Monday, June 2, 2008


Being Some Place Again for the First Time

My pilgrimage began with some work to do … a recollection to preach to Fil-Ams in Hayward, Northern CA, a 50s era once progressive city that sits nestled below, or on the foothills of the now brown and barren heights of the Bay area. That was May 3, Saturday, just two days after I arrive from a rather long and tiring trip that took me from the cramped NAIA to Tokyo’s spacious and quiet airport of Narita. (Actually it is not anywhere near Tokyo, but it belongs to another Prefecture which is some two hours away by train from Tokyo city proper).

The topic and the reason for the recollection is not new to me. I have seen the issue everywhere I was asked to work with and for Filipinos whether home grown or raised some place else in this whole wide world. I saw it two years ago as I preached in New Jersey. I saw it in Italy, in Rome in particular. I saw it in Baltimore, Maryland. I see it back home where I am based. I see it in every institution, every organization made up of Filipinos (which includes me, by the way).

The issue whereof I speak is unity, the capacity to feel a sense of oneness and belongingness to a bigger group, to a greater body, to a greater whole. How many times have we heard of big groups including convenanted communities breaking up after some time? How many times have we seen otherwise very successful groups being fractured, fragmented and divided after so many years of untold success?

This is I think part of what James Fallows unflaterringly calls a “damaged culture.” This for my part is what I refer to as the unevangelized aspects of our culture that still needs to see the light of Gospel good news.

The day after, May 4, I preached to almost all Masses and presided over three of the Sunday Masses. The best was reserved for the 12:30 Mass which was the Filipino Heritage Mass. The best of our culture was on parade and on display. It was kind of incongruous to hear Filipino songs being sung by a Filipino American musician, all to the beat of Brazilian drums and Brazilian rhythm. I could not join the singing of “Salamat sa Iyo, Panginoong Jesus” as I could not accept the hybrid of melody and rhythm that were worlds apart from each other. (It was accompanied by blaring jazzy trumpets).

The second part of the working tour brought me to Northern Virginia. I was asked to do a refresher talk on pastoral planning to the core group of leaders of the Fil Ministry of NOVA.

I was back again to a situation and place that I was treading on for the first time!

My pilgrimage began with things familiar and things unknown – pretty much uncharted terrain that frightens, as much as it bewilders and challenges me. I am back to what I have learned to accept over the past 25 years as a priest. Things are both the same and never the same. The French have a beautiful way of putting it: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Life being what it is, a perpetual journey, it is both new and old. Forrest Gump was right. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna git.” Take it from me … I have been there, done that … One could be very much up there in people’s estimation many years, and something happens, or someone spreads false rumors about you and you’re down there in the gutters (at least in some people’s estimation). You could be looked at highly for some time, and some people who do not know Joseph take the leadership and you suddenly become a pariah of sorts.

The talks I gave both in Northern Virginia and in California were pretty much reminiscent of what I gave two years ago in Jersey area. And the questions are all very familiar … how to mould our people into one, how to make them see the bigger picture and the greater whole … It all sounds old and yet so new.

Following (Some) of the Footsteps of St. Paul

I am privileged to antedate the international year of St. Paul in some respects. We did the pilgrimage trying to follow where St. Paul trod. But the intrepid missionary is impossible to duplicate. We did it in relative ease and comfort. What made my hair stand on end is to see that little harbor where Paul landed in Pergamum, a harbor so tiny from my vantage point one could not even see the tiny opening that was enough only for small boats that Paul must have used in 58 AD.

Another place that really got me all excited was Ephesus. The big theater where Paul spoke to 37,000 people is still very much extant and in a high state of preservation. The arena could ordinarily contain only 25,000 but the crowds swelled because it was Paul who spoke. Tiny man though he was, according to reputable tradition, he was a mighty man with a stentorian voice, and a powerful message.

The highlight of Ephesus, of course, was Meryemana, the house of Mary Virgin and Mother, that is, the house of St. John where he took Mary after the crucifixion. We were privileged to say two Masses in a row in that holy place.

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