Last June, I found myself volunteering in Singapore to organize an international meeting for JCI senators in South East Asia. Simultaneously, I was requested to spearhead the 54th-anniversary celebration of the JCI Senate Philippines, which is a different group. The latter chose The Emerald Events Place in Antipolo so I decided on making First Pacific Leadership Academy (FPLA) the ASEAN home for four days.
Everything aligned and it was practical to connect the two events by conducting the ASEAN meeting first and have the Sept. 28 anniversary fiesta as the culmination event. Why am I sharing this story? I do not believe in coincidences and I felt that everything fell into place because it was meant to be. This is a story of big and little miracles.
When I contacted the Antipolo Tourism Office of Mar Bacani for suggestions and assistance on the preparations, we found out that in June as well, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion) was elevated by the Vatican to become the first International Shrine in the Philippines and the third in Asia.
The good news was announced by Antipolo Bishop Francisco de Leon in a Sunday Mass last June. The two other international shrines (out of thirteen all around the world) are the Seoul Catholic Pilgrimage Route and the Haemi International Sanctuary in South Korea and the St. Thomas Church in Malayattoor, India. Antipolo Church is also the very first Marian international shrine in Asia.
I was excited and proud to promote Antipolo, the “Pilgrimage Capital of the Philippines,” as the venue for the two events. Bacani was also excited because it will be the first international event to be held in Antipolo since the lockdown.
We welcomed the first wave of Malaysian, Singaporean, and Thai delegates last Sept. 25, while the country was bracing for the landfall of Super Typhoon Noru (known as Karding in the Philippines). Many incoming flights were canceled but luckily none of the ones our visitors boarded.
My phone was bombarded with calls and messages asking for updates. Some even requested that I postpone the events due to the weather. Instead of deciding on that, I requested everybody to pray. In my mind and heart, I was confident that the Blessed Mother will protect this opportunity for her Antipolo shrine to be promoted. I was extremely grateful but not surprised when I woke up to a very sunny Monday morning.
Marikina was also the lead chapter in the preparations and its river rose to the point of evacuation disrupting their invaluable participation in the events. Incessant prayers were also said to spare its residents as well as the whole nation of course. Others had to be pulled as substitutes to cover for the delay of participation due to the sleepless night (of safely transferring cars and possessions to higher ground as well as preparing evacuation centers) Karding brought.
Surprisingly, many of the delegates from other countries were Catholic. They told me that they joined the meeting because it offered the pilgrimage to the international shrine. I even offered that those who are not interested in joining the thanksgiving mass can be accompanied by Bacani to buy Antipolo delicacies. Everyone attended the mass and the foreigners went straight after to the religious store inside the museum of the Antipolo church.
In the course of preparations, I found out that the presidential theme of Datuk Dr. Marcus Mojigoh is “To Live is To Love.” He was a member of the Parliament for almost 20 years. A devout Catholic, he has a chapel and is currently building a shrine for the Blessed Mother.
The Blessed Mother paved the way for us as a brotherhood to honor the installation of the Antipolo cathedral as the first Marian international shrine in Asia.
Since it is the 54th anniversary of the JCI Senate Philippines last Sept. 28, I deemed it necessary to start the festivity with a thanksgiving mass. Do you know that the Shrine Rector of Antipolo Fr. Nante Tolentino as well as the Shrine Rector of Our Lady of the Abandoned in Marikina, Fr. Lambert Ramos, were both JCI members and the latter is even a JCI senator)? Fr. Lambert was not available though so one of its Guest Priest Fr. Sonny Cotiamco, another JCI member from Cebu and an incoming JCI Senator soon, did the honors.
We found out that Sept. 28 is also the Feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz who lived a life of service, an action word that binds the members of JCI worldwide beyond the sovereignty of nations. Fr. Sonny in his homily spoke about the JCI value of “service to humanity is the best work of life” and tied it in with self-love which is an important precursor for anyone to generously love others. His ability to relate love, the gospel, and JCI in a lovely homily was indeed the highlight of our event.
Service is our language of love in JCI. And evaluating now the past few days and all the preparation that went with it, I am elated that the Blessed Mother paved the way for us as a brotherhood to honor the installation of the Antipolo cathedral as the first Marian international shrine in Asia! Even a super typhoon was tamed not only to spare a pandemic-battered nation but to allow our milestone event to push through.
The foreign delegates were just too happy to discover Antipolo, their new sanctuary. They promised to come back.
Tayo na sa Antipolo!