Road trip in time of COVID-19: the company we keep in life’s journey

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 February 2021

We have started this travelogue sharing with you how the Divine — God and music as food of the soul — have guided us in this road trip. He is the Invisible Hand leading us to directions not found on maps nor recognized by GPS, leading us to new discoveries not only to places outside but deep within us.

Let me now share with you the people we have met in this road trip, our companions who enriched our journey.

The word companion is from two Latin words cum + panis that mean “someone you break bread with”, not just someone you travel with but someone you share life with. After all, every journey is not just about places we visit but more of the persons we travel with and meet along the way.

During our first stop at the Baras Church, its sacristan mayor named Alvin told us an interesting story that had allegedly happened at the Pililla Wind Farm before its closure last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Alvin, a group of bikers in 2019 allegedly posed half-naked while doing the dirty finger sign with the wind turbines as background. The people at the wind farm felt the place “desecrated” by that act especially after the photos were posted in social media, prompting them to tighten security in the area until the pandemic came that have kept it closed since then.

Though we have no way of verifying Alvin’s story about the “desecration”, it was not farfetched at all considering our penchant for anything notorious and vulgar like – sorry for the terms – kasalaulan and kababayun.

How sad that everything is desecrated and disrespected in our country like a whole environment, public places that include parks and monuments, even churches and schools as well as culture and history, not to mention the people taken for granted especially the weak and marginalized.

But it is not that bad at all. Especially in the province of Rizal where local residents remain warm and hospitable. Most of all, honest and trustworthy.

We were actually laughing because we both did not know how to take selfies…

This we have experienced first hand after Dindo had left his wallet at a convenience store two kilometers from Baras. When we returned to the store, we were so impressed because the guard and another staff member were waiting for us to give us back the wallet. We did not even leave our car as the wallet was promptly handed to us without asking us any questions at all.

Honesty is still very much alive here in our country. We just have to trust and be honest with others, too!

In fact, one thing we noticed that whole Thursday in Rizal was how everybody was so kind and nice, especially at the three churches we visited in Baras, Tanay, and Morong.

They were so kind and courteous with a ready smile to everyone, not grouchy like in some parishes. I did not have to introduce myself as a priest to be treated well that I felt like coming home while visiting those three churches!

It prompted me to commend Msgr. Rigs de Guzman of Tanay in having formed so well their church workers and volunteers whose goodwill flowed so naturally, not rehearsed nor faked because we were visitors.

St. Joseph Parish at Baras, Rizal.

Such kindness and niceties are things becoming so rare these days in many churches in our predominantly Christian nation when people complain against priests and lay people alike in being so cold and impersonal in dealing with the faithful who complain, saying “mga taong simbahan pa naman… kay susungit at sasama ng ugali.”

Sometimes, people leave the Catholic Church not because of difficult teachings and doctrines but of difficult people who failed or refused to witness Jesus Christ in their lives as his servants and disciples.

Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, Rizal.

At the beautiful Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, we arrived while a funeral Mass was ongoing. Not knowing where to park as the patio was filled with people, I drove up its old and beautiful driveway all the way to its main door.

Surprisingly, nobody blocked or prevented us from driving there; when I asked if we can park there, the people simply nodded their heads in approval!

And when we went to the parish office to ask permission to go to the side altar to pray, one of the volunteers willingly led us inside so we can comfortably have a seat.

After we have prayed, we decided to skip our usual picture taking due to the ongoing Mass, choosing to feast our eyes with the amazing sight of this church’s unique architecture built by Franciscan Missionaries in 1620 and renovated to its present structure in 1853.

As we marveled at the imposing but genteel facade of the Morong Parish Church, I somehow got a feel of the people’s vibrant faith nurtured by their pastors who must be so dedicated too to have maintained its old and original architecture. One may also notice the same thing with the modern churches in the Diocese of Antipolo that covers the ecclesiastical province of Rizal where there is that blending of faith, arts, and architecture.

They must be so rich in having “respect” as in respect to the past, respect to the culture, and respect to the people that they have kept their many old and modern churches unaltered for so many years.

Altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2001.

How sad is the “edifice complex” afflicting some priests especially in our own Diocese of Malolos in Bulacan where many churches, old and new alike, have been disfigured with never ending renovations and constructions as well as overdecorating them that many have looked like cheap cakes smothered with icings.

Many seem to have forgotten the direct correlation between “church as the people gathered in faith” and “church as a building”.

Incidentally, the term used by the early Christians to refer to the Holy Eucharist as they gathered together was “breaking of bread”, a direct reference to our word companion because in every religious gathering, the companionship of the people is indicative of their kind of faith in God.

How lovely it is to see our churches, especially the old ones, as companions in our faith journey in God, to God!


'The real voyage of discovery consists 
not in seeing new sights,
but in looking in new eyes."
--- Marcel Proust

As we end this series of our travelogue, we go back to the lovely Parish Church of St. Ildephonse at Tanay, Rizal where we found something so mysterious like Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic and Deacon Blues.

On the left wall near the main door is found the Seventh Station of the Cross when Jesus fell for the second time on his way to the calvary. It is a huge woodcarving done by local artisans in 1785 using local colors like the Malay features of the images depicted with their brown complexion, large and round eyes, and “squared” body features.

See the man leading the pack blowing a carabao horn for a tambuli while the soldier carried a bolo instead of a sword?

Most unique of all that makes Tanay’s Stations of the Cross as the most amazing and beautiful in Asia is that man at the middle wearing sunglasses, looking afar.

No one can truly explain why that man was portrayed as wearing shades that were already in existence at that time from China called “smoked glasses”. Some claim that man is the high priest Caiaphas who led the Sanhedrin in the trial that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming himself to be God.

Still, it does not answer the question why wear shades?

My kinakapatid Dindo claimed the woodcarving proves that rock and roll had long been in existence since the time of Jesus Christ, the real Superstar as presented in the 1970 rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Rock and roll is more than a kind of music. It is a way of life, a different kind of looking at things that try to disregard conventional and traditional ways by trying to get to the very roots of the things we do and hold on to.

Again, the word roots is from the Latin radix from which comes the word radical to describe people with revolutionary thoughts who go against the usual and accepted ways of life by going back to the roots of our many ways of life.

Radicals are not necessarily violent who shake our beliefs to see things more clearly like the woodcarver of this Seventh Station of the Cross in Tanay.

He must be telling us how often we try to color the world according to the hues and shades we want to see it that we become oblivious to the plight and sufferings of those around us like Jesus falling for the second time. Sometimes the key in truly enjoying this journey called life is to take off our shades and see others in their true colors by revealing also our true selves.

That is the greatest joy of every road trip when we do not really take the trip but it is the trip that takes us, giving us new eyes to see life in new perspectives and dimensions never seen before.

Our recent road trip actually started even before we planned it three years ago. Dindo and I have been traveling together as companions – breaking bread with each other – sharing life, its joys and pains, fears and hopes long before we took this road trip.

Though we travel on different roads in life, our paths have merged in various points and intersections without us really knowing it, deepening our ties and friendship truly as kinakapatid. It was actually a trip started by our dads who were cumpadres and never did I imagine those trips to their home at Little Baguio every New Year while growing up would eventually lead us to Baras, Tanay, Pillila, and Morong in Rizal!

In between songs and stories and jokes as we got lost going to Pililla Wind Farm, we have realized that we all have the same problems and issues in life. They just come in different shapes and colors that make every journey so wonderful.

Where have you been lately? And how are the people you have met? Try to remember the people you have been traveling with as companions in this journey of life. Thank them and most of all, take a break to let any trip take you — a road trip, a food trip, or any trip except bad trip!

Thank you very much in joining me in this blog and trip. May God bless your journey as well as your companions. Amen.

Roadtrip in time of COVID-19, Part 2

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 January 2021

Every road trip is filled with music. A lot of music. In fact, it is not a road trip without any kind of music! As I was telling you, this road trip was inspired by that line from Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne, “Is there gas in the car?”

As we drove to Tanay from Baras Church, our playlist had Rod Stewart singing one of our generation’s staple music so “relate much” with our own experiences…

I didn’t know what day it was
When you walked into the room
I said, “Hello” unnoticed
You said goodbye too soon

Breezing through the clientele
Spinning yarns that were so lyrical
I really must confess right here
The attraction was purely physical (oh, yeah)

Okay. Suspend your judgments for now and let me say too that when men get together whether on a road trip or not, surely topic would always be on women and past relationships.

Always. Even with priests like me who had studied and worked for a long time “outside” the seminary. There is always that somebody in the group who would pop up with that question “have you had a girlfriend before”?

Sorry… you have to go with me in an actual road trip to hear my stories while I am obliged with the “seal of confession” of sorts to keep my lips zipped with Dindo’s stories as we talked about our past relationships while singing with Rod Stewart on our way to Tanay. One thing for sure, though, like real gentlemen, when we talked about women, it was very true, so divine, like those lines …

My love for you is immeasurable
My respect for you immense
You’re ageless, timeless, lace and fineness
You’re beauty and elegance

You’re a rhapsody, a comedy
You’re a symphony and a play
You’re every love song ever written
But honey, what do you see in me?

You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul
You’ll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you’re my best friend
You’re in my soul

Main altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as “National Cultural Treasure”, another example of maintaining the noble simplicity of old churches.

The way we relate with women
indicates how we relate with God.

Twenty years ago, I have read from one of the writings by Papal Preacher Raniero Cardinal de Cantalamessa how an American Dominican exegete had put forward that the way we relate with women mirrors our way of relating with God.

That is very true.

Women are God’s loveliest creations that without them, we men would never be complete. Some even claim that women must be the one closest to God in appearance, more perfect than us men that is why she was created last.

What is amazing again with this road trip is how our second stop at the Tanay Church confirmed our discussions of women.

First, it was a woman who directed us to the main entrance to the church because its gate was partly hidden by some obstructions at that time from the main road. Then, inside the church, three women catechists warmly welcomed us near its magnificent altar.

And when I recognized its Patron is St. Ildephonse of Toledo in Spain, I realized again how this road trip “was taking us instead of us taking the trip” on that rainy Thursday, January 07, 2021.

When I was ordained deacon in 1997, I was assigned to help the late Fr. Johann Sebastian in a parish at Pinaod, San Ildefonso town in Bulacan. Of course, San Ildefonso is St. Ildephonse…

Next, Fr. Johann was a resident of San Ildefonso whose house was across the Parish Church where we used to watch the procession during his feast on January 23.

Most of all, it was from Fr. Johann that I learned so much about St. Ildephonse who had lived around the years 607-667 in Toledo, Spain that used to be the main seat of the Church in Spain before Madrid. Outside Fr. Johann’s room used to be displayed a huge painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to St. Ildephonse while giving him heavenly vestments (chasuble) as gifts for his efforts in propagating devotions to her. In fact, St. Ildephonse was one of the early bishops who had written about the Immaculate Conception of Mary that was finally declared a dogma of the Church in 1854.

Here we are in the beautiful church of Tanay recently declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a “National Cultural Treasure” under the patronage of St. Ildephonse, truly a holy and a gentleman with a great devotion to the Mother of God that mirrored his fidelity in serving God his Master and Lord!

Shortly after praying and exchanging stories with the three catechists, the Parish Priest, Msgr. Rigoberto de Guzman came to meet and formally welcomed us in his church. Actually, we were hesitant to meet Msgr. Rigs as we did not want to disturb him but we were told that he usually welcomed pilgrims to their parish.

Likewise, I was not so sure if he could still recall me since we have met only twice ten years ago when he was the Rector of the Antipolo Cathedral during the time of Bishop Gabby Reyes while I was with Radio Veritas. And, lo and behold — Msgr. Rigs still knew me, even telling me how he had come across some of my reflections in the Sabbath publication!

A very soft spoken and kind-hearted man of God, Msgr. Rigs thanked me on behalf of our diocese in forming many of their priests who have graduated from our Major Seminary. As a token of his appreciation especially after learning that I teach and serve as a spiritual director in our major seminary, he gave me a framed image of Our Lady of the Poor and Suffering known also as Our Lady of Banneux in Belgium where she appeared eleven times to an 11-year old girl in 1933.

Oh my God!

First, it was St. Joseph who greeted us at Baras; now, we have my second most favorite image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Banneux welcoming us in Tanay! As I thanked Msgr. Rigs for his gift, he led me to the side of their church where stood an exact replica of the Virgin of Banneux — something we have overlooked earlier due to the rains!

At that very moment, I felt the Blessed Mother’s comforting assurance of love and guidance, especially with my new assignment as chaplain of the Our Lady of Fatima University and Medical Center effective February 16, 2021. What a pleasant morning talking about the women in our lives now capped with the most wonderful woman of all, our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The first time I learned about Our Lady of Banneux was when I met the sisters in charge of the Boys’ Town and Girls’ Town in Cavite way back in 2007 after learning about the works of their founder, the Venerable Fr. Al Schwartz, an American priest who worked here among the poorest of the poor. He was a devotee of the Our Lady of Banneux who is very much like the Our Lady of Fatima, so lovely and very simple. Both appeared in the early 20th century in Europe to show Mary’s oneness with humanity going through so many sufferings and afflictions up to this age. It is something many devotees in our diocese in Bulacan seem to be missing with their pomp and pageantry in crowning every image of the Blessed Virgin to be found, even in a bodega or a patio!

That is the beauty and charm of the two old churches we have visited in Baras and Tanay: both are simply elegant, not extravagant nor loud where one can have time with God and the sacred.

After the rains have stopped, Msgr. Rigs prayed over us and blessed us as we left for Pililla while listening this time to Hall and Oates. More rock and roll reflections in our final installment. See ya!

Dindo Alberto, Msgr. Rigs de Guzman, and author.

E-mail me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

Road trip in time of corona, part 1

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 21 January 2021
The Church of Baras, Rizal first built by the Franciscans in 1595; present church was completed in 1686.

It was a road trip that took us three years of planning. Though it just covered a little more than a hundred kilometers east of Metro Manila done in 12 hours, it was a road trip beyond maps and GPS as it turned out into some sort of a personal journey within.

Sometimes in life, the most wonderful trips are those made at the spur of the moment – “biglaan, nagkaayaan lang” – when an Invisible Hand guides us, sometimes purposely allowing us to get lost along the way with many detours leading to so many discoveries.

That exactly happened with this road trip with my kinakapatid Dindo (Fernando Alberto, Jr.) last January 07, 2021. It was his idea that we go on a road trip so we can share more of our many common interests like Steely Dan music, singing like crazy Kid Charlemagne’s, “Is there gas in the car?” that has become like a password in our conversations as well as in our chats.

And so, two weeks ago with a tankful of “gas in the car”, I left my parish in Bulacan at 5AM and headed south to pick up Dindo almost exactly an hour later reaching the Church of Baras via Sumulong Highway in Antipolo a little past 7AM.


"Reeling in the Years":
the charm and beauty of Baras Church

If you are looking for a good, old church near Metro Manila that has remained faithful to its past, then go to this Church of Baras town that has retained its quaint Spanish period Baroque architecture.

Set on top of a hill still surrounded by forests, its simple facade is “so cool” and very comforting at first sight that gives every pilgrim a sense of serenity and silence, so welcoming especially to those tired and confused in life.

What struck me first were the beautiful patches of mosses and fronds growing right on the steps all the way up to the bell tower made of adobe bricks exposed without plasters. I have always been amazed with mosses and fronds because they remind me of how life continues to thrive even in the most difficult and harsh situations while their luminous green color look like natural carpets ready to absorb whatever shocks and weight you may be carrying.

From afar, the Baras church looks like an oasis tucked in a lovely corner not far from the busy highway outside. Everything is green and so refreshing. Just looking at this church from the patio dotted with yellow spots for social distancing during Masses, one may already conclude upon arrival that it was worth the trip.

Even after we have missed its main entrance after the small bridge in the poblacion, our peg remained chillax after being welcomed by its sacristan mayor named Alvin who right away opened the main door for us so we can pray inside. And, voila!

Inside the Baras Church. Its pastors have done a great job in keeping the church intact all these years unlike other old churches that have fallen prey to disrespect of its heritage and roots.

Upon entering, one’s sights are directed upwards to its exposed wooden trusses supporting the roof. It has no ceiling like most old churches in Ilocos, exuding with that sense of freedom and openness as if the heavens were rent apart by God to assure that He listens to every prayer said by anyone who comes to this church.

One thing I appreciate in this church as a priest is the prevalence of that sense of coherence, of wholeness from which the word holiness came from. So unlike many churches these days that have become more like a hodge-podge of so many things and colors that distract you away from God.

Baras church is a rarity where that old maxim in liturgy is still kept so many priests ignore: noble simplicity. Nothing kitschy or baduy like tarpaulins and what-have-you that inhibit silent meditation and contemplation with enough room for God and His saints. And you.

The adobe bricks without plasters give you an impression of a relaxed life, safely and securely ensconced inside to rest in the Lord, literally and figuratively speaking. Nothing artificial, so natural is the feeling inside without the ubiquitous giant ceiling fans and flatscreen TV’s. Touch the walls and you can still feel the whispered prayers of the faithful long dead still reverberating!

Sauntering to the sanctuary to pray while feasting my eyes with the ancient wood carvings at the side walls, it was only then when I realized how blessed is this road trip, so timely to have happened that day, not earlier or even later.


"We find that after years of struggle 
we do not take a trip;
a trip takes us." 
-John Steinbeck

Lo and behold! When Alvin turned on the lights of the retablo, I felt so blessed when I recognized St. Joseph is the Patron of this church, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus Christ, my personal patron saint since seminary days!

What a tremendous blessing indeed that our first stop in this road trip is a parish dedicated to St. Joseph on the first month of the Year of St. Joseph as declared by Pope Francis last December 8, 2020 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.

Most of all, it was a time in my life I was feeling so afraid, even scared and bothered almost like St. Joseph after finding out Mary was pregnant with a child not his that he decided to silently divorce her until an angel appeared in his dream, explaining everything. In my case, I have just received my new assignment as chaplain of a university and hospital in our diocese. Aside from that fearful feeling going into a new field of ministry, I was wary of the hospital setting in time of COVID-19.

But there before the altar of the Baras Church as I knelt praying, I felt the very same reassurance of God through St. Joseph, as if telling me, “Nick, do not be afraid to take that new assignment for I shall be with you always.”

After saying our prayers, I told Dindo the significance of our first Church that happened to be dedicated to St. Joseph.

And that’s when we realized how along the way we were sharing about our own beloved fathers now both gone to heaven, of their impact on us while growing up in their old-school brand of discipline and parenting that have molded us into who we are today weathering so many storms in life, never giving up, always fighting, always standing for what we firmly believe as true and good.

While there, I prayed to St. Joseph for all the fathers I know, including those priests who have blessed me and nurtured my vocation, deceased and still living. In a special way, I prayed for all dads silently crying in pain because of their great love for their children; dads never understood by their wife, always deferring for them for the sake of balance and peace at home; and, most especially, for dads who are sick after laboring for so long in raising their family.

At the left side of the nave is displayed prominently the original cross used in the church by the Jesuits who administered the parish from 1616 to 1679. Above that is a wood carving of Santiago de Compostela or St. James the Great, patron of Spain and elder brother of St. John the Beloved, the patron of my parish for nine years and seven months. The parish of Baras was originally dedicated to him. Why they changed it to St. Joseph, nobody could tell us.

But, Dindo and I at that time knew, this stop was meant for us both a father and for our own dads who are still cumpadres on a different trip in heaven. We had our light breakfast prepared by Dindo being a great cook himself who was part of the original Mandarin Hotel officers in Beijing three decades ago.

Join us next week at our next stop in Tanay where we met St. Joseph’s wife, Mary.

And along the way, we proved that rock and roll has always been a way of life since the time of Jesus…

Original cross venerated in the Baras Church with a relic from the true Cross of Jesus found in Jerusalem by St. Helena; above that is a woodcarving of St. James the Great, the first patron saint of Baras.

Email me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.