and Nightly Escapades in Our Country’s 2nd
© Copyright 2018 by Jesus Deytiquez
When I was graduating in college, we were required to attend a four days and three nights retreat in Tagaytay City. I was the chairman of the electoral board of our college back then, and the schedule of the student government election fell on the same date of our block’s retreat, so I needed to attend an earlier retreat with other blocks from other sections. As a consequence, I was a stranger amidst a bus filled with people that knew each other so well.
I never been in that city or travelled the roads leading to it, so everything was novelty for me. Sure, I’ve been and lived in a mountain city before (Baguio City) and also travelled through long expressways surrounded by greeneries before, but there are differences of course. I was quite the whole time and just listened with the songs of Gabrielle Aplin, A Rocket to the Moon, and Parachute, as I gazed towards the fleeting sceneries outside—until we started to ascend.
Our ascension to that other mountain city was not as heart-pounding as what is the case with the one I’m very familiar with. The road to Tagaytay City was not that steep, or has very sharp turns (or combinations of those two) as Baguio City. (This is what I can remember, but you can correct me if I am wrong still.) But one scene took my breath away.
It was the view of the Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano Island of Batangas City from the different heights of such place. The whole view was enchanting. The late rainy and cloudy afternoon sky blended with the deep blue colors of the lake, and the volcano island. It was so far and out of reach, but still the beauty of that place radiates, and entices a person into an ecstatic experience.
We soon arrived at the venue of our retreat, the dreaded St. Scholastica’s Center for Spirituality, which, I’ve read and heard many ghost stories. As expected from a retreat venue, the whole place is solemn, vast, and full of greeneries; there was an old-looking stone church at the heart of that center, but the design of the buildings and cottages, scattered all over the place for the lodging and other usages of its visitors and administrators, are modern. With the slightly colder climate of that mountain city, the silence and solitude of that center, and the sight of its ancient-looking stone church, one may easily understand why many will think that there is a presence there.
We attended an evening Mass first and then proceeded with our rooms. The boy’s rooms (there are four rooms) are located on the second floor of a building, several meters away from the old-looking church. The girl’s rooms consequently, are located on the ground floor. There are two doors for each room: one is for the usual access to the room and the building, the second one is for the access to the common terrace. I did not know the people I am with in the room I was assigned to, and I am quite shy to talk to them first, so I went out of our room and that building to wander in the other parts of that center, alone.
I went to the man-made cave under the old church. It was fairly lighted, just enough for me to see and read the pictures and stories hanged on the wall about the siblings: St. Scholastica and St. Benedict. There are three stories about them that became my favorites: the first one is about how St. Scholastica prayed for rain in order for her brother not to send her away, after a day of their occasional meeting, and her prayer was granted; the second one is about how the companions of St. Benedict, because of his strictness, tried to poison him, but after he made a sign of the cross, the container of the poisoned water was shattered; the third one is about how St. Benedict, if I my remembrance of it was correct, managed to know an information about a certain person even if they were separated by a distance so great. No ghost dared to disrupt that spiritual experience.
My next destination was the hall in the second floor of our building. It is a hall dedicated to St. Hildergard of Bingen. Some excerpts and duplicates of her mystical writings and paintings decorated the walls of that hall. Again, I was in awe with the mysteries I was reading and seeing, and again, no ghost or other supernatural being appeared.
When the night was already deep, I sneaked into my room and fetched my blanket. I decided to sleep in the terrace alone. There are two reasons behind such action of mine: one was the fact that I am not that comfortable in sleeping in the same room with several strangers, the second one was my curiosity to find out what it is like for homeless people to sleep in that mountain city. I saw a person sleeping on a stone bench in the Burnham Park of Baguio City before, with only a blanket, and his bag as a pillow, to shield him and give him comfort amidst the coldness of such place. You may think that this action is crazy, but I wanted to experience one of the numerous experiences of our other brothers and sisters, not only out of curiosity, but in order to be more sympathetic to them—one who knows how it was like to be like the other person, no matter how imperfect the sameness of that shared experiences are, will be more able to understand, and therefore help that other person.
I tried to sleep on the cold stone floor of that terrace. I thought that my blanket will trap enough heat and the floor will soon be warm, but both never occurred. The night was cold, the sky was starry, and the sounds of the nocturnal insects and birds attempted to lull me to sleep. But after some hours of failed attempts to sleep, I went to the dark common area of the second floor where some couches are, and tried to sleep in one of them. I got some naps, but woke up earlier than any of the other students. All throughout that ordeal, a ghost or supernatural being never appeared or disturbed me.
The next night, a group of friends that was lodged in a room near the common area, offered their room to me, and they were fun to be with! They are a nice and funny bunch. The only downside of sleeping in their room was their nightly competition: the person with the most frequent and loudest fart will be the victor. You will not believe me, my dear reader, how such competition went on until the wee hours of the morning! And our bath time, as what is the case in every cold mountain city, became very exciting and numbing, especially when the heater can only function limitedly.
A series of spiritual activities commenced during our whole stay in that center, like giving us the chance to get the good from the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Mass, praying the prayer for our discernment of our vocation in front of the Holy Eucharist, sharing, and some free time for contemplation. The food there was also good, and there are many souvenirs and religious items and books that one can buy there (I bought Bishop Barron’s “Vibrant Paradoxes”).
Before we left that mountain city, I also bought a stainless necklace with a St. Benedict’s medal, a medal that promises, through the intercession of St. Benedict, that the wearer shall be protected from many dangers and evils like poisoning, lightning, and even demonic possession (the medal was said to be the most effective against the last one). After attending our last Mass there, I have it blessed. An image of a beautiful lady flashed in my mind. She was the lady I was courting back then, and even though she never talked to me again after her message of gratitude, I am glad and do not regret, that I gave that to her. It is Love who created such beautiful place and mysteries, who dares me to be better, who gives us kindness even to strangers, who protects me like St. Benedict from terrors, and maybe, the One who enabled me to give that to her. Acts of love, even unreturned ones, is never in vain. And I know that it is Love also who will grant my prayer for that lady to be always safe. Love, is enough, and always will.I'm from the Philippines. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, but instead of pursuing law school, I remembered my first love: reading and writing stories. I'm now working hard to gain a scholarship for my journey for a Master's degree.