked her driver to turn back and they picked him up. He was not sick, just unattended in that deserted place, and he seemed content to be squeezed in a corner of the car. They took him to a mission house. When she went back the next day to check on him, he has gone. The mission sisters told her he was just drunk. The uncanny thing about it is that they talked a lot from the place where they picked him up to the mission house but she didn’t smell alcohol on him.
This history repeated itself in Dagupan, where she picked up a smelly man in the market and took him to another mission house where they bathed and tended him. The man escaped to join his family, got sick again and went back to the house. He escaped again after getting well. He ultimately died.
Another story she shared involved a couple from Samar whom she helped find jobs in the city but, over time, found it in their hearts to betray her trust. She also intimated a tale of sensitivity which pushed the person to push through a phone the unnecessariness of a loud voice, especially since the person never used it on anyone. The note ended that if love has lessened, let respect take its place instead. The reply said a word of apology and a pledge that it will never happen again.
The story of the golden rose is a precious yarn. She was undergoing chemotheraphy in 2002, the second cycle of which was in February, so she prayed to St. Therese, groggy, but determined to offer her intimate pleas. This was the time the saint’s relic came to Dagupan’s St. Therese Parish and she was the only one left with the florist and preparing her float called for a sleepless night. The pickup point was a gas depot in La Union. She hurdled the ordeal with the faith that if she will get well, would St. Therese intercede that she receive a golden yellow rose within the month? Valentine passed and it was almost the end of February but nothing was happening. Then, of a sudden, her daughter-in-law sent her a bouquet of flowers with three golden roses right smack in the center! She cried and jumped for joy, and got well as well because her doctor-diagnosed invasive cancer prescribed 5 years of survival for her. It has been 17 years since the prescription.
She essayed last a dear relationship with a strange love, whom I will hide in the name of Maya. A peculiar person, this friend offered her a parcel of land in Luzon as a donation to house the different religious organizations she is involved with. It was an offer of a lifetime, a grace she refuses to deserve, but considered only because of the many people that will benefit from it, especially since the TTJ will occupy a prominent place in it.
Their friendship sounds like Phil Collins’ interpretation of Contra mundum. One that happened in the oddest of circumstances, between a strange questor and an unlikely negotiator, brought together by mutual faith, that forged a union that will probably defy the prophesy of prophesies and designate the further realization of her dream. And increase her audience. Amen.