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¡Gracias, Papa Francisco!

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As of this writing, Papa Francisco is already airborne on his way back to Vatican City after staying in our country since Thursday evening.

It was a momentous event not only for the more than 80% Catholics in the country but for all Filipinos who shared the same goodwill and call to peace and unity. It was also historic because last Saturday morning in Tacloban, the beloved pontiff celebrated what was described as “the most moving Mass of our generation” as it was attended by victims and survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda, “the storm of the century”, and it happened during a raging storm, with everyone cold, wet, and shivering — including the pope himself. It was, in a way, symbolic of the tragedy which has finally found closure with the Pope’s arrival.

Me and my family were glad that we were able to attend one papal event in which Pope Francis celebrated his first Mass in the country (at the Manila Cathedral last Friday morning). However, we missed yesterday’s Papal Mass at the Luneta because the same storm that disturbed the Pope’s Mass in Tacloban had already reached Manila. We didn’t put to risk our children getting sick because of the stormy weather, especially our five-month-old baby girl.

It turned out that yesterday’s Mass at the historic Luneta became the most attended papal event in history, with more than six million faithful braving the storm!

Me and my family simply tuned in to the Internet for the live proceedings. Scenes of the mammoth crowd amazed us. If there was no storm, the throng would have been far bigger. And we would have been there, too.

This morning, while browsing the net for more news about the papal visit, a video from the Papal Visit – Philippines 2015 Facebook page that was becoming viral caught my attention. It was from yesterday’s record-breaking Mass at the Luneta wherein the people are already singing “Tell The World of His Love”, the same song which was used during the 1995 World Youth Day that was held in the same area. This time, the musical arrangement was a bit better compared to the original. It was grander and more emotional. But that was not the reason why the video caught my attention. It was the people themselves, people from all walks of life, singing in unison under the dark skies, holding candles in the rain. I was left in tears at that I N C R E D I B L E show of unity and diversity! And to think that people outside the Faith chide such events as unruly and lacking in solemnity! Not even the storm was able to stop the more than six million faithful who trooped to Luneta for that moving Papal Mass!

Typhoons, earthquakes, famines, heresies and anti-Catholics holding Dámaso placards, economic and political instabilities, wars, brimstone and fire, etc… BRING IT ON! But Christianity/Catholicism in this country will NEVER die and will CONTINUE to grow! It is this Faith which created the Filipino in the first place. So we will continue carrying the torch passed on to us by our grandparents! Yes, we Catholics may not be perfect and falter from time to time, but we will continue to declare that JESUS IS LORD, and we will continue to tell the world of His LOVE — the GREATEST LOVE the world has known!

¡Gracias por la inspiración, Papa Francisco! ¡Qué le veamos de nuevo!


¡Viva San Pedro Calungsod!

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VATICAN City, 21 October 2012 — The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI praised the “heroic courage” and “tenacious profession of faith” of Filipinos’ second saint, Pedro Calungsod, during the homily at today’s mass.

In his homily for the canonization ceremony, the Holy Father recalled the life of Saint Pedro in the Marianas mission.

“His desire to win souls for Christ… made him resolute in accepting martyrdom,” he said.

Key in Pope Benedict’s exhortation on the young martyr is the special circumstances of his death – that he could have decided to leave Fr. Diego de San Vitores, but decided to stay on.

Making a direct appeal to modern-day Filipinos, he said, “May the example and courageous witness of Pedro Calungsod inspire the dear people of the Philippines to announce the Kingdom bravely and to win souls for God!”

The Holy Father also praised Pedro and the six other new saints, for their “…heroic courage, [spending] their lives in total consecration to the Lord and generous service of their brethren.”

Hopefully, the example of Saint Pedro, “will inspire the dear people of the Philippines to announce the Kingdom bravely and win souls for God,” added the Holy Father.

Besides being a day of celebration for the Church because of the canonization, October 21 is also celebrated this year as World Mission Sunday. (Aaron James R. Veloso, taken from CBCP Online Radio).

Merry Christmas! (Urbi et Orbi 2011)

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My kids in front of Saint Peter the Apostle Church (taken about two hours ago). San Pedro Plaza is at the background.

¡Hola a todos! Please click here for Pope Benedict XVI’s Urbi et Orbi taken a few hours ago.

Merry Christmas everyone! And please don’t forget to share your blessings to our unfortunate brothers in Northern Mindanáo. Thanks!

Stª Filomena Almarínez, the incorruptible of Biñán

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Filomena Almarínez (1913-1938)

Although foreign-sounding first names such as Anne, Sam, and Angel have been the vogue these past few years, the practice of naming Filipinos after Spanish-named saints still pervades up to modern times. For instance, my real name José Mario was taken from two saints: St. Joseph, the foster-father of Our Lord and Savior, and his bride, the Blessed Mother of Christ Jesus.

In Biñán, La Laguna, we came across a curious case of an incorruptible “saint” who is not yet recognized by the Catholic authorities. Her name is Filomena Almarínez, obviously named after a canonized Greek princess who was martyred sometime in the 4th century: Saint Philomena.


St. Philomena, patron saint of impossible cases.

To Catholics, Saint Philomena (English translation of the Spanish Stª Filomena) is also a curious case. Christians started venerating her in the early 19th century when her remains were discovered in the Catacombs of Priscilla (in Via Salaria, Rome, Italy). There is not much information known about her aside from a Latin inscription found at her tomb: Filumena which means “daughter of light”. She is also known to be the patron saint of children.

I first became acquainted with this saint more than a decade ago. One of my cousins, Amador II L. Alas, or Josh, was stricken with the deadly cancer Burkitt’s lymphoma. After several months of battling the fatal disease, Josh’s doctors here in the Philippines have given up hope on him. But not us, of course.

I can’t remember anymore if it was my grandmother or one of my aunties’ who distributed St. Philomena novena prayercards among family members. I got one and kept it inside my wallet, praying the novena from time to time for the quick recovery of my cousin. Eventually, he was brought to a famous medical facility in the US and there he was miraculously healed.

Doubting Thomases would be quick to retort: it’s science who healed your cousin, Pepe. Not totally true. The wise logic and argumentation of the Doctors of the Church have proven time and again that science is dead without faith (but that’s for another blogpost).

Today, as you look at my cousin’s photo below, who would’ve known that he was a victim of Burkitt’s lymphoma many years ago? (and who would’ve even known that he’d grow up to be as handsome as me?)


But after that cancer incident, I’ve completely forgotten about St. Philomena (I can’t even remember where my prayercard is anymore). Until last week when I read in Facebook that my comrades Arnaldo Arnáiz and Levi Soledad are talking about a possible Biñán “field work”. They’re talking about visiting some beata there. I sent them a message saying that I’ll join them although I don’t know exactly what they’re up to.

Initially, I thought that we’re going to visit only a relic or some preserved body part of a saint. I was surprised to hear from Arnaldo that we’re going to visit St. Philomena. Upon hearing of the familiar name, it started to register into my mind the events of long ago, about my cousin, his cancer, and the prayercard (I just couldn’t forget the picture of the young saint with the arrows). So I thought that one of her relics was in Biñán. I misunderstood Arnaldo: he was referring to a totally different person, another Philomena, an incorruptible who is yet to be recognized by the Catholic Church.

We went to Biñán on a rainy Wednesday afternoon (4 November 2009). We were on a rendezvous with Levi, a Biñán native, inside Pavilion Mall. On the way, Arnaldo explained to me what little information he had about this “unrecognized saint”.

Upon meeting with Levi (whose slick red car we used), we drove towards the place where Stª Filomena was interred: Biñán’s public cemetery, popularly known as the St. Filomena Cemetery (nicknamed after her).

Stª Filomena’s incorruptible remains are housed inside a well-maintained chapel named after her. We got to talk to a lady called Nanay Deneng who has been taking care of the chapel for years (later on, she told us that we were so lucky to have arrived at a very opportune time — the chapel is rarely open nowadays). From her we got to know a lot about this mysterious Filipina whose lifeless body refuses to rot…

Filomena was born on 6 July 1913 in Barrio San Antonio Biñán (then spelled as Viñáng) to poor farmers. Unlike many female saints, she wasn’t a nun nor was she a member of any religious organization. She was just an ordinary citizen. But stories today say that she was a very prayerful lady during her lifetime.

One day, on 13 August 1938, she suddenly died of unknown causes. She was only 25, very young. Stories say that she died of emotional stress and heartache because her parents were against her lover.

Nine years later, in 1947, her father followed her to the grave. And when the people dug her coffin so that her father’s remains could rejoin hers (a common practice a long time ago), they were shocked to discover that her mortal remains didn’t rot!

She was discovered to be incorruptible!

Too bad Stª Filomena’s incorruptible body is no longer available for public viewing. It used to be in the past. But a couple of years ago, it was buried in a tomb inside the chapel, and that tomb was what we saw when we went there. Sayang talagá. And Nanay Demeng doesn’t know the exact reason as to why it was decided to bury the “uncanonized saint” altogether. So the only thing we saw, aside from the chapel and the glass coffin which used to house her incorruptible body, were photos of her when she was still alive and during the time that her incorruptible body was still available for everyone to see. (Go to ALAS FILIPINAS for more photos and info… but written in the Spanish language)

It was –to borrow from today’s youth– creepy! In books and on Cable TV, particularly a National Geographic documentary on incorruptible saints, I’ve encountered cases about the incorruptible beatos y beatas of the Catholic Church. But this is the first time that I saw a photograph of an incorruptible whose eyes didn’t decompose! And, surprisingly, the eyes of Stª Filomena in the said photograph are partly open! Everything seems to be intact: the cornea, the sclera, the iris, the pupil!

When a person dies, the eyes are supposed to be one of the first parts of a human body to decompose since it is composed mainly of aqueous components and proteins (collagen). But this is not the case with those of Stª Filomena!

I am not an authority to speak out as to why such a phenomena happens. Even that National Geographic episode on incorruptible saints wasn’t able to give a firm conclusion. But what struck me more is that why the Catholic Church still doesn’t recognize this “saint”. According to Nanay Demeng, –and Nanay Rosa who later joined us that afternoon– it could be the fact the Stª Filomena is now under the auspices of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the schismatic group dating back to the revolution of 1896.

The members of this group are more popularly known as Aglipayans or Aglipayanos because its first bishop was Gregorio Aglípay. When the ilustrados (composed mostly of Freemasons) staged a revolt against Spain, they chose Fr. Aglípay to head the schismatic church. The leaders of the revolution still considered the Iglesia Filipina Independiente as Catholic. The only thing is that they refused to recognize the authority of the Vatican for the simple reason that the Holy See is connected with Spain and the much hated friars. The founding of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente is actually a part of the Filipinos’ rebellion against Madre España.

But just like what Levi whispered to me in the chapel, the Aglipayans are still Catholics. But darn, Spain is no longer here. So is there still any other valid reason why they refuse to reunite with the Vatican?

The curious case of Stª Filomena, the saint who is not yet a saint, should not be taken lightly. People have been talking about miracles attributed to her intercession. Not to mention her apparitions. To avoid a possible cult-like behavior from the ignorant, both the local Catholic authorities and leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente should work hand in hand to once and for all come up with a conclusion as to whether or not Filomena Almarínez’s sainthood is valid or not.

In parting, let me share to you our photo below taken inside the venerated chapel:


Inside the mysterious Stª Filomena Chapel (left to right: Levi, Arnaldo, Nanay Deneng, and The Fantabulous).

The original Stª Filomena of Greece, by the way, is also known as the “Daughter of Light”. That’s why it freaked me out a little bit to see those eye-like lights from two small windows right above us, very open like the eyes of Stª Filomena de Biñán!

Other peculiarities: Both Filomenas (the one from Corfu, Greece and the one from Biñán, La Laguna) died at a very early age. And what’s more shocking is that both died almost at the same date: St. Philomena of Greece died on August 10; ours died on the 13th of that month!

Are these coincidences?

And one more thing: how does one perceive light?

Through the eyes, of course…

Related links:
Santa Filomena Almarines
Visiting Biñan’s “Santa Filomena”

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