Thursday, February 28, 2019

Babang Luksa

It is customary in the Philippines to mark the first death anniversary as the end of mourning or “babang luksa” as the Tagalogs call it. The word “baba” means to lower, referring to a veil customarily worn to mourn the passing of a loved one.

As prescribed by tradition, my sisters and I offer prayers for my mom and celebrate with a meal, signaling that the period of bereavement has ended. It hasn’t and I doubt if it will anytime soon.

But we are dutiful daughters. My sisters in Cebu go to Mass, visit Mommy’s grave then have breakfast together. The rest of us attend Mass where we are located. As usual, I go on overdrive. I have the 7 a.m. mass said for my mother at the nearby chapel of a Formation Center, then again at 6:30 p.m. at the Parish Church and one at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag in Pangasinan. Except for the last which is celebrated some 200 kilometers away from where I live, I attend both masses.

I am not the only one. My youngest sister also has two masses offered for Mommy on her death anniversary. Everyone, including those in the US, have flowers bought for her grave. One of them puts out an ad in the local paper to honor her memory. What harm can it do? My sisters and I laugh about it over the phone, in between bouts of crying. No, this mourning period is not likely to end anytime soon.

I think these traditions for the dead are more about enabling the living to cope with their loss and to feel that they have dutifully mourned the passing of their love ones.

I believe in praying for the repose of our loved ones’ souls and/or offering the Holy Mass for them. God is with us, whether it is in this life or the afterlife and He has dominion over all. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

But I do know that we, myself included, overdo things because we feel that somehow, we need to do something more for our loved ones who have passed away.

I believe that Mommy is with God in heaven yet I feel the need to fly to Cebu to visit her grave, buy flowers that easily wilt under the heat of the sun and light candles that are quickly extinguished by the wind or worse, disappear once our backs are turned. Because I MUST do something on her death anniversary. Mommy would scoff at me, but she would still be touched and if just for that, I do it anyway. Because it makes me feel better.

So we go to the noonday mass Mommy liked attending at a certain chapel then proceed to a restaurant where I ache remembering the countless times she treated all of us to a meal there because the younger ones cannot have enough of the chicken skin.

Then I fly back home still aching but feeling better that those of us who could, gather in prayer for Mommy on her first death anniversary. I am glad we all made the effort even if honoring the babang luksa does not end our grief over losing Mommy. In my heart, I know Mommy is glad for any reason for her children to come together, even if it is her demise.

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