OF late, the articles that appeared in this column have been doctrinal. Allow me to be personal again for this particular issue.
October 7 is the date of my priestly ordination, and this year marks the 10th year. The date has been a personal request on my part, that day being the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.
I wish to look back in gratitude to all the wonderful people that God placed along the path of my life to guide me closer to God, to Our Lady, and to the journey to the priesthood.
My lola. When I was yet a toddler and child, and my parents had to earn the living, she took care of us. But I will fondly recall how she would bring us to our Parokya, St. James the Apostle Parish in Paombong, Bulacan. During my kindergarten days in St. Martin de Porres Catholic School, still in Paombong, she would bring me there and stay whole day to be my bantay. She was the first one to teach me the basic prayers. She died one morning when we were the only two persons in our home, a morning that she told my mother that there were no classes in school and we need not go there but the truth was there were classes.
The teachers, staff, and my classmates in St. Martin de Porres Catholic School and the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph, all the basic tenets of our Faith, I learned there. Although, due to economic constraints many are unable to be part of the Catholic educational system, still it is the best place for children to learn, discover, and be nourished in the Catholic Faith. It was there under the Dominican Sisters that I came to know and fall in love with Our Lady and the praying of the Rosary. The priestly vocation, I believe, was first nourished there.
My lola had an RVM Nun as a sister, Mo. Bernarda Bartolome (she died at the tender age of 102) and a Jesuit priest as a brother, Fr. Pablo Bartolome, SJ. Fr. Pablo, our lolo padre, was assigned in Malaybalay, and whenever he goes to Manila, he would pass by our home. I remember the last time he passed by, he gave me a Rosary and told me that I would be a priest. He died a week later. Our lola madre would instead always send us religious materials, stampitas, scapularios. One of the magazines that she sent marked a very deep impression in my life, the magazine was entitled, Divine Love Magazine. One particular issue had the story of Fatima in it. The story left, I believe, a lasting effect in my soul. The Fatima Message of Our Lady became a focal point in my life. I hungered to know more about Our Lord and Our Lady, and at a tender age, I prayed the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Later on, with my fondness to write letters and ask for religious materials, I came across the Pieta Prayer booklet and there I found the consecratory prayer to Jesus through Mary composed by St. Louis Marie Grignon di Montfort. How I would pray almost all the prayers there everyday until one day my mother reminded me not to forget my duty as a student to study well. The wisdom of the mothers!
I was in high school when the National Marian Year was declared. How my father would patiently accompany me in Manila to go to Luneta for the Closing of Marian Year in the presence of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima. There were more than a million people, and because it was already late in the evening and we still have to commute back home, we weren’t able to come close to the image of Our Lady. Yet decades later, I would come across Her again and this time in charge of her travel in the Philippines.
My father would also accompany me during the National Eucharistic Year, the Mass and Vigil at the Rizal Coliseum to mark the canonization of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, regular visits at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Valenzuela, and so many other events. Thank God for these wonderful parents.
St. Martin de Porres would come to meet me again years later. It was on his Feastday, November 3, that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. That event devastated me. I could not believe God would allow such suffering to befall my family. The next months would be a personal suffering for me. I would spend evenings at the Adoration Chapel at the EDSA Shrine begging God and Our Lady for a miracle. But there was no physical cure that was forthcoming.
I remember one evening of December in 1990 when my mother was already very weak. I went out of our bedroom crying, I could not stand the thought that I would be losing my mother very soon. I was crying at our sala, and my mother noticed it. Despite her weakness, she struggled to get out of bed, and walked towards the living room, she hugged me and told me, Gagaling ako, huwag ka nang umiyak. But I knew she would not get well.
During her final days, she asked me once, Nakita muna ang Mahal na Birhen? Never was my answer, it will never happen. Then she told that she would see Our Lady of Fatima whenever she closed her eyes. I remembered how every Saturday we had our block Rosary, and she would carry the image of Our Lady from one house to another. She even made a request, that she hoped she could come to visit Lipa Carmel someday. She never did. My mother died in January 1991, a day before she would have turned 47.
Every First Saturday thereafter I would go to Lipa Carmel not only to fulfill my mother’s request but to request Our Lady as well, now that I don’t have my mother, You should be my own Mother. I am now unable to go Lipa Carmel every First Saturday since, I would like to believe, we brought Her closer home. Every First Saturday at the Tarlac Cathedral, we have our First Saturday dawn procession.
On the day of my ordination, I would never forget a gift to me. It was handed to me by a priest who didn’t tell from whom it came. It was a priestly stole, on one part is the image of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All-Grace, and on the other part, the words of Our Lady in Lipa Carmel which I take to mean to be meant especially for me: I am Your Mother.
From Paombong in Bulacan, the Diocese of Tarlac has been my home now for more than a decade. To the Bishop, priests, nuns, and lay faithful of the Diocese, I could not express enough my gratitude for welcoming a stranger in their midst.
God indeed gives wonderful people along our path, to draw us ever closer to Him. And the most wonderful is Our Lady: Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt, O Virgo Maria!