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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, March 28, 2018
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with Matè Espina

Leading a contemplative life

Rock & Refuge

Nestled somewhere in Bago City is Our Lady’s Hill Center of Spirituality run by the Order of the Discalced Carmelites.

I had a chance to meet one of the priests assigned at the Our Lady’s Hill retreat house, Fr. Nathaniel “Neil” Maravilloso, during an organizational meeting for the coming visit of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

He showed me pictures of the place and I was drawn to the lush greenery and seeming peace the place exudes and soon after, Tita Pamela Henares and Tita Maitet Carpio joined in the conversation, urging me to take a visit.

I know of the Carmelites nun from way back but except for a few occasions, I’ve never been inside, conjuring up this image from The Sound of Music of nuns leading a contemplative life behind bars, or to put it lightly, in an enclosed space.

I didn’t even know they have priests and brothers until I met Fr. Neil who also introduced Tita Pamela and Tita Maitet as secular members of the order, and that there are actually over a hundred of them active members in our community.

Of course, inquisitive me asked what does discalced mean but it will take longer than an hour to probably explain that and so I just went to google and it says “without shoes or shoeless” that signifies austerity.

The web also has an extensive literature on the how the order came about, founded by St. Teresa of Avila known also as St. Teresa of Jesus, who by the way, is different from St. Therese of the Child Jesus also known as St. Therese of Lisieux.

The first Discalced Carmelite Friars came to the Philippines in 1947. In Negros, they came in the mid-50’s when the order established a retreat house in the Diocese of Bacolod. Our Lady’s Hill was canonically erected in 1958 and this year, they will be celebrating their 60 th year here.

I was honest enough to admit that I have not heard of the place, nor of the Carmelites priests, until meeting Fr. Neil. I was even more surprised to know from Tita Pam and Tita Maitet that there are so many of them here who are secular members of the order.

And mind you, it is not easy to become one. As Tita Maitet said, “it is definitely a calling,” after learning that in order to become a secular member, you have to go through six years of formal study and a year of observation.

The secular work hand in hand with the nuns and the priests and I think there is no better set-up than having cloistered nuns dedicated to a life of prayer while the priests and their secular members tend to the spiritual nourishment of the community.

Of course it is still semi-cloistered for their priests who dedicate their lives at the Our Lady’s Hill, making it “a home where contemplative prayer is discovered and nurtured.” And I think that is an apt description just by looking at the pictures of being in the midst of the greens, a lake, shed houses shaded by trees, providing “a space and atmosphere for thirsting souls.”

A blog I read online shared by the order encapsulates how one feels after having been to Our Lady’s Hill.

“One of the most common spiritual experience of our retreatants is the undeniable silence and the peace of mind and hearts that invades their person upon entrance to Our Lady’s Hill. They come from a very noisy environment, move into a space, free of television, computers, cellphones, SM and traffic. As they journey in prayer and solitude, the storms and waves of life, give way to peace and serenity.”

That is indeed very enticing – just to spend a day or two, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

We often discuss how our world revolves around our cellphones and social media. Almost everyone has made it a need as if forgetting your cellphones at home is a death and life situation. Or how conversations are a thing of the past as people look down on their cellphones to monitor what’s happening on social media rather than take the time to talk with family members or friends even just over meals.

Perhaps it really is a good idea to take some time and visit Our Lady’s Hill either with family, friends or your organizations. They have very nice facilities like an airconditioned conference hall and rooms and a 3-day retreat, depending on the program will usually cost from P3,000 to P4,000 inclusive of meals.

And while they have their own retreat offerings, you can also make your own program suited to the needs of your group or maybe even just walk in, take in the splendour of nature, and just have a moment of solitude to pray for the little blessings that come our way.

Have a blessed Holy Week everyone!*


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