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Finding Ourselves

“We travel initially to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.”

– Pico Iyer

It took 31 years for most of us to come home to Legazpi. We graduated in 1985, when our school was still called, “Science Oriented High School” of Aquinas University. We were less than a hundred as a batch; two classes only per year level. The idea of the Dominicans was to form students in the ‘sciences’ – not just in the hard sciences as Biology, Chemistry or Physics.

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According to Fr. Orlando Aceron OP, our beloved principal, we were also to be educated in the ‘other sciences’ as Logic and Philosophy. We were just two classes, indeed an experiment, with college professors as members of the faculty.

Photo: Our beloved principal, Fr. Orlando Aceron OP.

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After graduation, we all dispersed. Most have traveled far from our home base. Some have explored other possibilities and professions. Some have discovered their true vocations.

Here is a photo of Fr. Ricky Bermas and Fr. Orlando Aceron OP. Our batch also produced a dominican, Fr. Stephen Redillas OP, but he was in Australia.

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Pico Iyer has a sense: it has been true to many of us that we “lost ourselves” first. And the process of “losing ourselves” was necessary to arrive at who we are today. Like young saplings, we have to branch out in great abandon, often reckless and experimental.

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I remembered the day I left home for college. I was both sad and excited on the new adventure ahead of me. The freedom that goodbyes bring initially has “loosened up” many of adolescent issues and hang-ups, but that “scattering” will soon find its own shape, that is, a re-fashioning that is uniquely ours as we age and mature.

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The return then is a rediscovery of our roots. We have revisited Aquinas University, our old school, appreciating both its oldness and its newness.

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We toured some spots in Albay like the new Kawa-Kawa in Ligao City, and the old Mayon Resthouse, now called the Mayon Skyline. And we have appreciated many new things to explore.

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Here are the two sights we visited.

  1. Kawa-Kawa, Ligao, Albay.

People visit Kawa-Kawa for two reasons. Kawa-Kawa is named after the recessed area on the plateau of the hill in Ligao, Albay. Kawa is the Bicol word for the cooking implement called the “wok.” Kawa-Kawa means like a wok. This area also reminds me of the University of the Philippines’ Sunken Garden in Diliman, Quezon City, except that Kawa-Kawa is scenic, it is on a mountain overlooking the valley with Mayon Volcano on the horizon.

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People go to Kawa-Kawa for two reasons: one is religious; the other is leisure. One can do the Stations of the Cross to the top and around the “wok” area. This makes the nature park a haven for devotees especially during the Holy Week. A Catholic church dedicated to the Divine Mercy is being constructed at its base.

 

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And for many, especially young people who boisterously climb with great laughter, they just enjoy the nature park.

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On the base of the Kawa is a sunflower garden.

 

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For solo backpackers:

From Legazpi City, you can take jeepneys plying the northern route to Polangui, Albay. Request the driver to drop you off at the junction to Kawa-Kawa in Ligao City. From there, tricycles can bring you to your destination.

  1. Mayon Skyline.

Although this is to me a major disappointment, it is still worth going if you want to see half of the Province of Albay. It is a disappointment because the area is unkempt; mounds of garbage are within view. The planetarium has been abandoned, and certain areas need to be renovated. The government should put this on their priority list, not just to boost tourism, but to care for the environment as well. So I would suggest this the least of the places to visit.

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I think it would be best to rent a van from the hotel you are billeted. If you have a van, it can take you to Kawa-Kawa and other places since you are renting them for a day.

***

This a group photo of Batch 1985 of Science Oriented High School, Aquinas University, after 31 years.

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The Islands of Gigantes Live Up To Its Name

It was a trip devoid of a single regret.

I heard about the group of islands across the town of Estancia in Iloilo from Bok Pioquid, a faculty member of the Ateneo High School’s Christian Service Involvement Program. He and his wife would go on a “couple” backpacking tour every now and then. Until today, their unwavering passion is exploring the Philippines. They have gone to many places, and they travel on the cheap — and this is what I love about their stories. You can go on an adventure without breaking the bank.

I told Bok about Fr. Ruben Orbeta SJ’s invitation for me to help out at Sta. Maria Parish in Iloilo City for the Holy Week. I would fly in on Palm Sunday and fly out on Easter Sunday. My work was to give a recollection talk for an hour each day of the Triduum and hear confessions on Good Friday. So I had three days free: Holy Monday to Wednesday. Bok suggested the Gigantes trip because I was already there. He gave me the number of Ms. Rolin Barba (0929-3949708) of Paon Beach Club Inc,*** and off I went.

GigantesJboySJ I took the Ceres Bus to Estancia from the Jaro Terminal on a very humid Monday. It took around 2 hours to the town. From Panian Crossing, I took a tricycle to Paon. GigantesJboySJ

I woke up early the next morning for the boat ride to Gigantes Islands. It was a 2-hour trip to the islands. I learned that Gigantes did not belong to the Municipality of Estancia, but the town of Carles. So if you prefer to take off from Carles, it would be an hour to the islands.

Rey Ambito, our guide,** said that the group of islands was named after an ancient skeleton, discovered in one of the isles. The height of the human bones was taller than many natives, hence, a higante, a giant. I also heard you could go caving if you preferred that adventure, but the caves were in Gigantes del Norte. Unfortunately, I explored only Gigantes del Sur where many islands with white sand beaches were, and whose views were “Instagramable” and picturesque.

Below are great reasons why you should visit the islands. Believe me, I was in awe all the time I was there! It was indeed a gigantic experience!

  1. Cabugao Gamay Island

From a vantage point is the iconic view of the whole island. The famous photos of Gigantes are taken from here (see featured photo above). Below is the eastern side of the island. The sun was rising when I took this photo.

 

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    1. Bantigue Island’s white sand bar.

It is a long island, but the tip of the island is perfect for a photo shoot. From a certain point, you have many islands as your backdrop. But do take a dip. The water is pure and perfect as you can see.

 

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    1. Antonia Island’s beach.

This is the usual stop-over for lunch. Fishermen would sell scallops and wasay-wasay shellfish. You can’t imagine how cheap the scallops are: Php 1.00/per piece. When I was there, Rey and I feasted on a hundred pieces with spiced native vinegar and lots of rice. Rolin made sure that I would bring more than enough cooked rice, water and vinegar. I was so grateful for her thoughtfulness.

 

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    1. Cabugao Dako Island’s rock formation.

The rock formation is like the backdrop from the movie, “The Lord of the Rings.” Simply, the rocks are surreal. Let the photos speak for the islands.

 

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    1. Tangke Island’s Lagoon.

The boats will dock at a certain opening between towering rocks. These high-rise rocks protect a beautiful sanctuary of a white sand lagoon where you can swim. But be sure to be there before 2 PM: the water begins to drain during low tide.

 

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    1. Cheap seafood.

In Punot Restaurant and Grill in Estancia, I ordered a bowl of Imbao (shellfish) Sinigang (sour soup) and grilled squid. I loved imbao; the flavor just bursted in my mouth. I thought the servings were just enough for me. I was surprised that the servings were good for four. Each order was just Php 100.00. (Shout out to Engr. Carlito Centeno for my dinners!)

 

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  1. Estancia’s Dried Fish.

The town of Estancia is famous for its dried fishes. I tell you, your trip will never be complete without a sampling of their dried fish especially for breakfast. Paon serves them.

 

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***

 

You might wonder why I write about these trips. Going out from my usual work in school enriches me. The world is far greater and bigger than Ateneo. And this is what I like to do: go and explore the richness of the very home God has given me.

When you get to see how beautiful this world is, this home of ours, then you will do everything to protect it. You will become a real steward of creation, just as God has appointed us to become. This is the premise of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. The encyclical’s dream is for every single human person to be at home in the very planet we live in.

In a few months, I will bring my students to Iloilo. Last November 2015, I explored Iloilo accompanied by Bok and some parents. We saw what this province could offer us: a pilgrimage of churches, a food trip, an ecological adventure and a cultural experience.

We hope that our students will truly love our country because they have seen how beautiful the Philippines is. We also have a greater hope: that they would be angry enough to act when unscrupulous people would dare corrupt its beauty.

Just like falling in love, you will always protect that which matters to you — or whom you deeply care about.

 

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Some notes:

*We call these visits to Jesuit schools, “Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimages” instead of the usual “field trips” because there is a spiritual angle to the tour. We do an “ecological examen” and end our day with a mass. And as part of Ignatian prayer, we ask God the specific grace to “Find Him In All Things” — in creation, in the people we encounter, in the experience. This program is part of the Jesuit Youth Ministry of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus.

It also includes an interaction with students from the place where we visit. This August 2016, the Iloilo Pilgrimage will include an interaction between students, parents and faculty of Ateneo de Iloilo to share our common experiences of being in a Jesuit school. In other words, the program is always in partnership with other Jesuit schools, and one of our goals is the appreciation of our common Ignatian spirituality.

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** To the left of this photo is Rey Ambito, waiter and tour guide of Paon Beach Club. He accompanied me on the boat to the islands. I highly recommend him because he is both knowledgeable and trustworthy. You can call or text him at 0930-5859104. If you can’t reach him, Rolin can help you find your guides.

 

*** Call Paon Beach Club Inc. at (033) 397-0444 or 0929-394-9708. And oh, you can also enjoy this sunset from Estancia.

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Ang Halaga ng Kandidatong May Tunay Na Pakialam sa Komunidad

Kapag naririnig ninyo ang salitang, “komunidad” o “sambahayanan,” ano ang sumasagi sa iyong isip? Marahil tinutukoy natin ang pagkakaisa ng bawat miyembro ng komunidad; maaari ding isipin ang isang mas malawakang pamilya sa ilalim ng iisang bahay. Ito din ang nasasaisip ni Hesus nang banggitin niya ang Espiritu Santo.

Ang sambayanan ay ang kapatiran ng mga nakakikilala kay Jesus sa pamamagitan ng Espiritu Santo.

Mahalaga ang salitang “komunidad” o “sambahayan” sa darating na eleksiyon. Sino sa mga kandidato ang maaaring magbigay daan sa tunay na pagkakaisa at pagkakapatiran na labis na kailangan sa kaunlaran ng buong bansa? Sino sa kanila ang maaaring tipunin ang lahat ng pinuno ng bansa, upang sama-samang solusyunan ang mga isyu ng ating lipunan? At dahil dito, sino sa kanila ang may tugon sa mga isyu ng sambahayang Pilipino saka-sakaling sila ang mapupunta sa luklukan ng lingkod-bayan?

Samakatuwid, bilang iisang bayang Pilipino, huwag tayong magpapadala sa anumang siraang nagaganap. Kundi ibaling natin ang ating pagdedesisyon hindi sa personalidad ng mga kandidato, kundi sa kanilang tugon sa tunay na isyung pambayan.

Manalangin tayo.

O Dios na makapangyarihan, tanggapin mo ang aming mga panalangin at alay ng sarili para sa isang mapayapa, malinis at makatotohanang eleksiyon. Kami sana’y maging saksi ng Muling Pagkabuhay ng Panginoong Hesus sa aming isip at damdamin. Amen.

Bok Pioquid to the Pine Forest. PHoto: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Alagaan Ang Sangnilikha

Kape't PandasalTag-init o tag-araw, nais nating gumala nang gumala, kasama ang pamilya o kaya ang barkada. May iba namang gustong diskubrehin ang Pilipinas nang mag-isa o tinatawag nilang solo backpacking. Hindi kailangan mahal ang pinupuntahan, may mga kalikasang libre at walang bayad. May umaakyat ng bundok, may nagkakagustong sisirin ang dagat. Sa anumang gawaing masaya, meron tayong dapat tandaan.

Iwasan sana nating mag-iwan ng tanda maliban na lamang sa mga litratong alaala ng pagbisita.

Anong ibig kong sabihin? Mga mga naba-vandalize, sinusulatan ng “I was here” o kaya nag-iiwan ng basura sa paligid. Kapag sinisira natin ang kagandahan ng kapaligiran, hindi natin binibigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga kabataang magustuhan rin ang mga tanawin. Iniwan natin sa kanila ang pangit at dumi, kaysa ang kagandahan ng sangnilikha.

Kasama sa mga nagmamakaawang pakinggan ang mga dalubhasa sa climate change, sa pagaalaga ng kapaligiran, at higit sa lahat, kay Pope Francis na sumulat ng Laudato Si, inaanyayahan tayong pahalagahan at palaguin ang kalikasan nagbibigay ng saya sa ating lahat.

Manalangin tayo:

“O Dios tinatanglawan mo ng iyong katotohanan ang mga naliligaw upang manumbalik sa landas ng kaligtasan. Itulot mong ang lahat ng may pananampalatayang Cristiano ay mabuhay nang nararapat sa ganitong taguri at iwasan ang di nababagay bilang mga anak ng Diyos. Alang-alang kay Kristo. Amen.”

Mist from Tumalog Falls. Oslob, Cebu. 23 August 2015 Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Saan Ka Magbabakasyon?

Kape't PandasalKasama sa panibagong hangad sa Jubileo ng Habag at Malasakit ang pagbabalik-loob sa tamang ugnayan natin sa kalikasan. Sa unang libro ng biblia, sinabi ng Diyos sa Genesis na ang tungkulin ng tao ay alagaan ang kalikasan. Kaya kasama sa pagbabagong isip at ugali nating mga Kristiyano ang pagpapahalaga sa ating mundo bilang bahay ng sansinukob.

Paano ba nating mamahalin ang kalikasan? Nagsisimula ang pag-ibig sa karanasan ng kagandahan.

Naakit ka sa kanya unang-una, bago tuluyan mo siyang niligawan. Ganito rin ang ukol sa kalikasan: kailangan muna nating ma-in-love sa kapaligiran, at sa gayon, bubusilak sa ating puso ang lakas upang ipaglaban ang sinumang sumisira nito. Sa panahon ng tag-init, maaari nating dalawin ang mga magagandang tanawin ng ating bayan.

Kung madiskubre natin ang mga likha ng Panginoon na ubod ng ganda, mas madali nating mahalin ang kalikasan. Ang kagandahan ng mga likha ng Diyos ay sumasalamin sa naglikha nito.

Manalangin tayo:

“O Ama, magalak sanang lagi ang iyong bayang taglay ang panibagong isip at damdamin. Yayamang inampon mo kami at kinupkop, loobin mong matamo namin ang buhay na walang hanggan. Alang- alang sa Anak mo, si Jesucristong Panginoon namin, nabubuhay at naghahari magpasawalang-hanggan. Amen.”

Photo: Red Rafts

May Apoy Ka Bang Tulad ng Atleta o Musikero?

Kape't PandasalAng panahon ng tag-araw o summer ay panahon din nating bigyang-pansin ang ating mga hilig sa buhay. May mga gustong matutong lumangoy, sumayaw, magsulat, magluto atpb.

Kadalasan, isinasantabi natin ito dahil binibigyan natin ng puwang ang mga araling pang-akademiko. Dahil tapos na ang semestre at nagsimula na ang bakasyon, maaari natin habulin ang nagbibigay sigla sa atin.

Ngunit may mga hilig na sadyang hindi natin napag-iiwanan. Hindi tayo pumapayag hanggang maging perpekto ang anumang gusto natin makamtan. Hindi tumitigil sa pag-eensayo ang mga sumasayaw ng hip-hop hangga’t sabay-sabay na silang gumalaw. Hindi tumitigil ang isang musikero hangga’t di niya nakukuha ang kanyang matagal na niyang pina-praktis. May parang gasulinang taglay ang tunay na atleta, musikero, mananayaw na nagbibigay apoy sa anumang gusto nilang gawin.

Ganito din sana tayong mga Kristiyano. May apoy ba tayo upang matutunang mabuti ang ating pananampalataya? May gasulina ba tayo na nagpapatindi sa ating hangaring isabuhay ang pagpapakabuti?

Hihilingin natin ito sa panalangin:

“O Dios na makapangyarihan at walang hanggan, lingapin mo nang buong giliw ang bayang pinagkalooban mo ng bagong buhay. Bahaginan mo kami ng hilig sa pagpapakabuti at pagpapakabanal, sa kaluwalhatian ng Muling Pagkabuhay ni Kristong Panginoon namin. Amen.”

PHoto: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Huwag Maniwalang Wala Kang Kakayahan

Kape't PandasalMayroon ka bang pangarap para sa iyong sarili, ngunit nagdududa ka kung maaabot mo o makakayang isakatuparan ito? O mas mainam kung ang pangarap mo ay maging inspirasyon sa iba.

Maraming mga atleta o kaya’y mga artista sa iba’t ibang larangan ng sining ang dumating sa punto ng buhay kung saan pinanghihinaan sila ng loob. Kadalasan nangagaling ang panghihina ng loob sa mga sinasabi ng iba’t ibang tao sa kanila.

Ngunit ang Easter o muling pagkabuhay ni Kristo ang nagtuturo na huwag magpapatalo sa anumang balakid, dahil ano man ang hirap mo, aabot din iyan sa kaluwalhatian.

Huwag kakalimutan ito: Hindi dapat tayo maniniwala sa mga taong nagsasabi sa atin na wala tayong kakayahan; that we do not have talent. Lahat tayo may kakayahang gagamitin ng Dios upang abutin ang ating pangarap.

Huwag sana tayong patatalo bago pa man ang laban ng buhay. Dahil minsan, umaatras tayo kung kelan isang hakbang na lamang ang kakailanganin upang magtagumpay.

Manalangin tayo:

“O Dios, binabahaginan mo ang iyong bayan ng mga bunga ng katubusang ginawa ng iyong anak. Nawa’y kupkupin mong lagi ang mga iniligtas mo. Tulungan mo kaming makaiwas sa kasalanan upang ang aming buhay ay maging palaging handog sa iyo. Magalak sana kami sa muling pagkabuhay ni Kristo. Amen.”

A child dives at the Cambugahay Falls, Lazi, Siquijor. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ 14 April 2015

Naranasan Mo Na Ba ang Kaligtasan?

Kape't PandasalHappy Easter po! Maligayang Paskuwa ng Pagkabuhay!

Naranasan mo na ba ang kaligtasan sa iba’t ibang pagkakataon? Nakakuha ka ng mataas na marka, matapos dumanak ang pawis sa pag-aaral; O nagkaroon ka ng trabaho, pagkatapos ang mahabang paghihintay; O nakaahon ka sa kahirapan; O gumaling ka sa malubhang sakit. Sa lahat ng ating karanasan ng ating mumunting “muling pagkabuhay” (or our little Easters), nagkakaroon tayo ng panibagong-buhay at pag-asa. Ito ang mensahe ng Muling Pagkabuhay ni Hesus.

Sa kabila ng ating kasalanan, nahabag ang Diyos sa atin, kaya pinagkaloob Niya ang pagkakataong harapin ng mapayapa ang bukas.

Sa araw na ito, punuin natin ang ating sarili ng positibong diwa at saya dahil ang Diyos ay laging kasama natin, buhay na buhay.

Kaya nararanasan natin ang kanyang presensya sa ating pang-araw-araw na buhay, sa ating mga ugnayan, sa kagandahan ng ating paligid, at kung tayo ay laging “inspired” – dito at sa iba ang bagay nagpaparamdam ang Diyos sa atin.

Manalangin tayo:

O Dios, binuksan mo sa araw na ito ang mga pintuan ng buhay na walang hanggan sa pagtatagumpay ng iyong Anak sa kamatayan. Loobin mong magbagong buhay kami sa tulong ng Espiritu Santo at sa bisa ng Muling Pagkabuhay ng Panginoon, alang-alang sa Anak mo, si Jesukristong Panginoon namin, Amen.

A man prays to the Sto. Nino de Cebu at the St. Catherine the Great Cathedral, Dumaguete City. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Gugulin ang Mahal na mga Araw sa Pagbabalik-loob sa Diyos

Kape't PandasalNandito na po tayo kapamilya sa pinaka-banal na linggo ng taon. Kahapon ang pagpasok ni Hesus sa Jerusalem, ang pagtatag niya ng Bagong Tipan, at ang kanyang pagdurusa’t kamatayan. Sa likuran ng mga taong nagsisigaw sa madugong pangyayaring ito sa buhay ni Hesus ay ang kapangyarihan ng kasamaan. Nguni’t pinakitang ginamit ng Diyos ang mismong pangyayaring ito sa kapakanan ng kaligtasan nating lahat.

Paano? Masunuring tinanggap ni Jesus ang kalis ng pagdurusa at buong pananalig niyang ipinaubaya ang lahat sa kamay ng kanyang Ama, sa gayon baguhin sa mabuti ang masamang kapalaran ng sangkatauhan.

Dito tayo matututong tumugon sa ating paguusig at paghihirap hanggang sa kamatayan: Ang bawat Kristiyano ay kailangang pagtiwalaan ang pag-ibig ng Diyos at damhin ang alalay ng Diyos sa pananalangin. Sa ating mga pagdadalamhati, sinasabayan tayo ng Diyos.

Mga kapamilya, gugulin natin ang linggong ito para sa Diyos, sa pamamagitan ng panalangin at pagninilay, sa pagbabalik-loob sa Diyos at pagbabagong-buhay.

Manalangin tayo:

Isinasamo namin, O Diyos na makapangyarihan, na kaming nagkukulang sa iyo, dala ng aming kahinaan, ay lumakas sana dahil sa mahal na pasion ng iyong Bugtong na anak. Amen.

Follow IG @jboygonzalessj

Maging Tulad ng Habag ng Diyos

Kape't PandasalAng nagbibigay-katangian sa ating sambahayan ay ang karanasan ng pinatawad at binigyan ng bagong buhay. Ang awa ng Diyos sa ating mga makasalanan ang siyang pinagmumulan ng ating buhay. Sa labas man ng ating bahay-dalanginan, sa pang-araw-araw na pamumuhay ay nararapat na nabubuhay tayo’t isinasabuhay ang awa ng Diyos sa pasasalamat at kababaan ng loob.

Sa taong ito ng Jubileo, hinihikayat na magpakita na habag na kasing tulad ni Kristong may malasakit sa atin. Ano ang maaari nating gawin? Maaari nating sundin ang 7 Corporal Works of Mercy na matatagpuan kay sa San Mateo: pakainin at painumin ang nagugutom, bigyan ng tirahan ang walang matuluyan, damitan ang walang maisuot, bisitahin ang maysakit at bilanggo, makiramay sa namatayan. Maari mo pang dagdagan ang mga halimbawang ito.

Mga kapamilya, sa ating paggawa ng mabuti sa kapwa, pinaparamdam natin ang habag ng Diyos. Manalangin tayo:

O Dios, pinag-isa mo ng isip at damdamin ang mga tapat sa Iyo. Nawa’y ibigin ng iyong bayan ang pinag-utos mo at nasain ang iyong pangako, upang sa iba’t ibang gawain sa buhay na ito ay laging hanapin ang tunay na kaligayahan. Alang-alang kay Kristo at ng Espiritu Santo. Amen.