Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pastoral Ministry in the Mountain Province

It’s been a week since the conclusion of the Long Retreat, and now we tertians are on the road again, this time to the Mountain Province, a region in the north central part of Luzon known for its breath-taking natural beauty. As the name of the province suggests, the terrain is very mountainous (elevation is about 5,000 feet above sea level). Temperatures in the Mountain Province at this time of year are considerably cooler than they are in Manila or any of the southern regions of the Philippine archipelago. The Mountain Province is perhaps best known for the Banawe Rice Terraces, one of the natural wonders of the world. The rice terraces were constructed thousands of years ago by the Irugot and Ifugao tribes. Carved right into the mountainsides, the terraces are irrigated naturally with mountain springs and are still actively used to grow rice. I can’t wait to see these rice terraces with my own eyes. I hope to take photos and post them on this blog in the new year.

Our mission there for the next two and a half weeks is to assist in various parishes in the cities of Bontoc, Lagawe, Banawe, and Tabuk. Duties will include sacramental ministries (confessions, baptisms, eucharist, funerals as needed), catechesis for school children, and visiting the sick and homebound. A highlight of each of us tertians will be our engagement in a Filipino custom known as “Simbang Gabi,” a novena of pre-dawn Eucharistic liturgies leading up to the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord (“Noche Buena”). Beginning on December 16th, for nine consecutive mornings, the Filipino faithful come to their parish churches at 4am (!) to celebrate the liturgies of Simbang Gabi. Each Mass is followed by food and fellowship. The custom came to the Philippines back in the 17th century by way of Spain and Mexico. However, this novena has not been observed in Spain or Mexico for centuries, and is today only celebrated in the Philippines, and with great affection and fanfare. Can’t wait to experience it myself!

On Christmas Day, I head back to Manila to meet up with my parents, my sister (Maria), and my brother (Ron) and and his wife (Michelle), and their young son, all of whom are flying in for a Bigornia family reunion (my mom’s side of the family) here in Manila. It’ll be a Christmas to remember for us all!

My next blog posting probably won’t come until after the first of the year, so I take this opportunity to thank you again for your prayerful support in these last four months, and to wish you the quiet joys and peace of the season. Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year!

Maligayang Pasko!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fr. John Delaney, SJ: One of Dad's Greatest Inspirations

Long before I even considered a vocation to the Society of Jesus, Dad spoke of him, with great fondness and affection. "Fr. Delaney was one of the most holy, inspiring people I've ever met. I'll never forget him and all he did to strengthen my faith in God." To this day, the mention of Fr. John Delaney's name brings on heart-felt encomiums, from Jesuits and laypeople alike, who were deeply touched by this extraordinarily charismatic Jesuit.

In the backyard of the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Novaliches (where I spent the last 30 days on retreat)is a cemetery where lie the remains of dozens of deceased Jesuits. One morning, early in the retreat, I walked the short distance from the retreat house to the cemetery and began reading the names engraved on the wall of burial niches. While I noticed that most of the more recently deceased are Filipino Jesuits, many of the longer deceased Jesuits had German and Irish surnames. As I mentioned in my previous posting above, the Society of Jesus in the Philippines began in the early part of the last century with the efforts of Jesuit missionaries from the New York Province.

And when I came across the name "John Delaney, SJ," I thought to myself, this must be the Jesuit whom Dad talks about so fondly from his days as an undergraduate student at the University of the Philippines. I felt a lump in my throat as I reached out to touch the letters of his name, the years of his birth (1906), his entrance into the Society of Jesus, and his death (1956). I looked around the small cemetery and tried to imagine the literally thousands of mourners who came to the funeral. And I realized that Dad himself was here, back in January 1956, just finishing his sophomore year at the University of the Philippines, honored to serve as pall bearer, and to lay this great man to his eternal rest.

I don't yet know too much about Fr. Delaney's work here in the Philippines, except that Dad knew him as a campus minister at the University. According to Dad (and affirmed by a number of Jesuits whom I've consulted here), Fr. Delaney was a highly gifted preacher and retreat director, winning the admiration and loyalty of countless students and faculty at the University of the Philippines. To this day, dozens of Fr. Delaney's devotees meet here in Manila to remember and celebrate his memory. Theologically, he was a very forward-thinking Jesuit, as exemplified by his modern design of the UP chapel, which was built soon after his death and still stands in the university campus as a legacy to his years of devoted service and clear vision of faith. He was also apparently a prolific writer, specializing in spirituality.

I only wish I could have personally met Fr. John Delaney, SJ (he died young, at the age of 50), and I only hope that I might be half the Jesuit that he was to so many. It was a wonderful consolation during my retreat to know that Dad was once here in Novaliches, at the grave of his mentor and friend, where 50 years later, I found myself offering many a Hail Mary in his memory.

Fr. Delaney --may he continue to rest in Christ's peace!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Long Retreat: Coming to Know, Love, and Serve Christ

“So, how was it?” you ask, no doubt curious to know how the 30-day retreat went for me. No easy way to answer that question, certainly not in one word. Suffice it to say that the retreat was an intense spiritual experience that defies facile description. Not to put too fine a point on it, but how does one begin describe what it’s like when for 30 days, you share your heart with God and He shares His with you?

You may be thinking, “How did Ray (or any of the other retreatants) manage to keep silence for 30 days, with no conversation, no phones, no internet, no newspapers? Hard to believe, I know, but Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the man who devised this retreat, had a lot of wisdom when he insisted that to hear God speak to our hearts absolutely requires the absence of any and all competing voices. I got used to it quickly, and have even come to savor the silence. When there’s literally nothing else competing for our attention, it’s amazing to listen to how much God has to say to us!

We tertians were joined by 63 other retreatants: 7 Jesuit novices (first-year members of the Society of Jesus) and 56 religious and lay people. Each retreatant met individually with an assigned retreat director once each day for a 40-minute reflection session. We tertians were directed by our tertian instructor, Fr. Roger Champoux, SJ. Each day, we kept a routine of five prayer periods, each lasting 50-60 minutes, following the method layed out by Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises (see the side bar posting entitled “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola). Daily mass was celebrated each evening at 6:15pm. Plenty of time throughout the day for personal reflection, rest and relaxation (we all took afternoon siestas very seriously), spiritual reading, exercise, and long walks.

The venue for the retreat was the Sacred Heart Novitiate and Retreat Center, located in Novaliches, in a northern section of Manila. The retreat house, which resembles in design a classic Spanish hacienda, was built by the Jesuits back to the 1930s as the novitiate for the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, which at that time was growing by leaps and bounds. While Jesuit vocations are still relatively high here in the Philippines (averaging 7-10 men entering each year), the numbers are not nearly what they once were, so only one wing of the house still operates as the novitiate. The rest is used as a retreat house and conference center. Plenty of lush vegetation around, plus a nice swimming pool in which I swam almost every day – what I liked to call my time of “aquatic meditation!” There are some sheep and goats that roam the property, and even a lone Filipino caribou (water buffalo). Three meals a day are served (featuring a lot of fish and plenty of fresh tropical fruit), which we all ate in silence – awkward at first, but we got used to it. CD recordings of sacred instrumental music played softly in the background to accompany the sound of silverware clinking against plates. Even dining was a prayerful experience!

So, what did I get out of it, besides catching up on a lot of rest? Well, at the risk of sounding terribly pious (and those of you who know me well know that I’m not terribly pious!), the Long Retreat has left me with the grace I asked for each and every day – that I might know Christ more intimately, love Him more deeply, and follow him more faithfully, wherever He may call me. Seems fundamental, I know. But that’s largely what Jesuit tertianship is all about: going back to the fundamentals that led us (and still lead us) to live our whole lives in the Society that bears His name. And going back to fundamentals, years after we took the first step, affords us the luxury of prayerfully clarifying and deepening our commitment to our vocation of serving God and His people.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam -- “To the greater honor and glory of God”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Long Retreat

TERTIANSHIP CLASS 2007-2008 (front row) Chris Soh (Singapore) Carlo Manunza (Italy) Kifle Wansamo (Ethiopia), Julian Das (India), Lee Sang-Won (Korea), Ray Guiao (USA) (back row) Bill McGarry (assistant tertian instructor, USA), Emanuel Lim (Singapore), Benny de Guzman (Philippines), Rene Oliveros (Philippines), Kolbe Sang-Hwan (Korea), Roger Champoux (tertian instructor, French Canada)

Dear Readers,

Beginning tomorrow, October 28th, my fellow tertians and I will be entering into what is known as the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. It takes the form of a 30-day individually directed retreat, commonly known as the Long Retreat. It is considered the "centerpiece" of all Jesuit tertianship programs.

Jesuits undergo the Long Retreat twice in their Jesuit lives. The first time is as a novice, or "beginner Jesuit." I made my first Long Retreat when I was twenty-two years old, only four months after entering the Jesuit novitiate. The second time a Jesuit experiences the Long Retreat is many years later, when he makes his tertianship. Needless to say, the Jesuit tertian is far better prepared, ready, and even eager to enter into as significant an experience as the Long Retreat than he was a a Jesuit novice. That's exactly how I feel. While the prospect of keeping silent and out of touch with the outside world may seem daunting to some, such time-out-of- time affords those who experience the Long Retreat the rare privilege of entering into a period of intensely personal prayer with God, unhindered by the many obligations, occupations, and distractions of life in the real world. We Jesuits are hardly monks -- anyone who knows me can tell you that! But, twice in our Jesuit lives, we members of the Society of Jesus take 30 days to listen intently to the movements of God in our hearts and minds.

Needless to say, I will not be updating this blog for the next 30 days of retreat. We will be finishing retreat at the end of November, at which time you can expect my next blog entry. Until then, I ask for your prayerful support for me and my fellow tertians (pictured above), that we may all persevere, focus, and savor our time-out-of-time with God in these weeks of retreat. Be assured of my own prayers for you and your many intentions. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Ingenieros -- My Second Host Family in Navotas

After four days with our first host families, it was arranged that each of us tertians would move on to be hosted by another family. My second host family was the Ingenieros. Mariquit, the wife and mother, is a woman of gentle and natural beauty. Her slim and fit figure belies the fact that she has born no fewer than nine children. She and her eldest daughter, Ana, were there to walk me through the busy and noisy streets to another barangay (“neighborhood”) in Navotas where their family lives.

The Ingeniero family live in a much simpler home than my first family’s home. The lower half of the house is hollow brick, while the upper half is a patchwork of wood and metal scraps. A battered wooden window cover swings limp from a wire hinge. The front door, which never seemed to be closed throughout my 5-day stay with them, shows signs of termite infestation. The front room (about 9’ X 6”) is crowded by a small kitchen table and two chairs, a baby play pen, a weathered plastic patio loveseat, and an old chest of drawers with overstuffed drawers that serves as a common storage for all of the children’s clothing. This cramped front room serves as dining room, family room, and play area for the children – not much space for much else! Scattered on the walls and on various shelves were framed but faded photos of past Jesuit tertian guests, posing with Mariquit and some of the children, that the Ingeniero family has hosted. “We have had many Jesuit visitors, Father. We are glad to have Jesuit guests,” Lydio proudly professed to me on my arrival. Off the front room is a small kitchen, fitted with a propane stove and sink – no refrigerator, no oven. A single cabinet served as a pantry, filled mostly with assorted canned goods. Pots and pans and cooking utensils lie scattered on the shelf below the stove. Off the kitchen is the water closet – literally a closet with no light or adequate ventilation. Old scraps of linoleum and flattened cardboard cartons served as the floor. Only a toilet and water barrel for bathing. Because I was unable to see for lack of light, I chose take my daily baths just outside the front door where another water barrel stands. The children laughed at me when I first washed up just outside the entryway of the house, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they manage to bathe themselves in the dark, stuffy water closet off the kitchen!

Mariquit and her husband Lydio married in their late teens and promptly started having children: Ana (22), Andrea (20), Margiely (19), Johnmar (17), Joemar (15), Joseph (12), Angela (7), Hannalee (5), and Micaela (8 months). When I expressed how impressed I was at the size of their family, Lydio smiled broadly as Mariquit announced to me, “Father, I want three more – for an even dozen!” How they would manage three more mouths to feed, I haven’t a clue, but from Mariquit’s confident tone, that is the plan!

Mariquit and Lydio, along with most of the children, sleep on the floor of a tiny bedroom, no more than 7’ x 7’, just off the front room. The three boys sleep on the floor of the front room whose floor, like the water closet, is covered with a patchwork of old linoleum scraps. Mariquit and Lydio insisted that I sleep on the only bed, which is situated against the far wall, under a mosquito net. Though the bed lacked a mattress and was tilted, making getting to sleep a real effort, I was grateful and humbled by their hospitality. “We hope it’s all right for you, Father,” Mariquit and Lydio kept saying. “It is the best we have, and we want you to have it while you are here with us.”
While a single fan struggled against the closeness of the crowded bedroom through the hot, humid nights, I was humbled by their graciousness.

The days of the Ingeniero family are filled with many comings and goings. Lydio leaves for the factory at the crack of dawn. While the two older boys have dropped out of school, they leave early, too, to do odd jobs around Navotas, like driving tricycles (pedaled taxis for 1-2 passengers) to help support the family. Most of the children attend the afternoon session of their grade school, which begins at 1pm and finishes at 7:30pm. (Morning sessions at most Filipino schools begin around 5am and finish at noon. Multiple shifts at grade schools and some high schools are common, due to the high volume of students attending.) Mariquit and the older daughters tend to the care of the younger children, washing clothes (by hand, of course), ironing the children’s school uniforms, cooking and feeding the young ones, and marketing, and upkeep of the household. I marveled at the care they showed to one another in their day-to-day lives. As with any family, small skirmishes would erupt from time to time, but nothing long-lasting. Too much to be done to carry on conflicts for too long.

The days were unusually hot, and electricity went off in the Ingeniero household beginning around 9am and wouldn’t be restored until around 7pm. I found out later that the electricity current flowing to the Ingeniero household was “pirated,” like that flowing to many other Navotas households. Thus, the daily “brownouts.” On one particular morning, as I was eating breakfast, the electricity went out, knocking out the only fan in the house. When Mariquit saw the sweat beading on my forehead through sips of coffee, she said something whispered something to Angela, her third youngest daughter, who ran to fetch an old woven hand fan and promptly began to pump it in my direction. When I protested that it wasn’t necessary for Angela to fan me, Mariquit replied, “But, Father, look! She likes fanning you.” And there was Angela, a toothless grin covering her face, giggling as she double-fisted her fanning. On still another hot afternoon, Mariquit gathered her third oldest daughter, Margiely, and her youngest daughter, Micaela. “Come,” she said. Expecting to follow them to the market, we all jumped into a jeepney when Mariquit announced, “Father, we’re taking you to the mall, where you can get cool.” The mall was about 15 minutes away from Navotas, and was meager by American retail standards. But there we were, in the coolness of air conditioning, looking into the shop windows and getting reprieve from the unforgiving heat and humidity of the tropics. After I bought them ice cream cones, we found a penny arcade that featured karaoke stalls. Filipinos, rich and poor, LOVE karaoke! Margieley chose to sing a lovesong from a Disney movie, while I took the mic and blasted away with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Great fun! I won’t soon forget that afternoon, an afternoon that cooled my body temp but warmed my heart.

I often wonder if indeed Mariquit and Lydio will indeed bring three more Ingenieros into the world. Perhaps when they host yet another Jesuit tertian in future years, there might just be another baby in the playpen. But I’ve no doubt that the next Jesuit tertian will come to see that however short the Ingenieros might be on creature comforts, there home holds an abundance of love. And I’m honored to be the richer for it!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Mendiolas: My First Host Family in Navotas

Our immersion experience in Navotas was intended to be as much about poverty as it was to be about life in a simple Filipino family. I myself was raised, as many of you know, in a Filipino household, albeit in the United States. But the values, culture, and faith in which I was raised from childhood were those of my Filipino parents who emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1962. To this extent, I did not anticipate experiencing anything particularly new or different in living with Filipino host families. Despite the abject poverty in which my two host families lived, I found myself experiencing much the same care, warmth, and affection with which I was raised – hallmarks, I daresay, of Filipino family life, whether in the slums of Navotas or in the privileged suburbs of Cleveland.

My first host family was the Mendiola family. France, the wife and mother, received me at the PPF welcome session for us Jesuit tertians. She led me through the streets of Navotas, wading sometimes through knee-high water (thanks to three days of typhoon rains) to her family’s humble home in a barangay (subdivision) of Navotas called Bagong Silang. France, a stocky woman with a big voice and a hearty laugh, explained to me that their neighborhood used to be much worse, infested with crime, drugs, prostitution, and disease. In 1988, the Pag-Aalay ng Puso Foundation made inroads into improving the quality of life in this subdivision, including the first toilets to be installed in private homes in all of Navotas. Over the past 15 years, life did improve significantly for the residents of Bagong Silang, true to its name, which translates literally as “new birth.” Having said that, the dwellings in Bagong Silang are tightly packed together, the alleyways only 3-4 feet across. Most of the houses are concrete hollow block construction, finished with scrap pieces of metal and wood. Hanging laundry everywhere obscures the view. Food vendors squawk out prices. Foot traffic outside the Mendiola house seemed constant, with neighbors frequently peeking their heads into the window or door to chat with France or her husband, Joel (~45 years old, shipyard worker), or one of the four children: JoFrance (~20 years old, engineering student), Karen (~20 years old, nursing student), Giselle (~18 years old, nursing stuent), and Kristan (14 years old, high school student). France and her family welcomed me into their low-ceilinged three-story house, the first floor of which measures about 18’ X 18’ and serves as kitchen, dining room (table sits 3 at max, with a picture of the Last Supper hanging just above), and sitting room,, appointed with old plastic patio chairs. Two sewing machines against the walls betray France’s livelihood as a seamstress. Off the kitchen iss a closet, no more than 7’ X 7’ with only a 5’ head clearance, nicely tiled and fitted with seat-less toilet and a large plastic water barrel. This is the only bathroom in the household, and serves the Mendiolas not only for the family's bathing and toileting, but also for doing the family laundry. The second floor, accessed by a narrow and rather steep ladder/staircase is the bedroom space for the four children. The two boys (JoFrance and Kristan) sleep on a thin mattress on one side of the room, while the two girls (Karen and Giselle) sleep on a separate thin mattress on the other side. My guest cot (i.e., another thin mattress) was located under the staircase going up to the third floor, which was where the parents (France and Joel) slept. Their full size mattress takes up most of the floor space on the third level, save for the airy “balcony” that looked out onto a profusion of neighboring rooftops (see top photo in the previous blog installment).

While France is given to loud outbursts of laughter and spirited conversation, Joel is a gentle soul with a ready smile and a quiet demeanor. Joel used to work in construction, but after a bad accident at one site, he shifted his work to the shipyards on Manila Bay, not far from Navotas. There, he works from 7am to 5pm, mainly repairing tankers and other vessels docked at the busy port. His skill at construction shows in the simple but careful ways he has finished the family’s house interior. France, as mentioned earlier, works as a seamstress from 8am to noon each day, and ironically enough, her salary equals that of her husband’s whose workday is more than twice as long as hers! France creates and repairs uniforms for a school in England through a Protestant foundation that has had a presence in Navotas for some ten years. While France works for this foundation, she felt it important to assure me that she will ever be a life-long Catholic!

Both she and Joel, married for over 20 years, strongly feel that the only thing they can give their children is the means to good education. “We have nothing else, Father,” France explained to me one night in broken English. “Nothing else. Everything we earn goes to our children for their educations. We are very proud of them.” Indeed, they work very hard to support their children, and in turn, their children work very hard at their schooling. The oldest, JoFrance, is an engineering student at University of the East, and is away from the house from 7am until 8pm. His younger sisters leave the house around 10am for their classes in nursing school outside Navotas, returning between 8pm and 10pm, depending on their floor rotation schedules. France and Joel have taught their children to be self-sufficient, laundering and pressing their own uniforms, cooking their own meals (which are taken at irregular times due to their irregular schedules), and cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen. As they would come and go each day, I got a chance to chat with each of these young people. Jo-France wanted to know what it was like being from “the city of LeBron James.” Karen and Giselle giggled a lot when I asked them about boyfriends and crushes. But of all the kids, I got to know the youngest, Kristan, the best. Slightly gawky and tall for his age, Kristan has his mother’s smile and his father’s soft-spoken nature. We had several lengthy one-on-one conversations about his interests in history (he knows a lot about the Ottoman Empire), literature (he has read a lot of American transcendentalist lit), religion (he knows a lot about scripture and the lives of the saints). Kristan has dreams of being an architect, and somehow I don’t doubt that he’ll realize that dream. When I asked him if he planned on ever leaving Navotas, he looked off into the distance, across the rooftops from the third floor balcony where we chatted. “Yes, maybe. I don’t know,” he answered.

France was always apologizing for her family’s busy-ness during my four-day stay with them: “We hope you understand, Father. We cannot entertain you all the time. We are busy with work and school. We hope you understand.” And with each plea for my understanding, I reassured her of my admiration for a family whose busy lives held out hope for bright futures. “We are one of the lucky families, Father,” France would sigh. And to prove it, France once took me to the nearby barangay where hundreds of people lived on the polluted shores of Manila Bay. Here, in what once was not long ago a dump site for Navotas and what still serves as a graveyard for the dead, dozens of families live in lean-to’s and in flimsy shacks, many of them perched some 20 feet above the bay on bamboo stilts to avoid flooding at high tide. The poorest of the poor of Navotas live here, amidst garbage and sewage heaved upon the bay shore. It is here, on the dirty sand littered with abandoned fishing nets and a constant haze of flies that Navotas fisherman launch and land their boats Standing on the putrid seashore, looking out at all this, France says again, “See, Father? We’re one of the lucky families.” Sa awa ng Dyos, as the Filipino would say, or commonly translated into English, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

My last five days in Navotas was with the Ingeniero family. More about them in my next installment. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Immersion into Poverty

Part of this Jesuit tertianship program is to enter into the world of the poor -- to get to know the poor by living among the poor. Christ himself did as much in his short time on earth. His chosen friends and apostles came from among the poor of his time and his community, and it was these that in his Beatitudes he called "blessed."

Our purpose in visiting the Navotas community was to give us an immersion experience into the life of simple Filipino families and to expose us to the economically impoverished situations in which they live. To read about the poor is one thing, but to actually live with the poor and to spend a significant amount of time with the poor -- to be immersed in their world – is to come to know the poor better than any reading about the poor could ever offer. No doubt, I faced many challenges in this experience, discomforts and privations not least among them. But, I found that living with the poor is to strip life down to its barest essentials and to see what really matters in life. No, the poor of Navotas are not saints, but they did show me in more ways than I can count, what matter most in life.


The homestays in Navotas were coordinated by members of the Pag-aalay ng Puso (“Gift of the Heart”) Foundation, an NGO begun in 1988 whose mission it is to help build humane conditions in poorest sectors of Navotas. The Pag-aalay ng Puso Foundation (PPF) has long coordinated immersion homestays in Navotas for the Jesuit Tertianship Program, as well as for Jesuit scholastics and lay visitors from Korea and Japan. In addition to immersion programs, PPF offers programs in the areas of values education, tuition assistance, health promotion & education, economic sustenance, and a tribal outreach program to members of tribes in the Sierra Madres and in the Visayas.

Navotas is one of the most socio-economically depressed areas in metropolitan Manila. Over 250,000 people live in this region, situated in the northwest quadrant of Manila, right on Manila Bay. Back in the 1970s, hundreds of families from Samar and Leyte and the Bicols fled the wars of insurgency. They found an abandoned garbage site lying between Manila Bay and a cemetery, and here they settled as squatters. As you might imagine, crime, drunkenness, and drug addiction ran rampant, while hygiene and treatment for malnutrition was non-existent. With the help of PPF, things in Navotas are beginning to improve, but very, very slowly.

Most streets are paved, yet gaping holes, rotting garbage, and almost constant human traffic make getting around very difficult in this crowded town. The stench of open sewers, plus the exhaust from motorcycles, jeepneys, and cars make the air heavy and unpleasant to breathe. Typhoon rains that fell for three days prior to our arrival flooded the streets of Navotas, such that we had to wade through 2.5 feet of water to get to our first host families. It takes days for such flood waters to recede. Hundreds of street vendors sell everything from live chickens and fresh-caught fish to cooked meats, rice, and noodles. The volume of noise from these vendors, the constant flow of traffic, plus the shouting and laughter of hundreds of children playing in the streets and the constant chatter of passers-by add up to an urban din not unlike the noise of major metropolitan cities back in the U.S.

Peoples’ homes vary widely in construction and style – some are cinderblock constructions, while most are combinations of cement block and steel, patched together with scraps of rusted steel and discarded pieces of plastic and cardboard. For those who live literally on Manila Bay, houses are constructed on long bamboo stilts, and a system of rickety bamboo bridges and walkways guide residents to their houses, which are perched some 20-30 feet above the water. These are the poorest of the poor of Navotas, who live no better than their counterparts who have found sanctuary in abandoned niches in the Navotas cemetery. Elsewhere in Navotas, dwellings are packed tightly together, with alleyways between houses no more than 4 feet wide. Large families (5-10 children) are very common in Navotas, with all family members sleeping on the floor of a space no larger than 10’ X 10’. Needless to say, personal privacy is never an option in Navotas!
Running water is rare in the town, so water is collected in large plastic drums outside the homes, to be used for the families’ washing, cooking, and laundering. Filtered water for drinking is purchased daily from water vendors. Roaches, mice, and rats are commons sights in the daily home lives of Navotans.

As poor as the people of Navotas may be, I was struck by the genuine care that each has for the other in this community. While ragged children and elderly people can often be seen pawing at car windows in stopped traffic throughout metro Manila, beggars and street children are conspicuously absent in Navotas. Navotans literally feed each other, sharing what little food they can afford to buy and prepare. Whether it’s their own children or a perfect stranger, all are fed. No one begs.

I was also struck by the simple faith of Navotans. Once, while celebrating mass with our host families, the simple requests of the Lord’s Prayer rang true to me in light of their uncomplicated lives: “Holy God, make your Kingdom come, let your will be done. Feed us, forgive us, protect us. Amen.” I was also struck by the lack of complaining I heard among Navotans. Plenty of gossip (as any community is wont to have!), but no grumbling, no longing to get up and out of Navotas. It’s as if Navotans are resigned to their circumstances, seeing their poverty not as their “plight,” but more as their “situation.”

As a result, I witnessed Navotans living in the present, uninhibited by worries about the future, but living in the day, for the day. Believe me, I am not trying to romanticize poverty. In truth, I find myself more than a bit conflicted, even frustrated, by some of the very things that moved me in my time in Navotas. More on this in my next installment!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

One Month in the Philippines

It's been too long since I updated -- my apologies to those of you who have been checking in regularly! I'm a bit limited right now in my ability to incorporate my own photos on this blog, but that no reason for me not to write up an update. Here goes . . .

Hard to believe that I've been in the Philippines for one month already. I arrived here exactly one month ago today. Six more months will fly by, I have a feeling! The rainy season has been just that -- rainy! It rains every day and every night -- downpours usually in the afternoon and late at night. The afternoon precip does a lot to cool the temps after the tropical sun heats things up in the mornings. Tropical vegetation seems to thrive on neglect here! Lots of sun, lots of rain -- what more does a tropical plant need?

The tertianship program continues to go very well. We've spent the last two weeks presenting our personal life histories. Each of us has given two presentations -- the first on our life from birth to the beginnings of our Jesuit vocation, and the second on our life in the Society of Jesus. It's been a profound experience to prayerfully reflect upon my life and to hear the reflections of my fellow tertians on their own life experiences. Our experiences of life before and since we entered the Jesuits are as varied as the countries we come from. Many have done doctoral work in fields such as communications, pastoral ministry, economics, and Islamic studies. Many of us shared experiences of living with and serving the poor and marginalized of our respective countries. One has done extensive work with refugees in East Africa. Another has done worked with the Jesuits in China, which is largely an "underground" operation in that country. Still another has worked with tribal peoples in southern India. Needless to say, we have a lot to share with each other about how God has led us in our lives as Jesuits, and to do so in a prayeful way is indeed a gift.

Fortunately, I'm able to keep in close contact with my cousins Aurora and Tina and their families, as well as my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette, as they all live close by in Quezon City. Au (Aurora's knickname) has been particularly gracious in taking me out to sample Philippine cuisine around town. For those of you who know what "balut" is, don't you worry. I'm keeping clear of that! Inculturation does have its limits, even for this hardy Jesuit!

This coming week, we tertians enter into an immersion experience with poor families in the town of Navotas, just north of Manila. We will be placed with two separate families, living for four days with each family in their home, in an effort to get to know the joys and struggles of Filipino families in this economically depressed community. While we don't know completely what to expect, we enter into this experience with opennenss. I'll fill you in on my own experiences in Navotas in my next update.

Thanks, as always, for your continued thoughts and prayers. Be assured of mine for you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Moving in to the Loyola House of Studies

After ten wonderful days with my relatives, it was time to move into the Jesuit community in which I will be starting my Jesuit tertianship program (see explanation of Jesuit tertianship on the right). My Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette, along with two of my cousins and their children, delivered me to the Loyola House of Studies (LHS), a large Jesuit Community at the Ateneo de Manila University campus. Those who live at LHS are largely young Jesuits who are doing studies at various levels -- finishing undergraduate work, studying philosophy, or studying theology. There are between 30 and 40 young Jesuits in studies here at LHS. Other older Jesuits who live at LHS include Jesuits who serve on the philosophy and theology faculty at the adjoining Loyola School of Theology, as well as the neighboring San Jose Seminary (diocesan). Needless to say, this is one very vibrant place, energized by young Jesuits engaged in the long process of study and formation.

As I explain on the right, tertianship is the final phase of Jesuit formation. We tertians are situated on the 5th floor (top floor) of the mid-century style building. Open-air corridors look out onto courtyards filled with gorgeous tropical vegetation of palms, birds of paradise, and calachuchi trees. We each have our own rooms which feature have two sets of large louvre blinds on opposing walls to allow for much needed cross breeze in the rooms. Floor-to-ceiling screens keep out the pesky mosquitoes. There is no airconditioning in the bedrooms, but we each have a fan to keep the air moving. Each room is also outfitted with a sink and medicine cabinet, small closet, desk, and bookshelf. The bed is a 4" thick foam rubber pad on a raised wooden pallette -- not fancy, but surprisingly comfortable! Common bathroom and showers are right down the hall. Already carving out a rut in the hallway as I make my way to the showers frequently through the day!

It's been unusually hot for this time of year (rainy season), so temps have gotten up well into the 90s. The only thing that cools things off, though, are the heavy rains, which fall almost daily / nightly. I'm told that temps will continue to fall through the months of November and December, and will stay relatively low (low 80's) through February.

I'll take pictures of my digs soon and post them on this blog. It's good to be in my new Jesuit home away from home, and to start the tertianship program. More on that in the next blog . . .

Monday, September 3, 2007

Villa Escudero: A Piece of Filipino Heaven

I can honestly say that Villa Escudero is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. Situated in the stately coconut groves of the province of Laguna in southern Luzon, Villa Escudero is a resort that not only revives the body and spirit, but also preserves and prospers the richness of Filipino culture.

The Escudero family developed their extensive estate as a refuge for tourists and Balikbayans (i.e., Filipinos returning to visit their homeland) alike. The grounds are meticulously landscaped to feature the lush, exotic plantlife of the Philippine countryside. Uniformed landscape artists and gardeners are out early every morning maintaining the gardens around the guest cottages, chapel, and conference center. The architecture features the exquisite work of Filipino craftsmen, utilizing native materials, such as bamboo, ebony and nara, and various grass weaving techniques to decorate interior walls and ceilings.

Room amenities in our cottage included full bath, a loft sleeping area, and a lovely front porch, close to the swimming pool. No airconditioning, but ample screened windows and fans kept tropical breezes moving into and out of our room. No TV, which allowed us to fully engage the beauty all around us.

A long driveway through a thick coconut grove brings guests to the Escudero hacienda. Hospitality staff, donning bright native garb uniforms, are there to greet guests with cups of native fruit juices. After checking in, a passenger tram, pulled by a water buffalo, brings guests from the front desk area to their cottages. A guitarist and singer sit in the back of each flower-bedecked tram to serendate guests with Filipino folk songs. A museum, curated by the Escudero family, features an extensive and eclectic collection of objects on Philippine history and culture. Each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a special dance and music show is presented. The performance, in travelogue form, traces the rich history of the Philippines through various dances and songs. The show is mounted in the beautiful open-air dining room, adjacent to the river which is fed by a volcanic spring. The large volcano Mount Banahaw presides over the scenic river landscape.

Needless to say, our two days and one night were a feast for the senses. Our stay included not only the show and overnight accommodations, but also a delicious supper of roast fish, pork, and native vegetables, and traditional Filipino breakfast, all wonderfully prepared and presented.

I left Villa Escudero (reluctlantly), feeling revived, inspired, and proud of my Filipino heritage I am only now coming to learn and appreciate.

Thanks for reading all of this. Just a few more days with my good relatives, then I move to the Ateneo de Manila to start my Jesuit tertianship program. More on that in future posts!

Friday, August 31, 2007

History & Scenery

Got back late last evening from an overnight trip to the northwest coast of the island of Luzon. My Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette and I traveled to the city of Vigan, an 16th century Spanish colonial town, famous for its well-preserved buildings. I'd compare it to Williamsburg in the U.S. It was a long drive up to Vigan from Manila -- about 6 - 7 hours -- but well worth it! We traveled through miles and miles of rice plantations, with gorgeous views of the central and northern mountain ranges and the China Sea off to the west. We must have passed through about a dozen small towns in the large province of Ilocos, from which my aunt comes. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, and temps in teh 80s made for perfect traveling weather.

We stayed overnight in the Plaza Hotel in Vigan, which itself is beautifully restored to its 18th century glory. We took a horse and buggy ride (called a "calesa") through the town, and stopped in to see the cathedral church, the archbishop's palace, and many other historical sites. Lots of little shops selling lovely handicrafts, especially wood carvings, pottery and weaving. Flilipinos, I am quickly learning, are tremendous artisans, and very proud of their work, rightfully so.

Back for a day of rest today, then off tomorrow (Sunday) for an overnight trip to the southern part of Luzon where my mother is from. More to see and do, and I'm soaking it all in!

I've got lots of photos, but Blogspot is being a little stubborn in not letting me post them. Stand by, and you'll see them soon, I hope!

Thanks for the comments! Keep 'em coming! I continue to remember you in my thoughts and prayers!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Long Journey and a Warm Welcome

After a long and relatively smooth 16-hour flight, I'm finally here in Manila, Philippines. It was hard for me to believe that I actually arrived, so long have I been planning for and looking forward to this trip. It was after 10pm when I arrived, so I didn't get to see much of Manila as my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tonette drove me to their home for my week-long stay with them. They have a nice home in Quezon City, which is just outside of Manila. They and my cousins and second cousins have been treating me ROYALLY thus far.

I used this first day to lie low and get over jetlag. Hard for the system to adjust when there is exactly 12 hours difference between Cleveland and Manila. But, my mid-day sleepyness will pass, I'm sure. I've been playing a lot with my second cousins, Franciso (aka, "Kiko") and Francesca (aka, "Chesca"). They're 8 and 5 years old respectively, full of questions and loaded with tons of energy. It's been good to re-connect with their mom (my cousin Tina) and her husbandR oque. as well as my other cousin Aurora and her husband Carlos and their 4-year old twin sons Andre and Joquin, and their 8-month old daughter Maria.
Got that all straight? It's going to take me a while to keep straight which child belongs to which cousin of mine, but I'll manage.

I'm off to Vigan tomorrow with my aunt and uncle for an overnight siite-seeing tour. I'll be sure to include photos of the historical sites I see in my next update of this blog. Thanks for checking in! Stay well, and thanks for the thoughts and prayers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Welcome to Fr. Guiao's blog!

Glad you're checking in! This is a new venture for me, but I'm excited to share my experiences in the Philippines as I pursue my Jesuit tertianship.

I'll try to update this blog weekly, filling you in on my adventures, travels, insights, and experiences along the way.

Thanks for keeping me in your prayers. Count on mine for you!

Check back often!