IT’S DIFFERENT WHEN you’re seated up front and close to center stage, more so when the stage is the sanctuary of the chapel of the Montfortian Center of Spirituality, the altar where all twenty-two of us, new enrollees to the *Associaton of Mary Queen of All Hearts, would ascend one by one to sign our commitment to be witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, in total consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary.
Different because your feelings are subdued, the mind being focused on the solemn event unfolding before you, involving you, and there was no opportunity to shift interest elsewhere. So that you are heartened when told af ter the activity later that it was a joyful celebration. The account is told in wide-eyed delight: an interplay of sense, sound and spectacle. Somewhat like a children’s party of adults, it was hard to pin a perfect description on it. Successful was too tame and humongous begged to be considered. The overall verdict was that Montfortian occasions are gathering momentum and breaking their own record. My intense nature vainly wished to have felt all the bursts of energy the assembly gave the occasion yet I was thankful for the humility to accept its happening and my – everybody’s – participation in its fruition. At peace, too, that Mary approved of our doing everything He told us. In silent obedience.
Sense. It permeated through all of us enrollees. Like high school kids about to graduate, we were a shot of subdued adrenaline (we would admit at the end).
We did not rehearse the processional on the Saturday that we prepared for the key event but Fr. Rene, ever the diligent marshall, cued us confidently we could not have proceeded more professionally.
Sound. The soundtrack was an intermittent mix of Marian hyms. At Mass, the Sta. Teresita Parish Choir beguiled anew with their infectious, melodious fervor (I sang along like my wont). During Ate Maricar’s video presentation of the TTJ’s evolution, the angelic voice of her niece accompanied the nostalgic narrative. The laughter that a decent joke would elicit was a holy crackle, pop and roar there was really no telling where the blessed commotion was coming from. The clouds kept the sun from scorching because the beaming faces of the crowd was sufficient sunlight.
Rev. Fr. Rozario Menezes presided the Mass with Fr. Luiz Augusto Stefani (not yet announced to be the special guest because he was humble enough to remain unknown) and some concelebrant SMM priests while the rest of their fellows sat aside. There was no doubt Fr. Rozario knew his job. His sober officiating and our serious obeisance made the Mass more dignified. Later, he would shed his sobriety by his fire-and-brimstone homily and a knack for translation.
His homily, however, was excellent. Making the most of the theme “Be Rekindled,” he highlighted the three words within it: kind, kindled and led, as exhortations for the faithful to be. And underscored the moment of merit as Mary’s. He picked up where he left off later at Fr. Luisiño’s and his audience with the assembly.
Spectacle. It couldn’t have been more divine. The hallowed array of cassock-clad priests, rising and sitting in sync, suffusing the sanctuary, enveloping one another and us enrollees with a heartening abrazo, was something like above the sky.
Ate Fe and UtoLiza introduced Fr. Fed in what they sincerely hoped was a language (Spanish) the Superior General would appreciate (he was from Brazil and, dampener of dampeners, spoke fluent French!) They didn’t know this of course (nor did many of us) and Fr. Luiz Augusto Stefani was giving them the thumbs-up so they were encouraged to proceed. Fr. Fed briefly welcomed and thanked the more than a hundred warm bodies that graced the occasion (146 at last count) and gave the mic to Fr. Richard to formally introduce the guest of honor. Fr. Richard was obviously smitten by the gaiety of the gathering he got long-winded but stopped after congratulating the 22 enrollees for being risk-takers. Then he shifted his attention to Fr. Luisiño (the Fr. General’s nickname) whom he presented to the applause of the audience. While his initial greeting was “Magandang Umaga,” the Fr. General spoke French throughout his speech, which necessitated the translation skill of Fr. Rozario. Clowning briefly, he echoed the Fr. General’s sentiments as thus: “He was delighted by our participation; wants to say ‘do not be afraid because we prayed to belong to the Montfortian family’; the family is growing to be not only priests and religious but also missionaries, daughters of wisdom, brothers of Saint Gabriel and lay people in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
“This is what it means,” went the translation, “to be part of the family, to be available, to love, transform, especially those in the peripheries. To be consecrated is to be faithful to the promises of baptism, not only in words but in practice, by saying no to corruption, and yes to fraternal life, to protecting creation, and living in solidarity, by visiting the sick, helping others and counseling one another.
“The delegation is guided by the goddess of wisdom whom the brothers of St. Gabriel look up to. Be practical in life, he advised, continue the mission with practical help. He said he looked around and talked and invited young people to be integrated into the mission. In conclusion, he asked us to pray that they answer the call of God. Salamat po.”
The clouds kept the sun from scorching emboldened by the beaming faces of the crowd that spilled over outside the chapel, both comforting cheer and sufficient sunlight.
It was the translator’s turn to talk. Fr. Rozario owned the audience when he said that his English will be translated by Fr. Luisiño in Tagalog. He remembered having met Sis Ana Marie among us in Papua New Guinea, where he has served for 17 years. He is an Indian national but glad to be in the mission if it meant being displaced and transplanted. He admitted his intention is not a theory but he wants to convince us to be associates. Our faces show “Yes” the but devil holds it back so counseled that fear is not from God and then asks, “Why we were there.” He answered his own question with, “Because we are thirsty for God, to go to heaven, with many rooms in the Father’s house. Then he extracted from his enamored fans Montfort’s formula four: ardent desire, unceasing prayer, universal mortification and devotion to Mary, promising each of them a room in heaven.
When he got to the question of how do we save Mary, he recounted an incident with Fr. Luisiño. They were in a boat in a turbulent sea, and when he turned, Fr. Luisiño was no longer with him but in the water gasping for life for he did not have a vest. He had one on and jumped into the sea and saved him Fr. Stefani visibly made the sign of the cross at this). The situation is the same for another who is also in a boat but doesn’t fall into the water because sitting still and has faith. Which is the case of Mary, she did not have to fall from grace because God saved her from sin.
Then he shared a story of the shortening cross which did not save its complaining carrier, who cannot compare to Mary, a queen who served a King even if it was her Son.
Fittingly, he ended his dynamic demonstration of faith by asking us to stand and recite the Catena Legionis with him.
After a hearty lunch, Sis Vigi announced the second part of the activity to be presented by the tandem of Fr. Benjie and Sis Gelly. It was, they said, to toss the after-lunch tedium. Gelly’s sobriety was the opposite of the man of the comic cloth. Already established in our earlier brushes with him, Fr. Benjie never runs out of funny material. He was already cracking us up but Sis Marietta Goco gave him a new opportunity to sieze, the tongue-rolling trick to deter Alzheimers, which he milked to its last sap. Therefore, the human bingo game that they asked us to play, because aptly, crazily facilitated, drove us into happy pandemonium. There were five winners (I was the last to bingo) and if the humor-riddled priest gave us a hard time validating the boxes of names that filled our cards, we enjoyed the jolly torture. Even the losers, who had visible fun during the chaotic matching of person and attribute, happily applauded the outcome.
The next part was a video of how the TTJ has evolved through the years. Sis Vigi briefly introduced Ate Maricar; the latter augmented it with a short account of how hard and pressured she was doing the task but Mary helped her out. The clip would have been plain were it not for an angelic voice accompanying the narrative tape, her niece Anna’s.
Next, Sis Vigi told the audience that she will call on preselected people from the audience to share their insights on the various TTJ activities they have participated in. Symon and I remembered the pilgrimages that we’ve joined; Nit from Cebu was struck by a deepening session where he learned to give gifts to sick people; Lhove from Sta. Teresita Parish was thankful Mary made her rise from teacher to principal; Legionary Cecille called hers a shotgun testimony and admitted that her seminars with NPA heads gave her the courage to take risks for God.
Before Sis Vigi told the assembly to divide themselves into small groups and share their insights on Fr. Rozario’s talk on the theme for the day, she related that a charismatic journey took her to TTJ. She admitted to needing a fellow journeyer and said that, because Jesus was God, He could do it alone. But God though He may be, He had a mother, needed a mother. We all do. So in moments of silence, let’s need a mother. Hush, shut out the noise of the world, retreat, and listen to Mary. It is hard to journey and keep commitments, to be human and kind, but we have a fellow traveler in Mary, who has all the attributes we will ever need.
Afterwards, she asked the audience to divide themselves into small groups and posit their reflection on Fr. Rozario’s talk on the theme of the day. On cue, there was a moving of chairs and shuffling of feet and the attendant communal chatter. The quiet of a rapt audience was transformed into a medley of fresh insights derived from a very recently vivid encounter.
I was with Ates Bubbles and Marivic, the former ably facilitating the self-propelling Sta. Teresita cluster. They heard, they shared, they are eager to witness to the spiritual journey just experienced.
Which was what most of the facilitators felt. As could be gleaned from Sis Vigi’s aura, which was tinged with a confident timbre: The message is clear, do not be afraid, be vigi-lant (coining a word out of her moniker), fight if you must! And with that hope-filled encouragement, gave the audience Fr. Fed for his final remarks.
Suddenly speechless, Fr. Fed had two points to make: he reassured the audience AMQAH is their home; and made them remember that if we need God, He needs us, too. To unite with His salvific mission, for the youth to pick up from the seniors. “Nasa kabataan ang pag-asa ng Totus Tuus!” and he gave his final blessing.
Again, as if on cue, the minstrels of Sta. Teresita filled the already hallowed air with holiness.
ABRAHAM DE LA TORRE