Marian seminarian Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, left, visits his relatives in Quezon City during his recent trip to the Philippines, where he assisted the Marians on their new mission.
By Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC (Sep 8, 2009)
As they say in the Philippines, "Mabuhay!" (Rough translation: "Live long and prosper!") I arrived back in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1 after spending two months in the Philippines, where the Marians have begun a new mission to spread Divine Mercy and devotion to Mary Immaculate.
It's hard to believe how quickly my trip there flew by. On July 11, Br. James Cervantes, MIC, and I arrived in Manila from Cagayan de Oro. There was a minor mishap with the vehicle that we were traveling in on the way to the airport, but, providentially, we were still able to catch our flight. We were welcomed in Manila by Fr. Mariusz Jarzabek, MIC,our Marian priest from Poland who is serving at the Archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City.
I would say that El Salvador (where Br. James and I stayed during our first five weeks in the Philippines) and Mandaluyong City are total opposites of each other. They are like night and day. If El Salvador was laid back and quiet, then Mandaluyong City was more hectic and noisy. There wasn't a spare bedroom available in the priests' residence, and so Br. James and I were asked to share Fr. Mariusz's room with him. Even though it was a small room, it had air conditioning, and the shower had hot water. You would have thought that I had died and had gone to heaven.
Early the next morning, I met my aunt, Dr. Linda Padlan, after Sunday Mass. It turned out that she and my uncle, Dr. Ruben Padlan, lived just within walking distance from the Shrine. They offered for me to stay with them as they had an extra bedroom at their house. With the permission from Fr. Mariusz, I was able to stay with my aunt and uncle during the evenings and still be at the Shrine during the day.
It was during my last visit to the Philippines in 1997 when I first visited the Archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City with my aunt. Back then, the church was barely a couple of years old. That visit marked the first time I saw the image of The Divine Mercy. A few years later, in 2000, the Divine Mercy message and devotion would be instrumental in my spiritual conversion (or reversion). In 2005, I would enter as a postulant in the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, the official promoters of Divine Mercy. Now here I was in 2009, returning to the Divine Mercy Shrine as a Marian brother. Who says that God doesn't work in mysterious ways?
The first few days in Mandaluyong City at the Shrine turned out to be another culture shock. It was definitely busier there and a lot noisier than El Salvador. There were also more people around. Brother James became sick shortly after we arrived there, so he tried to get some rest for the first couple of days. Early each morning, I would leave my aunt's house and walk to the Shrine to first visit Jesus in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel and then attend the 6 a.m. Mass. Afterwards, Br. James and I would join Fr. Mariusz for morning prayer and meditation, which was followed by breakfast. Before lunch, we would do daytime prayer and an examination of conscience together. At 3 p.m., we would pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the Rosary. Finally before dinner, we would do evening prayer together. Dinner was usually served at 7 p.m., and after dinner, I would go and walk back to my aunt's house and get ready for the next day.
Like in El Salvador, Br. James and I also found time for private prayer and spiritual reading, as well as time to visit our relatives who lived nearby. We were blessed that Fr. Mariusz gave us permission to see them. Along with my Auntie Linda, Uncle Ruben, and my cousin Annie in Mandaluyong City, I was also able to see my cousins Ethel and Eden in Quezon City, which was nearby. Br. James had the opportunity to spend time with his relatives as well. They lived close by, in Paranaque and Batangas.
The Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City is very active. There are three daily Masses during the week and 10 Masses on Sundays. Confession is usually available after each Mass, including Sunday. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary are also prayed daily. Like the Masses at Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador, the Masses at the Shrine in Mandaluyong City were beautifully celebrated. I fell in love with the music during the Masses, especially with some of the Tagalog hymns.
The Shrine regularly hosts the charismatic Life in the Spirit Seminars, most often during the day, which means the music sometimes gets loud and can be heard everywhere. Every Monday morning, Br. James and I were also blessed to attend with Fr. Mariusz the weekly meetings held by the Divine Mercy Apostolate of the Philippines (DMAP), which was led by Sister Monina S. Tayamen, a laywoman and formator. The format of the meetings is similar to the cenacle meetings of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy (EADM), which was started in the United States by Dr. Bryan Thatcher.
The Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong is home to an 18-foot-high painted image of The Divine Mercy — the largest one of its kind in the Philippines. It was given as a gift to the Shrine by a couple of Polish nuns who belong to St. Faustina's religious order, the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy. The shrine also has a first-class relic of St. Faustina that the faithful can venerate. Finally, there is a perpetual adoration chapel that has a free-standing stained glass window of Jesus as The Divine Mercy. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the middle of Jesus' Heart. It is a very peaceful chapel to pray in, and there were usually many people there when I would go early in the morning.
Monsignor Josefino Ramirez is the rector of the Shrine. The vice rector is Fr. Ernesto Panelo. Father Mariusz is a guest priest. There is also a Chinese priest-student who is temporarily staying there. His name is Fr. Joseph Hwang, and he sometimes helps out with the Masses and hears confessions. Many workers and volunteers help out daily at the Shrine, and Br. James and I had the opportunity to meet some of them and to get to know them as well. There was very much a family atmosphere there.
While in the Metro Manila area, I was able to do some sightseeing and some shopping. One day, I went with Fr. Mariusz to visit the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Manila and also St. Augustine Church, which is the oldest Catholic Church in the area. The next day we went to Tagaytay, which is home to the Taal Volcano. We were able to visit some convents, monasteries, and private shrines there. We also went up to the highest point in Tagaytay — the People's Park in the Sky. (The place was originally called the Palace in the Sky, and Imelda Marcos was going to have a huge mansion built there.) From this location, we were able to see all of Tagaytay, and the view was simply breathtaking!
I had never seen so many shopping malls as I did in the Metro Manila area, and they were always full of people, even on weekdays. The SM Department Store is the largest department store in the Philippines, and I think that every shopping mall there has one. The largest shopping mall in all of Asia is located in Manila, which is appropriately enough called the Mall of Asia. The mall has three large buildings with several floors filled with shops and restaurants. I think you probably need a few days just to go through it all. The second largest mall is the Mega-Mall, which only has two large buildings. It was the largest one before the Mall of Asia came along. You can find really good bargains in the Philippines as many items are priced inexpensively, compared to U.S prices.
Another national pastime in the Philippines is eating. "Kain na" ("eat now") were the Tagalog words I heard the most during my stay in Mandaluyong. Brother James and I were constantly being fed with lots and lots of Filipino food, which of course included white rice at every meal. I have never eaten so much. It seems like the only physical exercise I got there was in lifting my fork and spoon with my fingers. Brother James and I should have placed signs around our necks that said "Do not feed the seminarians." The two most popular fast-food restaurants in the Philippines are Jollibee and Chow King, which can be found almost on every block. Of course, there is also McDonald's and KFC, but what's different about them in the Philippines is that they also have white rice on their menus.
Getting around Metro Manila if you do not have a car is fairly easy with the public transportation that is available all the time — train (MRT), bus, jeepney, taxi, tricycle, etc. I think that during our time in Manila Br. James and I must have ridden every form of public transportation that was available. Unfortunately, the smog in Manila is also one of the worst in the world. To add to that, just getting around in whatever form of vehicle can be daunting at times. I don't think there is such thing as having a "right of way" in the Philippines. Each driver is basically out for himself or herself. If and when I do ever come back to the Philippines, I don't know if I would be able to drive there. Drivers there definitely live out the words, "Jesus, I trust in you," as they step into their vehicles.
Singing, dancing and games is something else that Filipinos really love. While I didn't watch any television when I was in El Salvador, I was able to see some Filipino TV shows in Mandaluyong. The really popular shows are those that combine singing and dancing with games. The most popular TV show in the Philippines is called "Wowowee," a game show that includes some singing by the contestants and high-energy dancing featuring beautiful female dancers.
My favorite program when I was there was "ASAP '09," a variety show that showcases many of the popular Filipino singers of the day. I may be a little biased, but I think that Filipino singers have some of the most incredible singing voices in the world. I especially got tuned in to a Filipino singer on "ASAP '09" named Erik Santos, who had just released a CD covering some of Jim Brickman's most popular songs. One thing that amazes me about Filipino singers is the complete ease they have of singing both Tagalog and English songs. They sing English songs in a completely American accent.
When it comes to sports, Filipinos really love basketball. While baseball may be the favorite American pastime, basketball is it for Filipinos. Everywhere I went, I always saw a basketball court with guys playing. Other American sports like baseball and football have never really caught on in the Philippines. However, I did see some guys playing hockey at the ice rink in the Mall of Asia, which was kind of different to see.
While in the Metro Manila area, Br. James and I had the opportunity to give six vocation talks at five different high schools and colleges: St. Elizabeth Seaton School (one in Las Pinas and the other one in Imus), Manila Cathedral School, Pacific Merchant Marine School (PMMS) College in Las Pinas, and St. John the Baptist School in San Juan. These presentations were a huge blessing for the both of us, and we were well received at each school. The students were respectful and polite. Mind you, giving these presentations was something entirely new for me, but I really enjoyed doing it.
At Manila Cathedral School, I did something totally out of character for me. Before I did my PowerPoint presentation on the Marians in the Philippines, I invited anyone in the audience who wanted to sing a song to come up after I presented. Three young ladies took me up on my offer and came up individually after being encouraged by their peers. Like I said about Filipino singers, these girls had some of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. They would give Celine Dion a run for her money.
With God's grace, Br. James and I hope that our vocation talks helped to plant seeds among the young people we visited. In speaking to a teacher at one of the schools, she told me that young people are currently the biggest segment of the population in the Philippines. Unfortunately, many of them are also under catechized when it comes to their faith. That's why I thought it was providential that Br. James began the presentation by asking the youth, "What is your purpose in life?" You know what? It's sad, but many of them do not know what their purpose in life is, which is to know and love God in this life so that we can be with Him in the next. At the end, he talks about the popularity of superheroes and says how the saints are the superheroes of the Catholic faith. He then challenges them to live out the universal call to holiness.
Our stay in Mandaluyong also gave both Br. James and me the opportunity to spend time with and to get to know Fr. Mariusz better. We both met him for the first time at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., last summer before he left for the Philippines. I have never met a priest who lives out his priesthood as selflessly as Fr. Mariusz. In this Year of the Priest, Fr. Mariusz is like a modern-day St. John Vianney. He spends a lot of time in prayer, which enables him to minister effectively to many people. Just seeing his example of how to be a priest has been a tremendous inspiration to Br. James and me. He exhibits a genuine fatherly care, and I will miss him.
Brother James and I were also able to connect again with our first Marian postulant born and raised in the Philippines, Bart Lapus. (The Shrine in Mandaluyong is his parish.) Bart came with us to Washington, D.C., where he will be spending the next year as a novice in our community. Before we left the Philippines, he kindly invited us to attend a "despidida" party (farewell party) that was given by his family. Bart is quite active in the charismatic movement and also gives talks as a lay evangelist where he often shares his testimony. I believe that he will do well with the Marians. Please pray for his perseverance as he begins his novitiate year. Brother James and I also spent some time with a young man named Angelo (wow, what a cool name!) who is currently applying to our community. Let us pray that more Marian vocations will continue to come in the Philippines.
I was sad when I left the Philippines, and I will miss the place a lot. I am blown away by the kindness and generosity of the Filipino people. Many of them offered Br. James and me assistance just when we needed it at the right time. I know that was God's way of always looking out for us. I have had a lot of time to reflect on this trip. God knew how much I needed to reconcile with my Filipino roots. In the Filipino people I found out who I am, and now I can say I have never been prouder to be a Filipino.
Please consider helping the Marians in our new mission in the Philippines.