BEFORE THE BUS accelerated for our journey’s take-off, Sister Fe introduced me to whom she described as my cousin, who was looking forward to meet me face-to-face. Indeed, France de Leoz turned out to be my second cousin. I didn’t know her from Eve but she knew my late father well. Her father and mine are first cousins. From our meet-and-greet sprung familiar names and other matters of filial interest.
Thus the bus started its way to the Totus Tuus Pilgrimage of Legion of Mary members, relations and kindred hearts desirous of bonding the Montfortian way, in pursuit of Mary’s holy obedience. Speaking of obedience, Sis Fe, in our few meetings at Fr. Mario’s TTJ sessions, has already struck me as a spirited person infused with the attributes of a Marian advocate. Now, at the head of the passenger seats, mic in hand, she was wearing a different hat (obviously one that she had worn in the past, I would later find out), happily assuming the task of brethren-warmer and tour guide.
Our first stop was the Sto. Nino de Cebu in Southwoods, San Pedro, Laguna. The stately church could not have been placed more prominently. Built along the highway, its crimson majesty is difficult to miss. While the others breakfasted at McDonald’s across the street, and before praying the rosary, I c hatted with France. She had the charm of my Dad all right. We could not have been not related if only for that. Mutual perspectives set the tone for our preparation for the 7:30 Mass which started soon enough.
As we neared Kaong in Silang, Cavite, Sis Fe announced on the public address system that our next station is a tree-planting exercise in Ibayong Ilog, a river further and deeper than the first we will cross, so we had better prepare to get wet. She reminded that she made an earlier instruction to the pilgrims (who were present when she did) to wear rubber shoes and bring an extra shirt and umbrella for the purpose.
There was no grumble of protest as she must have probably made her point clear. Little did we know that we (who were not privy to her joke, as she admitted afterwards) were in for a ride. There was no first and, definitely, no further river (nor was there a sari-sari store to pay the P20-toll to or buy buko juice at, so hilarious was her pretend pitch!) to cross all Kuya Arnel and I could to was stare at our raised trouser cuffs in mock chagrin. I even had to remove my socks, for crying out loud!
Sis Fe lost no time in explaining that, since the soil has been dug and “moached,” all we have to do is get an improvised shovel ((read: coconut shell) each and scoop the soil over the planted pit. While we did that, Sis Baby (the expert on arboreal familiarity) told us the names of the plants. The first tree, guyatis, was a hybrid whose fruit will look like an atis but tastes like guyabano.
In-between (their) explaining and (our) scooping, Sis Fe managed to squeeze in that the very ground that we were stepping on is the future site of the TTJ Nature Center. Collective cheers.
Having done the fun task (at high noon but no one griped), we all returned to our bus. When it resumed its run, Sis Fe shared Bro Milo’s observation that it is easier to cut down trees than to plant them. On that, Sis Fe quipped that we were on the right track. I could’t agree more.
Before we even got to Mendez crossing, Sis Fe had already primed us for Noceda Bakery, the local bread store that sells Jacobina, Dabiana, Galletas de Patatas and other “antique” baked goodies. (Midway through the trip, she would make us groan at her announcement that in the back of St. Augustine Church is found the original baker that produces the goodies Noceda sells; we could buy them at much less cost.)
Soon we were at San Juan de Nepomuceno Parish in Alfonso, where we prayed the first decade of the rosary before an image of Mary in the garden of the church. We concluded the visit with a photo opportunity.
Ever reliable, Sis Fe offered that all the churches in our itinerary fall under the vicariate of the Seven Archangels and the diocese of Imus.
We prayed the second decade as an offering to San Gregorio Magno, patron saint of Indang’s St. Gregory the Great Parish. The church, an interesting blend of baroque and modern, boasted of true gold leaf in her altar. The floors are centuries old and the walls hinted of blurred epitaphs. And oh! I couldn’t get enough of the ceiling’s beautiful frescoes. (They, along with the compulsory post-rosary photos, appear on my fb account.)
The San Agustin Church in Mendez had the same gold leaf motif pervasive in the other churches.It was here that we prayed the third decade.
Mariner Christopher Columbus’ knights were being installed at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Amadeo, where they celebrated their patroness’ feast yesterday. We said our fourth and fifth decades in an open hall of the parish after which Fr. Federick said a concluding prayer before blessing the pilgrims with the collective grace that God saw fit to bestow on us that beautiful Saturday. Heaven smiled mistily as a slight drizzle descended on us on our way back to the bus.
Rowena’s pasalubong stop was our last leg. Only a few managed to shop (the popular spot got pricey was the common murmur so most only eavesdropped).
The journey towards home was restful, sleep-bound and suffused with well-being. As only the grace of a spiritual goal can accord.
by Abraham de la Torre