Lolo Kiko, Thank You for the inspiration. You’re the real MVP. "Most Valuable Pope"

2015 has just begun. And for the last five days, the Filipino nation has been blessed with the visit of the Bishop of Rome himself, Pope Francis. With his departure back to Rome today, he will leave behind memorable moments and quotes that inspired a nation with one of the largest Catholic populations in the world. But it is not just Catholics who got inspired, even other forms of Christianity and non-Catholics living in our nation were in awe of his presence.


I lived through three Popes in my lifetime. I was just 8 months old when then Pope now Saint John Paul II visited the Philippines for the second time (first time was in 1981, a good 13 years before I was born in this world) as part of the World Youth Day festivities in Manila. When I was about to turn 11, he passed away and was succeeded by now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. 8 years later, he stepped down and passed on the reigns to Pope Francis

From the time he became the Pope he has gone away from tradition at the same time transcended borders that we people made for ourselves. He loved the children wherever he goes. He reached out to people in sickness. He helped resolved conflicts around the world. He has his words on current issues that every one of us face on a daily basis from poverty to corruption, from LGBT issues to scandals that have rocked the Catholic church over the past couple of years, from technology to climate change. He touched not only Catholics, but also non-Catholics, agnostics and atheists. Even though it’s only been less than two years into his tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church. He has indeed changed a lot of people’s lives, and continues to do so every single day.

When it was announced months ago that he was coming to the Philippines as a part of his trip in Asia, I could not help myself not to miss this opportunity. After all, you don’t often see these events come in your lifetime. I admit, I was not that much serious about planning what to do in that event. I didn’t have much for my own to make a better plan.

Then came his arrival on a cool Thursday night in Manila, as the SriLankan Airlines jet that took Pope Francis and his entourage from Colombo to our nation. Filipinos knew that something special is about to happen over the next five days. And true enough, everything took off from the time he stepped out on the plane and do his work on our home soil. I wanted to be there at his arrival, to do two things in one. One is to continue my hobby of plane spotting with my good friend as the jet that took the Pope was an airline that doesn’t have flights in and out of the country, and seeing the Pope live and in living color. Unfortunately, prior commitments prevented me to do so.

I knew I could not go into every event during his visit to our nation. I live far from his motorcade routes and the places he’s going around Manila. It would be a shame on my end if I did not go to at least one event to see him live in person. I really wanted to live the moment and share my stories for the next generation when the time comes.

So on a cool and rainy Sunday morning, together with my mother we went to one of the events of the Papal Visit, which was held in my Alma Mater of the University of Santo Tomas, which bears significance as it was given the titles “Pontifical” and “The Catholic University of the Philippines”. From a drop-off point, we walked around two kilometers to the university. At first, we’d just settle outside of the university and on to the motorcade route to see the Pope. However, due to my insistence we tried our luck getting inside the university to bear witness to the event.

They closed the gates 30 minutes earlier than expected since people were pushing to get in before the gate closes for good. Fortunately for me and my mother, around 15 minutes after the gates we’re supposedly be closed for good until the event ends. Out of my huge fighting spirit to get inside, contrary to a warning from one of my uncles living around the area of not taking a chance of getting inside. We managed to get inside the campus grounds. 

For two hours, we waited for his arrival on campus, I was able to catch up with my once history prof who got in earlier, as well as one of my college batch mates who joined me and my mother at a chance to get in. Then he arrived, he passed by the Arch of the Centuries which has been as old as the university itself, and the very place where as freshmen we are ushered in and as graduating students go out and into what lies in life after college.

Like the millions of people who attended the events of the Papal Visit, I tried my very best to get closer to the Pope. It is no surprise that in our generation, tablets, smartphones and cameras were rampant everywhere during the course of the Papal Visit in Manila. I admit, I had my smartphone ready trying to get a close shot of him for it will be a good memento for not only myself but for my entire family. Unfortunately, that was not to be as I the closest as I was to him was a good 20-30 meters away. I was unable to take a good close shot of the Pope for my own. However, despite the setback, I was able to see him with my very own eyes live and in living color. That was all good and fulfilling for me, as well as for my mother.

Throughout the event, we listened through the select youth that were given a chance to speak to the Pope as well as his message for the youth which was delivered in his native Spanish as it was an impromptu message, far from the original message that was written in English.

Here a few quotes from the event that have left a mark for myself. I’m sure, I’m not alone with these inspirational quotes.

“What you think, you must feel and put into effect. Your information comes down to your heart and you put it into practice. Harmoniously. What you think, you feel and you do. Feel what you think and feel what you do. Do what you think and what you feel. The three languages…Can you repeat this? To think. To feel. To do. And all in harmony…”

So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.” 

“This is the first thing I want to say: let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep.”

“Today, with so many means of communications, we are overloaded with information. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It is good and it can help. But there is a real danger of living in a way of accumulating information… We run the risk of becoming museums of young people that have everything but without knowing what to do with them. We don’t need youth museums but we do need holy young people.”

After the event, me and my mother went home and witnessed the papal mass in Luneta with the rest of my family on television. I thanked her for accompanying me to the event in UST, if it wasn’t for her, I would have missed the opportunity to see the Pope in person. For majority of the events of the Papal Visit, I had to settle on watching the television for it. Even so, each event left an impact on myself. From his arrival until his departure back to the Vatican. From his visit to Malacanang to the mass at Manila Cathedral. From the meeting of families at the Mall of Asia Arena to the meeting with the youth in UST. From the emotional mass on a stormy and tragedy-hit Leyte to the rainy Papal Mass in Luneta in which more than 6 million people bear witness to. From wearing a transparent rain jacket in

Here are a few quotes that have left a mark from the other events of the papal visit.

“So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent…But please know, Jesus never lets you down. Please know that the love and tenderness of Mother Mary never lets you down.” – at the Papal Mass in Tacloban Airport, Leyte 


“We forget to remain, at heart, children of God. That is sin: to forget at heart that we are children of God. For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. That is why the message of the Santo Niño is so important. He speaks powerfully to all of us. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be as God’s family.” – at the Papal Mass in the Luneta Grounds

“To dream how will your daughter or son be. It is not possible to have a family without such dreams… When you lose this capacity to dream, then you lose the capacity to love and this energy to love is lost.” – at the Meeting with Families in Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City

The Papal Visit to the Philippines renewed the hope and faith of the Filipino nation to live a life that is full of love and prayer. Pope Francis as he has said many times before asked for prayers for him. Let us never forget the lessons of this visit.

Sure, there have been unpleasant experiences and reactions during the course of his visit. Yet, the radiant optimism that this event brought on will forever be on the lives of the people who bear witness to these five days in our nation.

These fateful five days will live on for the rest of my lifetime. I will tell stories of these days for generations to come. This experience will also be an inspiration for myself in my future endeavors in life. We won’t know if he’ll be able to come visit our nation again, but as he said.

 “Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God… …God reveals himself through surprises.”

I am forever thankful and grateful for this once in a lifetime experience. 

Salamat
Thank You 
Gracias
Grazie

Lolo Kiko
Pope Francis
Papa Francisco
Papa Francesco

Your radiant smile will forever live on with us all. You truly are the real MVP! Our “Most Valuable Pope

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13,705 km. Red Nation versus the world.

Today is the right time to put the inspiration onto clockwork and lay it all down. I am going to break the wall on this one.

So first of all, what’s with the 13,705 kilometers? Well, it is the distance from my hometown of Quezon City, Philippines to Houston, Texas. Houston is home to my favorite NBA team for a long time in the Houston Rockets. For all the years I have been a member of Red Nation (for starters it is how Rockets fans are called collectively), I have seen the ups and downs of the franchise. In some times, great moments and sweet victories. Most of the times bitter heartbreaks and tough defeats. Yet despite all of that, even though I am far from Houston, I passionately support this team wherever I go in my life.
 
In a country where the game of basketball is a way of life for many of its citizens, it is no surprise that the NBA has a very huge following here in my home country. However, the Rockets does not have a huge following among Filipino NBA fans. I remember vividly last year, when the announcement came the NBA will be playing a preseason game and the teams playing in it were announced (Rockets and the Indiana Pacers), most Filipino NBA fans wanted another set of teams instead, teams with a huge following. China, who has been hosting NBA preseason games for years since Rockets legend Yao Ming entered the league has been getting the teams with huge fan followings.
 
It is no surprise though, that people root for teams that have either a decorated franchise history or a transcending player/group of players who is/are making a huge difference not only for their team but for the league as well
 
Over 30 NBA games are shown on a weekly basis with the different networks that carry NBA programming. Some of the Red Nation family (especially those from the US) were surprised when I told them about it. The Rockets get a good share of games shown on TV here (Unfortunately for me, I can’t watch them all since I’m missing a network that carries the a good chunk of Rockets games. Still, I get to see on TV at least 50% of the Rockets games in the regular season and most of their playoff games). We also got the NBA Café Manila and recently the NBA Store opened their largest branch outside of the United States (It was always a struggle for me to find Rockets gear since most sports stores sell gear from teams with huge followings in the country, now it will be easy for me to find and avail them). In addition, NBA League Pass was made easily available in the country through mobile phone carrier Globe Telecom with their offering to Postpaid and Prepaid subscribers to make it available.
 
I was at the preseason game when it happened last October 10, 2013 as it was a chance to see my team live and in living color. I remember vividlyDwight Howard got the hostile treatment from the fans in attendance since his former team the LA Lakers have a huge following here. While ex-Rocket now Lakers guard Jeremy Lin got the warm treatment from the crowd, for the obvious fact that we Filipinos hope that someone will make the NBA like Lin who is Asian has done. Filipinos were happy when NBA veteran Andray Blatche was naturalized and donned the PILIPINAS jersey at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. But of course, the dream that still hangs in the minds of Filipino basketball fans is to see a home grown Filipino player to play in the NBA.

This season, the dynamics have changed for the Rockets. They have taken over from the Miami Heat who lost LeBron James to free agency when he decided to return home with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season as the most despised team in the NBA today. It may not be at the same level as the Heat have encountered in the last four years, but the hate is real on all sides from both the media and the fans. 

Think about it, both of their superstars have been heavily criticized by the general NBA concensus. James Harden who has been called out as a star who can’t play defense. Yes, YouTube has that script covered with a viral video about his documented defensive lapses. Dwight Howard who has gotten the ire of fans especially of those from Los Angeles and Orlando has been called out for not being too serious in-game. At the start of the season, fans picked up immediately when Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called him out for being “soft” as the Rockets were cruising to victory in LA

But not only the superstars has gotten the ire of fans and the media, guys like Patrick Beverley who has been called “dirty”, who can forget especially those from Oklahoma City, when he caused Thunder star point guard Russell Westbrook to miss the rest of the playoffs that disrupted the Thunder’s title hopes in 2013. Trevor Ariza, after he was acquired by the squad was called by most NBA fans a “downgrade” after the Rockets let previous starting forward Chandler Parsons walk off north to the Dallas Mavericks. And finally, recent acquisition Josh Smith who was waived by the Detroit Pistons has been ridiculed for his poor shot selection.

The criticism doesn’t only extend to the players, it also extends to the coach and the front office. Head Coach Kevin McHale who has yet to lead the team out of the second round has been criticized for his poor player rotation options especially in key situation, which personally I find it fair enough. Finally the General Manager in Daryl Morey who has been the “god” in the NBA when it comes to using analytics to determine the player personnel to join the squad. It has been ridiculed from traditional player recruitment where they look more into the background and pedigree of a player before pursuing an offer for their services.

With all the criticism and hate this team has endured throughout the off season and into the current season. I could have left and supported a team with a large following. I could have made more friends who share the same passion with the team as I do. I could share moments good or bad with a lot of people. I could have avoided all the earth shattering criticism and hate pointed out on the team. I could have said “I’m not from Houston, I’ll root for someone else.” and join the train to a beloved team today (say Warriors, Thunder, Mavericks, Raptors, Bulls, you name it).

But in the end, I will stay on with this team and I will seize the moment. This is the first time I will ever experience my team this ridiculed and criticized by many fans on a massive scale. So I will enjoy it while it lasts. Right now, the team has been playing great basketball, they have kept in touch with the best teams in a highly stacked Western Conference. This team faced the injury bug early into the brand new season and have shown resilience by winning games. Sure there have been a few terrible losses, but it’s part of the grind of a 82 game season.

James Harden has been playing like an MVP so far this season as he leads the league in scoring, and has significantly improved on his defensive game thanks in part to his stint at the FIBA World Cup with Team USA. Dwight Howard has been playing well and staving off the injury bug wisely. Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer have been doing it on the defensive end as well as hitting their three point shots. Donatas Motiejunas has been a revelation all season long as he gave up shooting threes for an improved and high percentage post game. If the team can get contributions from Jason Terry, Josh Smith, Kostas Papanikolaou, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson and Joey Dorsey. This could be one of the teams to beat come playoff time.

We don’t know yet how our team will fare at the end of the season, we could see them get home court advantage in the playoffs or not, we could see another disappointing first round exit or go all the way to carrying the Larry O’ Brien title to Houston. As anything can happen in our beloved NBA

We don’t know how long will this moment in the franchise history of the Rockets will last. But right now, I’m savoring the moment. 

I hope the rest of the people who are a part of the Red Nation family stay with this team throughout every game, every win and loss that may come the rest of the way. Who knows? The time may come now.

Because it’s simple, it’s real. From 13,705 kilometers away, I’m a soldier of Red Nation and we’re going against the world.

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2014: A Year To Remember, Hello 2015.

2014 was a year to remember for me. A lot of great things happened throughout the course of the year. Since I’m a bit short on words for this yearly recap. All I did for this year was a collage of some special moments that happened last year.

Photo ©Karl Carandang
 
Looking at this collage, there were plenty of great moments that happened during 2014. The day, I finally finished my college education after a four year journey filled with success and failures. The baccalaureate mass, that came prior to graduation where they announced the honor roll which I made it and our exit through the Arch of the Centuries. That two day stretch where I won my final competitions bringing honor to the university along the way. The practicum at Marsman where I got involved in the preparation and execution of the trips during the course of the semester. The Quezon City Food Festival and fireworks display with the Claret Alumni Homecoming on the side where I got to meet our AFP Chief of Staff who was also an alumnus of the school. To family reunions on both sides of my family from Christmas to my father’s 50th birthday. To reunions with my friends from both high school and college whether it’s birthday parties or simple catch-up moments with them. I also lived the life of a passionate sports fan following my teams along the way from following the Houston Rockets transition into one of the most polarizing NBA teams today to the inspirational run by Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup.
 
Despite these fun moments in 2014, there were some few hiccups and sad moments along the way. From witnessing that painful first round exit the Rockets suffered at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers to the disastrous Asian Games stint of Gilas Pilipinas which led to the ousting of coach Chot Reyes. To the death of my grandmother from my mother’s side. To being rejected in the sole job interview I took (Yes, I took more vacation time than job-seeking and I do not regret it).
 
In ending, I am thankful for the year has passed. Now that the year 2015 has arrived with some important events coming like the visit of Pope Francis in the country, a few weeks from now. I’m looking forward to a great year ahead. I hope I can finally land a job soon and help my family out and save up for my own. I hope that you will still be a part of the year at hand.

Good bye 2014, thanks for the memories. Hello 2015!