Monday, November 30, 2015

Sage advice for us plodding on in the 21st century

One word that may sum it up: decency

Should the lady whose image appears above be unfamiliar to you, it is quite easy to find out all about her and the things she stands for. Fortunately, in this day and age in which the development of technology happens much faster than the passing on of values such as decency, that technology gives us the opportunity to look up that which we ought to know and live.

If the other name included in the advice above is unheard of, you may look it up as well. Or not.

Friday, November 27, 2015

By nature

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, 
through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.

~George Washington Carver

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gunfire & explosives -- and combatting extremism with 'Rick Astley'

The number of fatalities is often one of the factors which determine whether or not an incident makes it on the news. It's lamentable, but that's reality. Sure, "hundreds killed" grabs more people's attention than saying that the death toll numbers half a dozen. But then lives mean individual persons, and each person matters, so here is news about some of last week's ISIS-related attacks in Africa, regardless of the body count. Nigeria (Nov. 17 and 18), Mali (Nov. 20), Cameroon (Nov. 21)

Female suicide bombers strike Nigeria with second mass casualty attack in two days
Two female suicide bombers launched a deadly attack that killed an estimated 15 people at a packed mobile phone market in Kano, Nigeria, on Wednesday. Kano is the largest city in Northern Nigeria. The explosion ripped through Farm Centre market just after 4:00pm local time and comes only a day after a terrorist attack killed 32 and wounded 80 in the Northeast city of Yola.

Mali hotel attack: Hunt for three suspects
Malian security forces are hunting three suspects connected to the attack on a hotel in the capital, Bamako, on Friday, in which 19 were killed.
Two militants were also killed, after special forces stormed the hotel, freeing dozens of trapped guests.

Eight dead after suspected Boko Haram attack in Cameroon
Four civilians were killed in northern Cameroon on Saturday in a suicide bomb assault by suspected Boko Haram militants in which three female attackers and one man blew themselves up, security officials said.

Belgian police mount raids in Brussels and other towns
Belgian armed police mounted raids across the country late on Sunday after the prime minister announced another day of lockdown in the capital for fear a new, Paris-style mass attack may be imminent.Shortly before midnight, the public broadcaster, announcing several arrests, said the operations had concluded and the mayor of a Brussels borough that is the focus of a manhunt for a key suspect in the Paris attacks said shots had been exchanged.

And, via a story included in a previous post, Anonymous -- the group of online hackers -- is taking on ISIS online. Now the group has started its quest with a spunky method: by "rickrolling" the terrorists' online presence. If the goal is to disrupt communications between the terrorists and to foil as many attempts at promoting its cause as possible, it certainly is accomplishing much -- and with some entertainment along the way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Federer, the weather, Anonymous hackers.... plus others

Some news can make our day, while others tend to make us stop and lament over what the world seems to be coming to. Then we can hear of some things that are just the things we need to give us a laugh for a few minutes before plunging into the next task of the day. Whatever the case, it pays to inform ourselves -- and do what we can to be part of the solution, from where we are, with what we have.

Here's a glimpse of some things that have happened during the past several weeks in different parts of the planet --

Federer hands Djokovic first loss at ATP World Tour Finals since 2011

Faith on the football field -- Fargo high school stands up for religious freedom

 ISIS claims responsibility, calls Paris attacks 'First of the Storm'

Victims bare NAIA extortion in 'tanim-bala' probe

Lego is now making extra-padded Lego-proof slippers because they feel your pain

October breaks global heat record

Abortion facility shuts down on Halloween, becomes a pro-life clinic

 9/11 hero's widow returns 'Woman of the Year' award over Bruce Jenner 'insult'

Anonymous hackers could be Islamic State's online nemesis

* Photo of Roger Federer from Tennis

* Photo of Guy Fawkes mask associated with Anonymous from  Mail & Guardian

* * * * *

If you fancy a look at another post of various headlines from a month ago, they're here

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Silver bullets for the bullet-planting

Now that I'm looking at that title up there with (almost) undivided attention, I'm certain it's more the result of too much viewing of zombie-ghost-vampire-murderer fare than a manifestation of what I actually think of the people responsible for the bullet-planting happening in Manila's main international gateway (and for the lack of action being taken to deal with the situation).

This post isn't to provide updates on the situation, but to share a couple of articles that may prove useful to anyone passing through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport while the situation is still basically the same. It pays to be informed and prepared. Go ahead and read, and feel free to share with others who may need this information:

An American shares his 4 effective tips for curbing Laglag Bala modus in NAIA  is a quick read and was supposedly written by a retired police officer.

Evidence-planting rife at NAIA -- How to defend yourself from Laglag Bala scam contains practical tips as well while providing legal information about your rights, relevant portions of the law, etc. Infographics and some videos also equip you with pertinent information. This one was written by a lawyer.

And here's something posted by a Persida Acosta on Facebook on Nov. 2, 2015 which may just come in handy (you'll never know!):

Attention OFWS/ Travellers: Re: Laglag Bala in Airport
Please call PAO hotline 929-94-36 or 029299436 in case you are being charged of alleged "laglag bala". Any incriminatory act of planting evidence can be criminally charged of "incriminatory machinations" under Article 363 of the Revised Penal Code (arresto mayor) and Section 38 of the Comprehensive Firearms Act R.A. No. 10591 Re- planting of ammunitions punishable of the penalty of reclusion perpetua(30yrs).

If you'd like an article to give you the lowdown on the issue, I believe this one dated Nov. 2, 2015 is exhaustive enough.

Bon voyage!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Reel time

I've been spending a couple of hours a week with some college students lately, and it's fun to chat with them. Well, I also got to talk with a few girls in their early 20s in a seminar I attended in September, and listening to them reminded me of just how fast I used to talk and how much I jumped from one topic to another when I was around their age. Conversing with dudes who have lived for half a century or more does have its striking moments, primarily because the wisdom they've acquired over the course of decades is evident. There's much to learn from them; the perspective they present, even from brief remarks they make about seemingly superficial topics, can make one reconsider previously held opinions.

Hanging out with fellows who are at the stage of pursuing formal education in their chosen field, on the other hand, has been delightful as well. We spent a good deal of time talking about movies and what we thought of them. I found it amusing that many of the titles they mentioned were unheard of as far as I was concerned, and I listened fondly as they gushed over what was a superb flick and why it was so, or lamented over some disappointing film that was a mistake to give the time of day.

Who's your favorite actor? What are your top movies? Such questions came up when we first delved into
the subject of the celluloid world, and just like when I'm asked what restaurant I'd like to go to, I was at a loss. It's funny, because movies are something I consider essential in life -- in a manner of speaking, of course, and not to be mistaken as being placed on the same level as food, clothing and shelter in the hierarchy of needs -- and there I was, drawing a blank when asked for my favorites. Why is that?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a page from those old slum books where you're asked about favorite food, favorite song, favorite singer, favorite everything... there really are too many to mention when it comes to movies. Of course, there are the critically acclaimed blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, unforgettable ones that somewhat "define" your decade (Back to the Future, among several), and the much-loved or funny but not really awards-material (for me that would be You've Got Mail, and some films that I wouldn't broadcast being a fan of due to the absolute lack of substance). And, though I don't think I've met any other fan of movies about hijacking, I thoroughly enjoy watching the likes of Air Force One, Executive Decision and, more recently, Non-Stop.

In one of our conversations, though, I remembered Argo and told my young companions how I found it to be immensely engaging (I even blogged about it here, if you'd care to read what I wrote).

Lest this becomes an enumeration of favorite movies, let me go to the point that got me started on this whole post: when I mentioned what a great team-up Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were in a lot of their movies, the girl I was chatting with was unfamiliar with Meg Ryan. I was positively amused by this and realized how old the movies I had in mind were! Well, Meg Ryan is not among your multi-awarded actors, and comical though she is in her rom-com films, she doesn't have the same caliber and/or high-profile blockbuster resume as, say, Meryl Streep, Robert de Niro or Tom Cruise. So, come to think of it, it should hardly be surprising that today's teens and twentysomethings have never heard of her.

Okay, that was the first thing that stunned me about our celluloid tete-a-tete. The other one was when I mentioned The Karate Kid, and the girl said something about Jackie Chan, so I realized she had the post-2000 version in mind. Danny LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi are it for me, and though I'm sure the movie's newer version has its merits if considered more closely, the original will always be the only one for me.

Here's a scene from the1984 movie.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cheetos, chili, and a man's courage

Richard Montanez, the man with the brilliant idea

I love Mexican food. I love Cheetos. And I certainly love stories of people who, by dint of hard work or indefatigable faith or both, beat the odds and come out successful while keeping their humility and sense of service to continue helping others.

So I love the story of how Flamin' Hot Cheetos came about!

Photo from A Grateful Man


Friday, October 09, 2015

On forgiveness, reconciling, and the view from the tabletop

Two of my sisters and I were sitting around one day, talking about movies we had seen, and Dead Poets Society came up.

"Do you remember that scene where the students in Robin Williams' class get up and stand on the table?" one of them asked.

"Yeah...." my other sister replied.

"I don't like that," said the first one, grimacing.

I couldn't believe my ears!

"Me neither!" my other sister chimed in agreement with such vehemence that I was even more flabbergasted. At the same time, it was kind of amusing that something I found almost movingly refreshing had the opposite effect on my two sisters. Of course they were a year apart in age, and I was a full decade younger, which probably accounted for the difference in perspective and preference. While they abhorred the scene in question from the critically acclaimed movie from the late 1980s (which I guessed did not impress them one bit), I found it delightfully striking.

"Huh? I love that scene!" I said, letting my disbelief and amusement show. "I think it's a great way to show that we have to constantly look at things from another perspective..." I said something like that -- I don't remember exactly what I said but I do remember how funny I found the whole thing. They hated the scene, and I thought it was brilliant. We spent the next couple of minutes laughing at our obvious difference in tastes.

Well, isn't the ability to look at things from a different perspective a great way to expand one's horizons? To learn something new? To see something in a whole new light? You may not need to stand on a tabletop to acquire a fresh context as regards things you previously took for granted, but another vantage point sure can help bring out the finer details that previously went unnoticed.

That's what this video did for me as far as an invaluable friendship  is concerned:

 Think about it. And here's something else worth considering:

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Busy signals and party lines

Making calls on a rotary-dial telephone is one thing I would love to do again regularly; alas, I'm told that installing such a device today would not facilitate phone conversations but merely add a vintage touch to a home's aesthetic style. I heard "analogue," "digital" and other such phrases in the exchange about why a rotary dial-phone would not work anymore in these times, but I didn't really understand it. So, thinking back to the days of party lines and seemingly endless dialing (specifically when lots of zeroes are on the phone number) seems more nostalgic than ever!

Seeing the images above reminded me of this experience which would probably make no sense to anyone who grew up in the age of smartphones (or even just mobile phones) without the benefit of perspective provided by experiencing the use of rotary-dial. Well, in the grand scheme of things, it is merely a person-to-person communication device from a different stage in the history of technological advancement. But as in any change in society's lifestyles, the virtues that were acquired and developed in the course of using such devices are invaluable. You'll probably see a little of what I mean if you read about my experience of making song requests on the radio (that's the link provided above) over the course of decades -- and that means doing so using different gadgets, depending on what era you're talking about!

If you fancy a closer look at the telephone experience, check this out as well:

10 aspects of old telephones that might confuse young readers



A page from history --

Dec. 1958: Queen Elizabeth becomes the first person in Britain to make a long-distance call sans the help of an operator.

The first long-distance call made in Great Britain without the help of an operator was made by Queen Elizabeth in 1958. It was a big event!

Monday, October 05, 2015

Beyond the broomsticks and horcruxes

I caught the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on TV recently. And just like what happened after I had watched Into the Storm not too long ago either on HBO ( I went link-hopping for materials on Richard Armitage and ended up watching The Hobbit clips and Thorin interviews), I spent a good deal of time watching old interviews with cast members and some other decade-old materials. I harkened back to the years when the Gryffindor kids were just that -- kids -- and the three lead actors were just giving their first interviews as mere 11- or 12-year-olds.

One of the videos I came across was a 2001 BBC Christmas special for which author J. K. Rowling was interviewed. This is particularly interesting to me because rather than being some kind of promotional material for the books and movies, it clarifies -- in Rowling's words, no less -- the truths and falsehoods reported in the media about her and about the process of coming up with the books. It sure is fascinating, too, to see the notebooks and tons of notes she has accumulated in the course of doing her work.

So, in the interest of accuracy, here it is:

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Leave the leaves alone... no more

Leaf art -- that's what I have come to call it.

In the last couple of months, the sight of heavily munched-on leaves became more common around our garden -- ubiquitous almost. Admiring the pretty lavender hibiscus blooms, I noticed quite a few leaves with jagged patterns; every morning while waiting patiently for signs of new yellow hibiscus buds to show up in the nearby pot, the number of chomped up greens seemed to increase. I was accustomed to seeing half-eaten leaves; for some time, Oleander Hawk-moth and Vine Hawk-moth caterpillars made the chichirica and a las cuatro plants their home and main source of sustenance. I even made a few of them my pets, keeping them in jars and regularly giving them a stash of greenery for their meals till it was time for them to cocoon. Eventually they transformed into marvelous winged beauties.

But this time it was different. It was like whatever was responsible for the uniquely fashioned foliage plodded on with gusto. The result was almost like art -- munching here and there, never staying on the same spot for long, hence the punctuated surfaces and interestingly irregular edges. It was partly amazing, partly exasperating. Though leaves naturally grew a certain way, who said they had to stay that way, especially when some tiny creatures were designed to feed on foliage?

Even the Dona Aurora wasn't spared from the "bullet-riddled look". At the same time I noticed that too many hairy caterpillars were showing up in our garden. There they were, crawling on the leaves of nearly each of the half dozen potted plants. A swipe of the coconut tree frond mid-rib broom (okay, let's just call it by its usual name -- walis tingting) yielded three or four higad at a time from the santan hedge. And, they weren't simply resting, snoozing, or anything unproductive like that -- most of the time they were eating away, jagged leaves and flower petals presenting the evidence! I therefore concluded that controlling the population of the "backpacker caterpillars" -- the name with which I've come to refer to them as they looked like they carried backpacks -- for the time being was called for.

"Higad lang po 'yan. Hindi nagiging paru-paro," chirped one of the street kids who stopped by our gate, hanging around me as I took snapshots of some plants and being jolted when a backpacker caterpillar reared its hairy body from the santan hedge, almost touching his fingers. "Namaga nga po itong kamay ko nung umakyat ako ng puno ng bayabas tapos nahawakan ko bigla," the little boy added, stretching out his hand to reveal the subsiding inflammation on his right palm.

So, potential skin allergy trigger, plant destroyer, imminent invasion, and non-winged future as a moth or butterfly -- could all these and a potential infestation not point to a need to eliminate the hairy crawlies? I don't know what technically constitutes an infestation but getting to observe several of these little backpackers everyday seems to come close! So, I set to work: I took pictures (I was still fascinated by their atypical physical features) then proceeded to (gulp!) kill each one that I spotted among our plants. This went on for about a week...

A little backpacker and an even tinier one (frankly, I'm not sure if it's an offspring, sibling, or a mere appendage/shed "fur") under a bougainvillea leaf)...

... another one that was making its way around the pots...

A bunch of them that I gingerly picked off with a stick from the foliage (lest one of them give me a taste of the venom from its backpack should my hand accidentally touch the prickly tufts on its back)... and that was it. Till now I haven't seen a single one of these backpackers in our midst.... which I have come to regret after making a discovery three days ago:

The "backpacker caterpillar," I learned, is called the Tussock caterpillar, which -- after cocooning -- becomes a Tussock moth.

Yellow tussock moth

After coming across the discovery online, I felt crestfallen. I've killed about a dozen of them already... I told myself. All those potential moths, gone. Well, I learned two things that day: first, those backpacker caterpillars don't remain caterpillars all their life but become moths; second, always verify your information. Maybe I should let that little boy who hurt his hand from a higad also learn two things like I did if I should ever run into him again.

Oh, there's a third thing I learned (or more accurately, was reminded of) that day: God made everything with a purpose in mind. I've yet to find out if Tussock moths are pollinators, but even if it turns out they're not, is that the gauge we ought to use in determining the importance of their existence?

At around this time, I was also reading a booklet that centered on Laudato Si, Pope Francis' latest encyclical.  And after the vital discovery concerning the backpacker caterpillars, the Pope's words as contained in the booklet "Laudato Si: An integral ecology for contemporary man" -- a Documentation Service publication -- resounded with me:

84. Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God (...) 

85. God has written a precious book, "whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe". The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: "From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine" (...)

So, little backpacker caterpillars, you are again most welcome in our little garden. Now I am not about to allow our home to be infested with hairy, creeping creatures; for now, though, let's just say I appreciate leaf art enough to let those caterpillars live out their gustatory tendencies to leave artistic marks on our plants for more unconventional foliage.

The tiniest Tussock moth caterpillar I've seen so far

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Be a man -- break the rules

Be a real man, that is.

For Boys Only: The Man Talk

The November 6, 1-4 pm gig really is for boys only, and it's best to secure your tickets early due to limited seating.

Here's a bit about the Matt Fradd-headlined event, so gentlemen, this one's for you:

We are inviting you to join us in an all-boys chastity talk with highly sought-after international speaker and Catholic apologist, Matt Fradd. Find out how true manhood is expressed in becoming who God meant you to be, and discover the FIVE RULES you must BREAK if you want to fulfill your deepest desires and follow God's commands! 

This will be held on Nov. 6 (Friday) at 1-4 pm, at St. Mary's College Auditorium, 37 Mother Ignacia Ave., Bgy. Paligsahan, Quezon City.  Tickets are now available at P300 each. Limited seats only, so secure your tickets early by calling/texting 0922-8276662 or emailing

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Maybe bathroom door signs should be "Male DNA" and "Female DNA"

There have been some topics in the past that I'd wanted to blog about but just couldn't, simply because I had nothing else to say beyond one sentence -- maybe two. For example, lately I've noticed a disturbing number of adults who cross the street with a child in tow, and with the little one on the dangerous side. Sometimes it's an adult and a child strolling on a sidewalk, with the child on the dangerous side and whose hand his/her older companion isn't even holding. I had wanted to write about it because to me that's a pretty important matter to point out. But I couldn't think of anything else to say besides "Don't people know the concept of 'the dangerous side'? Why do grown-ups cross the street with kids and let the little ones stay on the dangerous side?" Nothing else comes to mind, because in my opinion, this is something basic.

Another example is littering. You probably see a lot of them, too, specially if Manila is your home -- dudes flicking a cigarette butt just anywhere while walking, tossing a candy wrapper out of a car or jeepney window, and other such sights. Even now that care for the environment has become a concern that's broadcasted and marketed in the mainstream, these things still happen a lot. But I can think of only one thing to say regarding this:

"Don't litter."

That's it. Ah but there's one other thing:

"I am  tempted to make a citizen's arrest each time I see some fellow toss litter just anywhere."

As you can see, elaborating on the point is difficult for me. It's just so basic that more words seem superfluous.

Now lately, there have been instances which demonstrate that something I consider one of the most basic of all basic principles in life is not so basic to some people after all. And that is: boys belong in the men's room, and girls belong in the ladies' room. By that of course I mean males -- biological, natural-born -- and females -- biological, natural-born. The only exceptions I would consider are instances involving toddler and pre-schooler boys (and maybe a year or two more) in which the absence of their dad, uncle or any male relation necessitates their mom, aunt or any female relation bringing them to the ladies' room to do their bathroom business. So, basically, in my mind it's as simple as what I stated above: boys belong in the men's room, and girls belong in the ladies' room. Nothing else to say.

However, even in these times that the basic principle seems to be questionable in some quarters, I couldn't think of anything else to say to drive home the point. And then I saw this on Facebook:

Cute baby huh? The little one made me realize that it's largely about privacy.

And then, recent developments in other parts of the world regarding what have come to be referred to as "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" have helped me see that just because a person says and believes he is something doesn't mean it is so. More specifically, just because a guy says he feels that he's a girl does not mean that he is a girl and that he should expect the environment and everyone else to make adjustments to suit his belief about himself. As a matter of fact, those of us who know better are aware that condoning such a person by affirming his ideas about himself is akin to telling a dude who believes he is a superhero who can fly that he should be proud of himself for being a superhero and to go ahead and launch into flight. It simply is not helping the person any. What he needs is compassion, treatment, and to cultivate a life of faith. What he does not need is other people telling him that his delusions are real and congratulating him for being delusional. That does not sound compassionate to me; if anything, it sounds convenient -- for the people around him, because of course helping the person become grounded in reality can be immensely difficult and will require much effort.

That being said, here is one of the incidents involving the matter of bathroom privacy and the rest of society being forced by institutions to compromise their privacy (not to mention, safety and hygiene) for the sake of individuals who insist on their delusions and therefore demand that rules be adjusted to cater to these delusions. If I may say so, individuals with such a psychological condition need and deserve treatment (psycho-spiritual), not special treatment.

In this situation, a 17 year old boy decided he was actually a girl, and thus should be entitled to use the girls’ locker room and bathroom. The school bent over backwards trying to find a compromise, even offering the guy a private, unisex facility, but that wasn’t good enough. He wanted the girls’ bathroom, and of course, what the girls wanted was entirely irrelevant.

Encouragingly, some of the students in the school didn’t stand for it. They protested this week, insisting it’s not fair to expect girls to use the bathroom or undress around a boy. They’re right, obviously, but it’s worse than that. Let’s be clear: it is ABUSIVE to coerce, intimidate, or otherwise force young girls to share their facilities with a boy. I don’t care if he’s gender confused or not. I don’t care if he wears a wig or not. All I care about, all that matters, all that make a difference, is that he is a boy with boy parts, a boy’s body, a boy’s genetic makeup, a boy’s brain, a boy’s everything. He’s a boy. That’s all. That’s it. That’s the whole story.

Girls (and boys) deserve and are entitled to a safe and private place to change and do their business. It is simply unconscionable and despicable to take that away from them.

Read Forcing girls to share a bathroom with a gender-confused boy is abuse

Here's more food for thought -- involving privacy in locker rooms this time.

"Women and men being naked together in the same locker room, taking showers and doing all this and they're saying that doesn't have any component of a sexual nature to it," [Atty. David] Kallman said.

"You don't have those facts in this case," [Midland County Circuit Court Judge Michael] Beale replied.

Kallman said "we don't have to wait for that to occur" and that the transgender-friendly locker room policy itself is "sexual in nature by allowing men in the women's locker room."

Beale came back to the threshold required for sexual harassment claims several times and Kallman continued to respond by saying the policy itself is sexual in nature and that no actual sexual incidents needed to occur for that to meet the threshold.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Love better, live better

The superior man thinks always of virtue; 
the common man thinks of comfort. 

- Confucius

I came across this quote on one of Petrufied's blog posts. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Following the Shepherd along "greener pastures"


Pope Francis is currently in the United States, having just planed in from Cuba where he spent three days of his 8-day apostolic journey in America. No doubt this is one of the most vital trips he is taking, since the United States is where much of the developments in the political and social spheres worldwide originate, whether we like it or not. Indeed, when the US sneezes, the whole world catches a cold (well, the "whole" can be an exaggeration but you know what I mean).

If you're active in social media, you'll see loads of materials (articles, videos, memes, opinion pieces, news reports, etc.) on the 78-year-old Pope's apostolic visit and the response of the people of Cuba and the United States. So much to sift through, quite a lot to figure out. To help anyone interested to at least know a little of what's been going on and what the Pope has really been saying, below are links to a couple of speeches and transcript of an in-flight interview which he has made on the trip.

Excerpt from the Pope's speech to families in Cuba (Sept. 22):
It is in the home that we learn fraternity, solidarity, and not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. In the home there is no room for 'putting on masks': we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others. That is why the Christian community calls families 'domestic churches'. It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.

In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family. As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or forgiveness, or even to say 'thank you', because our homes are growing empty. Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters.
The family is a school of humanity which teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. Amid all the difficulties troubling our families today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity which we have to care for, protect and support.

Text of the Pope's speech to families in Santiago, Cuba

* * * * * * * * * *

Excerpt from the Pope's in-flight interview from Cuba to the USA:
Jean Louis de la Vaissiere, AFP: In the last trip to Latin America, you harshly criticized the capitalist liberal system. In Cuba, it appears that your critiques of the communist system weren’t very strong, but “soft.” Why these differences?

Pope Francis: In the speeches that I made in Cuba, I always put the accent on the social doctrine of the Church. But the things that must be corrected I said clearly, not “perfumed,” or soft. But, also the first part of your question, more than what I have written – and harshly – in the encyclical, also in Evangelii gaudium, about wild, liberal capitalism – I didn’t say it. All that is written there. I don’t remember having said anything more than that. If you remember, let me know. I’ve said what I’ve written, which is enough, enough.

Full transcript of the in-flight interview from Cuba to US

* * * * * * * * * *

Excerpt from the Pope's speech to the bishops of the USA (Sept. 23):

We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

Text of the Pope's speech to the bishops of the USA

* * * * * * * * * *

Two interesting articles:

Pope Francis is not 'progressive' -- he's a priest
How to read the pontiff as he visits the United States of America

Pope Francis' popularity bridges great divides

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And here's something that will certainly delight a lot of infanticipating moms:

The Pope delivers a rare blessing to pregnant women from Cuba (text and video)

Schedule of the papal visit in the USA


Excerpt from the Pope's speech at the US Congress (Sept. 24)

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Pope Francis' speech before the US Congress

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More interesting articles:

Pope Francis' awesome drop mic moment on religious liberty

Pope Francis makes unscheduled visit to Little Sisters of the Poor to show his support

Away from Capitol, Pope Francis sees face of St. Joseph in homeless

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Before September ends...

... here are some news and features from around the planet. They either delve on happenings in September or were penned this month though tackling incidents from previous months. Lots to digest, lots to be aware about, lots to be thankful for, lots to spur us on to concrete action.

A hunting ban saps a village's livelihood

SANKUYO, Botswana — Lions have been coming out of the surrounding bush, prowling around homes and a small health clinic, to snatch goats and donkeys from the heart of this village on the edge of one of Africa’s great inland deltas. Elephants, too, are becoming frequent, unwelcome visitors, gobbling up the beans, maize and watermelons that took farmers months to grow.

Vatican parish welcomes first refugee family following Pope's appeal

.- A family of four has been welcomed by the community of the Vatican's St. Anne parish after Pope Francis' made an appeal earlier this month for every church in Europe open their doors to refugees.

Nigeria refuses to give in to UN pressure on abortion, 'sexual rights'

NEW YORK, September 18, 2015 (C-Fam) A powerful and controversial UN population agency told the Nigerian government to change its position on reproductive health last week after setbacks in advancing abortion and sexual rights for adolescents in Africa.

Australian PM Turnbull calls for more women MPs as he defends Cabinet reshuffle

CANBERRA (AFP) - New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his major shake-up of the Cabinet on Monday (Sept 21) and said he wished the percentage of women in Parliament were higher so he could have appointed more to key roles.

Pope calls for conversion of hearts and minds in Cuba

(Vatican Radio) Conversion of hearts and minds to Christ: this was the central theme of Pope Francis’s homily at Mass in the Cuban city of Holguin on Monday, the day the Church marks the feast of St Matthew.

Louisiana officially cancels Planned Parenthood funding in light of 'baby parts' scandal

This week, the state of Louisiana sent a letter to Planned Parenthood, detailing reasons for the state’s termination of Medicaid funding to the abortion giant. The letter lists numerous scandals involving Planned Parenthood (including those uncovered by the Center for Medical Progress videos), citing Planned Parenthood’s illegal actions and dishonesty as reasons for the termination.

Nepal adopts new Constitution as protesters clash with police

KATHMANDU • Nepal adopted a new Constitution yesterday aimed at bolstering its transformation into a peaceful democracy after decades of autocratic rule and a long civil war, even as protests raged over its terms.

Photo of Africa images from The New York Times / Photo of Pope Francis from Agence France Press

Saturday, September 19, 2015

You make my heart beat faster: thanks for the scare, you big, black bee

Since discovering the amazing beauty of the flowers in our garden a couple of years ago and finding myself fascinated by the various insects (namely, butterflies, moths and caterpillars) and the way they quietly carry out their "work" day after day, I've come to see the natural world as yet another mirror that reflects God's wisdom. The minutest details have been taken care of, even the ones to which human eyes are oblivious but which are there for reasons only the Creator knows. I have also come to appreciate the little creatures that don't exactly exude breath-taking beauty but which -- so I learned later -- play an indispensable role in the grand scheme of things. Here's one such creature:

After seeing a couple of photos of bees I posted on Facebook, my friend Stef gave me a link to a BBC documentary on just how vital the existence of bees (in this case, honeybees) was to ours. It was mind-blowing. It's here if you'd like to watch it.

Well, a recent experience led me to appreciate these formerly-thought-of-as-ugly creatures all the more, though fear had something to do with my change of heart..

One morning about a month ago, I decided that I would continue my quiet time out in the garden amid the lantana hedge, atop a ladder. The brightly colored flowers were a-plenty, and butterflies and moths had been "visiting" more frequently again, making for a marvelous sight that could probably prompt even the most hardened heart to contemplate the beauty of the natural world. It suffices to say that it can be an immensely tranquil scene to witness.

Top of the world: More accurately, top of the ladder

Done with prayer inside my room, I headed out the front door, set the ladder near the hedge, and tucked my phone securely in my pocket (I figured taking a snapshot or two of a pretty butterfly would be a nice bonus). As I climbed the steps, I already admired the sight before me. Sure, the vibrant colors of petals please the senses, but greenery can be magnificent, too, in its simplicity. Reaching the top of the ladder afforded me a view of the entire hedge. I slowly turned and settled into a comfortable position from where I could continue my quiet time. Things sure look different from up here, I remember thinking while bringing out my phone and setting it on camera just in case some pretty butterfly happened to land near enough.

How relaxing it was. By this time I had grown accustomed to seeing things like hairy caterpillars around our garden that rather than being irked or agitated by the sight of the creepy crawlies, my reaction would be pure fascination.

I snapped away with each remarkable sight. "Now that's something you don't see everyday," I muttered as a hairy caterpillar slowly made its way toward a smaller, non-hairy caterpillar on a neighboring leaf. Would this constitute a petty quarrel in the insect world? A "Match of the Century" of sorts? Caterpillar Armaggedon?

I was content with sitting on my post, savoring the quiet and watching as butterflies zoomed past but none sticking around long enough to photograph. Perhaps I had been there for some 10 or so minutes when a bee appeared at the far end of the hedge. From flower to flower it hovered and landed for a few moments, doing its thing. I wasn't really concerned because I had seen bees all the time, though I admit I was always on the ground and they were up there, far from the ground.

As the bee slowly grew closer, I started taking photos... until I realized it was much too close for comfort. At this point I had visions of being stung by the creature, which of course sent me into a semi-panic (the bee, after all, was not your average bee but a huge, black, furry one. In a span of, oh, 15 seconds maybe, I thought of how best to fall from the ladder so that I don't sustain a broken leg or hip or any of my precious limbs: Wait, should I fall foward, that way I land on these santan bushes, thereby cushioning me a bit? How do I avoid those pots? Should I lean back? Yikes, that will tip the ladder over.  Ack! Here it comes.... oh my God. Maybe I'll shut my eyes so it doesn't sting me there. I don't want to go blind! Oh no.... were the thoughts that raced through my head as the bee hovered closer and the buzzing sound grew louder.

At one point, the bee seemed to stare right at me, and I -- with phone a few inches from my face and trying to maintain my balance on top of the ladder -- sat still and all the while wondering if my racing hearbeat would send a warning to the menacing-looking thing. I remember starting to utter the Memorare softly in a pleading tone (and quite rapidly) and then cutting it short to say "Oh, God..." because I thought the bee would actually fly straight toward me.

Well, it didn't.

It turned its attention on the flowers again, hovering over some that were on another part of the hedge. Best moment of the entire experience. My pulse rate decreased and for a few seconds I just sat there.

I think I'm invading their space, I concluded, and with that I slowly made my way down the ladder, still dazed that I escaped a possible stinging from a very big, very black and very furry bee.

"Hindi ka naman aanuhin basta hindi mo sila sasaktan (They won't do anything to you as long as you don't hurt them)," was my mother's casual remark after I related the nerve-wracking incident that left me all sweaty (not from the sun exposure or humidity, but from nervousness). Well, I didn't know that. Besides, I had made up my mind to let the winged creatures frequenting our garden have their own space. You know, respecting the fact that they have their own jobs to do and that I might be interfering even when I think I'm simply admiring them and their realm, and trying to capture them in photos.

Well, now that I think about it, I've captured enough images of the wondrous sights I've been fortunate to see in our small garden. And what ultimately counts doesn't lie in perfectly composed pictures or witnessing butterflies and other little creatures carry out their part in the ecosystem. If I'd ask myself if seeing all this has been keeping me on the path of a virtuous life directed toward Heaven, I would definitely want to be able to say a resounding "Yes!"

But then, keeping hundreds and hundreds (more like over a thousand) of photos of flowers and insects from every angle in my computer doesn't sound very virtuous, so let me share some of them here before I delete them for good.

One sunny day at the lantana hedge

Looking up from under the hedge, this is what I see

One of several kinds of Amata wasp moths

The Common Lime Butterfly, one of the pretty pollinators in our garden

Not so common: lavender hibiscus ("gumamela")

This Philippine Common Snow Flat (I have no idea why it's called that) is pretty rare; I've seen one in our garden only twice so far

The lantana hedge was bursting with color on the day after a thunderstorm

Such pretty leaves providing a resting place for this Great Eggfly butterfly

I see a lot of these wasp moths flying around our garden. This was taken right after it rained.

Army Green caterpillars love the plants in our yard

When the Army Green caterpillar changes color, that means it's ready to pupate soon.

An Army Green Hawk-moth, the morning after emerging from its cocoon!

A bee busy at work, oblivious to any observer like me

I find butterflies and moths with tattered wings truly fascinating as the injury doesn't seem to faze them. This is a Great Eggfly butterfly, which I see a lot of in our garden.

A hairy caterpillar that, I'm told, does not transform into a butterfly or moth but simply remains a caterpillar all its life. Boy, I shouldn't have believed that.

A hardly noticeable honeybee among the santan petals

Charming light-colored lantana

These Skipper butterflies can test one's alertness and patience in photographing them, since they dart from place to place and their rapid movements are quite unpredictable.

June 4, 2013: the first snapshot that got me hooked on these winged creatures

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