“Firmes En La Fe” (Firm in the Faith)

(Sharing my pilgrim’s reflection during the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain.) 

Fellow Pilgrims from Poland

Waving the Philippine flag together with the pilgrims from Poland. World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain

“If you abide in the love of Christ, rooted in the faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfect those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.”
-Pope Benedict XVI (Cuatro Vientos WYD Vigil, 8/19/2011)
It was a simple email invitation from a fellow servant leader in SFC to join WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. I have a lot of hesitations to join because I already planned out a high school reunion and my mindset during the vacation was to go back home in the Philippines. Lo and behold, plans changed when the deadline for the confirmation of WYD delegates came; there was a prompting of the Holy Spirit that I couldn’t ignore.

I submitted the WYD delegation form. I never knew that it was a start of greater things to come – a rediscovery of love, faith and hope.

It was the first time that Saudi Arabia would have a World Youth Day delegation. I became a part of the pioneer team. It moved me to pray more for our protection and for our security. Plane tickets were booked as early as February to avail the promo fare.

As early as March, we had WYD preparations– series of prayer reflections and talks by our group leader & ‘Tatay’.

My first intention was to explore Spain as a tourist but the WYD preparations made us realized that we are not going for a sight-seeing tour in Madrid but became a pilgrim of faith.

In one of my prayer reflections, I realized that one of the reasons why I joined WYD was that I never had a chance to participate in the 1995 WYD in Manila. I missed the opportunity of seeing Blessed John Paul II in my own country. The 2011 WYD or JMJ (Jornada Mundial De La Juventud – in Spanish) will be the last chance to participate in this worldwide youth celebration of prayer and pilgrimage before I went to the next stage of my life as a family person.

Part of the preparation were series of orientation about Spain as the cradle of Catholic faith and basic Spanish language lessons. We prepared a cultural presentation and chosen the Philippines’ National Dance- Cariñosa.  Learning the steps were never easy but the enthusiasm of my fellow pilgrims were contagious.

SFC brothers brought me to the airport as early as 9pm for our early morning flight to Madrid. At the airport, I saw in the eyes of my fellow pilgrims the excitement of being a part of history.

Hola! Madrid Barajas International airport was teeming of fellow pilgrims from different countries. Participation in WYD has two stages – the Days in the Diocese and the encounter with Pope Benedict XVI.

For the Days in the Diocese, we stayed in the Diocese of Siguenza-Guadalajara specifically in the village of Marchamalo in Parroquia de la Santa Cruz (host parish)–where we experienced the finest taste of Spanish hospitality. We were welcomed by Fr. Benedicto, the parish priest and Mayor Rafa of Marchamalo.

My Foster Family

Papa Enrique, Mama Merce, Juan, Me & Marcos – my foster family in WYD 2011

I stayed with the Pascual De Garcia family.  My foster father Enrique and mother Mercedes have two teenagers Juan and Marcos named after the Gospel books in the Bible. I enjoyed every moment of our stay- especially our sharing on faith. I emphasized to my Spanish brothers the importance of loving God more by being active in serving the church.

As a souvenir, I gave my foster parents traditional Arab dresses & photo frame of the seven sands from the different Middle Eastern gulf countries. I enjoyed the food a lot- from authentic Churros dipped in a hot chocolate in the morning to a sumptuous feast of Paella, tapas and Jamon. It was ‘I want to live in Spain’ moment!

The parishioners were very supportive and cooperative- we had a chance to do the Via Crucis together with the other pilgrims from Mexico, Colombia, USA, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the local delegates.

It was a poignant scene, when we left Marchamalo for the bigger Days in Diocese events in the main city of Guadalajara.  We met a loving foster family and left them so soon. Believe me, I cried like a river. They treated as like their own son- it was a memorable experience.


The chubby choreographer teaching the Philippine National Dance to Italian pilgrims.

Guadalajara was another experience of a life-time. I thought ‘Cariñosa’ as one of the Days in the Diocese workshops to pilgrims from Italy. After the workshop, there was a Fiesta at Concordia Park where we met a bigger delegations from other countries.

From Flamenco performances, traditional dances from Africa, joyful singing from the European pilgrims- it was ecstatic! We had a chance to meet also other Filipinos from other countries.

The Days in the Diocese ended by a Send-Off Mass by Bishop Jose Sanchez Gonzales, where he emphasized the importance of humility – it may not guarantee material success but goodness.  He also urged everyone to communicate the service of love in whatever we do.

From Guadalajara we moved to Madrid – the main venue of WYD where Pope Benedict XVI met all the pilgrims around the world. Awemazing- was the best word to describe our experience with the Holy Father especially during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Cuatro Ventos (main venue) where a rainstorm occurred in the middle of the vigil. His zuccheto (Pope’s cap) immediately blown by the initial gusts, hair disheveled, soaked by the rains, he stood his ground, silently prayed and went on to adore the Blessed Sacrament! He endured the torrents with us and for us, perhaps suffered even more considering his age. I never felt so at peace and reassured of the Lord’s presence.


The main event of WYD 2011 – Cuatro Ventos (thunder & rainstorm never stopped the pilgrims in deep prayer)


As a whole, the WYD 2011 experience was about love, faith and hope. The love I’ve witnessed gave me a better appreciation of the people around me. Beyond memories, it was always the experience of loving and being loved without conditions that I forever treasure in my heart.

As a servant in CFC- Singles for Christ (SFC) and as an alumni of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila-Student Catholic Action (PLM-SFC), it was a rediscovery of being firm in the faith – standing for what you believe was right and relying on God’s goodness amidst adversity. It was also a rekindling experience of hope– God embraces us daily and we have to maintain a positive attitude on how we live our life.

I do hope and pray that every young people in the world would have a chance to attend the WYD celebration within their lifetime.  Muchisimas Gracias Spain!

“… be prudent and wise, build your lives upon the firm foundation which is Christ. This wisdom and prudence will guide your steps, nothing will make you fear and peace will reign in your hearts. Then you will be blessed and happy and your happiness will influence others. They will wonder what the secret of your life is and they will discover that the rock which underpins the entire building and upon which rests your whole existence is the very person of Christ, your friend, brother and Lord …” – Pope Benedict XVI (Madrid, 8/19/2011)

open letter


“Far better it is for you to say: “I am a sinner,” than to say: “I have no need of religion.” The empty can be filled, but the self-intoxicated have no room for God.”
― Fulton J. Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary: Lessons from Cana and Calvary

I attended one of Steve Ray’s public speaking engagement back in 2010 when he visited the Philippines. It has been 10 years since this inspiring article was published and I want it to share it to my readers. For more information on who Steve Ray is, please visit his website: http://www.catholic-convert.com.


We stepped into the church and it was old and a bit dark. Mass had just begun and we sat toward the front. We didn’t know what to expect here in Istanbul, Turkey. I guess we expected it to be a somber Mass but quiet and somber it was not-I thought I heard angels joyously singing behind me.

The voices were rich, melodic and beautiful. What I discovered as I spun around to look did not surprise me because I had seen and heard the same thing in other churches around the world. It was not a choir of angels with feathered wings and halos but a group of delightful Filipino Catholics with smiles of delight and joy on their faces as they worshiped God and sang His praises. I had seen this many times before in Rome, in Israel, in the United States and other countries. Filipinos have special traits and they are beautifully expressed as I gazed at the happy throng giving thanks to God.

What are the special traits which characterize these happy people? I will share a few that I have noticed personal observations as I have traveled around the world, including visits to the Philippines.

FIRST, there is a sense of community, of family. These Filipino Christians did not sit apart from each other in different isles. They sat together, closely. They didn’t just sing quietly, mumbling, or simply mouthing the words. No, they raised their voices in harmony together as though they enjoyed the sense of unity and communion among them. They are family even if they are not related.

SECOND, they have an inner peace and joy which is rare in the world today. When most of the world’s citizens are worried and fretful, I have found Filipinos to have joy and peace, a deep sense of God’s love that overshadows them. They have problems too, and many in the Philippines have less material goods than others in the world, yet there is still a sense of happy trust in God and love of neighbor.

THIRD, there is a love for God and for his Son Jesus that is almost synonymous with the word Filipino. There is also something that Filipinos are famous for around the world – their love for the Blessed Mother. Among the many Filipinos I have met, the affectionate title for Mary I always hear from their lips is “Mama Mary.” For these gentle folks Mary is not just a theological idea, a historical person, or a statue in a church.

Mary is the mother of their Lord and their mother as well, their “mama.” The Philippines is a Catholic nation – the only such nation in Asia and this wonderful country exports missionaries around the world. They are not hired to be missionaries, not official workers of the church. No, they are workers and educators, doctors, nurses and housekeepers that go to other lands and travel to the far reaches of the earth, and everywhere they go they take the joyous gospel of Jesus with them. They make a somber Mass joyful when they burst into song. They convict the pagan of sin as they always keep the love of Jesus and the Eucharist central in their lives.

My hope and prayer, while I am here in the Philippines sharing my conversion story from Baptist Protestant to Roman Catholic, is that the Filipino people will continue to keep these precious qualities. I pray that they will continue loving their families, loving the Catholic Church, reading the Bible, loving Jesus, His Mother and the Eucharist. As many other religions and sects try to persuade them to leave the Church, may God give the wisdom to defend the Catholic faith. As the world tempts them to sin and seek only money and fame and power, may God grant them the serenity to always remember that obedience to Christ and love for God is far more important than all the riches the world can offer.

May the wonderful Filipino people continue to be a light of the Gospel to the whole world!

Stephen K. Ray was raised in a devout, loving Baptist family. His father was a deacon and Bible teacher and Stephen was very involved in the Baptist Church as a teacher of Biblical studies and lectured on a wide range of topics. Steve and his wife Janet entered the Catholic Church in 1994.

prayer of hope


Father in heaven, help me to have hope by surrounding me with hopeful people. Help me not to receive bad news as though it is the last edition, but rather as one piece of information afloat on a river of facts flowing into a hopeful feature. Heal me, I pray, not for my sake or anyone else’s, but for Your sake. And ground my hope in the reality of Your profound and enduring love for me and desire for my well-being. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen

It was a difficult day today but God’s love sustains me.

tpn of life


A goodie bag of TPN to sustain my life.


Since, there was an obstruction in my digestive tract caused by the pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (PNet), a rare type of pancreas cancer, I was not getting the proper nutrition to battle it out during surgery.

The doctor advised me to have total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract.

TPN was administered into my vein, through the PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line.

I was amazed how the nutrition team concocted the formula.

These nutrients were vital in maintaining high energy, hydration, and strength levels to prepare my body for the surgery.

During my reflection, I was reminded of our own TPN in life.

  •  Trust. High-value. If lost, it’s difficult to get back. For a cancer patient, trust means – all out love. Trusting God more.  Entrusting your own life until the end. To never give up amidst the challenges. To move forward against all odds.
  • Peace. A sanctuary of love.  Amidst the storm, you are calm and confident. When everything is on chaos, you maintain your composure not to panic.
  • Nurturing. Caring. Optimism in life. A pat in the back. A word of encouragement.

As you face life’s struggle, in my case cancer, become a TPN to others every day – a trustworthy individual, a peacemaker and a nurturing person.

As the famous poet Emily Dickinson said:

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” 

But, others hurt you.

You are but, human.

You get angry and frustrated most of the time but you are destined for greatness to make a difference.

The discovery will never be easy – it may take days, months, or years but you have to start.

Let me share this story.

A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles over land, until it finally came to the sea. It was fascinated by this strange moving mass, quite unlike anything it had ever seen before.

“Who are you?” said the salt doll to the sea.

The sea smilingly replied, “Come in and see.”

So the doll waded in. The farther it walked into the sea the more it dissolved, until there was only very little of it left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, “Now I know what I am!”

You will only know who you truly are, if you are willing to dive into the ocean of life with trust, peace and a nurturing heart.

hugot sa picc line


Hugot lines at the end of this post  =)

The infection was far from over. High fever was on and off.

The nurses have difficulty finding my veins to extract some blood, either they collapsed or dehydrated.

The solution was to have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC or PIC line) where treatments, such as IV medications, can be given and blood for laboratory tests can be withdrawn.

The PICC line would be more comfortable compared with the many “needle sticks” that I needed for giving medications and drawing blood. The goal was to spare my veins from these frequent “needle sticks” and the irritating effects of IV medications.

I was whisked to the Cat lab. A specially trained doctor used an ultrasound machine to find the veins in my left upper arm. It was cleaned and covered with a sterile cloth to prevent infection. They numbed the area where the PICC was placed.

The PICC was inserted into a vein just above the bend of my elbow and guided into a large vein in my chest. Then, it was held into my arm with special tape and covered with a sterile dressing.


The three-way access ports of the PICC line.


For a few days, it was very helpful.

My nurses were more than happy in extracting my blood.

But, the on and off fever came again.

They did another investigation.

Unfortunately, the main suspect was the PICC line.

They removed it (literally hinugot) and sent a sample to the infection control department of the hospital.

Indeed, there was infection – the bacteria entered my bloodstream through the PICC line.

They explained that since I was admitted in the hospital for more than a month, I am more susceptible to bacterial infection.

I went back to manual pricking of veins. Pasakit na naman!

Below are some hugot lines from the PICC experience (just for laughs):

  • Buti pa ang PICC line diretso sa puso, ako kailan kaya ako makakahalik kahit sa nguso mo
  • Para kang PICC line na may 3-in-1 access port, pinagsabay-sabay mo kaming tatlo – taksil!
  • Umasa ako sa PICC line, madali ng kuhaan ng dugo, pero ikaw kailan ka magbabayad ng utang mo.
  • Sinalo na ng lahat ng PICC line ang responsibilidad para mabuhay, pero ikaw batugan pa rin – kilos naman dyan.
  • Buti pa ang PICC line naaasahan, ikaw kailan ka kaya mapagkakatiwalaan.

music & cancer


The chubby bajo or bass player setting the beat.


Does music heal cancer? For me, it does.

During chemotherapy the soothing harmony and rhythm of music helps me to relax more and to think of positive thoughts.

Music elevates your healing experience to another level of life’s appreciation.

When I was in elementary, I am not the athletic type.

I tried music because it was more child-friendly. I joined the Rondalla team of Sta. Ana Elementary School with Ms. Donasco as our adviser.

The experience thought me persistence and patience.

Music was like mathematics, it has exact figures or notes. If you didn’t hit it right, you would be out of tune.

The cacophony of rondalla instruments (banduria, piccolo, octavina, bajo or bass, guitar, drums) when fused together was heaven for me.

I learned to appreciate the value of each instrument in creating harmony for a great musical masterpiece.

It was not easy to learn the basic of octavina (smaller than a guitar) – the sound it produced was like the equivalent of alto voice for singers.

When I was in Grade 6, I didn’t know if it was a promotion, but I was assigned to play the bajo or the bass.


It’s all about the bass!


Imagine a way bigger yukelele with four strings – 6 feet tall.

The bass was crucial to set the beat of the music.

I enjoyed it a lot.

During my high school years in Mariano Marcos Memorial High School there was no rondalla but I was encouraged to join the choir.

It was easy to sing if you are the melody.

But, I was a bass singer (yes, bajo na naman pero boses na ang labanan!). The lower notes were very difficult.

It took years to train my ears.

Choir singing was never easy, it was like a rondalla – everyone must be spot-on or else you’ll produce a noise not music.

Same thing in life, you have a role to play in the greater scheme of things even if you have cancer.

Cancer is not the be-all and end-all of everything.

Yes, it is part of your journey

But, it should never stop you to find your voice and share it to the world- as a testimony of hope and as a catalyst of change like what music did to my life.


happy 23rd!


Our kindergarten photos – don’t be distracted with my glossy pouted lips=)


Being diagnosed with cancer is a blessing.  Some may not agree but living as if it’s your last day makes you more appreciate what you have now. I mean – NOW.

Today is a great day.

Another chance to live a life worthy of living.

When I was diagnosed last year, I thought my world crumbled into pieces. I was quiet for several days. It was difficult to accept the reality that I have a dreaded disease.

But, in the silence of my heart I was reminded of the selfless love of God.



This life was not mine in the first place.

It was a gift from God.

Who am I to question his plans for me?

I rediscovered how His love was so powerful to turn despair into hope.

A hope for healing and for a new beginning.

Even in my last breath His embrace of love comforts my weary soul.

My wife sent me last Valentine’s Day a USB filled with photos of my cancer journey and inspirational songs that we love both.

Every 11th and 23rd of the month is a reminder of His love for giving me Mrs. Maria Judith Bayot- Borja, my 4G (God’s greatest gorgeous gift).

Thank you for letting me see the face of God through your love. Happy 23rd of the month!

In my journey with cancer, this is a special song from the USB playlist my wife sent.

A strong reminder from God about His comforting love.

Wag Ka Nang Umiyak
KZ Tandingan

Wag ka nang umiyak, sa mundong pabago-bago
pag-ibig ko ay totoo
ako ang iyong bangka, kung magalit man
ang alon, ng panahon, sabay tayong aahon

Kung wala ka nang maintindihan
Kung wala ka nang makapitan
Kapit ka sa akin, kapit ka sa akin
Di kita bibitawan

Wag kang umiyak, mahaba man ang araw
uuwi ka sa yakap ko
wag mo nang damdamin kung wala ako sayong tabi
iiwan kong puso ko sa yo
at kung pakiramdam mo’y wala ka nang kakampi
isipin mo ako dahil puso’t isip ko’y
nasa yong tabi


…di kita pababayaan

Kapit ka, kumapit ka
(para sa buhay ng buhay ko)