Eggsperience: St. Clare Conversion
IT ALWAYS HUMBLES when God manifests his having heard (and listened to) our prayer. There is no quantifying a grace whose integrity is intact.
The Evangelization Team of Association of Mary Queen of all Hearts has a scheduled ocular visit to churches in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. The trip is in preparation for a pilgrimage of Montfortian Missionaries and their associates, a yearly renewal of faith. From being a member reluctant to lead, I was compelled by a turnaround to participate with the team; not only was our national director all-out in his support to us but the members would not let me weaken in leading them. They so believed my appointment had the backing of our patroness I ran out of lame excuses and did not regret heeding their prodding.
Having laid out the initial logistics of the plan, I thought I could take a break and watch a Jose Rizal musical featuring a friend at the Cooperative. I prayed for this as much as I prayed for the weather to keep dry especially on Sunday. I do not believe in unanswered prayers but I started to wonder why the rain seemed relentless. Until I remembered Brother Rey’s fb post on St. Clare of Assissi. It was her feast day but I passed the post off as just another saint to acknowledge. Puzzled by the monsoon’s increasing might, I returned to fb and read up on her. It dawned on me that the egg that I was poo-poohing as “one of those devotions” actually came from her translated name, the Spanish for albumen or egg white, claro, to be clear (pun intended). A little shiver of discernment, a smidgen of guilt.
I didn’t have a statue of St. Clare so I prayed to her fb image but that didn’t satisfy. I took an egg from the fridge and placed in on the altar and prayed to Mary to proxy for her. I eased a little. The call time was 4 pm; we all meet at the Coop office and leave asap to catch the 5 pm show. I showered while the rain kept hammering the roof, got dressed, but the extended downpour had created a familiar flashflood on our street. I could make a run for it but I’d be a soggy spectator, if not spectacle, in the audience.
I called the Coop to express uncertainty of my joining them (I learned later they couldn’t get a taxi either and dropped the plan). The torrent encouraged my expression so I shifted to a saving decision. I’d go to church (since I’ve already made notice I couldn’t make it to the 4:30 Sunday choir) and attend the first Mass. While waiting for time, I addressed the envelopes containing the letters to the nine parish priests of the churches we were going to visit. While at it, I realized I didn’t have copies of the letters where the receiver will acknowledge their receipt. I called Kuya Jess, my sacristan-friend, and asked him if I could have the letters photocopied in the office. Aside from the envelopes he gave me earlier, he granted this next request. While he was burning the copies, I asked him if the church has a statue of St. Clare. My guilt would not leave me. Rather, I really wanted to be assured I prayed to her directly, in the vain hope that she accepts my belated change of heart. Or make worthy my egg offering, however by proxy. Thereby granting my – our – plea for a fair-weather Sunday.
It was an “anticipated” Mass so I positioned myself with the choir; I gave word that if I were around and available I’d sing with them. Ates Medge and Letty flashed an appreciative grin. Before the Mass started, my cherry mobile rang an incoming message: Fr. Fed heard that Ate Fe couldn’t come with us so he will! I hurried a grateful response. The rain was still pouring but I was positive that it will only last the night. The egg dispelled dread; Fr. Fed reassured.
So there will be five of us on tomorrow’s trip: Ates Marivic, Maricar, Bubbles, Pads and me. The joke that ran around later was that Ate Fe was such a huge influence her incapacity necessitated three replacements, one of them a priest. That it went on and on did not diminish the joke’s impact or import. But this is getting ahead of the story.
Of the fivesome inspectors, I wasn’t the only one that went through the test of doubting a dry weather or keeping the faith. Later that night, Ate Marivic texted that she and Sr. Mary Grace were stranded in inundated Santol, unmoving for six hours. A Kuya messengered he was only a few meters away from their house in V. Mapa, Sta. Mesa, but couldn’t hurry because of the chest-deep flood. Sis Gelly got home from hurdling heavy traffic and heavier rains and was welcomed by a swinging gate that banged on the door of her van (her son Carlo and son-in-law Jay fixed it in no time). Most unfortunate, except that there were brothers to bear the bane with him, the Montfort seminary was flooded, too. Fr. Fed posted the photos; we understood the pictures better than the unspoken plea. Unable to reach out a hand, the prayer warriors held imaginary ones, real beads, and stormed heavens. The dismal stories, told and retold later, were more enabling than discouraging. The truth of little sleep (after the ordeal) was made insignificant by the bright prospect of a project that will proceed because the morning after was delivered according to what was prayed for, far brighter than the reluctant sun that only peeked a little, not begrudged, only missed.
Ate Car texted an apology for she just woke up and said I could go ahead. I texted “Nonsense!” back and shortly proceeded to wait in front of their house until she was ready. Fr. Fed texted if we were going as planned (I knew he was already dressed and being polite) and my excitement barely answered him because hurrying to get the message to her. In-between our exchange, Ate Bubbles would put in her share that she was already waiting at McDo and was Ate Marivic forthcoming. Our mutual thinking was right; the stuck sister was just getting out of bed, drowsy but determined to still drive wherever it took us. Long story short, we all got together at no-longer waterlogged Madriñan and were soon on the mission road.
On top of Ate Fe’s list of pilgrimage churches is the Immaculate Conception Parish (Sanctuary of the Holy Face of Jesus or, my first time to hear of it, Manoppello). Manoppello is an Italian commune in Abruzzo, province of Pescara, famous for having a church which contains an image on a thin byssus veil, a sudarium (sweat cloth) known as the Holy Face of Manopello, which is reputed to be identical to the Veil of Veronica. Interesting was that information bit but it did not prepare us for the long trip that we negotiated on the Tarlac Pangasinan La Union Expressway (TPLEX) to get there. Kuya Noel’s directions gave little help because we took the San Ildefonso approach, reversing our route. Only when we got lost (in spite of well-meaning guidance from many folks we asked along the way) were we constrained to call him and ask for a refresher; it was foregone what he said, a mere reorganization of his directions, and we never got lost again. We cheered the lesson learned.
But I’m skipping the fun part of the trip. The part where Ate Marivic started sharing her experience of getting stranded in Santol, with Sr. Mary Grace, hardly moving in a waterlogged traffic, inaccessible to amenities, food and help. Stuck were they, she began, for six solid hours she must’ve told the nun her life story. Which we quickly rejoined in chorus with, “How many times?” That initial shot at levity led to intermittent, interminable bursts of kindred laughter we had to pause from time to time to check our belly (didn’t burp) or wipe the frivolous tears. We did not bother where the joke came from, Fr. Fed or us, we were so caught up in the humor to care. If we didn’t know one another too well before that trip, we discovered soon enough what tickled each one’s funny bone as different from – or similar to – everybody’s cup of jolly tea. I felt a tacit agreement that the hilarity will be repeated elsewhere without as much as a “Have you heard a good one lately?” Because the catalyst that Ate Marivic released didn’t explain or warn, it just longed to be heard and heard it was, with a battery of wit-and-humor banter in its wake.
We had to give Ate Fe credit for her staunch recommendation that Manopello is worth a visit. The church is a quaint structure surrounded by similarly constructed buildings around it. It has a unique character, unlike modern or even baroque parishes that, upon first sight, strike you as attempting to impress with glitter or ostentation so obviously the impression loses luster. Its design is simple and elegant because the attributes do not clash. Small surprise, the parish priest had tucked up two years of architecture up his college sleeve before he resolved to be ordained as a minister.
Fr. Christian Magtalas came out as soon as he was summoned by a staff. While apologizing for his hole-riddled shirt, he wasted no time in conversing with us, while leading the way to his office. From his enthusiastic verbiage, which seemed nonstop, I decided he was an idealist, knew whereof his craft and charism meet, and won’t let us leave without taking home an ample dose of the Holy Face. He started off by pointing at a glass-encased sacred chalice in his office, a replica, he said, of the original in Spain (they are going to have it enthroned on September 16.) Beside it was a piece of the byssus veil. When we were satisfied with his brief backgrounder, he offered to walk us through the church and the surroundings. The crucified Christ at the altar had the Holy Face on the figure’s abdomen. The same imprint was on the facsimile Mary was holding in the altar corner. He talked as he led us and I will not preempt the pilgrims who are joining us in November because he promised to repeat his presentation for them (as I believed he thrived in the discourse). But I will not be selfish as I share the outer candle fountain in the center of a circular space where they held their very first PREX weekend. From there, he asked if we didn’t mind the drizzle to follow him to the adjacent cave-chapel, his brainchild, which he intended to immortalize Christ’s resurrection. At the entrance was a wall where a rectangle was carved to reveal a glass panel which is actually the other side of the altar’s Holy Face on Christ’s belly. It is for the faithful to pray for and touch. Which Ate Car and I did. Leaving Manopello, we caught a glimpse of the ressurected Christ on top of the cave-chapel.
Our next station was the San Roque Parish in Tarlac City. Fr. Peter Albino’s welcome was warm and defiant of the drizzle. He was cool as he chatted with us and, because he was not the parish priest, received our letter for the latter and assured us that he will endorse our purpose favorably. We were about to leave when he said lunch was waiting for us. True enough, on such short notice, and while we talked, he had already instructed the housekeeper to prepare food for us. He had all the reasons to hold us and insist, for the drizzle had increased in drops, and the table was indeed set. He did not let our gratitude linger for he joined us at the table in sustenance of his sincerity and speech. Evidently, hospitality is a household word in the rectory.
The rain was no longer hard when we bade Fr. Peter “So long” and he waved his unwavering smile back. Then we proceeded to the Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The son of the parish office secretary, Grace Ramizcal, gave us her cp number. She said that she will inform Fr. Ezekiel Ocampo of our visit and planned pilgrimage and apologized for being away when we called. Her absence didn’t matter because she presented a lead to the monastery on the hill.
Next, our van took the road to the Shrine of St. Faustina of Divine Mercy. The office was closed but the youth milling in front of it offered to tell the parish priest of our presence. Fr. Ricky Barayoga (may bara siya kaya nagyoga, he joked) was a jovial priest who called Fr. Fed Padre fraternally. Having told of our purpose, he did not hesitate his agreement and even offered the church foyer as a place where we can have our lunch come November, since we told him that our estimated arrival time is 12 noon. The area must be brimming with kindhearted residents for the priest volunteered to guide us towards our next destination, the Shrine of St. Jose Maria Escriva in Gerona. Our goodbye waves parted at Walmart, from where he proceeds to a 4:30 Mass. Jona, the shrine’s office secretary, was nodding agreeably as an MBG lady volunteered to accommodate us on her behalf. She said she will, per our request, tell Fr. Osias Ivarreta that he can inform the pilgrims of the church’s history.
The skies were overcast again, the hour was late and, by Jona’s reckoning, it would be dark before we reached our final stop, the Monasterio de Tarlac. Fortunately, there was no need to go to the hilltop sanctuary. Grace had given me the cp number of Fr. Patrick Cerdeno, Monasterio’s priest-in-charge, who promptly responded to my initial text message. I have since emailed him and am awaiting an acquiescent answer.
As if on cue, as soon as we boarded Ate Marivic’s van, the rain started pouring again. We were as thankful as our collective relief would allow that, from beginning to end, our trip, threatened by a storm the day before, stranding our driver in a rain-made sea in Santol, inundating the seminary which is under the watch of our companion director-priest, has weathered the tempest and is about to terminate. We watched Fr. Fed quietly fish his rosary from his pocket and, in sync with Ate Marivic’s slowly accelerating (it must’ve snoozed with her in Ramos, poor things) Toyota Avanza, commenced with a rejoicing, thanksgiving, Marian rose garden. Amen.