Looking Back: The 30th Montfortian Pilgrimage
TWO TOURIST BUSES rolled onwards at 5:58 am from Madriñan to the first station of the 30th Montfortian Pilgrimage. The transport vehicles were filled with pilgrims who were invited by AMQAH lay and religious associates and others who, after a two-year pandemic lull, responded eagerly to the enticement of the poster many months ago. Bus # 2 passengers are the main inspiration for this epistle, as I couldn’t wait to get my ipad and start fingering its keyboard (wishing I could also be in Bus No. 1 for the same purpose). It is a fortunate thing that Ate Relly and Kuya Arnel were on the same bus with me. I was their lone passenger when we left BF Homes early Saturday morning. I hardly slept, having stayed up with my family to take Aesop to the hospital for his painful stomach disorder. So I was already up, ready, and sleeplessly happy when they collected me.
Bro. Tupe was our guide/coordinator, supported by Bros. Joven and Harold and Reverend Sam who, as the bus sauntered along, led the opening prayer, followed by the Little Crown, with the alternating leads of Bro. Harold, Ate Relly, and Sis Jackie.
Breakfast was at breathtaking Martessem Resort, a breezy (c)hilltop haven with a view. The pilgrims did not disappoint us by moving in unison to place themselves in different angles of the poster pretty place. As they were a hub of selfie activity, they were similarly astir choosing among fried rice, egg, beef tapa, and corned beef for breakfast. I was pleasantly in the company of Ate Taki and her friend Ali/Ross and officemates Alice and Magel. On the other half of our long table were Ate Ofel and her joyful friends (I saved a mental note for Reynaldo).
Breeze and breakfast buoyed us up enough to a second (for those who were with us in 2019) trek to the Lady on the Hill. Assured we were on time for the first leg of our trip, Regina Rica did not daunt us like when we were late the first time we visited her (because we only stayed for the procession, having missed the high points earlier) and, in broad daylight, she was magnificent to look at and even scale up to the chapel beneath her towering presence. Compared to the blessed solemn procession two years ago that night, being with her up close and magnificently clearer gave me another chill infinitely better than the breakfast appetizer. It was a mesmerizing moment later in the chapel.
But before this account sounds like a travelogue, let me cut to the chase and proceed to the sharing of the pilgrims on the way home. Effectively egged by Bro Tupe, there was no heavy constraint on those who happily (if not mushily, for one) delivered their heartfelt insights on the visits to the hallowed havens in Laguna.
First to go was Jomar, a youth from Bulacan who was bare-faced to proclaim that he was from the barrio, hindi sanay sa simbahan, but thanks to this first-ever foray, uuwi siyang isang bagong-tao (loosely means an unmarried male but, in its deeper context, a mature adult).
Magel, one of Ate Taki’s officemates, was thankful to be part of a happy group whose age variety was dominated by bibong (bubbly) Moms whose fun chatter kept the bus alive. The journey’s highlight (for her and some, me included) was the swinging censer. It was demonstrated towards the end of the Mass, concelebrated by Fr. Fed and Reverends Armel and Sam, which featured the parish priest of St. James the Apostle Parish in Paete, Laguna, giving a brief history of the church and, most notable of all, the Botafumeiro (patterned after a famous thurible in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain). Before the final blessing, the earlier petitions of the pilgrims in a bond paper were burned in this censer and, after a brief, deep prayer, a Sacristan approached the metal container hanging by a pulley from a church beam and, to the mesmerized (some said hypnotized but I recalled Mary’s effect on me) witness of the assembly, swung the censer. It was an awesome sight, the outsize thurible swinging like a holy pendulum, spreading the petitons around before they soar up to heaven. Magel’s parting shot was that it was raining when we were inside the church. When the Mass was over, it was sunny outside.
Next to her was Ate Ali/Ross, Ate Taki’s friend from BF, who endeared herself to me more. She declined Ate Taki’s invite at first, tied up as she were to her catering routine every Saturday. Yet Regina Rica caught her attention. Therefore, even if she left her ringing phone unanswered, God told her to go back to Mary. She did and was instantly gratified. That Saturday delivery was moved to Friday. She could not continue because the mic malfunctioned. (In PREX jargon, sira ang mike pertains to the speaker choking up with emotion.) It was difficult not to be moved.
Expectedly, Alice was the next. This Batangueña has a Bicolana Mom and wisely chose to travel light. Having only the essentials packed, it was easy for her to relate to Regina Rica, even climb to the top, and pray for her fellow pilgrims, for she saw Mary in them.
Ate Lilia unabashedly admitted that she thought, at 70, it was too late for her. But the lack of money did not hinder her because she was strengthened by her sick grandsons to take her petitions to the Lady on the Hill. It was her first time to meet her but the general consensus was it won’t be the last.
Bro. Joven was reluctant to talk, probably out of lack of sleep, having come straight from the call center, but was prevailed upon by Bro Tupe, his insistent seatmate. It was also his first time, he said, and he was blessed and happy to have visited historical churches.
Ate Relly, realizing that he would not further qualify his take (no matter my urging), offered her insight next. She said it on behalf of her Mission Team, and highlighted Reverend Armel’s homily on perseverance which, she quoted Bishop Ambo, means tiyaga at hinahon, a symbol of pagsunod sa modelong si Maria, whose enthralling equanimity ay maraming inoohan.
I liked Bro Tupe’s rejoinder that Mary might have sparked Pope Francis’ initiative to convene the synod.
Sis Jackie would not be left out, thank God, and contributed that she felt the grace God in this faith pilgrimage for, in spite of seeming setbacks, our course was guided by Jesus and Mary and, therefore, led us to the mammoth censer that not only opened our eyes but also made our travel worth embarking on.
Bro. Harold had something to say, too, praise God! Makulay raw ang paglalakbay at inspiring. Fruitful even if it is like a daily grind, basta tuloy lang, hawak-kamay. He liked his flag-taising task because it made him feel like a guide, to everyone’s safety.
Bro. Tupe squeezed in his sudden thought on the awesome incense which is a tradition blessed by the Pope and makes our Catholic faith traditionally rich.
Ultimately, Reverend Sam had to say his piece. Pilgrimage, he intoned, is God reminding us to be true to ourselves. When his brother Salvador died, he offered his pain and wounds to God by not pretending he was okay. He accepted his new responsibility to be not detached from his family but closer, deeper, and love-filled. Because he is not alone and has a mission na meron siya, marami siyang kasama.
Beautifully capped by Bro. Tupe’s brief a capella of the Eraserheads’ “Huwag Kang Matakot.”
I thought nothing could top what sounded to me was God reassuring all the pilgrims on Bus No. 2 (and all, sana) “Have no fear, I am near, nay, always here.”