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Tim Duncan:Pop PhotoHead Coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs gearing up versus the Miami Heat prior to Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images– http://www.nba.com/spurs/tim-duncan-career-retrospective/

Several people should find it strange I should be writing this because I’ve never called myself a basketball fan—at the very least, not growing up. I’ve never seen LeBron play for Cleveland before he came home and my first favorite NBA team was the Toronto Raptors because they had a Velociraptor for a mascot.

That said, unlike the general public that make up the crazy basketball-loving Philippines, I should probably be crucified for even trying to just talk about basketball—let alone, trying to do so about a basketball player who’s already loved by millions.

And, that would make sense. Why dare trying to talk about a the number 1 draft pick of 1997 as if I should know anything that people who’ve been watching him since then (or before that, even) should already know? Maybe I should feel more confident talking about him if I could say that I watched at least 10 years of his 19-year stint (but I didn’t—and the Spurs even won their 4th championship in 2007). Maybe if I watched him for at least 5 years, around the same season The Big Fundamental played his 1000th game with San Antonio (but, again, I didn’t).

3 years. I only watched Tim Duncan play for 3 years of his entire career, and I still somehow stomached the pride to call myself a fan of his and the San Antonio Spurs.

Hopping on the ‘bandwagon’ 

I certainly picked a convenient time to be a Spurs fan in 2013. That’s because they ended up beating the Miami Heat and becoming the NBA champions the following year. While personal experience has taught me that the flak of liking a play-off team (especially at 23) is a very real thing, it only seems worse when they’ve made it to the finals and actually won. And, while I can imagine the off-putting feeling of new people liking teams that others have loved for years, it’s never short of a disheartening experience seeing the strong hate towards people who’ve come to start liking the game the first time—most especially a lot of it that’s directed towards the new Warriors and Cavs fans these past 2 seasons.

But surprisingly, amidst all the vibrant hate that manages to surface because of social media, I found myself in a place of content never having yet seen that brand of revulsion from the biggest of basketball fans (a good number of them Spurs fans) I’ve come to know. Amazingly, while loud basketball enthusiasts never seem to hold back anything from praise to criticism, these giant Spurs fans I’ve managed to get to know seem to be able to provide just as much analyses, without hardly ever lashing out on anyone.

Naturally, and not even knowing what a power forward was in 2013, it became so much easier to be a fan the Spurs, and basketball in general, because of the local fan base. It became so much easier to want to read up on them, and become an even deeper fan even outside of what I’d see them do on the court. Though, I’ll proudly admit that games like Game 3 of the 2013 NBA finals against the Heat, with 16 3-pointers from the Spurs, could be enough to make anyone a fan.

So, where is the praise for Tim Duncan?

Strange. I originally intended for this article to be about how marvelous and game changing, as much as life-changing, the person of Tim Duncan was but instead I found myself talking about the fans he inspired. But, somehow, I think that in itself [his fan base] may be one of his greatest legacies.

Surely, there’s no doubting how easy it would be to qualify the greatness of an athlete by sheer numbers—and with 5 NBA championships, 15 All Star appearances, 2 MVP Awards, 3 Finals MVP Awards, being the franchise’s all-time leading scorer to date, and being the third player in all of NBA history to win 1,000 games while being the first person to do so with one team, it’s absolutely no question. I’m sure Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, whom he’s also set a record with for the most wins by a trio with 575 regular season wins and 126 playoff wins, would agree, too.

But while those awards are a few The Big Fundamental can be proud to look back on, I hope sees what kind of fans he’s bred throughout his 19-year stint as a Spur. He bred fans that didn’t just explode everywhere, they did it where it counted: on the court and in conversation. He bred fans who’ve been and continue to be a number of the league’s greatest (any visit to any NBA player’s Twitter account may very well validate that) And, most especially, he bred fans who never seemed to treat their love for basketball as an exclusive privilege. He bred fans that ended up sharing that love and allowing the ‘new players’ on the team to grow with them. He seems to have bred a number selfless ones—and there’s no doubt they’ve taken so much after Tim Duncan and his team. Now that’s certainly a legacy, on top of any physical awards, to be proud of.

There may be no rings awarded for just sheer selflessness, no trophies to kiss given out just for loyalty, and certainly no outrageous payouts with the salary cuts he’s opted to take, but I do certainly hope that he realizes what he’s brought into the game, and to people everywhere; players and fans alike, should be exceedingly  enough to assure that he’s going out as one of the greatest ever to pick up a basketball even without a 6th championship.

A final goodbye

While there’s so many ways I can think of to say goodbye to one of the game of basketball’s greatest, I’ve opted to end this the way he probably would: making it less about himself and about someone else.

In the same way Tim answered this right after winning the 2014 NBA finals, and when he was asked about what made his relationship with Coach Pop after 17 years special, I think it’s a perfect send off.

“[It’s] his fire,” Duncan said. “He brings it every year—his passion for the game, his ability to change with the game, and change us with the game. It’s amazing; it keeps us fresh.”

Mr. Duncan,

How I wish you could only know how much you’ve changed the game and changed so many people, including a random 23 year-old 3 years ago, with it. While your quiet composure may similarly reflect your decision to go out silently before the next season starts, I genuinely hope that you know so many of us will miss that loud fire and passion you brought to the game that you let speak for itself. And, certainly, constantly being left breathless while saying not just, ‘That’s an amazing player,’ but also, ‘That’s an amazing team.’ A team you built, and a team I’m thankful, no matter how late, I learned to call mine, too.

Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for changing with the game, changing it completely with your existence, and changing all of us with it for a long time to come. There will be several other MVPs racking up more awards anyone can count to come, but there will certainly never be another Tim Duncan.

One of the greatest stories (and birthday gifts) I’ve ever chanced upon on in my life surprisingly came in the form of an e-mail at 1:30AM back in 2015.

A stranger, who chanced upon this blog and read an article I wrote titled ‘My 3 favorite Blue Roast stories,’ decided to write hers to me. In her own words: “… Read the article about your favorite Blue Roast stories. I was about to read older posts until I saw your message at the end saying you’d love to hear some Blue Roast stories. Thought my story would be a good read for you since you like reading stories and I like telling them. Hehe.”

I will say as early as now that there is no greater joy for a storyteller to have his/her story lead to another one– more so, when it’s an even better one.

Curled up in my bed at around 2AM after a birthday dinner last year, I was close to tearing up reading this. I asked this person last year (who specifically requested to remain anonymous) for permission to share this and I’m very glad she said yes.

Below is the exact e-mail she sent to me.

Thank you for your bravery, dear, and for a story that continues to fill my heart with so much even after a year. I promise it will forever remain a part of this storyteller’s heart as not just a favorite to tell, but the one of the most moving he’s ever read.

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Hi Serge!

I’m XXXXXXX XXXXXXX. I just graduated from Ateneo, BS XXXXXXX, and I stumbled upon your blog 5 minutes ago cause someone shared the Good Friday Homily from your blog to Facebook. I realized I’ve been to your blog before! Read the article about your favorite Blue Roast stories. I was about to read older posts until I saw your message at the end saying you’d love to hear some Blue Roast stories. Thought my story would be a good read for you since you like reading stories and I like telling them. Hehe.

For three years I was with one guy. He was my best friend. We were so different from each other yet everything just fit perfectly. We thought we’d end up marrying each other. But on the first week of Senior year, we broke up. There were other parties involved and it was extremely painful for us both. 2014 was the hardest year of our lives cause we were going through so many things aside from the break up. 

Then Blue Roast came. Everyone was asking me if I was gonna give it to him. And I told them that I didn’t want to. He wasn’t an option. I was single at this point and I wasn’t seeing anybody but he was still with the girl. I wanted to respect their relationship, not one to meddle since a lot of that drama already happened during the early parts of the year. I saw him, though. I wanted to have a few minutes with him and so I invited him to come to the smocket with me. The one at 3.5. We had a good talk. Started catching up. Small talk. We didn’t have to say much. A lot of smiling happened. I guess after so much pain we were finally on the same page. We appreciated what we went through. We had a good run. We wished each other the best. 

After our sticks, we went back. While walking in front of Leong, the fireworks started. It was amazing. It was romantic. It was absolutely breathtaking. To have them right at that moment. I had a huge smile on my face but there was something in my gut. I knew I had to do something. I was scared at the same time I was ready to take the plunge.

I told him to run. He said no, it’s okay. But I insisted. “Run.” He paused and asked “Are you sure?” I paused, smiled, and said “At least you’ll be with her.” He stopped. He hugged me for a while. He held my hands and looked at me. He said thank you, then he ran.

I had a good cry walking from the North Parking to Bel Field. It was painful, but it felt amazing. There were no blue roses involved. Just us. I never expected my Senior year to be like this. It was hell. For both of us. A lot of it was because we never knew this could happen. All of college you thought you could plan your lives together cause you saw the future with each other and then one day, poof. But telling him to run felt great. Honestly, I’m surprised cause I actually meant every word. 

I’m so sorry if this was too long. It’s 1:30 AM and I just finished doing my post-graduation general cleaning where I threw away too many pictures and notes and what not. Haha. I think I got too caught up in the emotional process of throwing them away. Hehe. 

If you did finish reading the e-mail, thank you so much for your time! And I hope you liked the story. 🙂 Any reaction is very much appreciated. 

Have a great Easter Sunday!

To which my reply over a year ago was:

Hi XXXX!

That’s a beautiful story. The ‘run’ part got me tearing up a little bit, seriously. It’s painfully sweet but that was such a good read. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

I’m actually still awake because I just celebrated my birthday, and this is a beautiful gift from a complete stranger. I hope you’ll allow me the honor of posting your story in your own words. I’ll understand if you’d want it anonymous or if you’d like it to remain a story I just tell out loud instead of posting it. Please just know it’s a beautiful story and I’m very touched you shared it with me.

And of course, congratulations on graduating! Go change the world. 🙂

** Should you want to share your Blue Roast story with me, too, please feel free to e-mail me. Again, I love hearing and reading stories as much as telling them. Maybe yours might inspire someone, too. 🙂

Dear President Noy,

You spent over a good 2 hours last Monday telling the story of the Philippines’ progress over the past 5 years. I thank you very much for your hard work, and I hope you’ll allow me to return the favor by telling you a story this time.

This particular one takes place on the 27th of July 2015. You were obviously delivering your final State of the Nation Address (SONA) near Batasang Pambansa with the entire nation’s eyes and ears on you— while I, on the other hand, was at a quiet restaurant, table-for-one, working on a presentation.

I was just getting ready to head out when, all of a sudden, at 5:59 pm, my friend Albert started calling me on the phone. I immediately picked it up and on the other end he just kept shouting over and over again, “Nasa SONA ka! Nasa SONA ka!” (You’re at the SONA!)

While that commotion was happening, another friend was calling me up. Along with those two calls, my phone kept on vibrating from an influx of text messages and notifications that were coming in so fast I had to put the phone down.

About just 2 minutes after that call, I had over 20-something text messages and I kept receiving even more notifications from Facebook, Viber, and Twitter. There was so much coming in that I had to turn my phone off for a while just to save the battery because I still had a dinner to attend.

When I finally made it home, I was ready to check that photo of me you used in your presentation and see the fuss that came with it. Once I got my laptop running, and in the span of a few hours of dinner, I had never seen so many notifications in my life.

“X people posted on your wall,” “X people like a photo on your wall,” “X people mentioned you…” was all over my feed. Friend requests from people I’ve never met were coming in, and several posts and photos I still haven’t managed to reply to up to this day remain unanswered. I had never received this much attention, and it remains the craziest experience I’ve ever had with social media in my life.

This is what one photo can now do in this generation, Mr President. And after an experience this daunting, only one thing comes to mind for me to say to you: I owe you a very big thank you – but not for the 15 seconds of fame.

I’ll be honest when I say I was very touched by the short time under the spotlight. There’s no denying that. But, as I wrote on my own Facebook wall, what continues to fill my heart with great joy is knowing that so many people in my generation were actually watching the SONA that day.

Growing up in this day and age, I experience first-hand the rampancy of hearing that “there’s no hope for this country.” Yet, there I was on a random Monday night, working on a presentation, minding my own business, and receiving a flurry of messages from several of my friends – all during the actual airing time of the SONA.

When I got home that night, I even went through the posts and noticed timestamps from all the notifications. I realized they were also all during the time you were speaking.

In the midst of a widespread culture of hate in this country, I am reminded that my generation – the millennial generation, does care about the welfare of the Philippines. In the midst of all the attention a single photo has garnered, I am reminded of the moving words Cardinal Tagle shared back in 2013 during my graduation.

He explained how his near-papacy experience made him popular with the media and, in turn, raised the status of Filipinos all over the world. He explained how he didn’t enjoy the attention but that his coverage managed to uplift other Filipinos from their own experiences of suffering. In his own words: “Hindi pala yun para sa akin.” (It wasn’t for me.)

At a time when people think there is no hope for our country, I am reminded not to believe that, because I’ve seen that hope first-hand; and it’s rooted in its people, the Filipino people.

In your speech, you thanked my generation for helping contribute to the progress of this country. I hope I can speak for the most of the millennial generation when I say we are honored to share the responsibility of building this country with you, President Noy.

A Millennial’s promise

As a part of the next generation that has on its shoulders the name of the Philippines in the years to come, I want to let you know that one thing we’re already very good at is speaking out. We’re a very vocal generation.

Some may take this to mean we’re a very vain generation, given our social media pages filled with photos and statuses. Maybe that’s true for some cases – but if you turn toward the bigger picture, we show you a generation of people no longer scared to express an opinion, no matter how small.

We now we have voices, and we now know we have the means to make them louder. We now have the means to be heard.

Yes, we take selfies, but we also give our take on who should and shouldn’t run for the presidency in 2016. Yes, we share posts from 9-Gag and BuzzFeed, but we share our frustrations and joys also with the links of local and international news articles. Yes, we sometimes post about our sadness and anger every so often, but we always express our disgust and intolerance for anything closely related to corruption, and discrimination involving gender, sexuality, and religion.

We have the means to make more informed choices now, and our generations have so much to learn from each other if we can all be humble enough to do so.

Let’s learn how to communicate without the use of hate. Let’s learn from the visit of Pope Francis, his mercy and compassion, and not leave that responsibility solely to the CBCP. Let’s learn together and finally put an end to this tolerance for corruption and irresponsibility with the environment.

Most importantly, let’s learn to stop saying there’s no hope for this Philippines and start seeing what’s right in front of all of us: our people – the genuine hope for this country’s progress.

I’ve seen that hope countless times, Mr President, and it has the power to change things and move more people. It’s the same hope I see in faces on the streets and faces in profile pictures. It’s the same hope that tells me that our progress as a country isn’t a delusion, but rather a result of definitive action from all of us.

So long as that hope exists in our people, I will always be more than willing to carry bottles of water under the rain for it – because that’s exactly what this country needs: people to hope, and people to act on it.

Thank you very much, President Noy.

Serge

* This article also came out on Rappler.com: http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/101150-dear-pnoy-sona-photo

A few days ago, I posted this photo of Robert Downey, Jr. as my profile picture on Facebook.

In all honesty, I’m very honored (enough to want to photoshop myself into a photo) to share the exact same birth date with the person who got me into the Marvel movies. I’ll never forget the high I got from watching the first Iron Man back in 2008, and DC made that year even more memorable when they released The Dark Knight– the film that remains to be my favorite superhero movie of all time.

I love superheroes. I imagine how dark the world would be without them. They don’t just save the fictional worlds where they’re written to exist in, they save the real one from plunging into what I imagine to be a sad and hopeless one. They make the world a better place because we know, on some level, that they exist. And they don’t just do good, they inspire others to be good. To be better or be the best versions of ourselves, even.

I love superheroes. So much that, when I promised myself that this would be the year I’d have a small party for the kids of Kythe, it was clear to me that it had to be the theme.

I’d been entertaining the idea of having one for years but this year, in particular, I felt that something was egging me to finally make it happen. There were too many signs and I’m the kind of person who believes that things don’t just happen by chance.

I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the second installment of the Avengers is coming out on April 22, while DC is celebrating 80 years with a giant celebration in the Philippines on April 18. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that two very close friends of mine who share the same birth month (one of them, even the same birthday!) are also part of Kythe-Ateneo– the same organization that caters to children with cancer.

So, while I was sitting down planning for the next quarter of the year, I immediately got in touch with my friends, Elijah and Issa, to ask if they were game for it. They didn’t even take a second to say, “Yes!” The next few weeks turned into visiting NCH and meeting our old hospital coordinator Ate Maryan, spending a day in Tutuban buying props, giveaways, and DIY costumes, and inviting a small group of friends who were just as game to perform, interact, color, take photos, and sing, all of which, with and for the kids.

Looking back and now that it’s over, it amazes me on how everything came together in the end. So much had happened in the span of two weeks.

I spent a day in Divi buying cloth by the yard just to cut it into capes with two very good friends.

I saw a mother helping make a costume for her son

and a father who willingly put on a cape to make his barely three month old daughter smile.

I watched people who had never been part of Kythe talk and play with kids as if they had been doing for years

and saw an old Kyther who slept at 3AM the night before just to finish a costume for the kids.

And, as for the kids themselves, I witnessed child after child smile and pose as if they were invincible to the pain of needles and sickness.

They will always be the bravest people I will ever meet.

It’s people and moments like these that remind me that superheroes are larger that what’s seen on the big screen or in the person of Robert Downey, Jr. They’re here, and they are very very real. These friends, who had commitments for work and med school, still spent a Saturday afternoon at a hospital in full costume and helped distribute food and put on a show for the kids, these parents who tirelessly work to take care of their children and still find the time to put a cape on and color pictures with them, and, most especially, these kids, the bravest of them all, who fight big words like ‘cancer’ and ‘needles’ every day, and still smile up to their ears– they are the testaments to what it means to be superheroes.

I suppose that’s why it’s so easy for me to love the idea of superheroes: because I’ve already met so many of them. These good people, they are the real superheroes; and getting to spend an afternoon with them made this birthday all the more special.

So, thank you.

From the bottom of my 24-year-old heart, thank you.

* Author’s note: All photos are c/o professional photographer and good friend from college, Matt Lee. Despite having a shoot he had to rush to in MOA, he spent part of his day just to take photos of this party. As I said on FaceBook, Thank you for not only giving me photos I can look back on but for playing with the kids, too, Matt. I have no doubt that you’ll be shooting my wedding someday also– and by then, I won’t accept you doing it pro bono out of the goodness of your heart. Thank you, Matt. You’re as real as superheroes get.

Original non-photoshopped RDJ photo here: http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSldqFSQbf-tq0tM1WxD13MgJcB0uJ_ey6QwygO8DddjmZpFow3kQ Thank you to Krizia Lim for editing the photo!

Below is the homily that Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J. gave today at the Gesu for Good Friday.

I didn’t get to hear this in person. I only stumbled on this when my friend, Harvey Parafina, posted pictures of the sheets of paper it was printed on. I was very moved by the words that I immediately had to type them out. I can only imagine how much more moving this would have been to have heard this in person.

Thank you very much for sharing this online, Harvey. It’s exactly what this time for reflection is all about and what I needed to hear on a night like this.

Waa

A Good Friday Homily by Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J.

A couple of months ago, ISIS took a video as they incinerated a Jordanian pilot in a cage. My friends said the internet was awash with the footage, but I resisted the temptation of watching it. I learned my lesson many years ago when a friend sent me a dreadful video. It showed a Taliban skillfully and very quickly slicing a man’s neck to decapitate him– all of ten seconds, it seemed it was. The dreadful image stayed with me much longer than I wanted it to; plus the gurgling, spurting sound of blood from the grunting man– it lingered in my ears more tenaciously that I could shake it off. To the Muslim fundamentalists, the whole of Islamic religion has come down now to only this: “If you are a sinner, we will kill you. You’re not Muslim? You’re a sinner, we kill you. You do not worship Allah? You’re a sinner, we kill you. You’re a friend of Jews and US? You’re a sinner, we kill you.” Right now, I’m not sure which is more dreadful– to see a man incinerated, decapitated, or to realize that humanity can and will sink deeper into unspeakable depravity… all in the name of Allah, Yahweh, or God.

My sisters and brothers, today is Good Friday. The cross is once again front and center of our gaze– reminiscent of a torture as depraved as incinerating a pilot or slicing off a man’s head– amid cheers and jeers of, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” But remember what our elders taught? “That you should never look at the cross without, at the same time, think of your sins.” Our elders said, “Your sins, your immoralities, and perversities nailed Christ onto the cross.” So, Good Friday after Good Friday, the dying, tortured, mangled Christ compels us to think of our sin, our sin, our most grievous sin. Our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault. Krus, kasalanan; kasalanan, krus.

If the Islam fundamentalists have reduced their whole religion into a single issue, we Catholics might actually have our own version of this reduction: that everything Christ was and did, especially the cross, all of that comes to is only one issue: kasalanan. Well, there’s a further complication to that reduction. It has compelled us to think in moral dichotomies. Who is a sinner and who is not? Who’s going to heaven, who to hell? What does the law say, what is the violation? And not very far behind: Who is Catholic and will be saved, who’s not and will fry? Who can be baptized, who mustn’t? Who’s married in Church, who’s living in sin? Who’s team-buhay o team-patay o team-tatay? Who’s straight, who’s gay? The entire life and teaching of Christ, now reduced to either sin or purity, but mostly to sin. And so our Good Friday formulas go: Jesus did because of sin. He died for our sins. He died to save us from sin. And don’t get me wrong, all that is very, very true. But it is very, very lacking.

For what about love? I mean, what about the cross and love? But, on the second thought, never mind the Lord’s love, right? Jesus’ love complicates well laid-out doctrines, right? Love just blurs the line between sinner and God. So, yes, he healed the sick, but, no wait, he did it on the Sabbath. Well, yes, he prayed for and pardoned sinners, but no, wait, prostitutes touched him and he didn’t even flinch. Well, yes, he even raised the dead, but no, wait, he touched cadavers. No. Leave love out of this. Love is too scandalous. Love relaxes the boundaries between sinner and righteous, between heaven and hell. Love does not disambiguate between the point where God’s mercy should stop, so that God’s justice can begin. No, no, no, never mind love and the cross. Love blights our religion with “relativism.” No: cross and sin, that’s it! Never mind love.

Well, the people who killed Jesus did so because they couldn’t stand too much love. His love crossed the line to the outrageous. Those arms are better pinned on a cross. They embraced way too many people. Those feet, they refused to toe the line; they’re better off nailed stock-still. And that heart– that heart that’s way too soft on sinners, we must bleed it dry to a full stop. The only thing that can stop outrageous love is outrageous hate. So “crucify him, crucify him.”

My dear sisters and brothers, I respect our elders very much and what they’ve taught us. But I wish to still say that we cannot reduce the cross of Christ to just an issue of our sinning– even if it’s sinning greatly. I imagine, if I asked the dying Christ, “Why are you allowing all this to happen to you?”, the last thing he’d say would be: “Because you are sinful!” Rather, I seem to hear him say, “Because I loved… too much, I guess.” In fact, everything he uttered as he reached his last breath added up to that: “Because I loved.” That’s our Lord’s “reduction.” That’s what his cross is all about, much more than sin. It is all about the extent God would go to tell us again and again, “Anak, loving you is not just what I do. It is who I am. I love you into life. I will love you unto death.”

There’s a song we sing every Good Friday, and my favorite line in that song is this: “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” When we look at the Christ on the cross, we may very well “tremble, tremble, tremble” out of fear for our sins, and what our sins can do. But I hope that as we grow deeper in love with the Lord, when we do look at him on the cross, that we realize how our frail, quivering bodies cannot hold so much love… so that all we can do is “tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Image c/o: Churchhousecollection

“My friend, Thomas, is getting married on March 15.”

This was the one thing that was running through my mind between this weekend and when Thomas broke the news to us during lunch in the Fort. As soon as he did, I immediately pulled my phone out and asked him which date he was free to celebrate the bachelor’s party.

We all agreed on March 13.

When you’ve met someone who’s as good a friend as Thomas, you take the responsibility of trying to be a better friend and live up to what it means to be part of the entourage. So, when this Friday finally came along, I made sure to push the entire group to go a little further, take out anything to do with strip clubs, and follow the advice of what a very important series in our generation taught us: suit up.

Five bachelors about to have a good time.

We decided to go and have dinner out, walk around the Fort and take a few photos, and go to a club where our very close friend, Migs Santillan, would be the DJ during the peak of the night.

When we finally had our table and drinks, we made it a point to toast every time before taking in anything to drink. Though not delivered in full, below was a toast and short message I had for the groom to be and the other friends who would be by his side throughout the course of this lifetime. As a writer, I take every opportunity I can to bring out a little more of the ‘special’ into the ordinary world through words. And, as far as I’m concerned, marriage is one of the most special moments of any person’s life.

A Toast to a Bachelor and Groom to Be

Friends, brothers, what is left to say really but: here is to tonight!

Not to celebrate it like our contemporaries who believe that nights like these are the last days of freedom– no. Anyone who thinks of marriage as a binding cage, or the end of a game, is probably missing the entire point of it. Tonight is nothing close to celebrating a last night of freedom, or any last for that matter– it’s a celebration of beginning, a celebration of firsts.

Tonight we celebrate the first night of a stronger bond of brotherhood– a bond so strong that no demands of work, med school, law school, or any amount of alcohol, will be able break it.

Tonight is the first night of our dear friend’s journey into a life of freedom and commitment– two things many people misunderstand to be mutually exclusive.

Tonight is not about lasts, it’s about firsts.

So, tonight we drink our cups to Thomas not because this is the last night he can but rather because it’s the first time we celebrate this renewed, stronger brotherhood. We drink to the start of a new adventure– our new adventure, and not the end of one.

Tonight we dance not because these are the last steps, twists and turns we have to give but because we can and we will for a brother! If you can’t dance to save your life like I do, you’ll dance to celebrate it for the gift of Thomas.

Tonight, we celebrate not a last night of freedom, but the freedom and love to choose someone to commit to for the rest of eternity– exactly what Thomas will do; which is the exact same freedom and love that brings us all of us here tonight.

What words are left to say but… bottoms up and here’s to tonight, boys! To the first of more adventures!

Four bachelors and one husband about to have a good time. Not so different? I thought so, too.

As promised: friends and bros for life, Thomas. Congratulations to you and Mrs. Cruel!

*Author’s note: I make a lot of references to drinking alcohol here but I didn’t drink any. While I dance like a drunk person when the music’s really good, I only drank water and Coke. I was designated driver for the night and made sure not to have anything unfortunate happen to any of my friends, most especially the groom. This is a message to anyone who believes that they’re invincible and can rationalize that they should drink because it’s a special night. You can– just make sure you’re NOT driving. Don’t drink and drive. Be smarter than that.

When you leave no space for questions, you leave no space for growth.

I remember discussing similar points made in this article during my Philosophy of Religion class under Sir Calasanz. This, as most of his students will agree though, is a much simpler read but remains to be, in my humble opinion, a very timely one for the Lenten season.

I do believe Lent really is a time for self-growth and appreciation of what we cannot fully understand. Hope we can all try a little harder to give up what we’ve grown so comfortable with in order to deepen and appreciate what it is we already have or believe in.

Thank you very much to Brandon Ambrosino for this piece, and to Gian Dapul, dear friend and classmate, for introducing it to me years ago.

Original Art: God by SoundArt

The first time I met Nietzsche was on a t-shirt.

One of the guys from my youth group was wearing one of those shirts that I think people buy from Pacific Sun, and it was emblazoned with a slogan that I didn’t understand at the time.

The front of the shirt said,

God is dead. 
Nietzsche

And the back of the shirt said, 

Nietzsche is dead. 
-God

I asked this guy about his shirt and he told me it just meant Nietzsche was some atheist philosopher who was now in Hell because he told everyone that God had died.

The next time I met Nietzsche was in a college textbook. But this time, I knew who he was.

“The ‘God is Dead’ guy,” I answered when my teacher asked our class if we’d heard of the German philosopher.

“Yes,” Dr. P laughed, “Nietzsche did say that. But do you know what he meant by it? Do you know the story of the madman?”

I didn’t feel like explaining to the teacher that entire stories couldn’t fit on hipster t-shirts, so I shook my head no and waited for his explanation.

Dr. P told us Nietzsche‘s parable from The Gay Science about a madman who rushes into a marketplace, carrying a lantern and announcing the death of God. When his listeners respond with mockery and laughter, he realizes that he has come too early, and that no one is ready to hear his message. He smashes his lantern and leaves the marketplace, and breaks into several churches, where he asks the chilling question, “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

After Dr. P finished the lecture, our entire class followed him to his office where we laid into him. God is dead? Churches are tombs? Did you just read Nietzsche out loud to our whole philosophy class?

God, contrary to what Nietzsche or my philosophy teacher thought, was most certainly not dead. He was living in my heart, and I was certain of it – and that was the problem.

One year later, while sitting in a different class with Dr. P, I discovered that maybe Nietzsche was right. My professor began this particular lecture by writing two Greek words on the blackboard: eikon and eidos. The first he translated as “image” or “icon,” and used it to refer to God as a wholly God — tout autre, wholly other. The second, the Greek term for “idol,” Dr. P explained was what happens to God when we comprehend him firmly in intellectual hubris. Dr. P told us that when we’ve finally understood all there is to know about God, then all we’ve really understood is a God we’ve created in our image. “Whenever you think you’ve arrived at eikon,” he warned us, “you’ve really only gotten to eidos.”

Lent, the period of 40 days leading up to Easter, is meant to prepare our hearts to receive God: to receive God as God, as wholly other, as the Other who is coming, who is always coming, always arriving, always surprising us in the face of the dinner guest who shows up unexpectedly asking if we’ve remembered to prepare him a seat. And to ready ourselves for this meeting, Christians traditionally give something up: coffee, alcohol, the Internet — one clever, gluten-free friend of mine mused he was giving up wheat. But the purpose of this giving up is to empty our hearts so that when God arrives — and God is always arriving — we are ready for the event. Our “idols,” those things in our lives undeserving of worship, must be released from our hands, so that we may hold them open to the startling event that is God’s Kingdom Come.

As the Psalmist writes, the one who will be permitted to ascend the hill of the Lord is the one whose hands are clean, whose fingers do not reach for idols — idols either of the heart or mind, of passion or intellect, of philosophy or (God help us!) theology.

Indeed, the God of my rigid ideologies, of my complacent Theology; the God who validates my unwillingness to explore heresies, and rewards me for arrogantly dismissing them as sinful; the God who grounds my intellectual arrogance in His omniscience, and my politics in his omnipotence; the God who vanquishes all of His and my inquisitive foes, forever silencing their obnoxious questions with the fires of Hell; whose very Nature demands that humans separate and categorize the world into manageable divisions; the God who has made His Will known to us through Natural Law, and a Holy Book, every word of which we are to follow without hesitation or consideration; whose ethical character remains beyond discussion; whose decisions remain beyond the scope of human analysis; the God who grounds all Thought in his Being – this God, who is Himself nothing more than an idol of Modernism, is dead.

My goal for Lent is to remember this death, and to meditate on it in reverence, humility, and mystery. And to reflect not on the God who rules by power, but a god who leads by love; who identifies with the weak; whose foolishness upsets omniscience; a God who reveals Himself in many ways, who reveals Himself in a first century peasant named Jesus; a God who empties Himself of God, and offers Himself to his enemies in submission and servitude; who is concerned with the plight of widows and orphans, the least among us, and the disadvantaged; who sends Jesus to go after the marginalized and the misunderstood, and to bring back home again those who have been ostracized and forgotten.

I am giving up God for Lent to make room for God. I am prying open my fingers, and letting all of my theological idols crash to the ground. And I am lifting up my empty hands to Heaven in anticipation of God’s arrival, and quietly echoing the unsettling words of Meister Eckhart: “I pray God to rid me of God.”

Original article by Brandon Ambrosino. Original Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-ambrosino/why-im-giving-up-god-for-_b_2683164.html

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Below is the eulogy I delivered last Thursday, 12 February 2015, for Amanda Hsieh during her memorial at the Church of the the Gesu in Ateneo.

After the mass presided by Fr. Dacanay, Sei had many of her friends from various groups speak to her and share their memories. I spoke for the Kythe alumni.

Sei was my friend, and I will never get to thank her enough for changing my life and the lives of all the people who loved her. I hope by sharing this piece publicly it gives people even just the slightest idea of how big a part she was in the lives of all those she loved and served selflessly. We love you, Sei. In all ways, we always will.

Good evening, everyone.

Friends, Kythers, OrComm, Lights for Hope team, GK, ASLANS, schoolmates, fellow alumni, the Psychology department, the Health Sci department Fr. Jett Villarin, faculty and staff, all members of the Ateneo community, and all of Sei’s family and friends, good to be with all of you tonight. The past six days have been very hard but it’s definitely been a blessing to be around so many loving people and old friends again. Despite what’s happened, being around loving people to grieve with, to cry with, to cry on, to remember her with, and to love Sei with is one thing I’m very thankful for. To be honest, it’s one of the many things I have to thank Sei for again—the gift of knowing who are the people you can really run to when things turn out the way they do.

Before I speak about our loving friend, I’d like to ask you to take a moment to think about the past few days and the people that you’ve been with. How much harder it would have been without the person on your left, your right, the person you’re texting, the person you called up on Saturday, the people you went to the wake with, and the people you went here with today. These friends, these loved ones, have not only proven to be real friends but became better friends. They became closer to you these past few days and you have Sei to thank for that also. This was how great a friend Sei was to all of us—she allowed us, not only the opportunity to make better friends but to be better friends. That’s how much love Sei had in her because you never touch and move this many hearts to cry on people and allow people to cry on you without being as a good a friend as Amanda Hsieh was to all of us. So, thank you, Sei. Thank you.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never written a eulogy in my life. I’m 23 years old and all I have is the power of google to tell me what a eulogy is supposed to be like. It told me just to speak to the audience and tell you about how she was in my life, and how she lived. I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t bring myself to do that because I don’t want to talk about how she was, I want to talk about how she is— I don’t want to talk about her life, I want to talk to her. When you love someone this much, they never really die. They live in our actions, remain in our lives, stay in our hearts. And if you’re here tonight, I’m sure Sei is very much present in your heart, also. So, please allow me not to speak to you but to speak to her. Please allow me to speak to her by speaking to you.

MESSAGE TO SEI

Hi Sei,

It’s been a little over a week since we last spoke. Do you remember? It was Wednesday last week around midnight, and you were talking to me about Kythe and the recent miting de avance. You were telling me about your general feelings about the week because big decisions regarding what responsibilities you’d have for your senior year would be decided in the next few days.

You also talked about your platform and some small insecurities that can never be shrugged off after putting yourself out like that. Do you remember? Hope you don’t mind if I remind you a little bit of what you typed.

You said: “Platform ko, basically. Alam mo yung lalo na seeing my write-up beside the other applicants… sobrang wow…

But I really do believe in my platform though…

Syempre, di naman matatanggi na gusto ko siya because I really do but I want to see my plans through.

But like I said yesterday, mas gugustuhin kong manalo platform ko kaysa sa akin. Masaya na lang ako na at least bits of my platform was evident in the 3 others’ din. :)”

After some time and some hugot jokes I’d rather not mention because I still want people to respect us, the both of us just arrived at the conclusion that Kythe would always be the same regardless of whatever results came out. “Kythe would always be Kythe”, I said. But you know, Sei? I was wrong. I really don’t know how Kythe will ever be the same again now that you won’t be running around with us on Kiteflying and taking pictures, or making kids like Aaron and Penpen laugh in the hospital. You played such a big role in this family and we, including the alumni, were really glad to have you as one of the youngest people who kept going out with us. And, let me speak for all them when I say I love you.

Your TNT AC loves you. Your friends in med school Issa, Elijah, Mea, Dianne and Jar love you. Aimi, your sungit sister from BPI loves you. All your other friends who work in banks, corporations, schools, in Manila and abroad love you.

Your friend Eli from Canada says you really are an angel a now—a blessing to everyone. She’s eternally grateful that she met you and she’ll never forget you. The same we’ll all never forget you.

Alberto, all the way from Borongan, Eastern Samar, says he’s sure you see us grieving but he knows you’d want us to continue on with the work to be done. Nakagiginhawa siguro kung patigilan natin ang pagpapatuloy ng mundo at huminto, manahimik, at iyakan ka lang pero hindi eh. Ikaw rin nagsabi “magpatuloy lang” at yun gagawin namin. We’ll all continue to move on with you and without you.

And for all other alumni, whose full messages I can’t read anymore, just please know your friendship was valued by everyone and that you were one of the biggest reasons why we always felt like Kythe-Ateneo was something we could always come home to. Truly we’ll miss you a lot but we’re glad all the kids who’ve touched our lives and gone on ahead now have you to watch over them. Please make them laugh there like you did here. I hope you take lots of pictures with Ashley and Alecs whose wakes we visited 2 weeks ago. Know that many of us smile every time we think of them knowing they’re with you now—no longer in pain and can never be hurt again.

Sei, I know you’re beside God right now listening to all of these things so if you’ll let me, I’d like to just say these last few words to Him.

MESSAGE TO GOD

Hi God,

You already know what I prayed for but I hope you don’t mind if I say it again.

God, you’ve got a wonderful, loving person beside you. The angel wings look wonderful on her. I know I pray for many things but for now, I hope you hear these 3 simple requests. Hug her, love her, and keep her in your love.

Please hug her and whenever you do, please hug her so tight that she feels every single friend who has ever loved her in that embrace. Hug her for everyone, and not just for the people who never got to hug her to say goodbye. Let her feel so warm and welcome in your arms that she’ll never want to be anywhere else but with You. Leave it to us to want and wish she could come back home, but let her feel at home wherever You are.

Please love her. Love her and make her feel so loved that it overflows and spills from the glory of heaven and into the hearts of every person who has ever loved this beautiful girl.

And lastly, please keep her in your love. Please remind her every day that you love her, and that we love her. Remind her just as many times as we will remember her whenever we do something for Kythe, for OrSem, for psych, for Christmas, when we do something to carry out your name, to be a ripple of change, to be more, to be men and women for others, to be Atenean, to be good. Please remind her of how loved she is, and remind us that whenever we’re around good friends on our right, our left, on the phone, or on the way to wherever, that’s where she is also. Where there is a good friend, where there is love, there she is. There is Sei.

Take care of our beloved friend, God. We entrust her to you now.

And Sei, one last thing? I’m just really really going to miss you. Thank you for being my friend, our friend. I’m never ever going to forget you. I love you and see you on Saturday for Kiteflying. Bye for now, Sei.

Thank you.

Growing up, I remember telling people in high school that I’d give anything for a magic carpet. I was convinced that if I ever had one, all I ever had to do was say or ask any question followed by ‘Do you trust me?’ and it was an immediate opening to any person’s heart. To demonstrate:

“Will you go to prom with me?”

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Do you trust me?

“I promise I’ll get you back before midnight.”

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Do you trust me?

“I’ll pick you up around 8PM and I promise we won’t get stuck in traffic.”

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DO YOU TRUST ME?

As much as I pride myself with being a feminist, there’s not much you can do when it comes to a magic carpet.

It’s only of recent though, and after a barrage of old philosophy classes, that I realized that there is much more to this Disney film than literally sweeping someone off their feet. After watching the film for possibly the hundredth time, it’s not hard to pick up a few life lessons from the 1992 classic. No better place to start writing for February, the season of love, than with one of my favorite Disney movies.

So, what love advice do you have after almost 23 years, Aladdin?

1) Any beautiful person will be beyond the words you describe her and that’s okay.

Take this from someone who enjoys writing poetry and telling stories. When you meet someone you can honestly say is ‘beautiful’, good luck finding the right words to describe her beauty in all its fullness.

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Though titans such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth in the literary world have blessed us with words like ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration it finds‘ and ‘That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind’, respectively, sometimes the simple: asdlfhalksdjfkljasdf or ‘eh’ gets the same message across.

If you’ve ever felt this way about anyone, rest assured you’re not the only one.

Photo c/o 9gag.com

Photo c/o 9gag.com

2) True friends always have a place in any loving relationship.

There wouldn’t be much of a movie without Genie, Abu, and Carpet having Aladdin’s back. Personally, I can’t imagine how the film would come to life without Robin Williams’ personality. He did a great job proving that Al never had a friend like him.

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I’ve noticed that it’s a recurring theme in a lot of dramas nowadays wherein the lead character is always forced to choose between his/her friends and significant other. Ideally though, true love shouldn’t force you to give up your friends– it’s supposed to make you want to be a better one to the existing ones you have.

True friends are always there to help turn you into a better version of yourself

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and knock sense into you when you’ve forgotten who you are.

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They pull you out of sticky situations you’re stuck in

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and give you that much needed push when you need it.

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They’re always the best wingmen

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and inspire you to be an even better friend.

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Take care of your friendships. There’s always room for them in any loving relationship.

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3) Where there is love, there is music.

If this wasn’t evident in this scene:

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Or this scene:

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Or this scene:

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You should probably watch the film again. It’s one and a half hours of gold but this scene is probably what we remember most. Why? You guessed it.

Aladdin would have never been the romantic Disney film we love looking back on without A Whole New World. He taught us that, apart from a magic carpet ride that is guaranteed to win anyone over, music is a sure-fire way to any person’s heart.

There is nothing more romantic than a person who creates music for someone else.

4) Love is a magical, transformative force you’re naturally drawn to.

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I’ll jump to a deeper point with this one.

Like music, genuine love is a magical and transformative force that is naturally longed for. It is an unexplainable force that sticks to people.

Why magical? Because while it can never be fully explained how or why it happens but we still know it to be real. It is the magic of love that lets Aladdin and Jasmine make it all the way to Egypt, Greece, and China in a matter of minutes. Love, as depicted in Disney movies, never seems to be bound by the rules of space, time, and physics.

And on a side note, Disney’s very good at doing this magic thing.

Photo c/o Tumblr.com

Transformative? Because it changes people for the better and introduces them to a world of infinite possibilities. For Jasmine on the carpet ride, it turned her fear into wonder, doubt into excitement, and resentment into love. In that span of 2 minutes and 56 seconds, her eyes were opened to an entirely different point of view.

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So really, falling in love is literally being introduced to a whole new world.

5) Lastly, all you really need is one perfect moment to be yourself.

It might be an accident

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or just dumb luck

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but, regardless of the circumstances, a single, magical moment of being yourself can change the rest of your life and the life of another person.

Take it from Jasmine who met Aladdin twice.

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The first time around was meeting a kind-hearted man on the streets who saved her from getting her arm chopped off. The second time, was being introduced to a wealthy prince who ended up taking her on the first date of a lifetime.

We all have the capacity to show different sides of ourself to other people. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend to be someone else because the idea of putting yourself out there in all your bareness is a scary thing to even think about. But for most people whom we truly consider to be worth it, we owe it to them to be no one else than who we really are. We owe it to the people we love to be real.

In Aladdin’s case, it wasn’t until the prince and the pauper came together to reveal who’s been there all along:

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a genuinely good person

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and a great friend

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who deserved a happy ending.

All other photos are screen caps of the actual film, Aladdin (1992).

Finding God in everything.

Growing up and being educated by the Jesuits, I always loved how these men of the Church stressed, in every opportunity, to impart this value to all of their students. This lesson became one of the many reasons why the Jesuits became my heroes.

Considered to be at the core of Ignatian spirituality, finding the Domino (Lord) in Omnibus (everything) became a practice for everyday. It’s a piece of St Ignatius himself that I’m glad to have taken home and take with me wherever I go.

Undoubtedly, I owe much of who I am today because of my Jesuit education.

So, you can imagine my excitement when a very good friend of mine, David Lozada, who was covering Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, messaged me asking, “Do you want to see the Pope?”

“Yes,” I said. And I had never been so excited in my life.

My “yes” meant joining Rappler’s MovePH team and being on-site wherever the Vicar of Christ would be during his stay in Manila. The first two days had me going around Quirino and SM MOA and interviewing people regarding their thoughts and feelings on the pontiff’s visit. As our team lead told us, there were stories everywhere.

Waking up at 6am and fighting through crowds were just some of the challenges we had to go through everyday just for the chance to see the pope. It was all worth it. In those 3 days, I found myself encountering the God of surprises my educators have introduced me to.

Through all that scrambling, I got more than I bargained for: I saw Christ. Not just once but over twelve times.

He sold me a Pope Francis pin for P10

Her name is Ana, a 47 year-old vendor selling papal memorabilia. She was very excited to see the Pope. All photos by Serge Gabriel

Her name was Ana, a 47 year-old vendor selling papal memorabilia. She was very excited to see the Pope. 

He then introduced himself as Antonio Cabreza

The man said he made the flags for Pope Francis after he saw the pontiff speaking to a large crowd. "Ginawa ko ‘to. May kasamang ‘We Love’ dapat yan." (I made these flags. I was supposed to add 'We love' before his name.)

The man said he made the flags for Pope Francis after he saw the pontiff speaking to a large crowd. “Ginawa ko ‘to. May kasamang ‘We Love’ dapat yan.” (I made these flags. I was supposed to add ‘We love’ before his name.)

I saw Him stand up for those who were distraught by Typhoon Yolanda
Artists and activists from Sining Bugkos storm the Apostolic Nunciature before Pope Francis arrives, asking the pontiff to fight for Yolanda victims.

Artists and activists from Sining Bugkos storm the Apostolic Nunciature before Pope Francis arrives, asking the pontiff to fight for Yolanda victims.

I saw Him excited as the sirens preceding the Pope mobile came closer

A young boy perches on top of his brother while waiting for the papal motorcade enter the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena

A young boy perches on top of his brother while waiting for the papal motorcade enter the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena

I saw Him come alone
“Shy ako (I'll be shy),” Carol said when I asked what she would say to the Pope if she could talk to him.

“Shy ako (I’ll be shy),” Carol said when I asked what she would say to the Pope if she could talk to him.

I saw Him come with 350 parishioners
Fr Willy Benito, OFM, brings his parishioners to Luneta to see the Pope

Fr Willy and his parish of over 350 members stood from 4am until evening on Thursday, January 15, just to see the pope.

I met Fr Willy Benito, a Franciscan parish priest of 21 years in Sta Ana. “It makes me happy. Who would have thought he would have taken the St Francis of Assisi’s name? In history, St Francis was known for causing great change in the Church – you can see that’s what he’s also doing now,” explained the Fransiscan.

I saw Him wave from the popemobile
Pope Francis waves to the crowds during his arrival in Manila

And without a doubt in my heart, I swear those two seconds changed my life.  

I saw Him tired yet thankful
With her heart full after seeing the Pope, Grace says, “Sana bigyan pa ako ng buhay at sigla para patuloy po ako makapaglingkod sa Panginoon (I pray for better health and longer life so that I can continue serving the Lord.”

With her heart full after seeing the Pope, Grace says, “Sana bigyan pa ako ng buhay at sigla para patuloy po ako makapaglingkod sa Panginoon (I pray for better health and longer life so that I can continue serving the Lord.”

I saw Him as a grandfather
A grandfather carries his grandson who is barely a year old, while waiting for Pope Francis in MOA

A grandfather carries his grandson who is barely a year old, while waiting for Pope Francis in MOA

I saw Him as a friend
“It's worth it!" this man says after standing for 5 hours under the rain

“Worth it ‘to!” he says after standing for 5 hours under the rain

I saw Him scared
Scared as she rested in the arms of her mother struggling against the millions for a good spot in Luneta.

Scared as she rested in the arms of her mother struggling against the millions for a good spot in Luneta.

I saw Him eager to meet someone she hardly knew anything about
She is Frances, a small girl holding a Pope Francis doll. She promises to hold it up high for the Pope to see when he passes by

She is Frances, a small girl holding a Pope Francis doll. She promised to hold it up high for the Pope to see when he passed by.

As the beloved Argentinian pope flew back home, I can only wonder what other surprises He’ll leave to be uncovered.

When I’ll get to see Pope Francis again, only God will really know. But when will I see Him again? Most likely on the next train ride I take or in the next seatmate in class I’ll have.

If you take a second to really look at someone, you might be surprised. I know I was and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.