Unexpected happens. And constantly, the results are miracles – leaving me with no other plausible explanation. Manila, Philippines, showed multiple wonders could happen even within just 28 hours. I slept for a little over four hours while in the Philippines.
The hasty reason that I landed in Manila
Bear with me. While serving as a fidei donum priest in the missions of North-western Canada, I had a sponsored ticket from Vancouver to Manila. I planned to spend ten days of my holidays in the Philippines. It would have been March 2020.
I was invited to attend a golden jubilee wedding anniversary celebration in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my travel plans in January 2020 due to the virus scare, which later would be known as a major covid-19 pandemic. My friend’s family members, who were seniors, also dropped the idea of travelling from the US to the Philippines due to the aggravated uncertainty about the new virus spreading worldwide.
Then came the second opportunity to be in the Philippines. I took up a work assignment in the Philippines as a Chief Content Editor for Radio Veritas Asia (RVA). RVA is a media ministry of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC). In preparation to reside in the Philippines by June 2021, I shipped my luggage from Canada to the Philippines, weighing around 150 kgs, for a little over CAD 200.00 (Canadian Dollars), around INR 12,000.00 (Indian Rupees).
As the borders remained closed for Indian Nationals to seek Philippines work visas, I began working online for RVA in June 2021 from Goa, India. I was eager that the Philippines Embassy would ease restrictions within the next three months, and I would travel to the Philippines. What started as a short term turned out to be almost a year of online work.
And again, I was assigned to take over Goan Chaplaincy in the UK by August 2022. But my baggage remained in the Philippines. The option to bring the consignment to India was unreasonably costly, with one shipping agency quoting almost INR 250,000.00 (USD 3130.00). Airfreight charged IND 75,000.00 (USD 1000), excluding taxes for 20 kgs.
That’s what brought me to the Philippines for a gate-crashing visit. After sorting out the access baggage and discarding the non-essentials – mainly kitchen items – I still had 65 kgs to carry to India. The airline offered 30 kilograms as per my economy class ticket. The travel agent said that the airlines have not yet lifted limit restrictions on baggage due to the pandemic. The attempts to book additional baggage failed, the agent tried the best options with no clear direction, and even I could not contact the local office from Manila to sort things out.
It was a do-or-die type situation. With uncertainty, I arrived at the Manila airport, unsure I could afford to pay for additional baggage. The airline quoted USD 23.00 for every extra kilogram. But when I went to the check-in counter, the airline staff waived off one suitcase weighing over 25 kgs. “Sir, “next time, you can pay,” she said with a smile.
My stress levels drop instantly. In praise to God, I could not believe it, and neither did the ones with whom I shared the news. It is up to you to see – but for me, it never appears logical. It will add to my mysterious faith experiences.
And again, I had to board a domestic flight from Delhi to Goa. The fight offered only 15 kg for economy passengers. The staff at the domestic check-in counter charged me only INR 3000.00 (USD 37.40) for 45 kg. It is more than luck. I call it a blessing from people who prayed, supported me, and showed concern that things went well.
I write these words to share miracles do happen, sometimes even when you don’t ask for it. I’m grateful.
What if I had tested Covid-19 positive?
Just a recap. After deciding to travel to Manila, I just had only 12 hours to do the needed. By the time tickets were booked, it was past midnight, and I had to be at the airport by noon to fly from Goa to Bengaluru and board the onward flight to Manila via Singapore.
But RT-PCR mild positive would have denied me the trip to the Philippines. I was panic-stricken, almost factorizing the would-be cascading events had my trip to the Philippines been cancelled due to a Covid-19 positive result.
As a foreign national, I had to complete a One Health Pass to visit the Philippines. The airlines refused to board passengers without seeing the QR code from the Philippines, like Air Suvidha, to enter India.
I flew from Goa to Bengaluru and arrived at the airport 7 hours before my international departure. I entered the security check-in for international passengers, only to be told that once entered, passengers were not allowed to exit.
Upon inquiry, I discovered that I needed Covid RT-PCR or antigen negative test to board the international flight. The ground staff of the airlines had the authority to exit a passenger from the security area. And that’s the first came out of the security area.
I searched the kiosk to get the test done, only to be told that the result would take a minimum of six hours. I am not sure why I avoided an hour test costing INR 3000.00. So, by 5.00 pm, I am done with the test paying INR 500.00.
I waited for almost 3 hours and re-entered the security area for boarding. I hoped that the result would be sent by 10 pm. But again, the boarding crew refused to complete my check-in procedures. The flight to Singapore was scheduled for 11 pm, with gates closing 10 minutes before departure.
The boarding crew advised requesting the testing kiosk to release the result, as I must complete the One Health Pass. And once again, the airline staff made me exit the security area.
The operations supervisor told me that my results show mild positive. But it was not confirmed, so the supervisor decided to run another test. But the results would take another hour and a half. If the results still show mild positive again, the system will generate a result as Covid positive.
If the results had come positive, I would have been denied going to the Philippines. I would follow set procedures like quarantine in Bengaluru. A tsunami of the worst-case scenarios – like cancelling my next Friday flight to London while I am feeling perfectly well without any sign of cough, cold, or fever.
With panic, the next plausible option was an antigen test. The results would come in 30 minutes. After giving my swap sample, I prayed my favourite prayers while still uncertain about the results and avoided thinking of the negative scenarios. Almost half-heartedly, I prayed for the grace to accept the results and the courage to go through the unwanted consequences.
Was it a test of faith?
The antigen result was Covid-19 negative. I could now proceed with check-in formalities. By now, I had the WhatsApp contacts of people at the Kiosks and airline ground staff. I must admit that they were amazingly helpful in the situation. I was the last passenger to check in for the flight with less than 20 minutes remaining before the departure. And again, the airline staff quickly moved me through the immigration channels and security screens.
Still, what if the Covid RT-PCR result is negative? The kiosk operation supervisor said that the results could be delayed if the result is positive for some time. I still could not sit relaxed on the flight, as the airline doors were shut in preparation for take-off. With three minutes to fly, the operation supervisor sent me a text, “Your results come negative, don’t worry. Happy Journey. We will release it after 15 minutes.” And ” downloaded a copy of the results as the plane prepared for take-off. And I turned my phone into aeroplane mode with a sigh of relief.
Divine coincident for RVA closure
Like a divine coincidence, I met with Father Victor Sadaya, the General Manager of RVA, Father George Plathottam, Father Bernard Dashi Tang, and other priests. In a way, God brought together familiar faces on Zoom in one location for a moment on a Sunday afternoon. The priests were attending an event at the RVA campus. Otherwise, Sunday is a non-working day at the campus. It was a closure of the RVA chapter to turn another page in the apostolate. I had to rush back to avoid heavy Manila traffic. I arrived back at the Manila airport after a relaxing lunch break at a Vietnamese restaurant in the Ali Mall, Cubao.
Amazing Masses in the Malls
At Ali Mall, I witnessed a Mass celebration in the Mall setting. The Philippines has a unique practice of celebrating the masses in the malls. Catholic shoppers can attend mass and, thereafter, socialize at the food court. Some parishes with malls in their territory have daily masses in the shopping area. But churches usually have a scheduled Sunday mass in a mall, and in a few cases, even more than one mass on the day of obligations.
The site is peculiar – the sound of religious singing amid buzzing music popping out of the mall vendors. Yes, you also smell food. But the church volunteers strive to maintain liturgical decorum among curious onlookers, who halt for a moment to stop at the mall chapel.
Philippinos have a tradition of holding the hand of a priest and touching it to their forehead, seeking a blessing. A newcomer can be surprised by this cultural practice.
On a Saturday evening, I was blessed to be present for the 30th anniversary of the declaration of Binondo Church as a Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Saint Lorenzo Ruiz is the first local Philippines saint. The magnificent Binondo Church is almost the entry to the first china town in the world.
Father Diogo D’Souza, SFX, my local guide in Manila, and Aron Gomes, visited Manila Cathedral. When we arrived, it was past 5 p.m., and the Cathedral was closed to visitors. The ornate front door of the Cathedral remained shut. We walked to the sacristy area to be let in by the volunteers via a side door.
Old Manila is a city within a fort called Intramuros. we walked the fort area and later hired an interesting motorbike-driven taxi to visit the “extramuros” Binondo Church.
And on Sunday early morning, I celebrated mass at the Perpetual Succour Parish in Cubao.
I attribute the miracles in Manila to the intervention of San Lorenzo Ruiz and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In both prayer spaces, I spend moments in prayer.
And the other M.
I thought of not writing about this “M.” Don’t count Monkey Pox as the untold ‘M.’ The local culture defines this “M” as”a” acceptable practice, delisting it from taboo compared to some south-eastern orthodox traditions. In the basic form, it is therapy. You got it now.
But Miracles in Manila will continue to define my recent faith encounter with God.
About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.