3 Sundays in October
At my age and in this stage of my life, I spend some of my days going over old documents, putting old pictures in albums, and reading once again past diaries and records of my travels, especially those of guided tours.
Last week I came across—I consider it providential—an account of my trip with the Poveda faculty members and students in the fall of 1993:
Sunday, Oct. 10, 1993
It’s 10 a.m. and I’m seated in St. Peter’s Square along with thousands of other pilgrims who had lined up as early as 7 a.m. to attend the solemn beatification ceremony of Fr. Pedro Poveda, Srta. Victoria Diez, two bishops, seven Christian brothers and two cloistered nuns. It’s a beautiful autumn morning, with few clouds flecking the clear blue sky above us. The mood is very festive, with many Spaniards, compatriots of the Blessed, wearing their national costume and waving flags. In front of us, hanging between the massive columns of the Basilica, are huge portraits of the Blessed. My attention is caught by the portrait of Victoria Diez, the only lay person in the group. Ely, my friend who is seated beside me, remarks, “She is the only beata with earrings.”
Of them all, she is the one I can identify with. She was a 32-year-old public school teacher in a small Spanish town when she was martyred along with 17 men who refused to recant their faith during the Civil War. In prison, she it was who bolstered their flagging spirts with the song “Animo, compañeros, que la vida puede más, que la fe se hace más fuerte, si la tengo que gritar.” (My translation: Be strong, my companions, for life can be more, faith can be stronger, if I need to shout it.)
A hush falls on the crowd as the Pope ascends the rostrum, followed by a procession of cardinals and bishops. The ceremony has begun and I am caught up in the splendor of the whole thing…
It ends at 12:30 p.m. and we are pushed by the surging crowd towards the Via della Conziliacione where we eat standing at a food stall. “Hurry, hurry. The bus cannot stop here. Board it immediately.”
3 p.m. With our priest-guide, we go down, down to the catacombs of St. Callixtus. “Stick together; if you get lost, that’s the end of you.” As we go single-file through the maze of narrow alleys and see the crypts and the drawings of fish on the walls, I am amazed at the courage and faith of the early Christians. To go to such great lengths, to undergo such monumental sacrifices, to lay their lives on the line time and again—in order to celebrate the Eucharist together!
We’re in front of the supine statue of the martyred St. Cecilia. “Look at her hand,” our guide tells us: “The forefinger is touching the thumb, making a circle, and the three other fingers are stretched out. She is proclaiming that there are three persons in one God, even in death.”
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1993
The voice of the tour guide comes over the speaker: “Avila is 1200 meters above sea level. It is a city surrounded by walls 1-1.5 kilometers long. It has a population of 60,000. It is famous because of Santa Teresa—born 1515, died 1582. She took the veil in 1536 at La Encarnacion.”
Our bus along with other buses is stopped at the city gate because Oct. 15, Friday, was her feast day and today there’s going to be a bicycle race. We get off the bus and climb up the steep narrow streets and try to peer into the small brick and stone houses lining them. The scenery is partly reminiscent of Intramuros and I become nostalgic.
We enter her church, which is crowded with parishioners for the 10:30 a.m. Mass. We are given preferential seats because we are pilgrims de Filipinas. My eyes are riveted on a life-size image of Santa Teresa set on a beautifully-decorated carroza beside the altar. I glance at the face and am magnetized by the look in her eyes—the intensity of love in them makes me turn around to locate the focus of her gaze. And I see behind me another decorated carroza carrying the image of a flagellated Jesus, hands tied to a waist-high post, forehead streaming with blood, back lacerated with bleeding wounds. My gaze turns from one image to the other. But the priest is already at the altar and intones: “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espiritu Santo.” The first words of the very first prayer I learned as a child, and once again I am a six-year-old child being prepared for Holy Communion.
Then off to the university town of Salamanca and a very late lunch. Perhaps to stave off hunger, the young pilgrims, students and teachers of Poveda break out into song: “Come then, my love / Come my beloved / No flood can quench our love / For love, if real, has no end.” I sing along with them. “Set me like a seal on your heart / How right it is to love you.” And deep within, my whole being reverberates: “Sweet Jesus, how right it is to love you.”
Sunday, Oct. 24, 1993
You often hear that Lourdes has become very commercialized. In a way, that’s true, but that’s in the environs outside the Sanctuary. Once you reach the gates there are signs which read: “You are entering a holy place. Please observe silence.” We walk toward the grotto. There are no big crowds because it’s almost the end of the season. Although we’re all bundled up, it’s very cold, with the wind, from time to time, slicing our faces. We stop at the faucets and obey what our Lady told Bernadette: “Go and wash yourself with this water. Drink of the water.”
We line up at the cave in order to pray at the feet of our Lady. One by one we touch the stone where she stands, say our prayers and silently pass by the spring (now covered with glass) where we can see the ever-flowing water, which was nonexistent before Bernadette dug into the mud at our Lady’s request.
Then we climb up the ramp to the upper church which contains the adoration chapel. It is full of people of different colors, tongues and races; old and young; priests, religious and lay. And all of us are united in a common Faith and Love.
We go down and use the stairs this time, cross the parallel road and enter the Confession-Reconciliation Chapel, a new building with the statue of St. John Vianney in front. On the second floor there are two chapels with separate cubicles, above each of which is written English, Spanish, French, German, etc. I find an English-speaking confessor and make a general confession.
From there, we again cross the complex and go to the bank of the Gave River, where we join a Eucharistic procession for the sick. We recite the rosary, sing Marian songs, but have to run back. It’s almost 5—time for Mass. The celebrant is a Thai priest, very patient and gentle, and he waits for stragglers to come in.
Mass starts late but it is very beautiful. When we leave the chapel it’s already very dark and freezing cold. There is a Via Crucis scheduled but we cannot join it because our hearts will not be able to make the steep ascent up the hill where the stations are located.
We walk back to the hotel in companionable silence. I look up; there are no stars in the sky, but I sense the presence of the Star of Bethlehem within me, suffusing me with Peace and Happiness. We walk slowly, keeping close to the walls of the Basilica grounds, relishing and cherishing every moment of this day. On the other side of the street, the brightly lighted shops beckon to us with bargains and sales. But I, for one, know that tonight no blandishment, no worldly allurement can entice me from walking the measured, sure-footed steps of the pilgrim who knows that if one has Christ, one has ALL…
Lourdes Syquia-Bautista, 91, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, widow, mother of 12, grandmother of 27, and great grandmother of 15.
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