Monday, December 28, 2009

Funeral of Fr. Abdon Josol,CSsR

The funeral mass of Fr. Abdon Josol was celebrated at the Redemptorist Church in Cebu at 9:00 this morning. Redemptorists from various communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao came to attend. Fr. Abdon's sister, relatives and friends also came.

Redemptorist priests and brothers carrying the coffin to the Redemptorist Church

prayer of reception at the church door (Fr. Ben Ma - provincial superior)

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal presided the funeral mass, with 2 Redemptorists bishops
(Bishop Irineo Amantillo and Bishop Manny Cabajar)

Fr. Picardal (that's me) preaching the funeral homily

blessing the coffin (Fr. Willy Jesena)

funeral procession to Careta Public Cemetery

Final commendation at the burial site (Fr. Ramon Fruto)

This is the text of the homily that I preached:

“Do not go gentle into the good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I used to believe that Dylan Thomas’ poem
which he wrote for his father dying of cancer
aptly described Abdon’s last few months
Many of us had the impression
that he spent his last four months engaged in a battle against cancer.
He appeared to us like a warrior heroically fighting the dreaded disease until his last breath.

When I came to Cebu on the last week of October,
a confrere asked me what brought me here.
I told him that I came to visit Abdon
and to help prepare him for death.
He wished me good luck.
He thought it was a mission impossible.
I had heard confreres telling me
that it was a subject no one would dare talk to him about,
that he was an impatient patient who would scold the nurses, attendants and doctors,
and that he was in a state of denial –
that he couldn’t accept that fact that he was going to die,
that he couldn’t let go.

After several heart-to-heart talks with Abdon,
I learned what was really inside his mind and heart.
One of the questions I asked him was:
“Abdon, are you ready to die?”
He said: Yes, I am ready to die any time.
I really want to live longer, there is still much to be done,
but if it God’s will that I go then I accept it.”

As I listened to Abdon, I came to realize a number of things.
It was not that Abdon was afraid of death,
or that he was in denial.
Abdon loved life and above all
he loved the congregation –
there were still so many things he wanted to continue doing.

Let us bear in mind that Abdon was one of the first Filipinos who joined the congregation some years after the end of World War II
He was the first Filipino local superior – in Tacloban

He was the first Filipino vice-Provincial and provided leadership during the early years of the martial law period.
He courageously guided the congregation as it took a more prophetic stance vis-à-vis the dictatorial regime.
After his term, he went for further studies and came back with a doctorate.
He started the SAT.
He was once again at the helm when was elected as the first provincial superior of the new province.

Even as he became a senior citizen,
the thought of retiring never entered his mind
He remained active, especially in building up the SATMI
and in his scholarship programs for poor.
He expected to live long enough to fulfill his dreams and plans.
It was therefore understandable that he was not yet ready to leave this world.

Abdon started with a combative stance.
He saw cancer as an aggressive invader.
He was determined to fight it out, to engage in battle
using all means necessary – chemical warfare, laser therapy, etc.
He found it difficult to admit weakness, vulnerability and dependence on others.
He went through his dark night –
angry at everyone, including God.

But he went through a process of transformation.
His attitude towards his sickness changed.
It was no longer a battle but a journey, an inner journey.
He began to look at his painful illness as an occasion of grace
and he fully accepted the reality of death.

Why grace?
Because the illness made him more aware of the divine presence – a presence that was sanctifying, redeeming, healing.
The healing that was taking place was an inner healing, that led to inner peace.
This enabled him to accept the excruciating pain without cursing those who were taking care of him.
It was grace because he experienced what it really meant to be loved and cared for by his family, confreres and friends

It wasn’t just his confrere and friends who came to visit him
our parish office staff, librarians, kitchen staff, labandera and some parishioners made the journey to Cebu to see him.
He was given time to say the words that were unsaid,
and hear the words that had nor heard before.
He was fully prepared to meet death finally came not as a thief in the night
but an expected friend that would lead him to life – eternal life.

Abdon did not lose the battle against cancer – for it was not a war. His death is not a defeat.
Rather, it has been a journey towards inner healing, and peace –
an experience of grace.
He has remained faithful to the vows he made – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, even until his last breath.
And as he go on his way ahead of us to the home of our heavenly father,
and as he claim the crown promised by Alphonsus
we say goodbye to him in the language that he loved:
Arrivederci, Abdon – until we see each other again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Celebrating the Joy of Christmas amidst Grief

Christmas eve community reconciliation service & renewal of vows

Christmas vigil mass

Christmas party

not physically present - Fr. Abdon Josol, CSsR (r.i.p.)
We are celebrating the joy of Christmas while our hearts are filled with grief over the death of a member of our community - Fr. Abdon. He died of cancer in Cebu five days ago. This is the first time that we celebrate Christmas without him. He went to Cebu for a check-up four months ago and he was not able to come home since he was confined at the Perpetual Succour Hospital. His body lies in state at the Redemptorist Church. The funeral mass and burial will be at 9:00 am on December 28, 2009. Cardinal Vidal will be the principal celebrant and I have been asked to give the homily. We will be flying to Cebu this Sunday.
We had our community Christmas party this evening. We placed Fr. Abdon's picture on the top of the refrigerator, together with flowers, candles, a plate with some food (ham, turkey, lechon) and a glass of red wine. This expresses our belief that death has not separated him from us. After the meal, program and exchanging gift, we all faced the picture, holding our wine-glasses and singing the traditional Redemptorist hymn: "Vivat in eternum."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sustainable Ultra-Long Distance Running (training for Trans-Mindanao Run and the Camino de Santiago)

Crossing over to Samal Island

Coastal Road to Penaplata

Run-walking with 18-lb backpack

wild camping in Dasag

I've been on a back-to-back runabout - run-walking for seven hours yesterday and five hours today. I started late yesterday because I had to say the 4:30 am Misa de Gallo. I carried a back-pack weighing 18 lbs - with water, clothes, sleeping bag, tent, some food. I used the Galloway method of interval running - run 3 min/walk 2 min interval. I actually enjoyed the running section than the walking. I still have to get used to long-distance walking. Last week, I walked for almost seven hours and I had blisters for the first time- I don't get blisters even if I run for 7-8 hours.I think my body has gotten used to running. I don't get a "walker's high" only a "runner's high" (it is running that releases the endorphins into the bloodstream). What I enjoy most is running up and down the mountains. I forget about the time, I become one with nature, and I feel God's presence. There is no loneliness for the long-distance runner - just the joy and ecstasy. It is indeed addictive -- that's why I want to do it over and over again.
This is the first time I ran-walked ultra-distances back-to-back two days in a row. I didn't feel any exhaustion nor was there any muscle-pain or soreness. The recovery was quick. I think the slow, easy running mixed with regular walking breaks made it possible. A low intensity run mixed with brisk-walking is the formula for a sustainable ultra-distance run. This will my strategy for running across Mindanao this March and across Northern Spain this June-July. The human body is not designed for fast-continuous running over long distances - it will eventually break down if there are no rest-recovery walks.
Last night, I camped on the beach. This is something that I love doing. I intend to do some wild-camping when I do the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. I would prefer to do it in Albergues/Refugios that have some ground or backyard where I can pitch my tent or in nearby church grounds. This is what I enjoyed most when I was walking from Rome to Assisi in 1994- I slept under the stars and in the porches of churches.
I know that the tent will make the pack heavier but today, I was able to prove that I can easily run with an 18-lb load. With a slight lean forward and bent knees (following the chi-running method), I felt my load pushing me forward. It was actually easier running than walking with a heavy pack (I could feel the pack pushing me downward during walking breaks). It's all about gravity.
Tomorrow, I will take it easy and do a 2-hour Christmas run the following day. I have to be back for the Christmas day mass at 10:30 am.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Misa de Gallo (Davao)

At 4:30 this morning I presided at the Misa de Gallo - the 4th day of the nine dawn masses before Christmas. The church which can accomodate a thousand people was full and many had to stand at the back, the side of the church and even the car park.

After the mass, the church-goers had "puto-bombong" and chocolate drink

With some parish youth leaders. More than 50% of those who attend the Misa de Gallo are young people.
Liturgically, we are still in the advent season, yet the spirit of Christmas is already here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final Profession and Ordination to the Diaconate

This morning, a Filipino Redemptorist theology student (Shaun) made his final profession as a Redemptorist and then he was also ordained deacon together with 5 Indonesian Redemptorist theology students.

The newly ordained deacons with Bishop Ireneo Amantillo, Fr. Ben Ma (provincial superior), Fr. Cruz Manding (prefect) and othe Redemptorists.

Following the mass, Fr. Brendan Kelly, the superior of the Davao Redemptorist community and director of the St. Alphonsus' Theological and Mission Institute welcomed the guest for lunch and program.

During lunch, the Redemptorist seminarians entertained the guests. I also performed my one man band, playing the following songs: (Today, Blowing in the Wind, O When the Saints go Marching In, and Jingle Bells.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ultramarathon Training - Six Hours Runabout

One month after running the Philippine International Marathon for the Pasig River, I have resumed serious training. This morning I went on a "runabout" which started at seven and finished at one in the afternoon - 6 hours of running/walking up and down the mountains of Langub and Magtuod. I carried a backpack which contained water bladder, extra clothes and running apparel, towel, jacket, ultra-mobile personal computer, and 3 bars of chocolate - it weighed 13 pounds. This is what I will be carrying when I do the solo-unsupported Trans-Mindanao ultra-run this March. I didn't have any breakfast or lunch (except the fluids and the chocolate), yet I didn't feel hungry or exhausted running in the mountains with the unbeable heat. The short walking breaks made it easy to run six hours. This will be the method I will be using when I run an average of 50 km a day for eight days from Iligan to Davao across the mountains of Bukidnon and Davao this March.
Tomorrow, I will wake up early and walk for a couple of hours. Then I will do a three-hour run on Thursday. I hope that during the Christmas break, which starts next week, I can do longer back-to-back "runabout" lasting 8-10 hours. I only have 3 months of training before the Trans-Mindanao ultra-run.

After finishing my marathon comeback, I asked myself what next? I know that I can run a faster marathon someday or I can run longer distances - the ultra-marathon. As I get older, I know I will slow down, but I can improve my endurance. But I do not want to compete in ultra-marathon races, I just want to do solo-unsupported ultra-runs that could last for days. So the idea of the Trans-Mindanao Ultra run became more exciting. But will just be the beginning. This week, while making plans for my Sabbatical, I have been thinking of doing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela after my Spirituality Course in Rome in June. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage on foot which starts in St. John Pied de Port in France, crossing the Pyrenees mountains and traversing Northern Spain up to the tomb of St. James in Compostela. It is an 800 km journey which takes 30-35 days of walking. But instead of walking, I would like to run-walk it in 20 days, averaging 40 km a day. So I will be the running-pilgrim instead of the walking pilgrim.

So 2010, will be a year of ultra-running for me. Trans-Mindanao in March, Camino de Santiago in July. If everything goes well, I might even do a solo-unsupported run/walk from Davao to Aparri (via the Cordilleras) in September-October. Well, these are just plans which still have to be finalized by January. But if ever I want to do these, the best time will be during my Sabbatical. The next time I have my Sabbatical ten years later, I might be too old to do ultra-runs.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Silsilah Davao Gathering

Over 50 members of the Silsilah Davao gathered yesterday at the Samson Institute from 11 am to 5 pm today for our occasional get together. We shared the food that we brought (potluck), we had time for prayer and for sharing.

I was asked to share my reflections on the topic: the Role of Silsilah in the Dialogue for Peace.
Here is the gist of my talks which I delivered in Cebuano:

For the Muslims and Indigenous Peoples, Mindanao is their homeland. For Christians who settled in Mindanao, is the promised land. Yet often, Mindanao has become a No Man's Land. Through the years, armed conflict have erupted and many have suffered and died. There is a longing for peace among many of us.

Does Silsilah have a role in bringing about peace in Mindanao?

If our understanding of peace is the cessation of hostilities and coming up with a peace agreement between the government and the MILF, it would appear that Silsilah has little or no role in bringing about peace. We are just a small movement, we do not have any influence on the government and the MILF.

But peace is nore the the silencing of the guns. It is more than a piece of paper - a memorandum of agreement - signed by the government and the MILF.

There have been ceasefire in the past, peace agreements in the past - the Tripoli Agreement, the Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the Government, yet genuine and lasting peace has not been attained.

Genuine peace can only be attained when Christians, Muslims and Lumad learn to live in peace and harmony, as brothers and sisters and as friends, sharing the resources of Mindanao.

This requires dialogue at the grassroots level - a dialogue of life, a dialogue of faith, a dialogue of action (working together to address our common problems, bringing about development, justice and peace, and defending the environment).

This is what we in Silsilah are doing. We are just a small group, but we are planting the seeds that will grow and expand. We are showing to the world that dialogue is possible and this is the basis for a genuine and lasting peace.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bike for Peace - Biking for Justice for the Victims of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao Massacre

Message and send-off by Archbishop Fernando Capalla

We are celebrating this week the annual Mindanao Week of Peace - an initiative of the Bishops-Ulama Conference. Here in Davao one of the regular activities is the Bike for Peace which I have been organizing every year since 2001.
This morning over 500 bikers turned up at the Rizal Park to participate in the 9th Bike for Peace. There were all kinds of bikes - mountain bikes, road bikes, bmx. Over 30 biking clubs were represented. The biking police accompanied us, and so also did the bikers of the Philippine Army Eastern Mindanao Command. There were many women and children who also participated. As usual, Archbishop Fernando Capalla was on hand to give a short talk to the bikers and to send us off with a blessing and a prayer.
Besides biking for peace around the 30 km loop within the city, we also demanded justice for the victims of the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
We started at 8:00 in the morning and finished by 10:30. The bike for peace was sponsored by the Davao Redemptorist Community and co-sponsored by the Bread for the World and Mindanao partners.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Maguindanao Massacre - Another Manifestation of the Culture of Death

Since last Monday, the gruesome account of the massacre in Maguindanao has been reported in all the local and national TV stations, newspapers and radio. So far, 56 bodies have been recovered - women (two them pregnant), lawyers and over 20 journalists. Some of the women were reportedly raped. The women were on their way to the office of the COMELEC to file the certificate of candidacy of vice-Mayor Esmale Mangudadatu. The journalists were there to cover the event. Along the way they were reportedly stopped by Mayor Andal Ampatuan who had earlier warned Mangudadatu not to run for governor. Witnesses point to the Ampatuans and their private army as responsible for this heinous crime.
I am filled with revulsion and sadness that this could happen in our country. This is once again a manifestation of the culture of death which permeates our political culture. The Ampatuans have lorded it over the province of Maguindanao for so many years. They usually ran unopposed during elections and have been accused of being responsible of the election anomalies that benefited President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They have continued to reign as political warlords with the blessing of the president.
I pray and hope that justice may be served and those responsible for this mass murder be held accountable.
Below is the statement of the Redemptorists:
(Maguindanao Massacre)

With a deep sense of shock and sadness over the carnage in Maguindanao, we, the Redemptorist Missionaries, join the Philippines and the whole world in condemning the barbaric massacre of civilians and journalists in Maguindanao.
The continued existence of political dynasties is one of the root causes of this dastardly crime. Over and above the call for swift and impartial justice, WE ALSO CALL FOR THE DISMANTLING OF ALL POLITICAL DYNASTIES IN MAGUINDANAO AND IN THE WHOLE PHILIPINES. The 1987 Philippine Constitution called for this drastic move. However, the very political dynasties that control Congress have not passed any enabling law, after 22 long years.
Furthermore, we dare President Arroyo, if it is within her Constitutional Emergency Powers in Maguindanao - not to wait for any enabling law - but, to dismantle IMMEDIATELY all the political, military and economic powers of all FAMILY dynasties involved in this heinous crime in Maguindanao.
On this the first Sunday of Advent, we wait, not just for the birth of our Savior. We are in ACTIVE EXPECTATION of justice, peace and love, not just in Maguindanao, but also in the whole country and the whole world.
May we be empowered by these challenging words of wisdom from an Eastern sage:
“If you find that the garden which you have so carefully cultivated has produced only poisonous weeds, you have to tear them out by the roots; you have to pull down the walls that have sheltered them.”
Together with all the peace loving Filipino people, we call on our government leaders to act swiftly and bring all the perpetrators of this heinous crime behind bars... JUSTICE FOR ALL THE VICTIMS OF MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE AND NO TO VIOLENCE AND IMPUNITY!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Preparing for the Trans-Mindanao Solo Ultra Run

Yesterday, I came back from Iligan after giving a three-day seminar on Basic Ecclesial Communities to the Lay Missioners -in-training of the Alphonsian Lay Formation Institute (ALFI). I rode the motorbike so that I can follow the route, measure the distance and choose the stops for my Trans-Mindanao solo ultra-run (Iligan-Davao). I have set the date for the run this March 2010. I can move it to October or November if I feel that I'm not yet ready. So here's the tentative itinerary and date:

March 20 (Sun) - Iligan-Libertad (46 km)
March 21 (Mond) -Libertad-Cagayan (43 km)
March 22 (Tues) - Cagayan-Manolo Fortich (38 km)
March 23 (Wed) - Manolo Fortich - Malaybalay (57 km)
March 24 (Thu) - Malaybalay-Maramag (52 km)
March 25 (Fri) - Maramag-Buda (62 km)
March 26 (Sat) - Buda-Lomondao (39 km)
March 27 (Sun) - Lomondao-Davao (52 km)
total distance: Redemptorist Iligan to Redemptorist Davao = 389 km.

I will be sleeping in parish rectories (convento).

I am calling this the Trans-Mindanao Run because I will run across Mindanao - from Northern Mindanao (Iligan) to Southern Mindanao (Davao) across the mountains of Bukidnon - the heartland of Mindanao.

I will be doing this alone - no competition, no running partner, no support vehicle. Everything I need I will carry on my back-pack - water, chocolates, clothes, religious habit, extra running apparel, cell phone, digital camera, umpc (with mobile broadband), headlight.

Why am I doing this? Will I be able to do this?

Why would I be doing this? There are many reasons. The most obvious is because it is fun. I enjoy doing this - and it satisfies my longing for adventure. This is the same reason why I biked around Mindanao and around the Philippines, climbed Mt. Apo seven times and walked from Rome to Assisi 15 years ago. I wouldn't be doing these things if I did not enjoy doing them. But this is not only the reason.

It is also a challenge. No one has ran this route before and I would like to be the first to do it. I am also doing this for my environmental and peace advocacy: "Lakbo Para sa Kalikasan at Kapayapaan."

There is also another reason. My father, Antonio, told me that in 1941, after the USAFFE forces were ordered to surrender to the Japanese invasion forces, he refused to follow orders and hiked all the way from Davao to Iligan to join the guerilla forces. I was always fascinated by his account of this walk. I would like to do it in his honor, but instead of just walking, I would like to run-walk it.

Will I be able to do it? It remains to be seen, there is one one way to find out - just do it. My recent marathon finish has indicated that I am capable of running for over six hours (with walking breaks). Can I do the marathon distance and beyond for 8 successive days? I am not sure, but I would like to prove to myself that at my age (55) I can do this. When I was 40 years old I walked alone for one week from Rome to Assisi averaging 30 km/day with a heavy backpack. I brought a tent and a sleeping bag and slept in the open at night. It was a very memorable journey. I believe I can run/walk about 50 km/day with a light back-pack this time.

I still have four months of training and preparation. This means running 3 times a week (2 medium runs between 1.5-2 hrs, 1 long runabout of 4-6 hrs). I will also be doing strength training (twice a week) and biking (twice a week). By March I will see if I will be ready, otherwise I will do it in October or November at the end of my sabbatical.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back to School: the Last Semester before my Sabbatical

After finishing the marathon I came back to Davao this Tuesday, in time for the start of the second semester. I am teaching 3 courses this semester: Ministry & Orders, Pastoral Leadership and Management, and Theological Synthesis.

There are fourteen students attending the course on Ministry and Orders and seventeen for the Pastoral Leadership and Management course. My students are from the Philippines, Thailand, Africa, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

After this semester at the end of March, I will be starting my sabbatical (part II). I did a sabbatical in 2005 but I could only do it for the summer break and one semester, rather than the whole year because no one could teach my courses in the second semester. I spent two months in Israel and five months in my hermitage in Busay. So this time I asked if I could do part II. I will be in Italy from midMay and mid July and in my hermitage in Busay from mid July to end of October.

I have a very light load this semester - 2 major courses. So I can have more time to give talks and seminars and to do a lot of running and biking.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Finishing the Philippine International Marathon (run for Pasig River)

At 4:30 this morning, I finally stood at the starting line of the Philippine International Marathon at the Luneta Park. There were hundreds of runners around me, including the Kenyans who came to win. My only aim was to finish the marathon, no matter how long it would take. I almost did not make it to the starting line. A day after getting my race packet, I had a sore throat which developed into a cold. So for four days, I tried recover from the cold and bring my fever down. Yesterday, I felt better although I still had a runny nose.
So even without fully recovering from my cold, I ran the marathon. My body felt heavy and sluggish. I ran at an easy, slow pace - mixed with walking (4 minutes run-1 minute walk). The last 8 kilometers was mostly walking with some slow running. All the time, I felt at peace within. I didn't feel any anxiety or tension - even if I was left behind and I knew I was not going to make the cut-off time of 5 hours. I was enjoying the whole experience. With 5 more kilometers to go, I was told by the race marshall to get on the sag vehicle since I was way beyond the cut-off time and they were closing the finish line. The other runners were already aboard the truck, but I insisted in continuing. They told me to run on the side walk along the boulevard. There were still a few runners behind me, two of them were old men in their 70s and a young man. At 10:45 am, over six hours after starting, I finally reached Quirino grandstand. There were only a few people left, the runners, race officials and crowds have gone home. There was no more finish line, no official clock/timer indicating my finish time. I didn't receive any finisher's certificate, nor my name & time recorded as official finisher. Yet I felt I was a winner. I dared to enter the race and finish it. I didn't quit and ride the sag vehicle. I looked at the runners who arrived a few minutes after me and they had the same expression in their faces - satisfaction and pride. We didn't need a finisher's certificate or medal. In the marathon, the first and the last are winners in their own way. The losers are those who quit.
Today, I ran the slowest marathon in my life - over six hours. I could run this distance in three and a half hours when I was younger. Yet I feel more pride and satisfaction crossing an empty finish line than receiving a finisher's medal (for top 200 runners) from President Marcos in Malacanang 27 years ago. Finishing the marathon today is a symbol of my own life. It is about being faithful to my vows and commitment as a priest, enduring all the hardships and difficulties, enjoying the whole experience, achieving peace within and never giving up.
It's been 14 years since I last ran the marathon in Rome. I decided to quit running after that due to a knee injury. I kept attempting to make a comeback but failed due to the recurring injury. Today, I have successfully made a comeback. So that make's me a winner.
I remember the marathoners I used to run with in the 1980s. They could run faster than me. Where are they now? Most of them have stopped running and have grown fat. It happened to me also several years ago. But now as I turn 55, I am running marathons again. That makes me a winner. It is not how fast I can run that matters. It is how long - in terms of years. If I can run in my old age - even up to 85, I will indeed be a winner.
So what's next? I will definitely run a marathon every year. Next time, it will be less than six hours. Today, my weight was 157 lbs that's why I felt sluggish. If I can lose another 25 lbs and train more I think I can still go below 4 hours or even break my personal best of 3:33. But that's not my priority. I just want to enjoy running. My dream is still to run solo from Iligan to Davao - next year or the following year.
Crossing an empty finish line. This is symbolic. We never cross the finish line as long we are still alive. There is no finish line in this life. Life is an ongoing journey - a continuous marathon. We have to keep on running until we reach the "heavenly" finish line. Years from now, hopefully in my old age, after running many marathons and after serving God and the people as a priest faithfully, as I am about to breath my last, I will echo the words of St. Paul: "As for me, the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life. I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:5-7)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Marathon Comeback

PAL Manila Marathon 1982

I arrived here in Manila yesterday afternoon and after depositing my backpack in one of the guestroom in Redemptorist Baclaran I immediately proceeded to the Mall of Asia to get my race packet at IZOD containing my bib number, singlet and final instruction. It is still 5 days more to go before the Philippine International Marathon for the Pasig River but I am already very excited.

Finally, I am making my marathon comeback! My last marathon was in 1995 in Rome just a month after finishing my doctorate at the Gregorian University and before coming home to the Philippines.

I still remember my first marathon in 1980. I had taken up running in 1979 after giving up smoking (I smoked 2 packs day for 8 years) and losing 25 lbs. So a year later I joined my first Milo Marathon (20 km in 2:04) and then ran my first full marathon in Davao in December 1980. There were only 150 of us and I finished 33rd with a time of 4:30. I was addicted to running and made a promise to run one marathon each year until my old age.

In January 1982, I ran my second marathon - the Manila International Marathon. There were over 1,500 participants and I placed 194th in 3:36:28. The race director (Dorotheo) told us that the first 200 runners will receive their medal from President Marcos during the dinner in Malacanang held in their honor. That's how I got to meet the dictator face to face (he probably never guessed that I was one of the political prisoners who was imprisoned for 7 months after he declared martial law).

So from 1982 to 1989, I went to Manila to run the marathon to fulfill the promise I made to myself. I became known as the marathon priest. I posted my best time in 1984 (3:33:13). After that I kept on attempting to break 3 hours and I usually reached the half-way mark in less than 1:30 but would slow down especially after 30 km. Still I was usually able to finish in under 4 hours. I thought I would finally break 3 hours during the California Marathon in 1991 but again I hit the dreaded "runner's wall."

The Rome Marathon was the worst marathon I ever ran - 5 hrs 12 min. I was running well for the first 30 km and then suddenly I felt pain on my right knee. I did not give up, I just walked slowly the last 12 km. Since then, I have not ran a marathon. I attempted several times to do a comeback but my knee injury kept recurring. So I decided to take up mountain biking instead and became known as the biking priest. But I missed the marathon and I often reminded myself of my vow to run a marathon every year until I grow old.

Last year in May 2008, after completing my over 5,000 km solo bike-tour around the Philippines, I decided to once again try a marathon comeback. As I slowly trained, using the Galloway method (run-walk) and Chi-running, I rediscovered the joy of running. 30 years after taking up running, I am still running - although I stopped running marathons for 14 years. This is a new beginning. This time, I won't race against the clock - I will just aim to finish. This is what matters most. I already lost 20 lbs, and I hope to lose another 20 lbs to reach my ideal running weight. A faster marathon will have to wait. I still have many more years of running - 30 more years, God willing.

What's do I want to do next? A solo, unsupported ultra-run from Iligan to Davao (390 km in 8 days), perhaps this coming March 2010. What excites me most is not the race with thousands of runners, but running alone up in the mountains , along trails and highways for days or weeks, with just a backpack. Some day I will journey across the Philippines not on a bike but by running alone, without any support vehicle. . And then, of course, the triathlon. These are my fantasies, or dreams waiting to be realized

The marathon priest is back! The ultra-marathon and triathlon priest is coming soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visiting a Fellow Redemptorist with Cancer

I am here in Cebu visiting Fr. Abdon who has been diagnosed with stage 4 "undifferentiated" cancer of the lungs. I arrived yesterday and brought him an mp3 player with some meditative music and guided meditation which he can listen to. I also brought him a book by Dr. Bernie Siegel entitled "Love, Medicine and Miracles."
Fr. Abdon is a professor of moral theology in our theologate in Davao. We belong to the same Redemptorist community. Over two months ago, he complained of difficulty in breathing and he went to Cebu for a check-up. He wasn't able to return to Davao anymore since he was confined in the Perpetual Succour Hospital after the doctors discovered the lung cancer. He has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He desperately wants to live but it seems that the cancer has spread rapidly. The chance of surviving is minimal if not nil. Of course, this has been a very devastating experience for him. At first, he could not accept that he has this sickness. He has not been able to sleep well. He became temperamental, often cursing the doctors and nurses especially when he is in pain.
This morning at 10 am, I celebrated mass with him in his hospital room. After the mass, I spent an hour conversing with him, listening to him share his feelings and thoughts. He was in tears most of the time. I told him that he was facing two real possibilities: a) he could get well and live another 10 years or more, or b) he could die soon. I asked him how he felt about the possibility of death. He told me that he is ready to die and face God. He has finally felt at peace within and no longer afraid of dying. Later, the nursing attendant told me that last night Fr. Abdon did not curse anymore but was feeling at peace and calling God's name even if he was in great pain.
The standard approach to cancer treatment is inadequate. It is still based on dichotomy of body and mind, matter and spirit. Doctors focus on the body, using chemicals and modern technology. The regard it as a war against the cancerous cells, using chemical warfare. They neglect the psycho-spiritual dimension of healing. Death is regarded as defeat. No wonder, this approach is ineffective and costly. Cancer is not purely and biological/medical problem. It is also a psycho-somatic phenomenon.

What is needed is a holistic approach - not just the medical, but also the psycho-spiritual. Inner healing is important. It is not a war against the cancer cells but achieving peace and harmony within oneself. This could lead to the reactivation of the body's immune system (if it is not too late). Even if the patient dies, he goes in peace, ready to meet the God.