SARF de Filipinas online celebration: “Holding on to Faith in the Midst of Suffering”
by Sis. Yolanda V. Zaragoza (SARF de SEMoNoRe Chapter) and Lino Sumbillo Jr. (SARF de UNO-R Chapter)
QUEZON CITY—God is good, all the time. The current pandemic did not hinder the Secular Augustinian Recollect Fraternity (SARF) from celebrating the feast of St. Magdalene of Nagasaki, Patroness of SARF, last October 20, 2020, with the theme “Holding on to Faith in the Midst of Suffering.” It was done virtually via Zoom meeting, participated by the 17 SARF chapters from the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.
As early as January this year, the SARF members were already excitedly preparing for what could have been the SARF National Convention in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. Not a few have already purchased their plane tickets and have made reservations for their board and lodging. Some have even made plans to visit their relatives and friends as well, aside from touring nearby tourist spots. However, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the indefinite postponement of the National Convention, hindering such plans.
Notwithstanding the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the government, the internet has made the conduct of virtual meetings and other SARF activities possible, but within the limits set by the guidelines of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases. The celebration of the feast of St. Magdalene of Nagasaki still pushed through, albeit virtually, with 232 participants (comprising 18 priests; 1 deacon; 3 Augustinian Recollect Sisters; 11 candidates from Sierra Leone, Africa; and 199 SARs from various chapters).
The celebration started at 4:00 pm with a Holy Mass streamed live from San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Quezon City. The Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno, Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR), Fray Dionisio Q. Selma, was the main celebrant while being concelebrated by the friars of the Provincialate. Sis. Rosario Galang, SAR and Sis. Emilie Pandong, SAR from San Nicolas de Tolentino Chapter served as lector and commentator, respectively. In his homily, the Prior Provincial reminded everyone that wherever we are, we are called to follow the Lord to be holy and to be happy. According to him, this is our ultimate goal in life.
Following the Holy Mass was vespers, which was participated by all SARF chapters in the province, after which Fray Miguel Miro Miro, OAR, the Prior General of the OAR, delivered a congratulatory message in Spanish (translated into English by Fray Raul M. Buhay, OAR). He emphasized the importance of prayer, love, and unity in this time of need; prayer and love should be shared in the family. The Prior General further cited the message of His Holiness Pope Francis on unity and peace toward our salvation because we are all children of God.
The program proper started shortly thereafter, with the singing of a new version of the St. Magdalene of Nagasaki hymn (Lyrics by Dwight J. Ypanto; music and vocals by Bro. Jocabz Cabanes, SAR). The hosts were Bro. Elmar Malvar, SAR of SARF San Sebastian Basilica and Bro. Lino Sumbillo, Jr., SAR of SARF de UNO-R Bacolod Chapter. In between messages delivered by speakers, trivia games with cash prizes were played and pre-recorded presentations from different chapters were showcased.
The opening prayer and the opening remarks were led by Fray Emeterio D. Buñao, OAR (SARF National Assistant Spiritual Adviser). The message immediately resonated as he opened the session with questions like “What made St. Magdalene’s faith so strong?”, and “How did she get it?” Sis. Zenaida R. Lapuz, SAR, the SARF National Vice President for Luzon, enumerated the objectives of the celebration and acknowledged the participants from the different chapters. This was followed by a message from Fray Bernabe M. Dosdos, OAR (SARF National Spiritual Adviser) where he emphasized the spirit of mission and oneness as vital in holding on to faith.
In his message, the Prior Provincial focused on “identity and mission.” He invited the candidates and members to make a self-examination, asking among others the following questions: Do you know yourself? Do you know what the SARF is? What is your purpose? Why are you consecrating or dedicating yourself, your service to this family following the charism, the spirituality of the Augustinian Recollect? He emphasized that “If you do not know your identity, you will be confused and you will not commit wholeheartedly to your mission in this fraternity.” He encouraged all spiritual advisers and all the religious to accept, accompany and inspire the members of the fraternity and to continue to form them so that “as pilgrims, together we are going towards the same direction on our way to God”.
Sis. Carmenda S. Leonoras, SAR (SARF National Vice President for Visayas) presented the newest SARF chapter, the SARF de Kamalo, Sierra Leonne, Africa. This was succeeded by the response of Fray Jose Prudencio G. Castillo, OAR (SARF de Kamalo, spiritual adviser). Fray Castillo gave thanks for the recognition of the new chapter and reiterated that the spirit of the mission work is conquering boundaries beyond countries. The newly-organized SARF de Kamalo in Sierra Leone is an example.
Ceres C. Alcantara, SAR, SARF National 1st councilor for Luzon, introduced the guest speaker, Fray Ian Anthony Espartero, OAR (Vicar of the Province and President of Secretariat of Spirituality and Liturgy), who shared his personal encounter with COVID-19 and how it affected his community. “Be convinced of God’s presence,” he said, “bow down and embrace God, remember that He is God and proclaim it (His will be done)”. These were constantly his thoughts which made him more faithful in such trying times. He also emphasized the importance of taking care of one’s self as he shared the 6Rs in self-care: (1) Recognize, (2) Reconnect, (3) Reflect, (4) Renew, (5) Reframe, and (6) Refrain. He also shared what we as individuals and as a community have to put a stop on, which he called the HALT of life: H-hunger, A-Anger, L-Loneliness, & T-Tiredness. To do this, self-care is a must. Furthermore, he reiterated that the best self-care is “Soul Care.”
Edwin T. Ruiz, SARF national president, shared a short message where he mentioned that in this extraordinary time, we must live right, that is, to live with only the essentials in life. Perhaps this pandemic is really a blessing in disguise as it taught us to live simply and closer to God, to our family, and the church. He also took the opportunity to thank and acknowledge those who, in one way or another, helped in making this celebration (and the activities leading to the celebration) a success. In particular, he thanked the SARF “technical wizards” (Sis Maria Windie “Marwin” Oane, SAR, Bro. John Romeo “Jocabz” Cabanes, SAR and Bro. John Eduard “Jayzl” Nebre, SAR) for making the novenas, septenary, and the Triduum in honor of the saints of the Order and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, prayed by the 16 local chapters regularly. Special thanks, too, to Sis. Ceres Alcantara, SAR of SARF de San Sebastian Basilica for providing the Zoom account used in the virtual celebration.
Fray Vicente L. Ramon Jr., OAR, highlighted suffering in his message. He stated that nobody is exempted from suffering. It can be as simple as suffering from learning new technology or suffering from financial difficulties, or even health concerns. Indeed, suffering in the time of COVID-19 tested our faith, and yet it heralded a time for healing. Not just healing of faith, but the healing of the world and Mother Earth. As SARF members, we pray not to hold on to faith, but rather to live the faith.
Fray Leopoldo V. Estioko, OAR (Regional Spiritual Adviser for Cebu) talked about our fear of suffering. He said that if we can only see suffering in the light of positivity, we may be able to strengthen our faith. Others often complain that they suffer much, but only a few accept suffering as an expression of love (like parents who suffer for the good of the family). As SARF members, we should realize the importance of suffering as a means to our salvation. We must connect deeply with the sacraments as they give meaning to suffering. In summary, he said, “because of Jesus, we can speak that suffering is a call, a vocation”. It is hoped that the real meaning of suffering will be revealed to us in due time. As the celebration wound down, Fray Estioko led the closing prayer. The other St. Magdalene of Nagasaki hymn (music and lyrics by Carmelo Sibug with vocals by Niño Salenga) was played as everybody bade farewell.
In such a short time, so much had been shared to rekindle our camaraderie as brothers and sisters in SARF, and our love with the Lord. It was indeed a memorable celebration.
Happy Fiesta everyone! May Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki continue to intercede for us all.