Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts

4 Roman Catholic Teachings violated at the Feast of the Black Nazarene

Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno
Image Source:

Contrary to popular understanding, many practices during the Feast of the Black Nazarene actually violate teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Unknown to many, the Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC) contains the church’s official teaching on idolatry, the most debated issue surrounding the feast.

In this article, we will put the CFC and the Feast of the Black Nazarene side by side to see how the tradition actually breaks Roman Catholic teachings.

1. The Black Nazarene or Poong Itim na Nazareno is taking God’s place and the worship He alone deserves

Paragraph 887 of the Catechism for Filipino Catholics reads,
“The First Commandment forbids any other god than the Lord . . . that any created thing should take the place of God and receive the worship due to Him alone. It thus rules out all forms of idolatry which is the ‘substitution of someone or something else for God.’”

The CFC teaches that an idol or a false god is anyone or anything taking God’s place in one’s life, and receiving worship in the form of prayer, devotion or praise that belongs to God alone.

We need only to observe the millions who join the feast, how they risk their health and lives just to touch the statue during the Translacion, and no sooner realize that the icon has already taken God’s place not just in the event, but in their hearts as well.

We need only to hear the fervent prayers uttered to the poon and see the throng of people waiting to kiss it to see that the statue is already receiving worship that belongs to God alone.

One devotee was interviewed in a news program in 2014 and his words are very telling. “Kahit na sinabi nating lilok lang ng isang tao yan at ay gawa ng isang tao ang isang kahoy na santo, pero para sa pakiramdam namin bilang mga tapat na Katoliko eh may buhay siya kahit na siya’y kahoy (Even if we say that it was only sculpted by a person, that a saint’s wooden icon is made by a man, for us as loyal Catholics, we feel that he has life even if he’s wood).”

2. The Statue of Jesus is pretending to be the perfect image of God

Paragraph 889 of the CFC states,
“No Carved Images. God reserves for Himself alone the right to express and produce images of Himself… But the perfect image of God is seen in the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ, ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), on whose face ‘the glory of God shines’ (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). It is Jesus alone who could answer Philip’s request, ‘show us the Father,’ with ‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:8-9).”

The Catholic Church’s official stand is that “the perfect image of God is seen in the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ.” Notice that it is the very life and very suffering of the Lord that perfectly embodies God—His attributes, power and love.

The emphasis is not on the physical characteristics, not on the length of His hair or the color of His skin, or His physique or His facial features. This is so because Jesus’ main concern on earth is not to give an idea how God looked like, but to allow people to experience how God was like.

That He is a God of grace and mercy who forgives those who repent and believe. And at the same time, a God of justice who judges sinners for their rebellion.

These truths cannot be captured by one sculpture, but they can be seen and relived and experienced in the pages of the Bible. So instead of looking at the poon, why not get to know Jesus by reading God’s Word?

And even if some argue that the poon is a replica of the physical Jesus, its faithfulness to how Christ really looked like is in question.

I once asked a staunch believer in statues how he could be sure that the Black Nazarene is the true face of Jesus. His answer was not convincing, “Yan ang ipinasa sa atin ng mga ninuno natin. Siguro naman alam nila ang itsura ni Hesus (That’s what’s passed on by our ancestors. I think they would know how Jesus looked like).”

3. Many devotees have fallen to the temptation of making the Black Nazarene a substitute to the reality of God

Paragraph 891 of the CFC is perhaps the most telling. Here we read,

“Yet we must recognize the ever present temptation: from merely reminding us of God, the material image tends to gradually ‘become’ a god, an idol. In such fashion the bronze serpent made by Moses on the command of the Lord to cure those bitten by serpents (cf. Nm 21:6-9) was smashed by Hezekiah because ‘the Israelites were burning incense to it’ (2 Kgs 18:4). An image can either bring the reality it represents to mind, to aid devotion and attention, or it can become a substitute for the reality itself, and thus be an object of idolatry. Thus the First Commandment forcefully reminds us that God, the Creator, is infinitely beyond any of His creatures; no image or mental concept can ever ‘capture’ Him. Deus semper major-- God is always greater.”
The Catholic Church realized the Filipino’s attraction to the physical, thus condoning the use of images and statues for the sole purpose of aiding devotion and attention for the religious (CFC 890).

However, it also realized the temptation that easily comes with these religious icons—they can gradually overshadow the God they are supposed to represent. That is, these icons, over time, can become false gods themselves, causing the faithful to worship them, rather than God.

When we look at the Feast of the Black Nazarene, it is easy to spot how the supposed representation has now become the center of attraction. If it were not, why then do devotees put so much emphasis on being able to touch, kiss or caress the material representation?

The God that the poon represents is omnipresent. That is, Jesus is not bound in a single place for His followers to jostle and trample on one another just to be where He is.

In fact, we can even read His very words in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with us always, wherever we are. Whether we are in the privacy of our rooms or in our offices or on the streets, He is with us.

So we don’t actually need to be near the poon or even inside a church to pray to Him if it is really Him we want to commune with. But if we insist on being close to the icon of the Nazareno, being able to wipe it with our handkerchiefs and kiss it with our lips, perhaps it’s the representation we’re after, not the God who’s supposed to be represented.

4. Many devotees believe that the Poong Nazareno has powers to grant their prayers

Lastly in paragraph 892 of the CFC,
“Catholic Filipinos are attracted very much to images and statues of Christ, Mary and patron Saints… the Church firmly insists on the valuable help such images can offer for authentic Christian prayer. Nevertheless, the Church is equally insistent on the proper use of such images, avoiding any and all appearances of making the images into idols, or treating them as endowed with some magical powers (cf. CCC 2132). This need for caution is confirmed by today’s ‘image industry’ which graphically illustrates how manipulative and deceitful human images can become, even holy images.”

Again we read that the Catholic Church allowed the use of images to aid the religious in their prayer. But it insists that there is a proper use for these images. They should not be transformed into gods, and devotees should not ascribe power to them.

But we have discussed throughout the article how the Black Nazarene has already become a false god in the life and heart of its followers. And in addition, they also treat it as if it has “magical powers” to grant them their requests.

Many of those who volunteer as namamasan (devotees who pull the Nazareno carriage through two long ropes) do so for various personal petitions. They believe that by their sacrifice, the poon will grant them their wishes, like the healing of a sick loved one or the deliverance from poverty.

Other devotees attempt to go near the andas (carriage) to climb it and personally wipe the statue with their handkerchiefs. They, then, believe that the cloth acquires miraculous or holy powers, transforming into a potent talisman.

These practices even caught the attention of retired Catholic Bishop Deogracia Iniguez who shared his concerns in an interview with ABS-CBN way back in 2009. He said, “They attribute some powers to the statue itself which is fanaticism, which is superstition. So something needs to be purified.”

In acknowledging that the poon has these powers, its followers unwittingly ascribe omnipotence to the statue, which is an attribute that rightfully belongs to God alone. Unlike the devotees, Job was correct when he ascribed power to God saying, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

We have spent a lot of words expounding the CFC to show where the Feast of the Black Nazarene goes against Catholic teachings. But in the final analysis, a greater authority leaves us with powerful words against idolatry. This is what we read from God’s Word in Jeremiah 10:1-7

1Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. 2This is what the Lord says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
6No one is like you, Lord;
you are great,
and your name is mighty in power.
7Who should not fear you,
King of the nations?
This is your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like you.

Remembering LJM

On Christmas day I read from a friend's Facebook post that Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc has passed away. LJM, as she is commonly known in journalism circles, is the editor-in-chief behind the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).

I have first known about LJM from Philippine press history lessons in college. She is remembered as among the brave writers who dared to expose the lies behind the late dictator's rule. She also stood firm in the face of government corruption and political pressures from subsequent administrations, all in the name of a free press.

When no one else wanted to report about Ninoy Aquino's death and burial, they were at the forefront. LJM and other journalists turned a humble lifestyle magazine into democracy's lone defender.

When former President Erap Estrada called on the TV industry to boycott the Inquirer, she dug her heels in and continued churning stories about Erap's mansions and mistresses.

In a few months, we witnessed People Power anew. Just as she did in 1986, LJM contributed to social change through her brave stories in our generation.

I'm writing this as tribute and gratitude to one of Philippine Press's bedrocks. We enjoy press freedom and democracy today because of the contributions of people like LJM.

Though I have never met her, I am thankful for the journalism principles she espoused and developed. These have shaped my mass communication professors who,  in turn, shaped me, one way or another.

And though I have never professionally practiced journalism, I had been a part of PDI once as a college scholar and an intern. She had been my EIC for one full summer term.

I also felt indebted to LJM because of an article about her I read today. I have always wondered why PDI allowed me to pursue a different path after being their scholar for two years.

I was surprised that they never demanded the return service when I wrote them that I was no longer considering the newspaper after my graduation. They didn't even ask me to pay back even after I offered to return every peso from the scholarship.

I was even more surprised that they let me go when my simplistic reason was I felt that God was calling me to serve Him through Christian ministry. God and spirituality never sat well with many journalists in the Philippines so I thought my reason was unacceptable. But PDI respected it.

This has always been a mystery for me until I found out that LJM was spiritual herself. In a tribute article by PDI,  she was described as a woman who always went to mass daily, seeking God's peace in troubled times.

Now, I don't know how Biblical her view of God is or how much similar our faith convictions are, me being a Bible Christian. But this I know, she believed that there is a God, and I know this influenced PDI to never leave Him out of the newsroom.

I also remember that during our scholarship interview I disclosed that I was also considering going full time in Christian ministry. I didn't understand the comment of one panelist then who said something like, "Oh perhaps this one's going to be a missionary too!"

Maybe LJM's leadership made even the senior editors of Inquirer sensitive to faith issues. Another panelist even asked me to elaborate about my faith. I can't remember who he was now but I found out later that he, too, is a follower of Jesus.

These anecdotes may seem tangential, but I guess I just want to thank LJM for keeping God in the PDI newsroom. My ministry story could have gone a different path without this key element.

Of course I still believe in God's sovereignty. If He wills that I serve Him in the campus work, it will come to pass. But the road towards that reality became easier as He allowed all the pieces to fall into place-- and I believe these include LJM as PDI's EIC.

Her legacy in toppling down a dictator and unseating another corrupt president will be remembered by many. And in my own small story, I will remember LJM as among God's instruments in my journey towards serving Him full-time in the student ministry.

On the priest and the unwed mother

There is a video of a priest apparently "humiliating" an unwed mother during the baptism of her child. It is going viral on Facebook and elsewhere. Here is the video and I've added a translation from

"You agree to sleep with a man who is not your husband. Is that what the church teaches you?… This child is not at fault but women and men who sleep together outside of marriage live in sin. The disgrace will be passed on to the child. In other words, you shouldn't have indulged yourselves and now have a child. Yes, the child is a blessing but it was conceived in sin. He was not conceived in… are you married?… As a Christian should you be proud of this, that you have a child but not a husband? You should be ashamed and even hide yourself. We should close this church for the shame because you would have the child baptized without a husband; you slept with a man not your husband. Did you hear me? Are you not ashamed? That should be a source of great shame. What about you, will you follow suit? (unintelligible)… This child is full of grace because he has been baptized. You have been baptized but you have not kept your baptismal vows. You should help the child fulfill these duties, but because you are crooked, there are others who will help bring up the child so he will not be crooked like you, not be like you who does not follow the Commandments of Christ. That is why this is not right, this should not be continued…"

The Catholic church in the Philippines is generally more dogmatic and conservative. This explains, perhaps, the attitude of the priest who "humiliated" the unwed mother. 

But I think what we should look at is Jesus' response to similar cases as recorded in the Bible. This is a classic case of, “What would Jesus do?” 

There is the story of a woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John. The religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus by asking Him to judge her for violating God’s Law. 

The Law of Moses was clear. The adulteress (and supposedly, the adulterer) should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). This is the Holy God's justice- sin is punishable by death (Romans 6:23). Such is the case to underline the weight of sin and God’s holiness or sinlessness. But amazingly, Jesus' response highlights two things. 

When pressed for an answer, He replied, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." 

First, Jesus reminded the religious leaders that the Law exists to show who we are before God-- sinful men and women. It is a standard that measures a person against God. It should never be used as a standard to measure one person against another. 

We often think that being "less" sinful gives us the right to condemn others, who we judge as "more" sinful. But in God‘s sight every sin is an offense against His character, deserving the just punishment of eternal separation. Using a very good illustration: The height of skyscrapers is leveled when viewed from above. 

The issue is not on the number of sins (and all of us have countless!!!) but on the commission of even just one sin (James 2:10). 

Thus, no one has the right to condemn others on the basis of perceived righteousness. The only one who has this right is the person who has never committed a single sin in his life. This is no other than Jesus (Hebrews 4:15), who also bears the very holiness of God (Colossians 2:9).

Second, (this is humbling) the only person in the group who had the right to condemn, chose, instead, to demonstrate grace. Jesus did not condemn the adulteress but forgave her. Grace is a gift that stems from the love of God. By all standards, the woman is worthy of punishment. There was nothing she could offer to turn the verdict around. She was really guilty. 

But at that moment when she expected death, the amazing thing happened. The God of the universe granted her pardon. One may think that justice was thwarted, but listen to Jesus’ words, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 

He acknowledged the sin. He did not brush it aside. His verdict was guilty but he sentenced her to freedom, new life and forgiveness. This makes sense only when we look at the cross.

Jesus can grant her forgiveness because several chapters later, He took up the woman’s death sentence as his own on the cross. Jesus became her substitute, and the substitute of every sinner-- past, present and future-- on that cross. Thus, by forgiving, Jesus showed God’s love, and by dying, He fulfilled God’s justice. What amazing grace!

The woman’s story is the story of each one of us. We are all sinners condemned to eternal death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). But in God’s grace, He gave us Jesus who took on our punishment and provided a way of salvation to all who trust in Him as Lord and Savior (John 3:16).

The unwed mother did break God’s Law, and the priest pointed this out accurately. In the eyes of the world, she is a sinner, but in God's eyes the mother, the priest and all of us, in fact, are sinners. (Romans 3:23). Thus, when dealing with such cases, we must ask God to help us respond the way Jesus did. We acknowledge her sin but only as fellow sinners. We should not sweep sin under the rug. But we must acknowledge it, remembering that we are also condemned just as she is.

More importantly, if we have a relationship with Jesus, we offer to journey with her to the cross where she can also find the forgiveness that has cleansed our sins the moment we placed our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God, afterall, is a God not just of second chances, but of third, fourth, fifth, sixth and nth chances.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."

Understanding Prayer as we Pray Together

At exactly 5:00 pm today, Pres. Noynoy Aquino will lead Filipinos around the globe in prayer "to remember the lives lost to the tragic incidents of thank the Almighty for the nation's strength and resilience, and to seek divine guidance as the country moves forward to rebuild the affected communities."

He will be joined by leaders from various faiths in an ecumenical gathering at the Malacanang Palace. Bro. Jonel Milan, an alumnus of the Asian Theological Seminary and an ordained bishop with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, will be representing Bible-believing Christians in the event. It is dubbed "One Nation in Prayer" or "Isang Bansa, Isang Panalangin" in Filipino.

The Palace calls out to every Filipino, regardless of faith background, to pause and utter a word of prayer at 5 pm. I will be joining this afternoon, but before doing so, I'm reminding myself of a number of Biblical truths about prayer, so that even in this event, God alone will be glorified.

The Lord's Prayer

Perhaps the most famous prayer in the Bible is found in Matthew 6:9-13. This is the Lord's model prayer for us and is commonly known as, "The Our Father." In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the prayer goes:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

If we observe the prayer, we can see roughly two parts. The first exalts, glorifies and lifts up God as a heavenly Father, the Holy one, a King and a Ruler. 

The second part consists of petitions from us which we present before God. It includes daily needs, forgiveness, protection and deliverance or freedom.

Adoration of the Father

It is not an accident that Jesus begins His model prayer with adoration of God. After all, the rightful focus and the only worthy receiver of our prayers is God. As Christian Theologians often stress, "Prayer is conversation or communion with God."

When we pray it is only right to first acknowledge our Father, to remember His faithfulness and grace. We do not charge into His presence with several demands as if we are His masters and He is our genie. A Welsh missionary once said, "God is not a Coca-cola machine that when we put in our prayers He spits out answers to our requests."

Instead, prayer as a conversation or a communion depends on our relationship with the Father. During Jesus' time, no one dared to call God, "Father." The Jewish people were very careful, always acknowledging a gap between them and God. Jesus, however, teaches us to come before our God like little children approaching their papa or daddy.

In the original Greek, in fact, Jesus used "abba Father," which is an endearment. This can only be used by people who know that they have a relationship with the Father. Thus, we approach Him in prayer not because of obligation, not because of fear, not because of selfish ambitions but because of a loving relationship we have with Him through Jesus.

As Jesus addressed the Father, He prayed that His named be "hollowed," His kingdom would come and His will be done. In uttering these, Jesus expressed His desire that God be worshiped as the Holy God that He is by everyone on earth. He also expressed His desire that God's rule would cover the world. This is possible through the entry of His Kingdom, which the Lord wanted to happen very soon. When both come to fruition, it is then that God's will is done on earth and in heaven.

When we pray, Jesus reminds us to look through God's eyes, having the heavenly perspective as our vision. As such, let us ask God to give us His heart so that all that we utter in prayer will be aligned with His desires and lead to the expansion and advancement of His kingdom. Even prayer is never about us or our personal whims, but always about God and His sovereign plans.

Petition for our Needs

Don't get me wrong, however. God is not a tyrant demanding that we forgo our practical needs and just spend all our time in religious activities. No. The next part of Jesus' model prayer opens with a request for "daily bread." Our Lord calls us to ask God for food, shelter, clothing, for daily sustenance. 

God is concerned even with these things. Furthermore, Matthew 6:8 affirms that God "knows what you need before you ask him." He is not a forgetful God who needs reminding. However, He is the God of faith who wants His children to trust and depend on Him even for their daily needs. This is the reason why Jesus called us to petition for our physical needs. The God of faith wants His children to exercise their faith in and depend on Him.

After dealing with the physical, Jesus goes on to petition for our spiritual needs. "...and forgive us our debts or sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors." The sad reality is most people end with the physical needs. Hunger, thirst, cold, pains-- we feel all these things and so we remember to ask God for help. However, there is also spiritual hunger, spiritual thirst, spiritual sickness called sin that we must repent of before God.

In Mark 2:1-12, a paralytic came to Jesus asking for physical healing. Interestingly, upon seeing his faith, He told him, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Jesus knew that as much as he was physically sick, the paralytic was also spiritually in need. Jesus addressed the sin, and went on to heal him physically.

Which is more important? The physical or the spiritual? There is a discussion going on. However, we see that Jesus made no distinction. He asked for the physical needs and then He asked for the spiritual needs. The only advantage of the latter I think is that it deals with an issue with outright eternal consequence. That is, when we are not forgiven of sin, we cannot be with God in heaven. We would have to die as punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23).

However, I do not dismiss the physical needs and their eternal contribution. God can use these provisions to draw people to Himself. At the same time, an inward transformation through the Gospel (spiritual provision) will inevitably result in external change, dealing with physical needs through a transformed view of stewardship. Both are intertwined. Both are legitimate needs that we must petition before God.

Notice, further, that when Jesus told us to ask for forgiveness, He followed it up with an implicit command to also forgive those who have sinned against us. I'll touch on repentance to explain this. A true repentant heart that asks God for forgiveness is proven by transformation.

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist told the Pharisees, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." He told them this because of their hypocrisy. They came for baptism of repentance but their lives do not show genuine repentance. 

Note that in the original Greek, to repent means to change one's mind. This entails not only intellectual transformation, but together with it is life change. This is the reason why upon asking for forgiveness for sins, forgiving those who sinned against us is an unavoidable consequence.

We can also look at it this way. How can God forgive us when we are still harboring unforgiveness in our hearts towards our fellow?

Finally, it is not an accident that Jesus closes with a petition for deliverance from temptation and evil after He talked about forgiveness. Being consistent with Biblical truth on salvation, those who have been forgiven or justified from their sins through faith in Jesus are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). As such, it is only expected that they desire power over temptation and the enemy so that they can live holy lives in keeping with their new birth.

Thus, we can look at the prayer for forgiveness as both for justification and sanctification. Both, however, result in the same thing--holy living for God's glory.


As we pray together as a nation this afternoon, let us not forget to focus on God through Jesus. May our prayers be consistent with His desires. May we pray with the goal of lifting Him up more in our country and among our people.

Let us not be afraid to approach God with our physical needs. We have a lot for those affected by Typhoon Yolanda, the earthquake in Visayas and the war in Mindanao. However, let us also remember to ask God for forgiveness. Let us repent of our sins as a nation and turn back to Him in faith through Jesus.

Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life." But He does not stop there. He said, "No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)." We want as a nation to seek divine direction. The first step is to come to Jesus by grace through faith who is our only way to the Father.

May God bless us all!   

UP Diliman Boarding Houses

UPDATED: July 12, 2014

For those looking for boarding houses in the UP Diliman Area, please click one of the links below. Just wait for 5 seconds, then you can skip the ad to view the page. Thank you! :) This page will be updated regularly.


Journalism Resources

As promised, here are the Journalism resources for the staff of The Trailblazer and the students of Lyceum of Subic Bay. I had a wonderful time with all of you yesterday! God bless!

Powerpoint Presentation

1. Writing the News
2. Sports Writing

Journalism Resources

1. Associated Press Stylebook
2. Strunk&White The Elements of Style
3. Reuters Handbook of Journalism

To Download the File, Click on "File," then click "Download" or simply Ctrl+S.

You can add me up on Facebook Here.


This is a poem by John Dhaeyvid Laserna that speaks much about the struggles of humanity. It reminded me of my own struggles and my God who stood by me throughout. :)

I opened my eyes for the first time
And there I see a nail on my flesh.
It pierces my body,
And also my heart, and also my soul.

My day is accompanied with Pain
From this nail lodged on my flesh.
Six times I tried to remove it,
But seven times I failed.

Pain mocks me, and strikes his weight to my wound.
The nail goes deeper, as Pain grows stronger,
Until my screams fade away,
As the hammering sound deafens my echoing hurt.

So I pleaded to my Father to remove the nail
But He said it is with my flesh.
Nevertheless, I felt comfort
For His words salve the wound.

But I know at the end of my day,
Pain I will no longer feel
Because the night will come, and sleep will come.
And my Father will remove the nail from my flesh.
-JD Laserna

Pedring Onslaught

Here are photos of devastation in UP after typhoon Pedring hit Manila yesterday:

This tree's branches snapped and are hanging by the bark.

Here's another tree falling over a house in our neighborhood.

A tree uprooted and fell on my former dorm.

Praise God we were spared at home. But my heart goes out to everyone affected by the typhoon.

On Shamcey Supsup's Q&A

I'm not a fan of beauty pageants but this time around I find the Q&A portion of Miss Universe very interesting. I want to focus on the question given to Miss Philippines Shamcey Supsup and her answer.

Here is a transcript of the question from Vivica Fox and Shamcey's answer:

Vivica Fox: "Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love? Why and why not?"
Miss Philippines: "If I had to change my religious beliefs, I will not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God, who created me. And I have my faith, my principles, and this is what makes (stet) me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God too."

Shamsey gave a very brave answer, knowing that perhaps most of her judges belong to the liberal mindset of the West where a person's self-fulfillment takes precedence over anything, even over God.

It was a difficult question and no answer will please everyone in the crowd. This is generally true when we start talking about religion. But I affirm Shamcey because she moved from the man-made institution to focus on the heart of every faith-system, God.

And in her case, I have a feeling (this also comes from testimonies of Shamsey's friends and media interviews of people close to her) that the God she was referring to was the God of the Bible. It just saddens me that she may have yielded to ecumenical pressure by not specifying the God she was referring to.

Despite, this, however, I find her stand very bold as it spelled out her life's priorities. How many people can say to the world that God is number one in their life? Though it's difficult to gauge the veracity of Shamcey's answer, I think the fact that she dared to answer the way she did before an unbelieving world should be taken into account.

After all, she could have chosen to be inclusive by saying-- like the universalists --that all religions lead to the same God, so changing one's religion is a non-issue. But she did not choose this path, and instead,  stood on the exclusivity of her belief and faith, which she said defined who she was.

But I want to take this discussion further. I find it fitting to clarify that Biblical Christianity is not really about religion. This will sound cliche for believers but I'll say it nonetheless, "It's about relationship."

In a way, one's religious background doesn't really matter when he or she's confronted by Jesus' Gospel of grace. God will not ask, "What is your religion?" before deciding whether or not you enter heaven. Instead, He'll inquire in the book of life if you belong to those whose lives were surrendered by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Yes, there is truly exclusivity in the Christian faith, one that makes other belief systems cry out, "Legalism!" But when you try and study Biblical Christianity from the Scriptures firsthand, you will see that it is the most reasonable belief system.

It tells us that God, in His love and mercy, sent His one and only Son, the man-God Jesus, to fulfill what we cannot do on our own-- paying for our sins for our salvation. Upon His completion of this great task, a way was opened for everyone to have a personal relationship with God. This relationship is by grace through faith in Jesus alone, not by good works.

But faith is not just head knowledge, but a total surrender of the person's life, a turning away from sin through repentance and a yielding of the self to the One True God by faith.

I would have loved it if Shamcey was able to include these words in her answer. :)

Tres Marias

Behind the famous Oblation statue, down the expanse of the University of the Philippines amphitheater, and enclosed in blocks of stone stands a remembrance to the contribution of three women to Philippine History.

Draped in their midst is the country’s foremost symbol—stripes of blue and red, a white triangle, three stars and an eight-rayed sun—the Philippine flag, first known as the “sun and the stars flag.”

Raised in a high pedestal at the center of the Charter’s Donors Garden, Napoleon V. Abueva’s “Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag” immortalizes the making of the country’s emblem in stone, granite and marble. 

Sculpted in 1996, a year after the national artist’s retirement from the university and two years shy from the centenary of the Philippine Independence, the sculpture is Abueva’s rendition of Fernando Amorsolo’s painting, “The Making of the Philippine Flag.”

“Tres Marias,” as it is known among UP students, recognizes the talent, work and devotion of Marcela Agoncillo, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Natividad in hand-sewing and embroidering the first Philippine flag back in 1897.

The Agoncillos in Hongkong

Marcela’s husband, Don Felipe, a wealthy young judge and diplomat during the Spanish and American period sailed for Japan on April of 1895 after learning of the Spanish Government’s plans to exile him to Jolo. Don Felipe is a revolutionist who supported the cause for Philippine independence. This support incurred the ire of the Spanish government, calling him a “filibustero” and blacklisting him as a threat to peace and stability. After a short period, he moved to Hong Kong from Yokohama to join other Filipino revolutionary exiles.

During these time, Marcela was left in the Philippines to care for their daughters in Malate, Manila. After almost two years, however, they followed Don Felipe in Hong Kong where they rented a house in the Wan Chai district.

The Agoncillos’ home in Hong Kong became a refuge for Filipino exiles. The couple welcomed Filipinos in need, providing them with shelter and food until they have adjusted to life in the tiny British colony. Almost everyday they had to hide fleeing Filipinos who are threatened to death and torture by the Spanish government in the Philippines.

It was in that same house that the Agoncillos met Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo with over 40 revolutionists went into voluntary exile on Dec. 1897 after the signing of the “Truce of Biak-na-bato.”

The Filipino general, familiar of Marcel’s needle and thread skills, asked her to sew a flag for the Philippine republic based on the design he himself made. Having had good education in the all-girls Sta. Catalina College and being the first Filipina to graduate from Oxford University, Marcela accepted the challenge.

The Sewing of the Philippine Emblem

For five days, Marcela, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs.Natividad, Jose Rizal’s niece by her sister Lucia, worked on the flag. Marcela bought satin in Hong Kong and they used it for the Philippine emblem. They embroidered their work with gold thread, sewing the three stars on the corners of the white triangle and joining these with red and blue horizontal stripes.

From May 12 to 17, 1987, the three women unceasingly sewed by hand and machine to finish the Philippine flag. Marcela even wrote in her diary that they had to redo the sun after its rays were sewed in the wrong direction.

On the fifth day, Marcela personally delivered the item to Gen. Aguinaldo which was among the things he packed as he sailed back to Manila. On June, 1898, this same flag was unfurled in the balcony of the general's house declaring Philippine independence from Spain.


Tres Marias, Abuevas

Marcela and her two companions’ contribution had gone into history books and even into art forms. Amorsolo painted his vision of how the three women sewed the flag in Hong Kong. Abueva followed suit with his sculpture which now stands in UP between the amphitheater and the lagoon.

A plate with golden letters held the words “Abueva and Sons,” an acknowledgment of the passing on of talent from the master sculptor to his heirs. At the same time, the sculpture is a product of combined work of the Abuevas as the national artist’s age continues to limit his strength and endurance for the strenuous work that is sculpting.

Despite this, however, the combined effort in creating the work mirrored what the three women in Hong Kong did more than a hundred years ago to finish the Philippine National Flag—the same design that now banners the country’s independence.

The UP Singing Ambassadors @ 31

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It was the last song they had to sing in one of their choir competitions in 2008. After this, they would find out whether they won or not.

It was a foreign song for the all-Filipino choir from the University of the Philippines. But they had to sing it, because Oregek, composed by Hungarian artist Zoltán Kodály, is one of Hungary’s very own. Afterall, the UP Singing Ambassadors was performing in the country for the 23rd Bela Bartok International Choir Competition.

The ladies were in their stunning blue gowns, complementing the gentlemen’s dark-red tunics. Their conductor’s white barong tagalog stood out in the group as he moved across the room to face the choir.

His hands made fluid movements, and, at once, the soft but mystical voices of the ladies filled the hall. Then came a brief silence. He raised his right hand, and, in one gesture, signaled the men to join in the singing, adding a new dimension to the already beautiful sound.

They were singing in Hungarian and captivated their audience with the wonderful blend of their voices. The varying vocal ranges were dancing in the air. Like one complicated acrobatic stunt, the minutest of details was important, and every member of the choir was sensitive to the slightest change in their singing.

They sang in alternating fast and slow, loud and soft, powerful and subdued. And their audience held their breath the entire five-minute presentation. When the last note was sang, everyone burst in loud applause, at first disconcerted but slowly turned into synchronized clapping. People cheered as they made their final bow, and the clapping followed them long after they had exited the stage.

No one thought that a choir that started out as pastime for freshmen dormers at the Kalayaan Residence Hall would one day sing before foreign audiences all over the world. Back in 1975, when it was still called the Kalayaan Chorale Crowd (KCC), UPSA members only had their co-dormers to applaud them whenever they performed on special dorm events.

However, with the encouragement of the then dorm manager, Sister Angelina Bernardo, the budding chorale group flourished. And in the pivotal year 1980, KCC was finally renamed the University of the Philippines Singing Ambassadors.

On the 12th of August that year, members representing five batches of KCC, met to discuss the future of the group. Together with their Kuya Ed Manguiat, still the present-day conductor of UPSA, they discussed possible new names that could better represent the membership of the choir. By that time, several upperclassmen dormers were no longer residing in Kalai.

“Singing Ambassadors” was chosen among others because it captured a new vision for the group. It is no longer an exclusive choir for freshmen dormers, but a group of students bound by their passion for music, desiring to be “ambassadors of goodwill” through Filipino musical genius.

UPSA’s dedication to excellence in their craft slowly placed them in the map of the best chorale groups in the country. They rose to the ranks of fellow renowned choirs like the Philippines Madrigal Singers, the UP Concert Chorus, UST Singers, and Ateneo College Glee Club among others.

It was since recognized as UP’s “official performing group for choreographed choral music.” It is also the “resident choir” of the UP Diliman College of Arts and Letters, performing regularly in college-wide events like CAL’s graduation ceremonies and anniversary.

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But the horizons are wider for UPSA. It was destined to represent Filipino talent not only in the country but all over the world. Since 1992, it has not failed to bring pride to the Philippines with its numerous awards in various singing competitions.

In 2008, for example, UPSA brought home 12 awards from its two-month European tour in five countries, including Poland, Hungary, France, Wales and Switzeland. Of the twelve awards, they won two grand prizes, seven first prizes and three third prizes.

In all their victories, UPSA now has the distinction of being the only Asian choir to win the Grand Prize in the “Olympics” of choral singing in the 49th Guido d’Arrezo competition in Italy. It is also one of only four Filipino choirs to qualify in the European Gran Prix for Choral Singing.

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All these years UPSA has reaped several victories for UP and the country. But its activities go beyond singing competitions into communities for the elderly, the orphans, sick, handicapped, prisoners, Overseas Filipino Workers and public school students among others.

It has provided choral clinics and voice lessons for interested youth. At the same time, UPSA spearheaded several fund-raising events for their beneficiaries Tahanang Walang Hagdanan and Bahay Mapagmahal, San Lazaro Hospital and the Golden Acres, among others.

In its official website, UPSA wrote, “The group will continue to sing and dance not just for the sake of music but also for charity and lifelong friendship with the less fortunate ones.”

Now on its 31st year, the UP Singing Ambassadors will, no doubt, continue its tradition of molding young and aspiring singers with the highest vocal quality and soulful performance. And as it molds them to become the future artists of the country, the group also imparts indispensable lessons on discipline and professionalism which they can bring and use in their future careers.

After all the applauses faded and the audience sat back on their seats, it was time to reveal the judges’ decision. There was silence in the hall, broken only by jittery sounds from excited supporters. The words from the emcees came and went, and then the drum rolls. When the first prize was called, the name UP Singing Ambassadors filled the room. UPSA won in the Mixed Choir category where they sang Zoltán Kodály’s Oregek.

You are all invited to watch the opening of the UP Singing Ambassador’s 31st anniversary exhibit at the Faculty Center, UP Diliman. There will be an opening presentation on Sept. 13, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. 

For my friend and brother in faith.
"make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing"
Psalm 98:5


Though I live half-way around the world from New York, the 9/11 still sent ripples of fear throughout our country, especially because we also have a share of terrorism in Mindanao.

I was browsing through Youtube today and came  across this documentary about the 9/11 bombing. It is a conspiracy-type documentary but it gives fresh insight into what happened on that gloomy September morning. I'm sharing it with you. 

The Blind Side: My Summary and Insights

He never looked anyone in the eye unless he was compelled to-- a fearful and lonely child trapped in an overgrown teenage body. He never started conversations. When people talked to him, he muttered one-word answers. And on his face was a sad expression that never left. He wore it like a mask that refused to let him go. But all these were about to change.

"The Blind Side," based on the book, "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis, retells the story of American Football star, Michael Oher, who plays for Baltimore Ravens.

It is a heart-warming drama about one person's triumph over life's struggles, and an encouragement for people to do acts of kindness that go a long way.

As a child, Michael moved from one foster home to the next after being forcibly taken by social welfare from his mother at age seven. Before that, the place he considered home was that side of town where gangs, out-of-school youth, poor and homeless people call their own. It is that side of town nobody dares to explore in the dead of the night for fear of robbers and gangsters.

Michael's father was murdered in prison when he was in senior highschool. He never had the chance to know him because he had always been behind bars. His mother, he virtually lost to drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

He never performed well in school. In fact, he consistently received "D's," just enough to promote him year after year in public school. But in a stroke of fate, he was able to move to a private Christian institution at the urging of  an auto mechanic acquaintance, Tony Henderson.

Originally, only Tony's son intended to enroll at Briarcrest Christian School, but the football coach noticed Michael's potential and urged the board to give the child a chance. In a scene with the teachers and administrators of the school, Burt Cotton persuaded them, saying, ""We do not admit Michael Oher because of sports. We admit him because it is the right thing to do." This he said after challenging them to take the "Christian" in their school's motto seriously.

Michael was eventually accepted, but life at Briarcrest wasn't easy for the newcomer. He felt out of place. He neither talked nor participated in his classes. He was failing them all, and his teachers did not know what to do.

In one discarded essay, Michael even wrote:

"I look and I see white everywhere--white walls, white floors and a lot of white people. The teachers do not know I have no idea of everything they are talking about. I do not want to listen to anyone, especially the teachers.They are giving homeworks and expecting me to do the problems on my own. I have never done homework in my life. I go in the bathroom, look in the mirror and say, 'This is not Michael Oher.'"

This loneliness went on for sometime until he met the son of a former basketball star and a strong-willed interior designer, a boy named Sean Jr.

SJ's family is undeniably wealthy. His father, Sean Tuohy, used to play for the New Jersey Nets before becoming a sports commentator for NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. His mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, is an interior designer who was a cheerleader for the University of Mississippi. The family also owns over 80 franchises of leading fast food chains in America.

It was Leigh Anne who really had a soft spot for Michael ever since they saw him walking to the school gym where he could warm himself one frigid night. She could not turn a blind eye to the child, and instead, invited him to spend the night in their house.

That single incident eventually led to Michael's integration to the Tuohy family where, for the first time, he received the love and support he never had from his parents. The Tuohy couple eventually applied to become his legal guardian after slowly gaining the boy's trust.

From then on, Michael's life took a 180-degree turn. He learned to labor in his studies to qualify for the school's football team. When he finally met the grade requirements, Coach Cotton drafted him in. Though his gentle nature proved a limitation at first, they finally discovered how to harness his excessive "protective instincts" to make him one of the most promising football players of his time.

He eventually received several commendations like "Lineman of the Year," and "the #5 offensive lineman prospect in the country" among others.

After one of Michael's first ever official games, SJ sent out videos of his big brother's outstanding performance to several leading universities, including  the "University of Tennessee, Louisiana State University, the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the University of South Carolina." This caught their attention and Michael slowly received invitations to study in the said universities.

He eventually decided to enter his guardians' alma mater, the University of Mississippi, to play for the Ole Miss Rebels. His decision led to an NCAA investigation of possible collusion between the Tuohys and Ole Miss.

This strained Michael's relationship with Leigh Anne whom he accused, for the first time, of showing him kindness only to influence his decision to play at Ole Miss. He thought that was her tactic to help her alma mater's football team win in the NCAA.

After a brief confrontation, Michael ran away in search for his biological mother. He ended up in their old home with his old acquaintances. He was invited to spend the night in their den of alcohol and women, but Michael was offended by their indecent inquiries about his step sister. A commotion broke out, and his gangster friends found themselves flat on the floor after successive tackles of a world-class athlete.

Michael eventually calls Leigh Anne and the two had a heart-to-heart talk about the issue. In their conversation, Michael reveals brief portions of his dark childhood. He retold how his mother used to tell him to close his eyes everytime she did drugs or had a customer for the night.

Michael's own  words were, "When I was little and something awful was happening, my mom tells me to close my eyes. She was trying to keep me from seeing her do her job and all the other bad things. And when she was finished or when all the bad things are over, she'll say 'Now when I count to three, you open your eyes. The past is gone, the world is a good place and it's all go'nna be okay."

The two talked about his life a little more before Leigh Anne asked Michael if he really wanted to play football. She did this after realizing that she never really had the opportunity to hear his son's thoughts on the issue. She also assured him that he could choose the school and team if he wanted to play.

That mother-and-son conversation only confirmed Michael's desire to play for Ole Miss. He had a new reason to play there. He said, "Because it's where my family goes to school. It's where they've always been to school."

Finally, the sad mask falls off his face to reveal a long overdue smile. Michael found his place and his family. He was on his way to achieving his dreams. These may have not been possible if he was overlooked as another of society's failures.
Photo from
The greatest lesson this movie imparts for Christians is the challenge to examine one's faith. Here, I remember James 2 and the proper interaction of faith and works. Works can never save a soul, but they can prove the genuineness of faith.

If one claims to be a Christian but his life virtually goes against that claim, most probably, his faith in Jesus is hollow. But if he professes faith in Christ and his faith bears good deeds, even little ones, praise God for he is truly saved.

The moment Leigh Anne laid her eyes on Michael, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit told her that the right thing to do was to help him. Though her socialite friends viewed her acts of charity as only "white guilt," I know it was much more-- the prodding of God's Spirit.

She was right when she corrected a friend who said she was changing Michael's life with all the good things she was doing. "No," Leigh Anne said, "He's changing mine."

God really uses people to make us realize how we fair in our Christian walk. It will hurt a lot of times but we must be thankful because our Father prunes and molds us for we are His. In Leigh Anne's case, God made her see the need of so many people. That struck a chord in her heart, knowing that she had always enjoyed life's wealth.

That may be one great struggle for her. Thus, God sent a young man who never knew a loving family, who had no place to warm himself in a cold night, who had never slept on a bed, who had no parents, and who had virtually nothing to challenge her to practice her faith.

It may not be wealth for us. It may be time or relationships or talents. But whatever our greatest struggle is, be  sensitive to God's pruning and obey Him when he does. But if despite one's obvious self-centeredness no pruning or discipline comes, it's high time to heed the Apostle Paul's exhortation:

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)"

To God be all glory, honor and praise!

Confessions to a believer

I don’t know if this reply came too late for you. But before I begin to share my views on your article, “Confession of a Believer,” I put forward this proposition: One must learn to inquire into the very heart of a worldview before he can give a final verdict.

Simply put, before judging an idea as inferior to another, we must make sure that we’ve read or heard or seen the best available information about the idea under scrutiny. My purpose in writing, then, is to help you come to grips with Christianity by providing a different perspective from what you may have heard or understood.

I do not claim to know everything, but after reading through your article, I realized that the Christianity you are trying to scrutinize is not the Biblical Christianity true believers know and follow as recorded in the Scriptures. Perhaps without intending it, your article is in fact aligned with criticisms of what is called “Pop Christianity”—a watered-down version of the faith taught by Christ Himself.

This variation of Christianity is no Christianity at all because it reduces the concepts of God, salvation, faith, sin, repentance and humanity among others into an oversimplification that detaches them from their Biblical foundations. Sad to say, many supposed believers embrace this variation because it is more convenient for them.

No longer do they hear emphases on the hard truths of man’s depravity, God’s justice and holy anger, a constant dying to self and carrying of one’s cross, of persecution and sacrifice to bring the Good News of Christ to a dying world.

My Pansol Experience

Waiting in line

I noticed him looking at me from the corner of my eyes. He held a cane with his left hand as he sat alone on the foundation of one of the iron pillars of the covered court. His hair had turned gray with age, and his face was lined with wrinkles.

He seemed detached from the world around him. The noisy teens playing basketball and the sweltering environment did not affect him the least. He was still and quiet but had a piercing glance.

The first time I passed by Lolo Elias, I felt a tug in my heart. I had been scanning the area earlier for bystanders who might have the time to listen to the Gospel. So far I could not find the perfect person because everyone was on the move.

The teens were playing in the court. The mothers were busy chatting near the Sangguniang Kabataan Hall, waiting with their sons who enlisted in the free circumcision program of our church. “If only I could muster enough courage to share to a big group,” I thought to myself.

I tried sharing to the boys waiting in line but they were not in the mood to listen to spiritual talks. My guess is they are nervous of the operation.

This brought me to the covered court, looking for someone to talk to. I walked past Lolo Elias the first time as I went for a drink at Ate Linette’s house. When I came back, he was still there talking to no one and sitting as still as he was the first time I saw him.

This time, however, I could no longer resist the tug in my heart. As I approached Lolo Elias, I could feel the familiar pounding starting to grip my chest. I don’t deny that I’m afraid of witnessing to strangers, but when I feel like not doing it, I remember the Great Commission and how Jesus left us with the privilege to “go and make disciples of all nations…”

After uttering a shot prayer, I sat beside him and said, “Lolo, I’m giving away free reading materials from our church. Do you have time to read?”

“My eyes can no longer read,” he said, “In fact, my left eye has gone blind.”

“Do you have cataract lolo?” I inquired.

“No. This is not just cataract. The doctors said it’s caused by something else,” Lolo Elias added.

At this point, the Lord gave me an opening to share the Gospel. Because he might not be able to read the tract I was giving out, I offered to tell Lolo Elias the story of Jesus’ gift of salvation to which he agreed.

“Are you familiar with the story of Jesus?” I opened.

“I’m already old and  I’ve forgotten many things,” came Lolo Elias’ answer.

This took me aback because I had never personally met a person who didn’t know the story of Jesus.

“God came as a man in Jesus Christ to die as a sacrifice for our sins,” I continued, “Because all men are sinful, we are supposed to die as punishment for our sins. But in God’s grace and love, He took the punishment upon Himself, giving us the gift of eternal life instead.”

I paused and waited for any response. In my heart I’m not sure if Lolo Elias understood what I said. Aside from failing eyesight, he also could no longer hear well. After a minute or two of silence, I continued my explanation.

“Jesus is giving us the gift of salvation, of forgiveness of sins and cleansing for free. We receive it by putting our faith in Him.”

At this point, I’m not really sure if he heard what I said. I wanted to continue explaining but I felt that he would be able to understand the Gospel better if he could find time to read the tract I was giving him. I pulled a copy of the Gospel of John from my bag. I inserted the tract and gave it to Lolo Elias.

Lolo, if you have time, you can review what I said about Jesus in this tract. You can also ask your grandchildren to read this booklet for you. It’s the Gospel of John and it tells us the story of Jesus’ life,” I said.

I bid Lolo Elias farewell and in my heart I prayed that the Lord would supply what was lacking in what I shared. I wanted to be able to follow him up, and so I agreed to come in the post-circumcision check up next week, praying that God will give me the chance to meet Lolo Elias one more time.


That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)