I have been sitting in front of my laptop for sometime now trying to get fingers and brain and heart to work together to write something. My mind is still with Mae. But I know that Mae would like everyone to move on with our lives, which is why I am still sitting here trying.

Death is truly devastating. It makes us come to terms with certain inescapable truths. Just a few weeks ago, the mom of one of my students (Miguel) passed away after a long bout with cancer. But last Tuesday night, Miguel and his brother came to my birthday party and it was great to see them laughing again.

That party was marred by an incident that has also been on my mind these past three days. The scene was straight out of Romeo and Juliet, Filipino style - a super protective mom crashed my private birthday party to chastise me for allowing my party to be the rendezvous of her daughter (who is my student) and her boyfriend (who is also my student)) which the family disapproves of. Her actions didn't make sense, particularly since her daughter was already home by then (she left the party early). But parenthood is such a complicated business I have long given up hope trying to intellectualize why parents do or say things that seem illogical. I can only hope the family, or that my students are able to find some wisdom even in the midst of such seemingly non-sensical incidents.

Yesterday we did the usual visita iglesia.

1. We started at La Paz Church in Makati. I like the simplicity of this church. This is one church that eschews grandiose decors and makes worship the main preoccupation. The altar was bare, with just purple fabric covering the religious icons. That was it, no frills.

2. We moved on to the Greenbelt Church. This church is best described as a sanctuary right smack in the middle of crass commercialism. I hope that the Ayalas never demolish this dove-like structure ever. Sadly, the air was heavy with the stench of dying fish. I think they were doing something with the pond around the church and Greenbelt 3 and the fishes were dying. One of the symbols of Christ is the fish, but I doubt if the symbolism was intentional. Since it was dinnertime, we proceeded to MacDonalds where the crowd was SRO; we checked out nearby Italliani's but the waitlist was even longer. Sigh. So we want back to MacDo and settled for the long wait to be served food in styropor boxes.

3. Sanctuario de San Antonio was next on our list. There is truly a great difference between the rich and the poor and not necessarily in terms of purchasing power but in doing things; while the church was bedecked with flowers and foliage, it was done in stark simplicity; as if saying, we do not need to prove anything. It is possible of course that most of the rich folks were away anyway thus the reason for the simple elegance. But this was in marked contrast to other churches where the vigil altars resembled - quite frankly - a collection of all kinds of things haphazardly thrown together.

4. Then we hopped off to Don Bosco. We went to this church because one of our companions insisted on it. I apologize sincerely to the Salesians and to others if I will offend their sensibilities when I say that going inside that church is a major test of concentration for me - something about what Lerry Henares once wrote about in his column in PDI many years ago. The irreverent Henares described the altar of the church as... well...maybe it should not be discussed at this time and in this post; but if you really want to know, leave a comment and I will answer it there. If you have been there, then you can imagine it. It something not fit to be discussed in polite company, particularly since the subject happens to be a religious object of worship.

5. Then we went to Belair where traffic was moving at the pace of a snail suffering from severe exhaustion. Not that there were too many people going there; just that some people pay are so inconsiderate, they think nothing of stopping right in the middle of the road to unload people.

6. We hopped off to The Shrine of the Sacred Heart at San Antonio Village. I understand that this church is where local officials of Makati attend Holy Week rites, which probably explains the presence of too many volunteers making sure that vehicles do not transform into a giant jigsaw puzzle the way they do at the Manila Cathedral. Or maybe the parish people are simply more conscientious about these things. Whatever.

7. We left Makati and moved on to the Manila area. We initially thought of going to San Isidro Church at Taft Avenue (I like the altar of this Church - it is a glass wall and the giant crucifix is outside beside trees - it makes a powerful statement about worship as if saying, yes you can pray to God here, but God is also outside in the real world), but since we were on the South Superhighway, we decided to visit this nondescript church at Estrada Street.

8. We then heeded straight to the Malate Church (right in front of Baywalk). Here, the priests were hearing confessions not in the confessional booths but right in front of the main altar. No more privacy, no more secrecy. If one wanted to empty his or her innermost darkest secrets, then one lets them all hang out in front of a priest. I think that's a better way to do it. You are sorry for your sins, be brave enough to confront them - and your confessor too.

9. Along the way to the Ermita Church, we noticed that many bars were open. The Hobbit House (I am amazed that it is still in existence, it must be older than I am) was open. We made a wrong turn and ended up at Roxas Boulevard. We saw that Baywalk was indeed alive and true to the promise of the enterpreneurs, was on a party mood. Hmmm. So much for Mayor Atienza's supposed puritanical stance. Since we were already at Roxas Boulevard, we decided to just go straight to the Manila Cathedral. We parked on Roxas Blvd and walked towards the Cathedral. I have always wondered why the Manila Cathedral insists on putting the vigil altar at a side enclosure where people are bound to squeeze in like well, I wanted to say sardines, but I know that is not an accurate metaphor anymore given that there are more sauce than actual fish in a sardines tin, so maybe french fries on a paper box?

10. We were tempted to go to San Agustin Church, but we were parked on a dark dingy spot on Roxas Boulevard, so we decided to leave post haste. We ended up at the Adamson Church were there were less people. Whoever designed the altar of this church deserves a place in history and that is all I can say.

11. Pope Pius church was our 10th stop.

12. Then we were off to Paco Church (not Paco Park, it was closed), right on Pedro Gil Street. I remember this church as the pulpit of Bishop Ted Bacani many years ago before he got reassigned somewhere.

13. Saint Anthony Church on Singalong. This year, the parish people had a brilliant idea. They moved the vigil altar to the audio visual room of the Saint Anthony's School. They had candles everywhere, and the main altar was a sky of twinkling lights - it was a rendition of the nativity.

14. Our final stop was the Saint Martin de Porres Church on a side street of Leon Guinto. This very small church is renowned for miracles. Legend has it (this could be true though) that the church stands on the old house of a woman who had cancer but was healed through constant prayers to St. Martin. This church is just a block away from where I live.

We got home at around 11 pm.

One of the annoying things that I noted during our visita iglesia was the growing number of people who would elbow themselves to the front - to take pictures of the altar with their digicams and cellphones. Tch tch tch.

And that was how I spent Holy Thursday.


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