First Lent in Xiamen

Lent is never really that hard in the Philippines (in general), because we’re a predominantly Catholic/Christian country. It’s only now that I’m on my 2nd or 3rd time away from the Philippines during this season that I can see how we sometimes take the season for granted. Having daily masses, and even having at least 3-5 masses a day on Sundays, these are things you cannot find in China. When I was in Beijing last year, Lent was difficult for me because the Church was far away, even by subway. The only days I was able to attend mass for that season were Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Now that it’s just a little more convenient (as compared to Beijing) that I am able to attend mass here in Xiamen, I try to attend mass each Sunday.

Coincidentally, the Sunday that passed by was Palm Sunday, which coincided with the weekend before 清明节 (Qing Ming Jie/Tomb-sweeping Holiday) which is when Chinese go back to their hometowns to visit graves and the like (something like All Souls Day I guess). Unlike my time in Tsinghua where the school celebrates the holiday like any normal holiday, my classes here at XMU try to  make the most out of the holidays by giving classes beforehand, so I had classes during the weekend which resuletd in a 7-day straight schedule.

Right after my 8-930am class at XMU, I made my way to the nearest school gate and took a taxi straight to the ferry port (I usually take a bus, but it takes about 15-20minutes to get to the ferry port from my flat). Then I used my Gulangyu unlicard for the first time and took the ferry to Gulangyu before making my way to Church. I was already 20minutes late for mass, but it was still worth the effort. Our Church had baskets of palaspas (palms?) which they were handing out for free to the churchgoers (since we’re a pretty small community, with loads of Pinoys, fyi). I was able to take 3, 1 of which I handed to my friend. I even placed it on my door when I got home. It’s not as nice-looking as the palaspas we use back home, and this thing is painful (it has sharp leaves! i got pricked at least 5 times), but am trying to work with it nonetheless. Back home, my parents place our palaspas above our picture of the sacred heart of Jesus, so when I was talking to my mom, I asked hem to send me a picture/poster that I could hang on my door as well.

It really makes you appreciate the little things, doesn’t it?

I’m kind of looking forward to attending mass this Friday and Saturday, though the schedule at the Church mentioned that both masses will be completely in Mandarin. Scary and challenging! We’ll see if my schedule permits. The next few days are scary hectic, not to mention the HSK4 exam on the 14th~

Christmas Belen Twenty-Eleven

I was suppose to write a post about this earlier, but a lot of last-minute things cropped up.

So, welcome to a post about photos of my Christmas Belen 2011. In the Philippines, we usually prepare this thing called a belen, which is basically a presentation of the nativity scene. There is no specific design that everyone must follow, though belens have the usual Mary + baby Jesus in a manger + Joseph and under a structure with a roof, often times people add animals and sometimes even the Three Maji. Here in our house in Dumaguete, my family tries to spruce up the decoration with something more than just adding Christmas lights to the belen, or using really intricately designed figures as Mary, Jesus and Joseph representations.

Enjoy the next few pictures…

The main part of our belen, with a nipa hut like structure.

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The Heart of Mary the Queen

If there’s one thing I’ll remember most about my childhood, and value till I grow older, it’ll be the Church that I go to. I attend mass every Sunday, like any normal practicing Catholic, at our local church. It’s not a big church with old stone foundations, or stained glass windows, or room for over a thousand or more churchgoers. It’s fairly small in comparison to most churches, and most of the people who attend it are residents of the surrounding villages and baranggays (technically, 2). In all honesty, there’s nothing really grand about the church, there’s no architectural splendour to show off, nor any secret passages from the past.  In fact, the only thing one may remember most about the church is that it’s located between 2 known Filipino-Chinese schools, Xavier School and the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA as it is commonly known).

Mary The Queen Parish was actually built a few years after the construction of Xavier School and ICA. When it was built, there were few residents in the area, but eventually, the number of residents grew as the Greenhills community was built. It was a very good location for a church since it was in-between 2 schools, and it was in a residential area. Since ICA didn’t have any priests (since the school is run by nuns – the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception – MIC sisters) the church was “led” by Jesuit priests from the Jesuit School, Xavier.

For many years, MTQ has been known as the school between ICA and Xavier. For students of ICA and Xavier, it is a common meeting place between students, and something that will always remain familiar since it can be seen from both schools. For the residents, it will be the church which people attend to every week. For me, it means more than just either one of what I’ve written.

Mary The Queen has always been like a family to me. This was where my parents and some of my other family members were married. Me and all my siblings were baptized here, and even before I had received communion, I had always frequented the church. When I was a little girl, I attended Sunday lessons hosted by the mom of a batchmate of mine from Xavier, who also lives in the area. Those were one of the best days of my childhood at my chuch. Later on, I even served as a “Candle Holder” for the priest (basically a sort of helper, like a sacristan but for kids), even when I had become the eldest in my group.

As I mentioned earlier, the Church is not that big, so one can imagine that the community is small. It is. Most of the people who attend the Church send their sons and daughters to ICA and Xavier, and most of them, well know each other. It is not uncommon to see someone you know at Church, like a classmate or the cousin of a friend of yours. Those things are pretty normal. The MTQ community is like it’s own family, most everyone knows everyone. Despite that, there is something I learned recently about my community.

In the 20-ish years I’ve been living in this community, you’d think one would be familiar with most everyone, but that’s not the case. Of course it would be impossible to know everyone who goes to one’s church, but if there’s one thing i learned about MTQ, it’s that it never fails to surprise me, and that’s one thing i love about the community. There will always be familiar faces, familiar people, events that one will be familiar with, situations one will always know of, but there will also always be surprises.

During the last 3 years of my stay in college, I’ve come to realize that this community of mine always brings something new to the table. I’ve met people in college that I never expected to meet at my Church. People whom I’ve probably attended mass over 50 times with, but never really noticed till I met them outside. Sometimes, there are people who aren’t really MTQ frequenters, but I’ve encountered many familiar faces of people who have been going to MTQ as long as I have, but whom I’ve never met before. Sometims I meet people I haven’t seen in a long time, or people whom I do not expect. Teachers, friends, family, all these things are surprises. After all, there are so many Churches in Manila, why this special one?

I am truly and deeply in love with my Church. I cannot imagine having become who I am, without it. It is a small community that always has something new and surprising. I hope, as I have hoped for many years that one day, I would get married in this Church. I even wished that I could raise my children in this community, just like how I grew up. In it’s closeness, familiality and familiarity. It never fails to amaze me how much I love this Church of mine.

In my own little way, I try to be the best possible person for my MTQ as I can possibly be. Whether or not it is through serving at mass, singing for the choir, helping out during Simbang Gabi and other events…I try my best to be the best possible person that I can be for my Church. A few years from now, there is the possibility that I may not be able to frequent my Church as much as I do now. Despite that, I shall never forget the memories that I have come to experience in my stay in this community. From my parents marriage, to my birth, my childhood, my days in ICA and until now in Ateneo. MTQ remains a steadfast foundation and reminder to and of who I am, who I was, and who I will be.

MTQ will always be, a part of my heart, and a part of me.

Lent and Easter

Lent is finally over. My sacrifices for Lent were 1) not to watch Taiwanese dramas, and 2) not to drink any softdrinks. For my first sacrifice, I am proud to say that I did not watch any Taiwanese dramas for the entire Lenten Season. For the second sacrifice, I honestly admit to having drank Coke/Pepsi twice within the Lenten season, with those 2 instances being instances I could not avoid. During my usual trip to Mcdonalds though, I spent the entire Lent ordering iced tea with my meals instead of softdrinks, so that’s something to be proud of.

For the usual Holy Week with my family, we attended mass during Holy Thursday and we attended Easter Eve mass last Black Saturday. Last Friday, my mom and dad went to Ateneo to attend a recollection hosted by our Charismatic Community, which is also where we had our mass yesterday and last Thursday (not at the Gesu Church). Last Friday, me and my 3 other siblings accidentally missed out on the mass at our local church because we didn’t know that the Good Friday service began at 3 and we got to the Church at around 4pm, but we were able to do our own Way of the Cross (though not in 7 Churches as the tradition in our country goes). I was also able to have confession with one of the priests from our local church (who’s from abroad) and it felt nice to be able to go to confession again, since I haven’t had confession for about a year or so.

Awhile ago, as the usual tradition in our Charismatic community, our mass began with no light-ceremony, passing of the light from a large symbolic candle to ministers who then go around passing the light to others. A moment of sadness over remembering Jesus’ death, to joyful celebration over his rising, with noise and jubilation. I won’t go into the details, since there are too many too recall, but one thing many in my community look forward to is the dance at the end of the mass service. It’s usually done started by the men in our community, women can join in too, but I am just too lazy to. Arm in arm, everyone circles the place singing Alleluia and praised to God while dancing and lifting their feet in jubilation. It’s really a celebration of Jesus’ rising from the dead.

After our Easter Eve mass awhile ago, my entire family, together with my cousins’ family (sister of my mom) went out to Eastwood to have dinner together and we ended up at Teriyaki Boy for our dinner, then Dairy Queen for dessert. Truly a celebration!

Happy Easter everybody!

You may view my card here.

The Lenten Event

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. For most, it’s another normal day; and for the seniors at my university, it is just another stressful day which gets them closer to graduation. For many though, Ash Wednesday is another reminder of many things. For me, it mostly consists of 2 things, a sign of the incoming summer vacation and a time of sacrifice. My parents raised all of me and my siblings to be very devout Catholics that attend mass every week, including holy days of obligation, and other special occassions like New Years, Christmas, that sort of thing. Ever since I was young, it was always a practice in my family to abstain from meat (even if abstinence begins at the age of 12 if I recall correctly). I would always remember Lenten Season as being a time of no meat on Fridays, and no TV for the entire Lenten Season. Sacrifice, my mom always mentioned, was an important thing to remember for the Lenten Season. And despite me being an independent college student, her words still do not escape me. Even if my mom does not constantly remind my siblings about the Lenten Season, it has in some way been embedded into us to sacrifice something for the season.

TV was a very hard thing to come by when I was younger since my mom restricted us from watching television on weekdays. It was harder to sacrifice TV then since we only got it for the weekends, which also meant goodbye PS1 and PS2-playing for the Lenten Season. If I remember, mom tried to persuade us to give up the computer for the Lenten Season, but that was an absolute no-no since  schoolwork demanded that we use computers. In more recent years though, I’ve tried giving up many things that I liked for the Lenten Season, softdrinks and iced tea being one of the things I love the most. I am not quite sure if I remember correctly but in the 2 years I’ve experienced Lent as a college student, I think I spent one Lent giving up iced tea and another softdrinks, for I cannot live without both. Coffee, unless it is Starbucks, does not work for me and instead makes me sleepy, which is why I rely heavily on softdrinks and Iced Tea. This year though, I’ve tried to commit myself to giving up again, softdrinks, and if possible watching Taiwanese dramas as well. Seeing as I’ve taken to watching Taiwanese dramas occassionally in the past couple of weeks, this could be a big thing (in my opinion) to sacrifice since I love watching Taiwanese dramas.

Also, this Lenten Season, I’ve finally decided to try fasting. My mom has tried to make me fast during Lent for the last couple of years since 16years old is the age which Christians are suppose to begin fasting, but I’ve always argued against my mother concerning that practice since I told her that a student needs to eat healthy and full meals if she expects anything to get in her noggin. But this year, I’m trying and yesterday was the first day of my trial which I had successfully done. My brunch consisted of only 2 bowls of Koko Krunch and my merienda (snack)- slash-dinner consisted of a rice meal of fish fillet and a drink of Iced Tea. Didn’t feel up to eating any dinner either.

So there. Some may see it as an excuse to diet but to others, it really is a sacrifice of something you want. Over  the years, as the Lenten Season comes and I ask my friends what they are sacrificing, many times I get the same question, why. It has always been difficult, being one of few people who really take Catholicism seriously. Since Elementary, I have been one of few in my class who really go to mass every Sunday without fail, do sacrifices and go to the Holy Thursday-Black Saturday Lenten mass, and those other Christian practices. But despite that, it’s a struggle to practice and to keep believing in what I do. And despite the fact that people ask me why I do what I do, I just try to tell them that practices are not things that God requires people to do. If you believe in it, you do it. If you don’t, then don’t do it. But the overall important thing is, do not question what  other people do. And I try to reiterate this to my friends all the time. I sacrifice for Lent and I try to encourage them to do so, but I do not any under circumstances force them to do so. They were raised differently than I, so who am I to question how they go about doing things. At the same time, I also tell them that they have no right to question what I do and how I practice my religion, and they have no right to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong or makes no sense.

Basically, mutual respect for religion and cultures.

Today is officially Day 2 and so far, no sign of softdrinks and Taiwanse Dramas, though I am very much tempted to do so. I must try to hold out as much as I can. 39 days to go. I can do this. 加油!

The Fourth

I almost forgot to mention this. Yesterday, November 16th was the 5th year anniversary of my “4th day”. A bit contrasting and ironic don’t you think? If you agree to this, you’ve probably never heard of, or never undergone the Days With the Lord retreat, which was one of the best experiences of my life.

5 years ago, or 5 years and a day ago to be exact, me and my HS classmates attended our DWTL retreat together. For 3 days, we experienced, we listened, we talked, we shared, and we learned. It was better than most retreats that people attend, or maybe that’s just how I saw it. It was different than the retreats I had attended before that one, and it was one of the most memorable. Though most of what I heard during the retreat is now a blur, and probably most of the people I attended that event with have already forgotten what day yesterday was, those things simply don’t matter. Dates and words are not what count when you’re learning something. You don’t have to remember the exact phrases and exact quotations that a person mentioned, nor do you have to remember the exact date that you underwent something. For dates, as long as something is done, it shouldn’t count anymore. What should matter is what you learned from undergoing the event. Same thing goes for words and phrases. A person shouldn’t have to memorize what had happened and who said what, because what matters is a person’s insight and what that person learned from what they heard.

For me, the most distinct things I learned during those 3 days were sharing and listening. One thing we have to keep in mind is that there are times that call for talking, and sharing, and during that time we must learn to share what we have with others in order for us to all learn from the experience. Of course, experiencing something is different from simply hearing it. Yet hearing a shared experience also helps us to understand that even when we think we are alone in the world, we aren’t. One may think that their problem is the most burdensome and difficult of them all, but it isn’t. Each person has his or her own share of problems, and sharing is one way of understanding that. As well, there are times that call for talking, but also times that call for listening. This does not only pertain to listening to others, but listening to God. Many people think that God is present only in the presence of a cross, which is not true. God, is everywhere and anywhere. Whenever you feel the need to talk to Him, just call out to him and He will be there listening. Sometimes, He whispers to us, guides us and helps us and advices us, but we are too busy and too lost in our own little world to realize His presence.

5 years ago, I promised to live out my fourth as much as I could. Honestly, there are times that I’ve felt myself sinking so low that God would have to be crazy to even look at me and pull me out of my slump. I haven’t been the best and the nicest of girls since the retreat. But you know, every day after the retreat is a struggle. Most people think that retreats are suppose to be life-changing, but they aren’t. Sometimes, it’s after the retreat that a person finds themselves struggling even more. It’s a struggle, everyday is a struggle to keep oneself on the path and to fulfill the promise made. It’s not easy, but it’s not something one struggles alone on. Everyone goes through this. What we must remember though is that despite everything, God is always there.

HEISNOWHERE

There are two ways to read that. He is now here, and He is nowhere. It is our choice, our decision, whether or not we want to look at this in a positive way, or in a negative way.

In the end, we must always remember, we are never alone. There is always someone out there who’ll listen to us, and it just takes an open heart and open mind to listen and learn.