Middle East series: Abu Dhabi

While both are Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are worlds apart. Saudi is steeped in tradition, UAE on the other hand is almost as modern as the West. Being a relatively open country, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, its locals have also somehow adapted to the ways of life of the expats it is trying to beckon albeit still keeping its own norms alive.

My first “home” in the UAE is Abu Dhabi. Being the capital city, one can feel the power that it wields as it hosts most government offices and big businesses. Tall and sleek buildings adorn its wide boulevards, alongside powerful mosques. We landed at night time, and despite the lateness of the hour, the city was throbbing with vibrancy. Also, much like the huge urban places I’ve been to, it is teeming with huge malls that would the shopaholic’s heart skip a beat.

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Of course, as it is the main purpose of our visit to the Middle East, we inspected the Philippine schools here. And again, I will save my boring official report for the office, and stick to blogging the more fun parts of the travel hehe.

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Our office is also co-convening the Regional Summit in the Middle East, a brand of our Global Summit, which we have first introduced in Rome, Italy, where the husband went in 2012, and are now bringing to Abu Dhabi later this year. Since we are in the preparatory stages, we met with Philippine Ambassador Grace Princesa and the Bayanihan Council, an umbrella organization of Filipino associations in the UAE.

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And conducted an ocular inspection of the summit’s venue, the Dusit Thani Hotel.

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We had another meeting with other Filipino groups, this time, at the Ambassador’s residence called Maharlika House. The place was a showcase of abaca, a local plant from which cloth, furniture and other products are produced.

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Was also elated to have been able to hear mass in Filipino. Yay! Due to the large number of Filipinos and Catholics at that, they were given a special time and place to have masses in one of the big churches there. Several times that evening, I lost my head for a while and forgot that I was out of the Philippines. Out of the thousands that attended mass, I think I only saw about a handful of foreigners there. Very cool.

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The hotel we stayed in, though, was quite forgettable. It was so-so. The Embassy booked us there, and while we had a bigger budget, it was not a good idea to ask for a higher star hotel as we were supposed to be prudent since we are part of the government. But still, it would have been nice to have stayed in a newer and a bit swankier joint than the Ramee Apartments. I would have loved to experience more than threadbare sheets and dim lights. I guess I should just be thankful that the place was clean enough, and they had wifi, even if only in the table nearest the door. And that it was just a stone’s throw away from the Al-Wahda Mall, other discount stores for pasalubong, and restaurants.

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Habemus Papam

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The Catholic Church has a new leader! I felt a teeny, tiny twinge of disappointment that it was not Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, who became a frontrunner for the Church’s highest post despite his youth and recent appointment as cardinal. No matter, based on what I have read (been scouring the net for conclave and papacy related matters endlessly today hehe), it seems that there is hope in Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina). As a Catholic, I am praying that he leads the Church in the right direction given the many, many challenges of the times. Many would now look to him for guidance and blessings. I wish he would not lead the institution into obscurity with antiquated methods, but lead it to progress just like everything else in this world.

I could still remember that split second that only a meter separated me from Pope John Paul II in 1995 when his popemobile passed me in a motorcade during the World Youth Day in Manila. I was 15, and I have never felt anything but pure joy of being so close to what we perceive as God’s “representative” on earth. What an awesome, palpable feeling that I will never, ever forget to my dying day. I hope I get that chance again someday. Closer, if possible.

Viva Señor Sto. Niño

Thank you Mama and Dad for this new addition to our home. We welcome Him with open hearts and arms.

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My family has been a regular devotee of the Sto. Niño ever since my dad was given another chance to live when he was pronounced dead at birth. My grandmother then vowed a lifetime of devotion to the holy child that spared my father’s life. I myself have been trekking yearly to the Sto. Niño Church in Tondo, Manila, braving the throngs of people from all walks of life, with our family. I walk alongside the devotees who were bearing Sto. Niños of all sizes. I just stopped going when I was pregnant in 2009 and haven’t been back since. I hope to continue panata soon. But this year, I had to settle with asking my mother to buy one for me.

Someday I would also make it to Cebu for the actual Sinulog festival. Maybe I can bring my parents along. I know that would make them real happy.

On the side, I think we better put together a sanctuary for my new Niño. I grew up in a really Catholic household where every room has its own altar, and I just want to put Him in a really special place together with the crucifix I got from Jerusalem.

Precious gems

I’m loving my two precious gems at the moment:

The first was the one I got for myself during my trip to Jerusalem last June. The vendor said that the beads were made up of rose petals from the Garden of Gethsemane. They set off a nice smell every time I open its container.

The second one was my pasalubong from the hubby during his recent visit to the Vatican last month. I just died of envy he was able to hear mass straight and live from the Pope. I have also heard mass from another Pope, John Paul II, back in 1995 when I participated in the World Youth Day held in Manila, but being in the Vatican is another thing. I hope I get to set foot there before I say goodbye to this world. But for now, I am keeping this “amulet” close to my heart.

I know it’s not about the things you have, because the Lord listens to your prayers as long as they are sincere and come from your heart. But weird as it may sound, since these pretty things came from significant places, it makes them more special to me. And I carry them with a special skip in my heart and mind.

Gracious visit

Your presence at our home couldn’t come at a better time. There are so many things I want to talk to you about, and looking at you face to face just makes it all the more easier. I know that you listen, even at a distance. But believe me, now that we are facing many obstacles in our work, the health of our family, and other worldly concerns, seeing you watching over us definitely lifts our low spirits. Thank you for being here, and for serenely looking over us as we triumph or struggle with our day to day life.

Blessed John Paul II

Catholics now have another vehicle with which to ask for intercession for prayers. With the recent beatification of Pope John Paul II, the late pontiff has now joined the ranks of intercessors, including Mary, the Virgin Mother and a host of other saints whom Catholics venerate and offer their prayers to.

Now, I don’t do any devotions or regular prayers even, but I do what one calls conversations with the Lord. Although I admit that I have gone several trips to St. Jude whenever I am in low points in my life. And coming from a Catholic school, I have a fond devotion to Mama Mary and the Sto. Nino. As opposed to my mother who faithfully goes to Baclaran every Wednesdays and Quiapo every Fridays when we still had a yaya to watch over Mischa. Anyhow, as I said, I am not a “devoted”, religious person although I have developed an intimate relationship with the Supreme Being my own way.

But with this beatification and eventual canonization of PJP II, I might just be converted. There is just such magic and charisma to this guy. I felt it as a 15-year old waving a flag as his pope mobile zoomed my way. For a fraction of a second, I felt his energy. It was so palpable that people around me almost cried…in relief, in joy, and in a myriad of other ways. It was the same thing again as I listened to his homily a few yards away, lying on makeshift blankets with my high school classmates on the grounds of Luneta. Though I don’t remember what the homily was, I vividly remember the feeling of being blessed and enveloped in love and happiness for the sheer pleasure of being in the presence of a real man of God. I am so fortunate to have participated in that World Youth Day.

I envy those who were given the chance of paying respects as his remains lie on the altar of the Vatican. I wished I could touch or share part of his great vibe, emanating even in death.