Fr. Jun Villanueva
At first, there was a seemingly-endless walk, and the heat was almost like the first-born of summer. But gradually, the winds blew more stronger. And colder. Ah, lo and behold, from a distance, there was the Pacific Ocean inviting us to a quiet reflection of life. And the trees seemed to line along the road, as if calling us to come home, whispering songs that lull babies and even adults to sleep, and tired bodies to rest. It was Saturday, the 27th of November, 2004. The eve of Advent, really Advent.
Aling Mameng had long wanted to visit Mt. Samat. It was almost 14 years since she first went to the historic place. She knew that a different Mt. Samat was waiting for her. She was not disappointed. And there, she remembered the war, her husband, their dreams, and the one God they
used to call. That Saturday, she again called her God, our God, thanking Him for the gift of life. A month ago, she was 64 years old. But for Betty it was different. She only wanted the mountaintop experience. She had been selling perfumes in some schools for 6 years. That afternoon, the smell was different. She said it was the best smell, better than what she was selling – because God made that mysterious smell, no alcohol nor cute bottle. It was for free. It was the advent breeze, made by God, designed by God for weary souls.
Suddenly the sound seemed familiar, from an estimated 15,000 Catholics and HEROES, there was the bell, the choir singing, the people praying, the Virgin carried by the youth, and Jesus on the Cross, silently watching us – the sound of the People of God, as if recreating the biblical mountaintop experiences of the wandering tribes, of Moses and the prophets. Yes, when the people prayed together, sang together, gathered together for the Eucharist, Jesus was there, is there, and will always be everywhere. And the used-to-be tranquil site of Mt. Samat was suddenly transformed, or maybe, transfigured, like heaven with the angels singing, with the One Father opening His arms to His children longing for His Home.
You may listen to some complains, to screeching vehicles, to hungry stomachs; you may even hear the hows and the whatifs. But if you knew the why, all the hows and the whatifs disappeared. And so the community was not just a flood of humanity, but a single voice of a praying Church . Words were and are not enough to capture the event. When dusk slowly appears to cover the trees and our shadows, ah, there was the moon silently watching. There was the breeze embracing us. There was the candlelight inspiring us to move on. There was Bishop Soc's stirring appeal for Holiness, Evangelization, love-Relation and Openness. There was the HERO deeply embedded in every soul. There was the siren call for the Church’s new Advent and maybe, Pentecost. Indeed, Bataan has a new Jubilee.
Deep within the silent murmur of the trees and the mute hosannahs of the Military Shrine, is etched a dream, THE dream for the Church, our Church. God has never failed to call us to continue dreaming for our people. After all has been said and done, the mountaintop experience beckons us to go back, like babies longing for their cradles and their mothers, like our brothers and sisters abroad longing for home. When we feel alone and restless, let the winds bring us back to the seemingly-endless walk, to the flashbacks of our dear heroes and defenders, to the mountaintop experience of God in our modern world. Let our hearts be illumined by the hope that was borne when fireworks lighted up the Mt. Samat cross and the whole mountain, like thunder echoing a sense of patriotism, like bells calling us to pray.
I think, before Aling Mameng closes her eyes forever, she will remind us that she did her share of walking, standing and praying, and she was counted. Like the 9-year old Wilson who also braved the trail with his old school shoes, he, too, will be part of the younger generation of HEROES, and he was counted. And for the skeptics who also did their share, they will one day declare that they were counted. And everyone was counted – for Mary, and of course, for Jesus and His Church, our Church.
The night was so weak to say goodbye. But just like the Transfiguration episode with the 3 apostles at Mt. Tabor, we have to go back, we have to go down. One thing was sure, hope was aflamed. And as the Desiderata puts it succinctly, "despite the sham, the drudgery and the broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…" It is indeed a beautiful world, a beautiful Church.