AND THAT NUMBER was still counting at the time this writing began. The number represented the warm bodies that responded to the call of Fr. Jeffrey Habado, Formation Commission (on Family and Life) Overall Coordinator of the Diocese of Baguio. His invitation was disseminated in a letter to all parishes, quasi parishes, gimongs, clergy and consecrated persons. The postscriptive “You and your parish, gimong, community, organization, prayer group and/or acquaintances are especially invited to join said seminar and kindly extend this to everyone. And, for good measure, it was endorsed by no less than Bishop Victor Bendico. Surely an invite no true-blue Baguio resident can refuse. But let me get back to how it started.
Whatever misgivings I had were dispelled by Ate Marivic’s reassurances. She asked me to join her and Fr. Fed to a trip to Baguio. She didn’t say why. Not only did she assume the cost of my company but Fr. Fed also appreciated it. Never losing the counsel that Mary destroys our plans (to allow God’s), I surrendered my family’s situation (it self-resolved, thank Him!), arranged the house before leaving it and took off for Madriñan for the assembly before heading for the city of pines, where Totus Tuus will once again be launched by the triumvirate of Frs. Richard (Mag-araru), Fed (Yumang) and Benjie (Notarte). We left the Marian Center of Spirituality (MCS) at 3:34 PM, gassed up at the first Shell station and, as soon as we hit NLEX, Pads led the traveler’s prayer.
Our first nature stop was in Pampanga where the priests bought snacks before getting back on the bus. En route, we recited the Angelus and, in Pugo, La Union, we all disembarked to get a taste of Chismoso’s Mediterranean cuisine. The watering hole’s bestseller, Pakbet, was sold out so we settled for eggplant omelette and what else that the menu offered.
Thanks to Waze (three versions of which made it confusing to choose the correct direction), we found, after some time of going around in circles, Mary Heights Chapel. To make sure we did not lose our way any more than we already have, two ladies from the welcome committee met us on the road. Simple exchange of pleasantries, then room assignments, and they left us to ourselves. A brief rustle of bedtime amenities and my roomie, driver Kuya Eboy, was soon snoring off to (his words) much-needed respite.
At breakfast, we met our host, Fr. Jeffrey Habado, the letter-invite writer. He looked painfully familiar I could not help ask if he was into PREX. Indeed, he was the priest who figured as one of the speakers in the 15th National PREX Convention just last February 1 to 3. That he was the spearhead of this spiritual activity was not surprising. I remember being struck by his life story of challenges, struggle and overcoming (read filcatholic.org issue of February 5). He was then supporting (and being supported by) his young wards, as they were the theme of his advocacy and, this time, most of the 253 participants who are not as young his millennial townsfolk. Evidently, the only thing that did not change was his unwavering enthusiasm for the mission of evangelization.
Before the Mass, he led his congregation (us included) in the praying of the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet in a chapel smaller than the seminar hall. When he was done, however, he saw that the chapel was filled to the rafters so decided to hold the liturgical celebration back in the hall, where he concelebrated it with the three missionary priests. On cue, the TTJ Mass commenced with the welcome by Fr. Fed. The first reading was about love for one another. It was underscored by the Psalm “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” And the Gospel was read by Fr. Benjie.
It was not until the main celebrant, Fr. Richard, called attention to the wrong Gospel (of the lost sheep) read that everyone (the erratic reader included) amusingly realized it. But the assembly was not only cordial but apparently kindred because they heeded Fr. Richard’s right Gospel (and homily) to gather together like family, as in the just-concluded November 1 and 2 events. Succinctly, he summed up his sermon by offering the invitation to share God’s intimacy forever through Mary and Montfort. “Why?” he asked. Which he also answered with “Abangan.” And added that, “Let our response be like Mary’s”.
After the Mass was partaken by everyone, Fr. Jeff briefly warmed the audience into prepping themselves up for the Montfort fathers, urging those who haven’t registered yet to do so already so we may be assured of lunch (laughter) and reassured them that, “Magiging santo rin kayo (applause) kung seseryosohin nyo” (more laughter than applause).
Fr. Jeff was followed by Fr. Fed. Through visuals, he walked the audience through how Mary brought us together. How Louis-Marie de Montfort, from luxury to beggary to service to sainthood, because of his holy slavery to the Blessed Virgin Mother, wrote all the books inspired by his true devotion to her. Fr. Benjie squeezed in the dangers of an AKNY (alam ko na yan) attitude before letting Fr. Fed introduce Fr. Richard.
Were the crowd’s intermittent “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” signaling the ripe time for them to know Montfort and his muse, we happily wondered.
Picking up where Fr. Fed left off, Fr. Richard laid down the mechanics of the pilgrimage of faith, heartened that, according to Fr. Jeff, the Bishop wants Baguio to be consecrated. He essayed what consecration is all about, from Montfort’s point of view, what it entails and when it ends, if it really ends.
The assembly recessed for lunch before finishing the process. Afterwards, Fr. Jeff announced that there will be a daylong recollection on December 7 to spiritually prepare the participants for their collective consecration the next day, the Mass of which Bishop Bendico will celebrate. What makes the priest a charmed, charming crowd drawer, I think, is his earnest confidence in his citizens, as when he told them, “I believe di natin mabubuo, siguro may isa mag-a-absent” which was an optimistic opinion. A man from the audience, whose curiosity was probably pricked by the crowd’s swelling interest, asked Fr. Richard if the latter could present testimonials to prove his point. Fr. Richard called on me to respond to the man’s request. I was followed by Sis Jackie. But the man seemed unsatisfied and wanted more witnesses. Very deftly, Fr. Richard veered the attention from us to himself, successfully defusing his drive.
All told, and drawing from my roller-coaster epiphany, the experience once more manifested Mary’s presence in destroying our plans so that God’s will be done, as in the providential meeting of Fr. Jeff, a staunch advocate of PREX, a renewal exercise, and the Montfort missionaries and their associates, evangelizers all, in a concerted effort to keep the mission of evangelization alive, blessed and collaborated. Amen.