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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, March 26, 2018
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with Matè Espina

Ushering the Lent

Rock & Refuge

As we usher in the Lenten Season, the Catholic parishes are in a frenzy preparing for what is considered the biggest event in the Catholic Church. Yes, it is bigger than celebrating Christmas or New Year, even though it is noticeable how the faithful would make the holiday masses more obligatory than observing Lent.

I am guilty of that, of course, taking advantage of the long break from work and opting to spend the Holy Week elsewhere with friends.

But when we were growing up, we strictly observed Lent, fasting right after the rites on Holy Friday all the way to the dawn mass ushering Easter Sunday where a feast awaits us. Those times, while it was hard to keep 11 children from being quiet, silence descend at our home as we respect and join our parents in contemplating the Lord’s life and sacrifices.

This was customary in the Neo Cathecumenate Way where most of us siblings were also members until we went off to school elsewhere and finally we left, leaving Nanay and Daddy who were faithful members till their passing.

We enjoyed the initial part of our being Neo members as it became one big family and children of members became friends, spending summers together and even taking part in fund-raising shows to help out ailing members.

But if there was one thing I dread, it was the Lenten season as it spellshunger. I mean really hunger. From Friday till dawn of Sunday, we cannot eat anything solid and so it was soup all the way except, of course, when we cheated with a cracker or two, which of course we did, abetted by our loyal help, Mama Duck.

For many years thereafter, the spirituality left me and I can’t exactly remember when, but it was about the time when the RH debate was peaking and I got into a verbal tirade with members of the clergy. I eventually made peace with that part knowing they are just following the dictates of the church and after personally talking to some of the more level-headed ones that they, too, understand the real situation besetting our society.

And so, when Tito Serge Tan approached me months ago to help out in the coming visit of the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, I surprised myself by not even hesitating. Even my closest friends and, yes, my siblings too, scoff at the idea.

Tito Serge and TitaMenchie Tan were long time friends of our parents during the Christian Family Movement days and one can’t just say no to them.

Perhaps there is a reason why I am being called to help as my friend, Lulu, the more religious among my friends said. I still haven’t found the answer but the fact that I am enjoying meeting new people in the three times that I attended organizational meetings for St. Therese, may just bring me back closer to the fold.

Last Thursday, I was seated right beside Fr. Nathaniel “Neil” Maravilloso, one of the four priests when oversee the Our Lady’s Hill, a retreat home, aptly described as a Center of Spirituality and run by the Discalced Carmelites Community, located in Bago City.

I’ve never heard of Our Lady’s Hill until that time and I even noted down it was a parish until Fr. Neil corrected me saying it is a 20-hectare retreat sanctuary that was donated by the Balgos-Guanzon couple in the mid-50’s.

When I told my friends about it, none of them had heard about this retreat place as well even though it has been present in our community for decades, canonically erected in 1958, and was finally named Our Lady’s Hill when then Bishop Manual Yap inaugurated the place in July 1966.

I verbalized the same observation to Fr. Neil who invited me over to their place and I intend to take that offer one of these days even just to see the lush land and the sheep that he showed me.

Perhaps among the reasons why very few people know of the place was because it was shut down in the late 80’s at the time when Negros was experiencing a socio-political upheaval and was only re-opened in 2001 for a 10-year rehabilitation plan to make The Lady’s Hill a fitting place for contemplative prayer, retreats and spiritual formation.

It has been re-opened since 2010 and now being managed by Fr. DaniloFauste (Prior), Fr. Gregorio Baguio (Rector of the Center of Spirituality), Fr. Richard Escoto, Fr. Neil and Bro. Abner David.

I will write more of Our Lady’s Hill in my next column including my encounters with Pamela Henares and MaitetCarpio, members of the Secural Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCDS) and how animatedly they talk of their experience as members of this order.

There have been a lot of surprises happening in my life and while before, I may even smirk talking to religious people, I seem to be enjoying parts of it now especially seeing the sincerity and joy people have in talking about their experiences.

Perhaps it was coincidental, or perhaps there’s more meaning to my getting involved once again with my faith. Or just perhaps, St. Therese, in her own little way, is sending me a message.*


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