May in Bohol and Carcar
Every weekend of May, as faithful readers may know by now, the Jimenezes gather to celebrate the Flores de Mayo, or Flowers of May, a ritual in honor of “Mama Mary” that has become a decades-old (since before World War II) tradition for our extended clan.
This year, our celebration took a different tack when we collectively decided to hold one weekend “Flores” observance in Bohol, where it all began for the clan. My Lolo Ponso worked before the war as a provincial treasurer all over the country, but for my father and his siblings, the most memorable assignments were Bohol and Tacloban.
It was while they were in Bohol that my Lola Pacita came down with a debilitating condition, which left her unable to walk on her own. It was then that she started a novena to Our Lady, promising that she would start a Marian devotion once she was cured of her illness. Sometime after this, Lola met a Japanese doctor who dabbled in unconventional medical procedures and promised that she would be able to walk if she would bury her legs daily in the hot sands of a nearby beach. True enough, after a few months, Lola Pacita was able to walk on her own, and as the cure occurred around May, she made up her mind to host an annual Flores de Mayo observance for her family and neighbors.
This tradition has been observed for 74 years now, and even when the war broke out (while they were in Tacloban), the “Flores” tradition continued in evacuation centers. For many years after my grandparents’ death, my uncle Nick Jimenez took responsibility for continuing the Flores tradition, most memorably in his family’s picturesque Pasig residence. More recently, though, the celebration has been hosted by the families of the Jimenez siblings, taking turns each weekend of May.
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Truly, the Bohol Flores de Mayo celebration, attended by over 70 of us cousins and in-laws, including my Uncle Ramy and Tita Chul, the two youngest surviving members of the siblings, was special and memorable. (Another aunt, Tita Ansing Jimenez, couldn’t make the trip.)
But to do justice to the event—and to the sights and sounds and faces of Bohol—I plan to write a longer article, complete with pictures, to convey the full meaning of an event that involved a rambunctious clan discovering the continuing relevance and meaning of an annual devotion, where it all began.
Let me share instead what transpired during a side trip that about 20 of us Jimenezes (and some Braganza cousins) made at the end of our Bohol rendezvous. When he learned about our Flores weekend, a very good family friend, Fr. Bobby Ebisa, SVD, invited us to visit his hometown of Carcar in Cebu, a short ferry boat ride away.
Father Bobby, a missionary in Brazil before he was yanked out of the Amazon rainforest to manage Radio Veritas in Manila, had been raising funds for years to improve the tiny chapel of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Barrio Tuyom, where his family has its roots. One of the fundraising events was a “benefit concert” held last year in the home of my cousins Bon and Loy Jimenez during one of the Flores weekends, featuring young aspiring opera singers.
The enticing invitation was: Why not take a ferry from Bohol to Cebu so we could see the refurbished chapel for ourselves? Father Bobby promised to feed us lunch and then take us to see the sights of Carcar, a charming heritage city in southern Cebu, best known for its enticing lechon and chicharon.
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We had to take an early ferry trip at 7 a.m. so Father Bobby was good-naturedly “forced” to feed us breakfast. Actually, it was his friend, an old classmate named Edgardo “Egay” Castillo, who served us breakfast of suman, mangoes, danggit, hot chocolate and steaming “pochero” (what we in Manila call “bulalo”). Then, fetching the other members of our party, we took the long ride to Carcar.
Our first stop was, of course, the chapel, where we delighted in the tiny white-washed structure with a colorful tiled floor and modern wood-and-iron pews, as well as stained-glass windows and wrought-iron doors. It was a delight to behold with our own eyes evidence of all the hard work put in by Father Bobby, the rest of the Ebisa family, and his neighbors to refurbish the chapel, as well as the fruit of all the goodwill of friends and supporters.
From there we drove to the Ebisa residence up on a hillside facing a dramatic seaside view. We feasted, apart from the promised lechon and chicharon, on various kinds of seafood harvested from the nearby sea, chilled coconut juice, and fruits—all lovingly prepared by Father Bobby’s sisters.
We then visited Carcar’s own version of Marikina—a line of stalls selling shoes, sandals, and moccasins made in the city. Hard as it was to tear ourselves away from shopping, we drove next to one of Carcar’s vaunted “heritage houses,” the 150-year-old “Balay na Tisa.” We initially had a hard time guessing which of the old homes on the street was our subject, but when we stopped in front of a structure made of white-washed timber and a tile roof (tisa), we oohed and aahed at its beauty. We had the good luck to meet Manny Valencia Castro, who had inherited the house, and sympathized with him on the pains of looking after an ancient structure prone to floods.
Then we made the long drive to the Marian Shrine up in the hills of Sibuyan, where devotees pay homage to a renowned miraculous image of Our Lady. Unfortunately, I was wearing a sleeveless blouse and so was not allowed entry. But it was already a weekend filled with blessings, and I sat in the bus with no rancor.