Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Message from the family of Evelyn R. Luab

(Delivered during the book launch of “Light Sunday” - selected essays written by the late Evelyn R. Luab for the regular Sunday column of SunStar Cebu - which were compiled and published into a book by Class '72 of Sacred Heart School for Boys - Ateneo de Cebu)

To the Sacred Heart School for Boys Class of ’72, led by Mr. Jose Soberano III, our friends from SunStar Cebu, Saint Theresa’s Alumnae Association of Cebu City led by Ida Magallon, all of Mommy’s close friends who we are privileged to call “Tita” and “Tito” from the bible study and meditation groups she attended under the Cenacle sisters and the Redemptorist Fathers, and those from her Ayala hiking group, friends ... good afternoon.

I wish Mommy was here. I wish she could see all this. I wish she could feel all the love, support, respect and the high regard with which you hold her. She would be very thankful and quite touched that her former students have chosen to honor her by publishing an anthology of her essays written for “Light Sunday” of SunStar Cebu.

This book has taken a long time in the making. Class ’72 tried to do this while Mommy was still alive but they found her at a stage in her life when she no longer had the energy to do the work needed to do this book. She was also too proud to take me up on my offer to do the work for her. Nothing that my sisters and I said could convince her that to take on this project for her would not be a burden to us.

As you know -- as anyone who knows her well knows – Mommy did not want to be a burden to anyone.

You see, Mommy was a giver. She was the best at giving. But she was not that great at receiving. For some reason, she always felt a sense of discomfort that she had caused a person to spend time, energy, money and effort on her.

Take for instance the time she ran into Mr. Soberano at UCC Café. Mommy said that when she asked for the bill, she found out that he had already paid it. I heard this story almost every time we would be eating at a restaurant and chance upon one of her former students there. She was always anxious that THAT person would do a “Jo Soberano” and pay for our meal without our knowledge.

But that story always ended with her telling us how good she felt that a student of hers from some time back remembered her well enough to do such a nice thing for her. She appreciated what Mr. Soberano did, just like she appreciated all the nice gifts and touching gestures that people did for her and she took well to remember them, even keeping things from way back.

After she died, I found a clipping in one of her notebooks which contained her “Light Sunday” articles published in 1999. It was a clipping of GEETEEVEE, a column by Bien Fernandez titled “Flashbacks.” I saw that she had circled a paragraph where Bien expressed that he had been fortunate to have had Mommy as his English teacher in high school because not only did she teach discernment in English literature, more importantly, she taught compassion.

Indeed, she had loads of compassion. You will see this in the articles contained in this book, which offer a view of how she lived her life as a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, friend, a member of the Cebu community, a citizen of this nation, an employer, and all the other roles she played in her lifetime.

Mommy wrote what she knew. She laid out what was real to her and what stood out to her. She did not pretend to be a connoisseur or an expert of anything. One cannot go through 1,350 clippings collected over 27 years of her writing “Light Sunday” and fail to realize that here was a real person, a woman with thoughts and experiences just like ours, laying herself and her life open in the hope that it would help someone gain something – whether it was an insight, values, strength, a realization, an appreciation of their blessings…anything.

And because Mommy was a person of faith, she made sure that even as she shared of herself in “Light Sunday,” that it would not be about her but about how God’s love and amazing grace shines in the most mundane to the most unusual of experiences, in the daily rigors of our journey here on earth and through people from all walks of life, even from those we least expect it.

This is why we agreed to have this book published. In our hearts, we are sure that Mommy appreciates this tribute. However, we must be honest and tell you that she did not expect one and she did not really want to have a lot of fuss made over her. She had even left instructions to this effect before she died. “The less people who know I am gone, the better. I came quietly into the world – my passing should also be quiet and simple,” she wrote us.

Obviously, this did not happen. I think Mommy never fully realized the impact she had on people … or the power of Facebook and social media.

So, we would like to take Mommy’s lead and make this book not about her, but about the mission that she had set for herself in writing “Light Sunday.” She saw her column as a way to spread God’s Word in her own words by telling stories of how His Love prevails in our lives in times of joy and sorrow and even in the midst of problems and obstacles.

Thanks to Class ’72, her work outlives her and we hope, inspires readers both old and new, to do all things with Love – Love of God and of fellowmen, and to keep believing that with God, all things are possible.

We would like to mention in particular Mr. Soberano not only for leading the group in taking on this project but also for believing in and supporting Mommy. We also thank the other major sponsors -- Mr. Erramon “Montxu” Aboitiz, Robert “Bob” Gothong, Benjamin “Boojie” Lim and Jasper Tan.

Raymund, we are amazed by your creativity and the amount of work you did in so short a time with your wife Estela and your kids. There are 73 articles in this book, which Raymund got his kids to encode – and this does not include those that they encoded and which did not make the cut. Thank you for the patience and sensitivity you displayed in handling our family and for respecting what Mommy wanted for this book.

We also thank the members of the core group working on this project – Mr. Bien Fernandez, Roy Emil Yu, Danny Kimseng, Rene Villarica and his son Carlo and the staff of Cebu Landmasters.

We also thank SunStar Cebu, without who this book would certainly not be possible. Mommy always counted as among her greatest blessings the fact that she was able to do what she loved, which was to write, in the service of the Lord.

To all those who are here, I cannot name you one by one, but please know that you are as much a part of this book as all those I mentioned earlier. Some of you, literally and by name. We are all part of "Light Sunday" because we are all part of Mommy’s Life.

So let me end by thanking everyone the way Mommy usually thanked someone for a gift or a gesture that was so big that she knew she could not repay it:  “Thank you very much. This is exactly what we wanted for Mommy. Ang Ginoo na lang ang mahibalo kaninyo (The Lord knows best how to reward you).”

Good afternoon.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Buildings of faith

The black pulpit contrasts
starkly against the all-white
interior of the Theatine Church 
of St. Cajetan in Munich.
My humanities professor would have been thrilled.

Prof. Carmelo Tamayo is the reason images come into my mind when I hear the words Baroque, Rococo, Romanesque and Gothic architecture – which he used a lot when he took us on a tour of churches in the south of Cebu.    

I remembered him  when my family and I had the chance to visit churches in parts of Germany and Austria recently.  Would he have remained articulate in describing and explaining the influences on the architecture and design of the churches in that part of the world, or would he have been rendered silent by their magnificence?

Because I was struck dumb. There are no words. It’s all feeling. The first few minutes inside the church doors are spent trying to take it all in. There’s just so much happening at once and it’s all beautiful.

The towering alter piece called
Fall of the Angels(1782) by Karl Georg Merville
inside St. Michael's Church in Vienna.
The altars are majestic, and not just the main one that you walk into, but even side altars. There is just so much detail – in the floors, columns, walls, ceiling, doors, pews, etc. The amount of painstaking work that must have gone into building these cathedrals and churches when mechanized construction must have been nonexistent is mind-boggling.

I do not know how many churches there are in Europe, but we were able to visit 18 churches and three chapels during our two-week stay in parts of Germany and Austria.

This view of the Old Town of Salzburg reveals as many as
three churches in one area: Kollegienkirche (Collegiate
Church), Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)
and the Salzburg Cathedral.

Most of these visits were unplanned. We simply walked into these churches because they were in the vicinity of tourist spots and within walking distance of each other.

In Germany, there was the St. Nikolaus Church in Muhldorf am Inn; Theatine Church of St. Cajetan and Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) in Munich; Shrine of Our Lady of Altotting or the Chapel of Grace, Basilica of St. Ann and Brother Konrad Church in Altotting; and the Parish of Maria Himmelfahrt Partenkirchen in Garmisch- Partenkirchen.

Inside the Hospital Church of the Holy Ghost
in Innsbruck, Austria
We made stops in Austria that included the St. Jakob Parish Church in Burghausen; St. Michael’s Church, Schottenkirche (Scots church) and St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna; Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church),  Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church) and St. Sebastiankirche (St. Sebastian’s Church) in Salzburg; the Evangelical church and the Catholic Church in Hallstatt and Hospital Church of the Holy Ghost and Hofkirche (Court Church) in Innsbruck.

Charming and smaller were St. George’s Chapel located inside the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, St. Barbara’s chapel (it was more an image protected by a structure) on the way to the salt mine in Hallstatt and the Maria Heimsuchung chapel on the slopes of Zugspitze.
Taking of photos is not allowed inside the
Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of Grace), seen
here in the middle of the square in Altotting.
Behind it is the Church of St. Magdalena

I ask my 14-year-old daughter who tuned out by the third? fourth? (“see one, see all Mommy”) church which ones stood out to her and she shrugs.  “The small one that had this silver stuff on the walls and was very dark, and where people were praying.” I ask why and she says, “It was the most quiet and holy. And it was small.”

She is referring to the Chapel of Grace that houses the “Black Madonna,” a wood carving of a standing Mother Mary carrying the child Jesus, whose miraculous healing power draws over 1 million pilgrims each year to Altotting.

Votive offerings line every
available space on the chapel's
exterior ceiling and walls.
When I ask my husband the same question, he ruefully confesses that the churches are all one magnificent blur, but reconsiders. “Okay, the one with the hearts.” Like my daughter, he picks the Chapel of Grace.

It is easy to see why he remembers the silver urns containing the hearts of the Bavarian dukes, kings and prince-electors that stand in the wall niches of the chapel, “placed as a princely guard of honour” opposite the image of the Black Madonna.

He explains his choice further. “I like all the votive offerings outside the structure.” Framed drawings and pictures offered in thanksgiving to Our Lady for prayers granted line every space available on the exterior walls, posts and ceiling of the chapel.

Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral
in Vienna
For wow factor alone, I choose St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. It is massive at  107 meters (351 ft) long, 40 meters (130 ft) wide, and 136 meters (446 ft) tall at its highest point.

The mind struggles to catch up with the eye that wanders from the Giant’s Door dotted with dragons, birds, lions, monks and demons, the two spires above it, the colored roof covered by glazed tiles, the Gothic south tower which soars above the city, etc.

Inside, it is even more beautiful with giant sculptural columns soaring high over the three-aisle church. We could not enter the main section which had been closed off for an event or see the High Altar, which was covered by a gigantic projector screen. Still, there was enough for the eyes to feast on. Among them, the pulpit that spirals around a column and side altars which include the Wiener-Neustädter Altar.

The Wiener-Neustädter Altar inside
St. Stephen's Cathedral
I don’t think I have ever seen a winged altar in the Philippines, none of this magnitude at least. The altar piece has a fixed main shrine, but its wings (think cabinet doors) can be opened and closed, with each side featuring a painting or a sculpture or a relief, in color and gilded with gold.

We did not have enough time to explore the entire church, but I remember thinking that the beauty and splendor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral also makes it the most tourist-infested.

There are very few of us
inside the St. Peter's
Abbey Church in Salzburg.
There were not that many people inside the other churches, and the few we found praying inside also took pictures.  It makes me think that there are more tourists than the faithful in that part of the world.

There is material online that says a number of churches in Europe has been closed down or re-purposed because they are too expensive to maintain. The numbers of the faithful have dwindled over the years, with less and less people going to church.1

I find this a pity because I come from a country where it can be difficult to find a seat in Church if you don’t come early to mass (and not just on Sundays), and where you can always find people inside praying, lighting candles, standing in line to pray before miraculous images and even walking on their knees all the way to the altar while praying the Rosary.

If only these churches were in the Philippines, professors like Mr. Tamayo and the country's dominantly Catholic population (80.3 million or 79.5 percent) would have a blast. 2

1 Europe's church creatively rethinks as numbers plummet (

2 Source: 2015 Census of Population (POPCEN 2015) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority

Monday, July 30, 2018

Was ist dat (what is that)?

It is true what they say about travel. It is wonderfully entertaining. You set foot on another land and see amazing places, different ways of doing things as well as different-looking and -sounding people. You also see (and long for) the familiar.

We were in different parts of Germany and Austria in the first half of this year and for two weeks, it seemed like we were in a totally different world.

Our itinerary included churches, castles, museums which meant walking, walking, walking and driving in between. I counted some 20 churches by the time we boarded our flight back to the Philippines, most of which we had not planned on visiting. But turn a corner, and there stands a cathedral or a smaller version of it that you just have to enter.

A lot can be said about the grandeur of Europe and the fascination its well-preserved cultural heritage holds for visitors like me, but I leave
that to the more cultured lot. Instead, let me just count the many, small things that struck this Filipino first-timer in Germany.

Mini trash cans on the table. My sister-in-law, who lives in Germany,  explains to us that the open containers labeled Für den sauberen Tisch (for the clean table) are on hand for us to deposit all the refuse we’ve generated from breakfast (usually butter, jam, yogurt and nutella portion cups, sugar and cream sachets, paper napkins, etc.) provided by the hotel.

Easter eggs. Not really. Just boiled eggs that are colored to distinguish them from the raw eggs displayed on the same supermarket shelf.

Drinking fountains. You can fill your reusable containers with water from drinking fountains in Europe, most of which are labeled only when the water is NOT safe for drinking (Kein Trinkwasser) since they are the exception rather than the rule.

Drinking water fountains 
dot the streets of Vienna.
Tap water in Germany and especially Austria is generally safe for drinking even if many Europeans go for bottled water, particularly sparkling water.

It's ironic because piped water in Germany is considered to be as good as or even better than mineral water.

A drinking water fountain in Hallstatt (left) and another in Altötting (right).

By the way, did I mention that some of the drinking water fountains are really beautiful? 

Pay toilets. What you save in drinking water may go to pay restrooms or WC  (water closet) in Germany.  There are ways to avoid this, of course (the use of this facility is free in most museums), but one usually pays anywhere from 50 to 70 Euro cents to use the WC elsewhere. 

Some restaurants even have personnel manning these facilities. In rest stations along the autobahn, you have to slip coins into a slot to open the barricade. What's nice is that you usually get a voucher for 50 Euro cents, which you can use in the rest station store.

Still, the cost of using toilets can add up because you will be out walking most of the time so make sure you have enough coins handy.

Not your ordinary gutter system.
Euro-gutters.  I first notice these half-round gutter systems on the old buildings in Muhldorf. “What are those pots near the gutter?” I ask my German nephew. 

The “pots” are actually called leader heads or collectors for water runoff from the gutter system before the water flows down the drain spout. Most of them use copper, which is pliable and can withstand extreme weather conditions.  Though found in most historic buildings across Europe, the half-round gutter system is slowly becoming popular in homes even outside Europe and now come in a variety of materials that include steel, zinc and aluminum.

Hausmadonna. This is a sculpture of our Blessed Virgin Mary, with or without the child Jesus, installed on the outside of city houses and buildings in Germany.  According to Wikipedia, some of these sculptures date back to the Middle Ages, while some are still being made today. These are usually found on the level of the second floor or higher, and often on the corner of a house. I find a number of these while walking along the streets of Muhldorf. Of course, the Catholic in me finds this very comforting.

Snow guards.  Okay, so this is strange only to people from tropical countries like the Philippines where it does not snow.  They look like spikes installed in a pattern across the roof with what looks like a mini fence or rail just before the gutter.  These devices are used to retain 
“Vintage” snow guards.
snow and ice formed during winter so that they do not fall in an avalanche and harm people or damage property below. 

This is the same principle behind the rocks placed strategically across the roof of a structure that stands in the village of Hohenschwangau near Fussen in southwest Bavaria. Obviously, these are the "snow guards" before the advent of technology.

Anti-bird net. I first notice the net enveloping the façade of the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall), a magnificent neo-gothic building from the turn of the century which architecturally dominates the north side of Munich’s Marienplatz  or central square. It is almost invisible. 

The net covering the statues is barely visible.
But once I become aware of it, I see it on almost all of the historic buildings that we tour in Germany. Birds, particularly pigeons and gulls, can cause significant and extensive damage on these buildings not only aesthetically (droppings are unsightly), but also physically. Bird feces are corrosive and can cause long-term damage to masonry and metal that can often be found on such buildings.

Abi signs.  We pass by the St. Irmengard School on our way to the Zugspitze train station in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and we notice that the school’s wire fence is practically covered with what looks like congratulatory signs made out of cloth. My German niece confirms that students usually put up the signs to wish each other well for the Abitur or Abi, which is Germany's qualifying exam for higher education.

Tilt and turn windows.  They look like our awning windows which we open by turning a lever and pushing the window out from the bottom. In Germany, the lever at the side is pulled, tilting the window inward and opening from the top. It then locks into place after opening a few inches, resting at an angle. Both types of windows are good for ventilation, but I think our awning gives us better protection from heavy rain. What’s good about the tilt and turn window, though, is that you can also turn the lever to make the window swing inward, allowing access to both sides of the glass which makes it easier for cleaning when you’re above ground floor level. It’s more expensive, though, which is probably why it is not common in the Philippines. 

Of course, so many more things stood out for me, but I cannot write them all. Germany is a wonderful place to visit and so different from the Philippines. But there comes a time when one just stops trying to document everything to simply enjoy the moment, and capture everything not with the camera but with the heart.