Sunday, January 31, 2010

Inside Simala


The friend looked at me shaking his head as if to tell me "it's all because you wanted breakfast". I apologetically nodded to acknowledge hehe! At 9:02AM of Sunday, January 31, 2010, there was already a very long line of people. I asked what that line was for and I was told "to kiss Mama Mary". My estimate... probably about 200 meters from where we were (see picture) all the way to the statue of Mama Mary up on the 2nd floor of the edifice, passing via a winding route along the grounds!

This may have irked the friend, but I noticed that other people who were not there to do the "halok" (kiss Mama Mary's statue) were free to walk and go everywhere else in this expansive facility. So I left him at that hapless position, (under the now blistering hot sun, in that very long queue) and proceeded to see more of the place. Okay okay, I said sorry for the breakfast that caused the delay therefore his veery far spot in veeery the long line hehehe!

May this serve as a mild warning to other friends thinking of dragging me along to anywhere else. When it’s my first time and I get curious, beware, I may have to temporarily leave you ‘to oblivion’ – even if you’re my host. Whaahehehe!

Alright, here are more of the things I saw (as the friend toiled it out queuing up!):

There are picnic huts in the monastery grounds. Yep, for big families or busloads of devotees who go together. They need somewhere to take their meals as doing it at the restaurants or eateries outside the monastery would be expensive! Cozy area btw, under the trees, and everything made of native materials. Picnic Area!

The main monastery is one big place with a big building (or is that interconnected buildings?) that keeps growing by the day! Not at all serene if I may compare it to the peaceful feeling one immediately discerns like when entering the Pink Sisters’ Monastery in Banilad. In here, it felt like fun. Like as if I went to some kind of a fantasy world of some sorts where everything is ambitiously grand! Very high ceilings, glassed big cabinets, colorful rendition of everything that can be done with paint, wrought iron grills, aluminum railings, fancy woodwork, all grand and pompous I would not wonder if later this becomes some kind of a Disneyland. Well, the monks here are probably not the ones who live in simplicity or have a vow of the simple life. Ah I don’t know about orders or congregations, but I know they’re all different from each other.

The chapel area (if size would be the basis, I think it should be called a church or a cathedral) is grandiose. Pang-tourist attraction ang dating, grabe!

And it is also colorful especially on the sides and ceiling like this picture below. This is just part of the ceiling.

Expensive Colored Candles. Yes, at thirty-five pesos each! I think that's too much or too big an amount to charge the innocent devotee blindly following whatever they see. And where in the bible does it say anyway that you have to light colored candles according to which part of your life you are praying about? Thirteen (13) candle colors. Well hello! I think THAT is getting too far away from religion AND getting too obvious you're just looking for cash.

P35 for a candle about six inches long less than half an inch in diameter? These candles I took a photo of were just two of the 7 different colors the friend bought and lighted. And I observed that each buyer gets an average of 5 colored candles. Do your mathematics, this is really big and brisk business! No wonder the nun and other women selling them did not anymore have time to smile. They were “busy”, y’know!

When I commented saying “mahala”, that woman (saleslady?) just gave me some kind of a disbelieving glance and rolled her eyeballs upward. Inirapan ako?!

But there are also "non-colored" candles selling for just five pesos! Actually their color is somewhat near fatigue or military green. The friend tells me those are the recycled candles – the melted wax from colored candles are gathered, remolded to become new candles again.

So let me ask, how does Mama Mary or Jesus or God the Father or the Saints interpret the candle/s that you lighted? Does this mean they relegate your prayers (your mga pangandoy, mga pangamoyo) for a later date because you did not light a colored candle? Ganun?!

Anyway, if you are wondering how come the "common", cheaper candles come in that color (fatigue), I don't! Just go look at that list of candle meanings again and you will see which color is the hottest and best-seller hehe! So when all the wax from those lighted candles are gathered and remolded but not re-dyed, naturally what emerges is a murky greenish hue. That is your ordinary or second class or second grade candle that sells for just five pesos each!

I liked looking at (and reading) the so many letters of thanks from devotees. Name it, it’s there. Someone who passed the board exam, someone who became a seaman, someone who recovered from an ailment – everything. And there are mementos that seem to mean they’re returning it to Mama Mary! Like wheelchairs and walking canes or crutches! With the multitudes of these ‘patutuo”, how can one not believe that Mama Mary will also help anyone else with a plea.

“Pamisa”. That is a bisdak verb meaning you want your personal intentions to be mentioned during a mass celebration. Let’s not fool one another here, it does not really mean it will be mentioned as if to say the priest will specifically say “bless also the souls of this and that” naming your forebears that you listed in that little sheet of paper. Nor will the priest say thanks to the Lord on your behalf for having made you pass a licensure examination! Those intentions (yours and that of all others’) are read in rapid succession by a church ward BEFORE the mass is actually celebrated. Yes, before the priest even enters the church!

I curiously asked the friend how much one must put in that “pamisa” envelope. The reply was “any amount”. I said “like twenty pesos”? And I got a scolding look followed by a reprimanding “masyado ka naman, pamisa yan”. I insisted to know and I finally got something like “P100 is too small but acceptable”! And I said, just for that woman to read my intentions when the mass does not even start yet? Ah, okay, I did not get any more replies here. That meant “not open for discussion” hehehe!

“Halok Sa Birhen” or “Mama Mary Halok”. That just means to kiss Mama Mary – and this is that very long line of people going towards, to do, the “halok”. Yep, this kiss! I did not, could not join the friend going to do this since I did not join that harrowing slow moving line earlier. Yup, even if the friend told me I could actually insert myself front of him since we were companions. No, not my conscience – and I do not light candles to remember what my values are hehe. I told him it was wrong to let me join the line already up there when people (like him) have toed that line from way far outside of this building and under the sun. My turn to say “not open for debate” whaahehehe!
“Pandong (Cape)”. Well, the monastery already translated it. Pandong means cape! But what is that thing anyway, where you are even asked to remove your footwear? I walked towards front of that other line (not joining, just watching) and saw that this “pandong” activity is a front-veiled life-sized statue of Mama Mary where devotees go to, lift the veil and join her under that veil. Almost like when a groom kisses the wife at wedding ceremonies – on this one though, you do not kiss the Mama Mary statue on the lips hehe, but you just face her up close and pray. Or that’s what I think the people I saw were doing. I could be wrong y’know!

The CR. Oh, this one is important. The monastery’s main building (where all those halok, dagkut, pandong etc., and the chapel are located) is not only far but high up on another hill. And don’t you feel ever feel the call of nature until you are about to finally go out of the monastery altogether. Why? Because the toilets, yep the comfort rooms, the CR, is very far – as far, even farther than that line I showed you in the pictures above. Not an easy walk especially if you have kids or the elderly in tow. At least they’re clean!

There is a wishing-well with a bell  - near the comfort rooms! Signage says it is the "Well of Nazareth" and the bottom of that signage says "not a wishing well or bell". Yet, people flock to this well under the hot sun and throw coins to the bell so that the coins drop unto the water. I asked a caretaker what that was for. He just shrugged. Later, when the friend was already able to join me, I asked why he threw about five 5-peso coins to that bell in succession and he told me "to make a wish". Hmm. If you look closely, that bell's brown paint is already tarnished due to constant battery of coins. But I looked down and tried counting coins. Hmm again! Got dizzy counting, but I estimate the total should not be less than 500 pesos! Kwarta!

Massage. One interesting part of this compound is the presence of masseurs at one tent just after the entrance (before you turn right and down and up towards the monastery building). There it was, the “olive oil” in action. Yep, that’s the very oil they use to massage people (for a fee, of course)! Curious, I smelled one of those little garapas that contain the oils. Does not at all smell like any olive oil in my kitchen or yours hehehe. They smell like, what else, mentholated rubbing oils!

Anyway, I saw Simala for myself, finally! Not really to make a pilgrimage like many do, but just to see what literally was there for me to see and discern. As for the miracles, I am not in a position to confirm or refute anything. I do believe, Mama Mary really does her miracles, whether you go to Simala or not. I think it depends on what you fervently believe. For many, Simala it is.

There is a good chance I may be going back to this place – all because I wrote this story hehe. That’s one interesting thing about travel blogging. You become a travel guide for family/friends who get curious about what you already just said!




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