IF MY SLEEVES were rolled up in support of the preparations for PREX Class 37 of San Jose ang Tagapagtanggol Parish, my presence at the Our Lady of Annunciation Praesidium’s Christmas in November project for the kasambahays of BF Homes and street children of Isidora Hills Park was not as crucial. I was only required to emcee the program and retell the Christmas story. PREX and the Legion of Mary are close to my heart. It was my first full-time service at San Jose, as music ministry member and secretariat documentation head. Before I rendered the apostolate, I secured the permission of my Holy Spirit Parish priest and the acceptance of San Jose’s. The officers and members of the latter church were one in joyful welcome of me. I was beside myself with thanksgiving.
Day one of the seminar was like a Singapore airline flight, smooth as silk. So successful was the start that when it wrapped up and the staff convened to evaluate the process, there was a barrage of Isang bagsak! to recognize the unified efforts of leaders and servers that made the exercise look easy. Everyone went home looking forward to a better second day.
Music is an integral component of any PREX seminar. As the choir is to a Mass, so is the music ministry to the class. It was, therefore, understandable for the Chair Couple to worry that it was almost Templo time already yet the ministry master was not yet around. Attempts to reach him were plenty and (almost) panicky but there was nary a call or a text message from him. Added to that was my advanced advisory to leave in the afternoon to fulfill my commitment to a legion function in the afternoon, whose call time was 4 at McDonalds Don Antonio. They could have prevented my leaving were it feasible; I could have foregone the obligation if my conscience allowed it. With the suggestion of the young members of the music ministry, we conferred with the chair couple and came up with a contingency plan. Then a prayer sealed the agreement and made my departure lighthearted and worry-free.
Sis Rhea was already at McDonalds with her family. The loot bags, gifts, prizes and other party provisions were strewn on the couch where they were seated. It did not take long for the others to arrive. Soon, all were accounted for. The children, who were fetched by their mentor Ate Angel, came dressed in identical new white t-shirts and wearing a similar santa hats. Then the kasambahays who were all dressed in red. Our dress code was like the children’s. Which served me particulary well because the dress code for PREX was the same.
When the party place was vacated by the occupants, we entered and stayed on the sidelines arranging stuff while the crew cleaned up. In no time at all, I was in the center of the hall calling Ate Angel, my goddaughter, fellow legionary and co-emcee, to give the program a go. The street children invoked Our Father in lovely unison. Plastering a huge smile on my face, one of gratitude that after weeks of teaching them the Lord’s prayer, they now pray it with confidence and heart. What better way to start.
l called on Sis Rhea, praesidium president, for her welcome remarks. She welcomed everyone all right, but with a twist, for her spiel was casual and conversational, putting everyone at ease, for it isn’t Christmas if the company were jittery or stiff Then Ate Angel announced that I was next, with my Kwento ng Pasko. Armed with an ipad, I retold the greatest story, interspersing it with questions for both kids and kasambahays with the right answers getting a prize. The Q and A was fun and rendered the audience attentive because of the reward trick. An introduction of sorts to the giving theme of the occasion as if the overall ambiance of the venue were not a give-away.
My portion was effective because of a gimmick. But the song-and-dance number of the kids grabbed me by the throat. They sang three carols, all very good with Ilaw ng Pasko exceptionally, superbly done. Their props were simple strips of colored crepe paper that swayed and swirled in synch with their movement. And that was not all. At the end of the carols, they rearranged themselves into a cheering formation and did a tumbling stunt. These boys and girls were once unkempt, unruly, inattentive and sometimes had to be mildly scolded to come to the next catechism session clean and tidy, for that was the goal after all of the legion’s previous gift packs of soap, toothbrush and paste, was that not? And now, they are all disarming us with their toothsome smiles, neat demeanor (okay, they reverted to disruptive a little when the gifts were being distributed) and disciplined, solidary performance (thanks to their patient mentors). lt was for us an early Christmas gift from them. A moving, touching blessing. Literally and figuratively.
The games began after that. Sis Gelly explained the mechanics and then I asked her prepared English questions in Tagalog. We got stuck on one simple question that neither the kasambahays nor the kids knew the answer to. And so, after I gave the correct answer, Ate Angel announced that we proceed to the next game which was supplying the missing word to the song that I would sing. The prizes were evened out to both camps there was no way to describe the joy beaming on their faces and ours. Benefactors and beneficiaries in mutual, mirthful accord.
We paused for dinner and resumed towards the end of it. Ate Precy, in behalf of her lot who seemed suddenly stage-struck, sang “Silent Night” a capella. Emboldened by her lead, three kasambahays read their individual letters to Jesus, in parts touching and amusing, like the one where the pet dog is more favored than the husband. Then Sis Pinky suggested a relay contest pitting the bata from the, like us, isip-bata. This was where hilarity entered. The seven members of the two competing themes were to run one by one to a stool, circle it and spell LOM using their hips as a pen. The kids won the game for good reason. They were fast, flexible and gyrated their hips with a sense of innocent humor. Not so with their older counterparts. At the end, I had to admit that I did not feel comfortable being in front of them as they strutted their stuff. Which was greeted with amused laughter.
As the kids lined up for the gift-giving, the kasambahays patiently waited their turn by exchanging gifts with one another. Every kid and kasambahay received a grocery pack and a McDo loot bag on top of the prizes the games awarded their wins. As Sis Rhea exhorted them to share their blessings, it struck me that the children’s smallness seemed heavily laden but they were not minding it one bit. Not by their grinning faces.
And when they recited the Lord’s prayer again, you’d better believe that they prayed it with their whole heart and collective soul. In sheer thanksgiving.
I was back at San Jose in time for graduation and was apprised of what transpired while I was away. As planned, Ate Jackie and Kuya JM paired up to lead the minstrels in surprising two of the participants who would not graduate because of several infractions. Kuya JM played the mean messenger of bad news and he was as effective as Kuya Poyo, the original player of the role. Than kfully, he had gotten in touch with the team and explained why he was incomunicado. He was also relieved to learn that, in his absence, the team managed the perceived crisis adeptly. Shakespeare’s all ending well.
Like all PREX graduations, this class was not spared of the musical ribbings that followed each graduate’s handshaking after receiving his/her certificate. Which never failed to entertain even the initiate. And so the rites rested, the new members of the family welcomed anew, hands clasped and parted, but the spiritual merriment did not immediately end. For there were stories to be shared, blessings to be thanked for and plans to be undertaken in the next seminar, while celebrating the just-concluded success. Reason enough to PREX the Lord.