What is a blessing? A mystic whose identity I can’t ascertain said you know a blessing is a blessing when it comes like rain in summer. Lent in year 2012, for me, was a summer unlike any other summers, for it 'rained' down upon me in a downpour, in an outpouring.
I had no plans to desist from my self-imposed solitary confinement at home Maundy Tuesday and Good Friday, so I felt like I was plucked out from my hiding place when AA, who I thought was still in Mindoro at the time, texted an invite that would be a dream assignment for me: a healing and transformation recollection featuring a powerhouse cast of healing priests and other speakers! I must have done something right, like perhaps observing Good Friday solemnly.
Marooned at home with just my hypertensive self, and with my two co-occupants away, I forgot I still lived in Manila, where unexpected things can happen in an instant. You know how it is here – you’re just two or three connections away from the most famous personalities in the country. It was the power of connections, the power of ‘a friend of a friend of a friend,’ that saved my Black Saturday from being fully bleak and at its blackest, you could say. The greatest part is that the ticket supposedly worth Php750 was for free!
I was given the slot with no strings attached, except to avail of the benefits, but AA knew it’s impossible for me not to write about it. Like a regular media thing, it felt like a VIP treatment.
Black Saturday morning, I taxied my way to a pickup point where AA was waiting, then we taxied again to the venue, San Juan Arena, a part of the city I’ve never been to.
The truth is, I became hesitant as the hours drew near because of body aches and pains. My maintenance med, losartan, was wreaking havoc on me by giving me all these unimaginable side effects that people laughed at: fatigue, sometimes shortness of breath, palpitations, a feverish feeling when staying under the sun too much, which I always feared would lead to heat stroke, etc. People have actually suspected or accused me of sloth and other sins. I was going through a major trial of my life, and for people to be dismissive about it hurts so much. I’ve been feeling like I’m dying every single day, for Pete’s sake.
Clearly, I have one other reason to be there, covering what I knew to be a good story: I want to experience first-hand how to be prayed-over by a reputed healing priest whose stellar celebrity has become global.
After enduring a snaking queue outside the San Juan Arena, partly under the already-unforgiving heat of the 8 AM summer sun plus a one-hour delay mercifully made less boring by a rousing video of last year’s recollection, I and my friends were ready to be touched, together with a gathering throng that’s maybe a thousand-strength.
The program proper began at 9 AM. We were told by a cool-voiced male emcee to stand up and join a charismatic worship session led by the community that evolved from these healing sessions conducted by Fr. Suarez and a bunch of other priests. AA, being an ex-seminarian who is used to contemplative spirituality, felt tortured in Pentecostal purgatory. It took him a herculean effort just to raise his hands, much less shout, sing, and dance like crazy, following after a choreography led by the energetic young people onstage.
After the merriment died down, we sat down on the monobloc chairs. Before long, I realized we were seated just two seats behind the mayor of San Juan City herself, Ms. Guia Gomez, along with the city council members. Later, Congressman JV Ejercito and his family would show up. Some people who looked well-heeled must be from city’s well-known affluent set. It was a humbling and at the same time exhilarating place to be in at that moment.
Soon the guest speakers came on the stage one by one. Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD. Fr. Glenn Paul Gomez, SVD. Fr. Larry Faraon, OP. Fr. Joey Faller. And the most awaited of them all: Fr. Fernando Suarez, now sporting the longish acronym of MMMP after his name.
After the retreat was officially closed, some of the people were not satisfied with the long sermons of five famous priests. One by one, they formed a crowd and mobbed the most celebrated of them all, Fr. Suarez, at the exit door. In the thickening throng, I saw a lady in tears. Could she have been touched by the divine somehow? My friends and I tried to inch our way in the thick of warm bodies, but soon, we found ourselves being blocked by security.
But the power of connections prevailed for the second time. The right hand and personal driver of Fr. Suarez turned out to be friends with my friends! He waved to us and pointed to where he was sure Fr. Suarez was to proceed to next: his car, outside the arena, in the parking lot. We ran to the parking lot, and when we got there huffing, true enough, the priest was about to walk his way there. He was supposed to be tired from the talk, but he had instead an aura that's glowing. Like silly groupies of a rock star, we lined up along his path, hoping he would at least accidentally rub his skin on our skin. What luck – I managed to have his hand lain on my head. I felt silly, thinking, "So this is how to stalk a celebrity without guilt or shame." After I got what I selfishly wanted, I yanked myself out of the line so the others might receive the same.
But the amusing things didn’t end yet. He recognized Dave, a mutual friend with AA. The guy turned out to be here present as well. Dave and AA both tapped to serve recently in Fr. Suarez’s mission in some remote part of Mindoro. Fr. Suarez paused from walking and talked at length with Dave, who was resourceful enough to bring his parents and other friends from his charismatic community plus of course a camera. Other people hoping to have such a closer encounter were not as ‘lucky.’
I didn't feel anything otherworldly from the laying of hand -- the truth is, it was right before the program (at about 9 AM) that I suddenly felt something electric running through my whole body from head down to my feet -- and I didn't tell it to anybody. The whole day that day, I was not my usual hypertensive self. I didn't feel dizzy, I didn't have shortness of breath and chest pain, and I was able to walk some uneventful minutes under the sun, despite eating all the wrong things (Jollibee Chicken Joy, Mentos candies, and 7-11 microwaved breakfast meal). Amazing enough for me.