Weather wise, we could not have chosen a worse schedule for the first ever apologetics seminar in Baguio. Or so I thought. Let me tell you why, read on please.
On Friday afternoon, upon arrival in Baguio mid afternoon, Henry, Marwil, Caloy and I went for a very fruitful meeting with the Vicar General of the Diocese of Baguio, Fr. Andy Cosalan. We were joined by the Baguio team of John and Patrick who in fact arranged the appointment. Prior to that in the morning, we met up with Archbishop Paciano Aniceto in San Fernando to report and ask for his blessing and support (which we got plenty). Fr. Andy came to know us better and I guess, some sort of confidence ensued and probably the personal letter from Archbishop Aniceto had a lot to do with that as well. So we went back to our quarters in Sta. Catalina Retreat Center feeling good and inspired for the following day. That was when we were told about the bad news, the typhoon signal was raised to signal no. 1! We slept good that night but I couldn’t avoid being anxious and prayed and prayed, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession. Back in Manila, my good friend Chuck Lazaro, head of the BCBP Alabang intercessory was also burning candles in prayer as I asked him to mightily storm the gates of Heaven for help. Well, Heaven did respond, with a storm!
We started Saturday morning wet! You can’t avoid it when boarding and unloading stuff in non-ceasing rain (cold rain I might add). We arrived early at the Catholic Renewal Center at the Bishop’s residence, about 8am, and the Baguio team was already there in full force: John, Patrick, Mark, Jesse (who had help from his girlfriend), and Richard. PV Beley was also on hand to take the video. All was in order, including the hot beverage which was like manna in the desert in a very cold place such as where we were. And then the miracle happened. One by one, the participants came, most of them on foot with umbrellas open to protect against the wind and rain. I can’t describe my feelings as I saw the people trickling in, smiling and looking so fresh even, that was my first experience of Baguio faith and it was heartwarming. And what else? They were armed with their notebooks and pens! Can you believe that? So the first day ended well with Fr. Andy giving the first talk on the bible, then Marwil, then Caloy. The weather was all the time reminding us that it must do its stuff for nature and that night, as confirmation, I got a text from my daughter telling me that it was already signal no. 3 in Baguio (thanks for the timely and inspiring advice!). Typhoon Cosme just gave us a sampler during the first day, worse was to come. And it did!
That night we went home soaked. Strong winds and non stop rain beat down on us. Poor Henry and John were the worse for it as they had to open a stuck gate at the retreat house and had to take several minutes in the elements to open the gate. It must have taken about 5 minutes to do so, and actually they looked funny (sorry) to see as I was reminded of those ‘charleston cops’ in the silent movies, furiously kicking and forcing the stubborn gate to open. And so when the gate finally gave up and allowed the wet gentlemen to gain victory in this metal vs human encounter, we couldn’t allow John to go home on foot in his small umbrella, since it was too dangerous, the winds were too strong for him or anyone for that matter.
Have you tried sleeping during a storm with the wind beating so hard you wonder whether the roof will hold? Try Baguio in signal no. 3 weather, you’ll get closer to the Lord! Prayer was a very welcome refuge that night and I’m sure we kept God awake all night, probably some angels too. Anyway, the roof held, if anyone is interested to know.
Sunday morning, I was up at 530am. The big brother wind left, but medium brother wind and big sister rain, stayed behind. At 7am, I told John we might have to cancel, I was afraid for the safety of the people. It’s one thing to have a storm in Manila, but in Baguio it’s more dangerous because of the steep roads and since most of our participants are senior, ok let me use a better term, past youth. On my head board in my room, there is a small hanging poster, it said ‘DON‘T QUIT’. Was it a message from God?
Good thing we had mass at 730am in the retreat house (actually, they have daily masses at 630am) so we gave the rain and wind some time to get spent, but I didn’t know they had their cousins rain and wind there too, so it seemed like a never ending scene from the movie ‘Perfect Storm’. After a quick breakfast, John texted from the venue that 13 people had arrived. 13? You mean, people came? Wow, God is really humoring us. I mean, in Manila, when we had one of our seminars, you know what prevented people from coming? Pacquiao! I didn’t realize that the faith in Baguio is really bagyo! When we arrived at the scene, there were more people and all in all, we had 23. Even a priest was there, Fr. Jeff Hamado from the San Pablo seminary. We had no electricity though, so Mars and Caloy had to speak without microphones.
We went into overtime the last day, as the discussion about the non-Catholic sects excited everybody. After the seminar proper (and with the weather still belligerent), people still milled around asking and begging for materials, getting contact details and as one can plainly see, hungry for knowledge and answers to their questions about the Catholic Faith. Clearly, this was a time well spent, and we have the weather to thank for it. Why?
Well for one, it proved to us that apologetics is truly a great help to people and that given a chance, people will take the opportunity to learn it, storm or no storm. Second, we established in Baguio that Defensores is a proven and orthodox resource (as I write this, Patrick sent a text joyfully advising that there is now a ground swell for more seminars. In fact, they will be interviewed in their local radio about this). And third, the success that God gave to the effort, despite the adversities gave us more courage and faith to continue in this advocacy. If it were not for the storm, we would not have proven to ourselves that indeed people are hungry to be fed truth and knowledge of their God, no matter what stands in the way. And this is a valuable lesson that I, for one, will remember for a long long time and it will inspire the DFF to forge ahead and not mind the obstacles.
All for the Glory of God!