Panama

World Youth Day (WYD) 2011 in Madrid, Spain was one of the unforgettable moments in my life!

Meeting Pope Benedict in person together with the other youth from all over the world was such an amazing experience!

A dear friend posted some throwback photos of team Middle East from WYD 2011.

We are called the trailblazers for being the pioneer delegates from a parish without a physical church and structure where love, faith and hope blooms abundantly.

Team Arethas WYD

Team Arethas goofing around after the WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Pope Benedict in his powerful words. Below photos: smiling with the delegates from South Korea and Poland. WYD Panama 2019 will be a chance for pilgrims around the world to come together with the many young people from the peripheries in Latin America to pray, worship, and celebrate the Catholic faith.

There were a lot of fond memories in Spain- from the mundane to the profound, and many more.

But, one thing that I am proud of our team was finding a family in a group of pilgrims who wanted to become more closer to God through the WYD experience.

Next year, a new set of youth pilgrims will set foot in Panama for WYD 2019.

Group travel has interesting quirks. It can be difficult keeping people together and getting them somewhere at the same time. You can expect that someone will always have to use the toilet, someone will get lost, someone will get sick, someone will miss a train/bus/metro, or someone will lose a plane ticket or money (and sometimes it’s the same person for all of the above). Does it ring a bell, Team Arethas?

The best way to keep everyone on time and together is to leave lots of time for getting places and count heads after every mode of transportation.

One way to keep your group together while moving through a crowd is to have someone hold a unique flag that pilgrims can follow. If you are concerned about the group, have the flag stop on the side and let your pilgrims come to the flag to be counted.

The primary means of transportation for WYD pilgrims will be walking. Prepare your body ahead of time. Do a lot of physical activity before you leave.

I even enrolled in a gym before leaving for Madrid- though my chubby cheeks in photos doesn’t show any justice to it.

According to the bishops here are 10 great ways to prepare for WYD 2019:

1. Pray.
Pray for your fellow pilgrims (even those you have yet to meet), for Pope Francis and the bishops participating, for the people of Panama, for those who cannot travel to WYD, and for yourself, that you may be open to God’s will for you at World Youth Day.

2. Pack.
And don’t pack everything – just what is needed for the journey. Remember clothes (though not too many), good walking shoes, a hat, your morning basics (toothbrush, toiletries, etc.), any medications you need, your sleeping bag, your passport, and items that will help you travel spiritually (the Bible, prayer cards, your rosary, etc.).

3. Walk.
At World Youth Day, there will be a lot of walking. Begin training for that by taking time to walk a few miles each day. Consider bringing others with you on your outings. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to be outside and to get in some healthy exercise!

4. Study.
Find out more about the country of Panama, its saints, and history. Pick up some Spanish phrases. Read about the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Dig deeper into your Catholic faith.

5. Learn.
Learn about World Youth Day: how and why it began, what the schedule will be this year, and who is expected to be there.

6. Listen.
When you’re in such big crowds like at World Youth Day, we need to listen attentively to directions and instructions. Get in the habit of listening to what your group leaders and other church leaders have to say. Listening is also the best way to keep safe.

7. Fast.
When you’re at World Youth Day, you will live simply (just as Pope Francis encourages us to do). To prepare for that experience, consider fasting from food, from excess and material goods, and from bad habits.

8. Give.
One of the best ways to prepare for a pilgrimage is to give selflessly of yourself for others. Not only does this help another person in need, but it also trains us to think outside of ourselves (something good to know on a pilgrimage surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people).

9. Talk.
Tell others about your trip. Explain to them why you are making the trip to World Youth Day, and what your Catholic faith means to you.

10. Share.
Too often, when the pilgrimage is over, people can close themselves off to those who didn’t experience the journey. Instead, consider sharing your joys and struggles with friends and family who aren’t going to Panama. And upon coming home, make a concerted effort to share your experiences in a positive and inviting manner, without making others feel left out.

God-willing I hope I can join WYD 2019 in Panama! Shout out to all my sponsors 😇

Joy

On the eve of our 5th church wedding anniversary, Sis. Jude and I would like to thank you for your love and prayers in our journey.

Amidst difficulties, hiccups and challenges; there were so many blessings.

Bishop Camilo Balin once said that adversities and trials means becoming more closer to God.

Take courage!

Indeed, courage it is!

My wife is in Riyadh now, I would like to ask for your prayers for the security and protection of everyone in KSA.

Grief

A selfie on the location of my new mission area in the coming days. The beautiful Our Lady of Remedies Church in Malate. In today’s Gospel, Jesus too was preparing His disciples for an awesome phenomenon they were about to witness – the Ascension. He knew that when He ascended to heaven, life as they knew it with Him in their presence would all of a sudden go dark with no apparent explanation. He reassured them: “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (Jn 16:20). The Son was hidden for a time, but the darkness gave way to light.

I had a chance to visit today Our Lady of Remedies in Malate, Manila for a thanksgiving mass and also to meet Bro. Edward Centeno for our weekly Light Group (LG) meeting.

Adorned in pristine white orchids, the church was a sight to behold- there was a wedding before the 6pm mass. The priest reminded the couple to have a heart of gratitude. Marriage life is a marathon and never a sprint. Enjoy the journey!

Fr. Michael Martin shared this meaningful verse:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” John 16:20

Grief, mourning and even weeping is a part of life. Children will often weep at the slightest difficulty, but all of us face grief and sorrow throughout life.

In this passage above, Jesus informs His Apostles that sorrow and grief will be a part of their lives. This is a very sober but realistic statement on the part of our Lord. It’s an act of love, on His part, to be up front with His Apostles about the coming hardships they will face.

The good news is that Jesus follows this statement with the hopeful news that their “grief will become joy.” This is the most important part of what Jesus says.

The same is true in our lives. Jesus does not promise us that our lives will be free from hardship and pain. He does not tell us that following Him means that all will be easy in life. Instead, He wants us to know that we will follow in His footsteps if we choose to follow Him.

He suffered, was mistreated and ultimately killed. And this would be tragic if He did not ultimately rise from the dead, ascend into Heaven and transform all prior grief and pain into the very means of the salvation of the world.

If we follow in His footsteps, we need to see every bit of grief in our lives as potentially a means of grace for many.

If we can face the hardships of life with faith and hope, nothing will ultimately keep us down and everything will be able to be used for God’s glory and will result in great joy.

This verse spoke to me a lot. Do not despair when suffering is placed before you. Surrender all things to our Lord and let Him transform it into the joy that He promises in the end.

Lord, I surrender to You all suffering in my life. My grief, hardships, sorrow and confusion I place in Your hands. I trust that You are all-powerful and desire to transform all things into a means of Your glory. Give me hope in times of despair and trust when life is hard. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Good Doctor

We admit my wife and I tend to get sentimental rather easily while watching cinema or following a TV series.

One of the must-watch series we are following now is “The Good Doctor”.

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“The Good Doctor” is a hospital drama featuring an autistic young surgeon. Because of his troubled childhood, Dr. Shaun Murphy is forced to figure out how to navigate the world alone.

This is the story of Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, who has relocated from a quiet country life to join a renowned hospital’s surgical unit.

Abused and abandoned by his parents as a child, Shaun just had his brother as his friend who could understand him.

Unfortunately, Shaun loses him in a freak accident as well.

Alone in the world and struggling to connect with those around him, Shaun just focuses on his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and with it manages to overcome the biasness and skepticism of his colleagues against him.

I have always stayed away from medical dramas. Hospitals and diseases make me cringe. But there is something very special about The Good Doctor.

While the story is layered and there is a lot of depth in its characters, I am enjoying it mostly because of the absolutely incredible portrayal by Freddie Highmore of a young man dealing with autism.

I have no real world experience of how an autistic person might actually be, but Highmore’s performance is so sincere, so endearing and so moving, you simply cannot move your eyes away from him.

It also made me think very deeply about people dealing with similar disorders and how they lead their lives.

One of the unforgettable scenes is from the pilot episode where Shaun is being interviewed by the board of directors in the hospital (most of whom are against his appointment). He is asked why he wants to be a surgeon and his answer and they way he expresses it, really moved me.

Looking forward to completing this engaging show. And now my wife and I are Freddie Highmore’s fan for life.

What a brilliant young actor!

Hulk

Are you like the Incredible Hulk?

I saw this Marvel Comics life-size statue of our favorite green superhero, the Incredible Hulk at SM MOA Arena during the Holy Week Retreat 2018 “Deeper”.

Anger was expressively shown in his face with a glaring or hooded look straight to your eyes.

Eyebrows lowered and formed a ‘V’ over the nose. Wrinkles seen on the nose due to flared nostrils. Lips appeared thinner than their normal size. Exposed teeth allows Hulk to threaten his source of anger and often precedes shouting or screaming, an extreme sign of anger.

Hulk Anger

Research scientist Bruce Banner has a problem. He has a forgotten and painful past, which comes to light during an experiment gone awry. During an accidental explosion, Bruce’s heroic impulse saves a life, but exposes his body to a deadly dose of gamma radiation. Remarkable, he survives, but he begins to feel something different within him. It’s a massive creature known as the Hulk, which begins to make sporadic appearances when Banner gets angry. The unleashed Hulk cut a path of destruction that terrified the public and engaged the military against him. But, how can the Hulk be stopped? As Bruce Banner says, “I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m becoming. But I know one thing for sure – you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Anger is a difficult emotion to control. When you are livid with rage, you lose your ability to reason and turn into a monster. You shout, you rage, you smash things and cause destruction.

This statue of Incredible Hulk, the poster boy for anger and destruction, taught me a lot about losing my temper.

The Incredible Hulk debuted in 1962. His alter-ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, was a nuclear physicist working on an atomic bomb, when he accidentally received a huge blast of gamma rays. The rays split Banner into two personalities: one, the mild-mannered scientist he had always been and The Hulk — a walking natural disaster — upon an unprepared world.

Although Banner’s brains are to be prized, the real message is: no matter how smart you think you are, control your emotions or face social rejection.

The Hulk was the embodiment of all of Banner’s repressed emotions. But it was mainly anger that drove the Hulk. The angrier the Hulk became, the stronger he got. Due to the Hulk’s superhuman strength and lack of self-control, he caused untold damage and destruction wherever he went. Naturally, most people feared and viewed the Hulk as a monster.

What then are the dangers of letting anger control you?

Anger Causes You to Say Hurtful Words
The Hulk had very little self-control over the things he said or did. In the midst of anger, it is hard to control the things you say. But when you are angry, you may not even want to do so. Instead, you want to give vent to your anger and frustrations to feel better. Under such conditions, you could say many hurtful things that you would not have said otherwise. Words spoken in anger could cause irreversible harm to a relationship. By then it is too late for regrets. You cannot take back what you say.

Anger Causes Destructive Behavior
You cannot speak of the Hulk without thinking of the destruction he left in his wake. The damage he caused cost billions of dollars. Words alone may not be enough. When you are livid with anger, you could engage in hurtful and destructive behaviour as well. You could do spiteful things just to even the score. While you may not necessarily destroy things like the Hulk, you could hurt people unwittingly on a mental or emotional level.

Anger Makes You a Burden to Others
It comes as no surprise that the Hulk was a danger and a burden to others. Losing your temper is disruptive to the environment around you. It creates a scene that brings everything around you to a halt. When you lose control of your temper, you force people to drop what they are doing to deal with you. Depending on the situation, they may have to accommodate you or put you in your place. This can make you a burden to others and cause them to feel tensed if you lose your temper on a constant basis.

Anger Causes You to Alienate People
One of the challenges that the Hulk faced was his alienation of friends and allies. When you get mad at others, you are bound to do and say things that will have negative consequences. You cannot expect to lose your temper without paying a price for it. After all, you might alienate others in your rage. This could lead to tension in your relationships in the short run. If the damage is deep enough, you could end up turning a friend into an enemy. Repeatedly losing your temper will cause people to dislike you. Although they may not openly admit it, they may be unwilling to lift a finger to help you if you need it.

Anger Turns You Into an Unthinking Monster
When people think of the Hulk, they remember the dumb, angry monster who caused widespread damage and destruction. He was a danger to friend and foe alike because he could not control his temper. This is what anger does when it consumes you. Your rage, which may prove too much for you to handle, clouds your reason and judgment. In the throes of your anger, you could across as an unthinking brute to those around you.

Take Action
As long as you live in this world, you are bound to get angry at one point or another. Anything can set you off. Even so, it is important not to let your anger get the better of you. Cutting loose and lashing out when you are angry may help you to relieve your rage and make you feel good. But there is a price to pay. The things you say and do in your anger may have grave consequences for you. You should try to avoid losing your temper and turning into a monster.

FuGen

Exactly four (4) years ago, Future Generation Philippine International School (FGPIS) in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia invited me to be their commencement speaker.

I was glad Facebook has an “on this day” feature to always look back at your special memories in life.

My wife was beside me when I received the plaque of appreciation.

FuGen

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

I shared the value of finding true joy, accepting one’s limitation and loving your parents to the graduating students.

True joy doesn’t result from things or circumstances. Joy is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.

Jesus never promised trouble-free living. In fact, He predicted the opposite, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

To quote C.S. Lewis, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” New things may bring a temporary sense of happiness, but alas the newness wears off.

Lasting joy is not tied to material things but to a vibrant relationship with the one who is our source of joy! So take time to rediscover your joy, and learn to enjoy the journey.

Surrender to the existence of your limits. This is the only place from which you can truly start the journey of adapting, and when you accept and adapt, you can find a new way of living filled with a lot more peace – when you accept your limits, and when you accept reality, it’s then that you can discover what is still possible.

Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forget they are also growing old. Appreciate your parents. You never know what sacrifices they went through for you.

FGPIS is one of the leading Philippine schools overseas committed to the holistic development of its graduates with special emphasis on science and technology.

They have a high culture of excellence imbued with personal discipline and multi-cultural consciousness.

The school was founded through the collaboration of the its owner Sheikha Bareah Bint Sabah Salem Al Hamoud Al Sabah, Kuwaiti princess and the group of seven dedicated, intellectuals, and efficient Filipino teachers headed by Mrs. Marie Con C. Caro, school principal and Mrs. Zenaida C. Meren, school assistant principal.

Awe

Last year’s Lenten Season were spent at Pampanga for my radiation therapy. Back then, there were so many uncertainties, worries and fear but I held on to God’s promise of healing.

Lent this year was a testimony of God’s relentless love. I’ve done things, I thought I never could.

My heart overflows with thanksgiving. God is indeed awesome!

Awe

So when you approach your God today, come with humility, a profound sense of wonder, and a sober fear of displeasing him. For He is awesome in power and a fierce and relentless warrior on behalf of his people. Whatever your needs are, you have not exhausted his strength and power. Whatever your concerns, you have not run his emotional well dry. Whatever your situation, his hand is not too short to save, provide, lead, and fight for you. Whatever the depth of your offenses against him, he is not prevented from forgiving, releasing, and drawing near the truly repentant person. Nothing is too hard for him!

I would like to share this reflection on Matthew 14:22-36 by Santa Rita Abbey:

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

Awe is a word that has been batted around so much these past years that it has lost a lot of its meaning. How many times have you heard or even used “awesome” in the simplest of circumstances?

And yet, maybe it isn’t so far from the truth, once you get down to the source of awe.

This Gospel passage speaks of awe at the presence and action of God in people’s lives. The disciples are scared out of their wits by what they think is a ghost. It appears to be Jesus, so Peter, at once terrified and irresistibly drawn, challenges the “ghost” to prove that it is really his Master, that he is really who he says he is. And Jesus responds simply, “Come” to Peter’s question of authenticity. You just have to love Peter in his humanness and his relationship with Jesus!

So Peter jumps out of the boat and starts walking. Then it hits him: “I’m walking on WATER.” Jesus is no longer the focus and motive of his action and everything unravels. The wind pushes him around as the waves try to knock him off balance.

He has the very human reaction of fear and yells, “Lord, save me!” Jesus takes his hand and they get into the boat. Then the wind dies down. Can you imagine the awe that filled those men? He IS all he says he is. Our master and deepest friend is the son of GOD!

Try to wrap your mind around that. You can’t.

It is only accessible by faith and the Spirit.

I think Jesus’ words to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” were not a slam for being human, but an acknowledgement that Peter was on the right track, and a life-lesson about what it means to have faith in Jesus and live from it.

The awe that they all felt opened them to see the very wellspring of awe: the presence of God in all that exists and his tremendous power exercised as love and goodness.

And this Presence can and will ask us to stretch our faith, love and trust in a God who fills everything and everyone by walking into circumstances where we must let ourselves grow and be stretched into discipleship as his friends and lovers.

We don’t have to wait for dramatic moments to arise to experience awe.

Every day holds many moments that can lead us to the same place. So, are they really “small” if they are filled with the enormity of God? Sunrise, sunset. A smile. A fawn with its mother.

An invitation to leave behind our selfishness to serve another in honest love.

I could go on and on, and I’m sure you can come up with a long list yourself.

The point is that we live in a world of nothing but awe and we can, like Peter, take the challenge to step out in faith in the Son of God who loves us and has given his life for us, and walk on the water of awe.

As Scripture says, “Truly you are an awesome God.” In the best and deepest sense of the word!

When have you been impressed, perhaps even overwhelmed, by the awesomeness of God?

Let us pray:

Help me to keep your awesomeness in mind even as I draw near to you. When I receive your fatherly embrace, may I realize just how amazing it is to have such a relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I come before you in worship, may I come with reverence even as I come with childlike openness.

All praise be to you, mighty, holy, awesome God!

Amen.

Wendy

I met Ate Wendy Samonte after the closing program of SFC International Conference 2018.

She wore a facemask and thanked a group of brothers and sisters in the parking lot.

Bro. Cris Serdenia, a fellow servant leader in SFC Middle East introduced her to me.

Ate Wendy

Dear Lord, I come before You today in need of Your healing hand. In You all things are possible. Hold my heart within Yours, and renew my mind, body and soul. I am lost, but I come to You with grace. You gave us life, and You also give us the gift of infinite joy. Give me the strength to move forward on the path you’ve laid out for me. Guide me towards better health and give me the wisdom to identify those you’ve placed around me to help me get better. Amen. (Together with Ate Wendy & Bro. Cris.)

Ate Wendy was diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), a rare type of cancer found in the digestive system, most often in the wall of the stomach.

She undergone surgery in 2016. She has no stomach anymore. Digesting food is a big challenge.

She shared her pains during chemo and CT scan sessions.

I felt her agony because I experienced the same.

Her optimism was a source of inspiration.

She went to the event as a victor and full of gratitude.

The SFC community was a source of hope.

Stories about Ate Wendy gave me a deeper understanding of God’s relentless love.

She was a living witness of God’s faithfulness.

Let us pray continuously for her complete healing.

Amidst her condition Ate Wendy remains steadfast in serving the Lord in whatever way possible, her gratitude prayer:

“Thank you God for being with me, inspiring me and using me to speak Your words to my brothers and sisters. Continue to use me Lord, allow me to see Jesus through the people around me and to experience Your great love.”