“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings…”

 Isaiah 52:7

Seeing the mountains

            As our Kia van entered the territorial jurisdiction of Jose Abad Santos, the road ushered us into a rugged terrain with steep slopes overlooking the sea. Unlike the mountains of other places where the plain stretches for a few more miles before the terrain ascends to a steep heights, in Nuing the mountains start in just a few meters from the sea. As our van transited the road which was constructed along the edges of these mountains, some thoughts played in my mind. What would be my mission in these mountains? What will I be doing in a place where empty lots are more conspicuous than houses?


In the mountains of Camalian. Notice the house on top of the hill?

The mission begins

            As we began our house visits, there I learned that the mountains have hidden treasures within them. Yes, we passed along empty lots but like diamonds lurking somewhere were the houses and its residents eagerly waiting for our visit. There is life after all beyond these mountains. If only one has the genuine desire to spread God’s message, there would not be a place lacking for such an opportunity. In these mountains, the people hunger for God’s presence as much as or perhaps more than the people in the plains.


Motorcycle straining hard to pass the flooding river of Balangonan. Sometimes when the waters are too high, men has to carry the motorcycle to save the engine from drowning.



The house where we had our lunch was actually located on the summit of this hill. It took us three and a half hours to get there.



Now I’m a habal-habal driver.

Mountain climbers

            There I realized that in the Bible, the messengers of God were mountain climbers. When Moses was given the commandments of God, it was in the mountain of Sinai. When Elijah has to contend with the prophets of Baal, it was in the mountain of Carmel. When Jesus’ glory was revealed to the apostle Peter, it was in the mountain of Tabor. I can say that when my heart was filled with the desire to follow Christ, I was made firm in the mountains of Nuing. It became my joy to live with people even in their sorry condition. It became my encouragement to spend time talking to or even listening to folks I met every day. Even without explicit preaching, spending time with them already speaks a lot about God. My 40-minute travel to different chapels in order to give seminars did not wear me out even though sometimes  I have to travel alone with a load of backpack and a projector. My desire to share my knowledge about our faith has somehow compensated for that needed strength. I thought I’m the one teaching them, but knowing how far they walked just to attend the seminar, in the end, with their zeal and persistence, I realized I’m the one being taught.

            My mission in Nuing may have ended, but truly a piece of my heart was left somewhere.

            In that place where I met God beyond the mountains.

Welcome to Nuing!



The road in almost all of Sarangani Province is paved. Except for a short unpaved portion approaching the border with Davao del Sur, traversing the province is not much of a problem. But our destination is not Sarangani, we were headed for Nuing, that coastal barangay of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur and the location of the Sto. Nino Mission Station run by Redemptorist priests.

The road is one of the worst I ever did pass. I did take a road mired in such condition in Casul, Sapang Dalaga, Misamis Occidental before, but it’s a barangay road. Usually, barangay roads are the least of local government priorities and in fact many of them are just weeded alleys passable by motorcycles during summer and by horses during the rainy season. The road going to Nuing is a national highway and yet it’s worse than a barangay road. Rocks, mud, steep slopes, rivers and streams, enough to give everyone a bumpy ride inside their cars. Good heavens! We were even stuck on a slope on our first day there. Our car was just scrambling with its gear when the engine suddenly died down. One of us had to jump and put a stone before the tires just so it won’t slide down. We even had to wait for a bigger hauler truck (here they call it “Saddam”) to pull us out. We waited till sunset before any came. We arrived way much later than we earlier planned but we’re glad we made it.



Our mission has just begun.




          To the eyes of the world, the Church has become the only remaining bastion of impracticality. This wouldn’t surprise me so much since in almost all sphere of human endeavor, practicality has been the underlying reason. Take marriage for example, while there are those who marry for truly romantic reasons, there are a growing number of those who have married for purely pecuniary consideration. Marriage is viewed as an opportunity to effect material success. This would not be too difficult to observe when in many corners one can see a very young lady with a very old hubby in tow (and mostly foreigners).

          Now this practicality is yet again to be tested in view of the world’s population problem. A very “practical” solution has been proposed which the Church has long before opposed. Just take a pill or insert something into somewhere and do your stuff. No hassle, easy to use. Isn’t it very practical? But practicality is not what the Church is in mind. Practicality is a very dangerous path to pursue. It would lead us to anywhere. It would take away our direction. And worse, it would snatch us away from our ultimate end – i.e God. Every true marriage starts with love and love is not just a product of instinct, attraction and emotion. Love should be willed, it is a product of willing. A love that is willed is a love which is open to all the possibilities which entails such love. No one would marry thinking of the possibility of not bearing a child. God has designed it to every living creatures. It would be an overbearing blasphemy for man to stand in the way of God’s design.

            The document Humane Vitae reminds us all that the value of human life is indispensable. It also opens us to the dangers of “contraceptive mentality” and its unlikely effect in the field of human sexuality. Contraception would take away responsibility in the act of physical union. It would create a mindset which would unconsciously reduce man’s body to an insatiable sex machine needing constant feeding.

           I firmly believe that the Church in promulgating this document is carrying the whole world in her shoulders. It is true that the Church in this respect seems to be impractical and that it counters the culture of modern man. But that’s what the Church is, Jesus and His band of disciples were going against the fad of their times, the Christian movement in its nascent beginning was a countercultural movement. They paddled their way against the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Romans and the pagan Greeks. Now the Church finds itself in the same situation, paddling her way against the indifference of modern secular society which eschews the spiritual aspect of marital union. There maybe be lots of bumps ahead but the Church should keep paddling. After all, she is the last bastion of life in this modern world.

Heavenly Amnesia

A scene from the movie THE GIVER

A scene from the movie THE GIVER

          One of the questions about afterlife which I frequently hear from people is that which deals about recognition or the status of our memory in the afterlife. “Will we remember our past life in heaven?” This question too resurfaced in my thoughts after watching the movie THE GIVER. It’s the story of a nation who underwent mental reconstruction thereby resetting their collective memory. The past evil, cruelty and brutality which they experienced made them adamant in their resolve to erase these memories from their minds and create a generation who do not recognize and are oblivious to evil. It’s not that they were able to totally erase it in their existence; they were only successful in eliminating it from their memory. To conceal the evil of death, they used the term “release,”; other evils too were assigned their correct terms. Now, I wonder if that is a foretaste of heaven – a place where there are no more tears, where evil is erased and where we experience nothing else but everlasting bliss. But if that is what heaven is – it surely is a lonely heaven.

I believe that our emotions are at work only when we have recognition of the events around us. These events not only concern about the present but more so of the past. We feel happiness not only because of what is happening to us in the present but also of what happened to us in the past. We love a person not only because he/she is doing something which merits our affection in the present, but also because he/she has done something lovable to us in the past. I love my parents not only because they take good care of me now but more so because they had taken good care of me when I was young. To love them only by virtue of the present is an injustice on their part. Our capacity to love and be happy is embedded in our memory, without it we are like robots. Robots do not work on memory (although their data storage is named as such), they work on programming. No wonder why in the film, people cannot recognize pain and when one character was punched, he’s unaware of what happened. In the film too, people are incapable of loving, they do not know what a kiss is and they are at loss in recognizing that warm, tickling feeling inside their hearts, that feeling of wanting, of longing for someone’s presence, that smile which forces itself whenever she passes by; we do recognize it however as love.

But in heaven, there is happiness, there is love and I believe there is memory. I just don’t know exactly to what extent since I also believe there will be healing of our memories. So will we all get amnesia in heaven? I don’t think so, but there our memory will be like our future bodies – glorified and sanctified. We will be a brand new creature, “…the old things have passed away behold all things have become new…” (2 Corinthians 5:17) We will be healed creatures. We will be partakers of God’s divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4). In heaven, we will have more knowledge than what we have now.

But while we long for heaven, we should understand that we are still here on earth. We are still treading its floors. And while here, we should pray for the strength to confront evil with divine understanding; to face the world with all its beauty and ugliness, to accept the good and not be cowed by the bad. The world is a place where we should learn; we therefore should engage the world, not escape from it. In the end, our dealing with this world will determine our worthiness of heaven – there our true home awaits.

When Jesus Came to Birmingham by George Studdert-Kennedy


When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Pee Mak by Quinzo


Pee Mak

Quincy Jones L. Ondona

            Of all the good things worthy of remembering, watching a movie was the one that just wouldn’t easily leave the seemingly endless heap of my nostalgia.

            It happened during my recent pastoral exposure in Catadman Mangga. It was a fine ordinary day; a new day for an ordinary routine of everyday life. And just when the day was about to get boring, when we’re almost at the brink of exhausting all possible topics for our conversation, a crisp selection from my foster family’s collection of movies was finally decided just to get through that hour’s standstill. After culling from the pile of mostly action movies, I opted for the most thrilling one sans the gunshots or at least less of it. Pee Mak – a Thai movie that is actually of a strange sort; a combination of fear and thrill, romantic horror to say it straightly. It’s the story of a soldier whose wife died of miscarriage. In the battlefield, he wasn’t aware of the tragedy. Back home, his neighbors knew it well; they not only knew that she’s already dead, they also knew that she’s now playing a ghost – a beautiful ghost maybe but a ghost nonetheless. Mak (the name of the soldier) went home with the same usual feeling of a man wanting to see his wife after a long stretch of time. His neighbors couldn’t tell him the truth for fear that Nak (the soldier’s ghost-wife) might return on them with her ghostly wrath. So for some time, Mak was with the impression that she’s still alive and warm as any living body should be. Until there came a time when fate became restless and doubts were starting to come to the surface.


            Mak may have his doubts, but he resolved to opt for denial. One of the sweetest scenes in the movie was when Mak brought Nak to the carnival. This he did despite the razor-sharp stares of his neighbors. He just wanted to spend a normal moment with her. Every couple deserves a moment with each other. Every lover deserves every opportunity to renew their bond of eternal love. He took her for a ride on a ferris wheel. There the conversation turned bitter-sweet.

            “Mak, aren’t you afraid of ghosts?”

            “Scared? Ghosts come on out here. There’s nothing to be scared of.”

            And as if his answer gave her an assurance of some sort, she smiled.

            And then here’s the bitter part. She asked him.

            “Baby, if one day I’ll die, can you live without me?”

            At this moment he choked, perplexed about the question.

            “Why?” He asked.

            “Just tell me. I want to know.”

            “No.  If anyone is going to die then I want to die first. If I don’t have you, I can’t go on.”

           But the fact is, she really died ahead of him. Yet in her temporary existence which can never be described in an exact term, she was with him, living with him, loving him. The finale of the movie was done in a Buddhist monastery where an exorcism is being done to finally cast out and drive away Nak. At that supposed to be final moment, the couples met again. Not wanting to leave him, she asked for his hand, and bid him to go with her to where she, upon the moment of her death, belongs. Did Mak have any second thoughts? No. He willingly offered himself, an offer which could possibly unite them forever.

            That’s when the sweetest of the moments happened.

            Nak apologized for her lies, for not telling him the truth that she is a ghost.

            “I just wanted to be with you for as long as I could. Even if it’s just for one more day.”

            But Mak gave her an even startling answer.

           “Nak, you don’t have to go anywhere. You said you lied to me. You didn’t lie to me at all. Even    though I’m a fool, I’m not so stupid         that      I wouldn’t know that my wife is dead.

           Yes, he knew all along. He found it himself. He found his wife’s dead body not so far from their backyard. He found the ring in her     hand.

           “Even if all the villagers get rid of me, and nobody wants to be my friend. I would still want to live with you.”

            “Aren’t you scared of me?” She asked.

            “You know I’m scared of ghosts, but I’m scared more of living without you.


           That’s when I, a man who is going to be a priest and a celibate at that (God willing), was moved by this romanticism. Love after all spreads out to every human being. It’s a thing one can’t get away with. For as long as the heart beats, love lives. But it doesn’t mean that I would leave my vocation because of some romantic lines I heard in a movie. No, the movie didn’t teach me that I should go look for a woman to love. It only taught me that love cannot die.

           The movie was sweet because it tells us about the possibility of the impossible – of a love beyond the grave. During weddings, each partner pledges to love each other “till death do us part.” But Mak’s story tells us that even that is not true. For couples who love each other as freshly as the dew drops resting on the palm of the morning leaf, even death has no power to kill the flame burning in their hearts. Love is more than just the presence, it’s the feeling. It’s an eternal flame as the song goes.

           Back in the house, the movie ended a little shortly before lunch. We spent half of the morning without a chat but the movie spoke wisdom of a lifetime. Actually, I’m not a romantic type of guy nor am I fond of movies. There are only some which leaves an imprint. Pee Mak is one of those.

            Yes, all movies are man-made but some are God-sent.



How are you going to distinguish true humility from false pretenses?

                    Search the heart, all the intentions are buried there.

But what if we don’t have the capacity to look into someone’s heart?

Look for consistency. A real act done out of real intention should be consistent. To arrive at this, look for precedence. An authentically humble person always has a past warehouse of authentically humble actions.

This thought went on in my head when a friend once commented on Facebook that he didn’t like Pope Francis. It seemed to him that Pope Francis’ actions were just for show. It was too revolutionary to really be true especially for a man lavished with privileges and who is expected to act according to his privileges. To him, a Pope who would stoop so low so as to shake hands with common people appears to be driven more by a desire for publicity than for authentic humility. And not only that, his refusal to don papal regalias not only contradict tradition but discredit his predecessors as well who happily wear them. While many, including me, appreciate Pope Francis’ gestures, some are still full of apprehensions and think along this line.

But is there something we should worry about? I believe there is none if we look at the previous warehouse of the Pope’s humble actions. If he was so extravagant before and suddenly switched lifestyle when elected Pope – that would at least give me some doubts. Yet what he is now is what he was before his election. When he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the archbishop’s palace and lived in a simple apartment instead. He refused the archbishop’s vehicle and used the metro and commuted to his office the way ordinary people do. He was close to the people. He answers letters addressed to Him by ordinary Catholics and even makes personal phone calls to people who are asking for his advice. He shunned extravagant lifestyle and even cooked his own food. These characterized his tenure as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. It is not surprising therefore that he continue the same lifestyle after his election. Besides, humility is not his innovation, it’s his track record. He was just being true to the person that he is. Each Pope is different yet they serve the Church in their own particular way. We who are used to seeing the previous popes in the traditional way and who may be surprised by Pope Francis humble gestures, should not fear a pope who rubs shoulders with the common people. He was just serving the Church in his own way according to his particular gift.


When he presented himself to the world during his election, the elbow length red mozetta and the gold-embroidered stole was noticeably missing and this, for some Traditionalists, rings an alarm. How could a Pope break tradition? How could he be truly Pope when he is reluctant to be one? Were the new innovations just for show, again for publicity?

To begin with, “breaking” papal traditions didn’t start with Pope Francis. We should also remember that the papacy resides in the Pope not the regalia. A Pope therefore may refuse to wear this specific garb for some reasons and yet he could still be Pope.

The following are some of the traditions discontinued by previous Popes:

1. The papal tiara, the most striking symbol of the papacy was discontinued by Paul VI. Many in the past even consider the tiara to be intrinsic to the papal office that a pope loses a symbol of its authority if this is absent from his head. Yet four popes have passed without being crowned with it.

2. The custom of kissing the papal foot; such a profound gesture of respect for such a profound office. Yet profound as it is, Pope Paul VI discontinued it.

3. The sede gestatoria – a portable throne carried by twelve footmen – was used by popes from ages past. During solemn entries of the Pope to the basilica or to public consistories, this chair portrays the papacy’s royal privileges. Who would have thought that a Pope would walk his way into the altar? Yes, it was discontinued by John Paul II.

4. The flabella – large ceremonial fans made of white ostrich feathers – was discontinued by Paul VI.

5. The camauro – a traditional cap worn by the Pope – fell into disuse after the death of John XXIII.

6. The papal shoes commonly known as the red shoes were discontinued during the time of Pope John Paul II although revived by Benedict XVI. It should be clear that it was not Pope Francis who first declined to use the red shoes.

So while the absence of the mozetta may surprise many, it is not destructive to the papacy. The changes he made were not as drastic and dramatic as the changes introduced by popes in the past although it gathered the most attention due to widespread media coverage which was lacking before. Somehow this would assuage the anxiety of some, for as long as the Pope still cling on to the Magisterium and continue to uphold the faith of the Church, he is still a Pope.

Even though he wears less than a Pope and acts more like the common people…