Army of God – Part 1

A month before, the customer-oriented Negros Navigation sent a crew to clear the pier of bombs left unexploded. It had to since its ship was going to dock on World War 2-damaged pier. Its ship MV St. Peter the Apostle was carrying the delegates of the SFC International Leaders Conference to Corregidor Island. The ship went through Cagayan de Oro, Cebu and Bacolod picking up the Visayas and Mindanao delegates along the way, unloading 960 passengers at its first docking, then went back to Manila to pick up the last 3,765 passengers (it took two hours to load the ship!).

It was no camp!

It was no boot camp. Yet there was an army assembling. 4,700 came from all over the Philippines and 16 countries. The first international conference for the year, bigger than last year's Palawan conference, had the largest (of the seven SFC International Conferences) foreign delegation with its 115 participants. By snail paced word-of-mouth and light speed cyberspace's email, they conquered Corregidor, the once unconquerable rock protruding from Manila Bay, the last defense of the capital from 20th century foreign invasion. Hot and humid during the day with the sun mercilessly beating out every last sweat from the soldiers for Christ (SFC), they trekked a kilometer long road, rising 200 feet, to Freedom Hill whenever the talks began. At the South Dock with its short San Jose beach, there were tents for every 40 sisters and for every 35 brothers. A total of 50 tents for the women and 30 tents for the men straddled either end of the 3 to 4 hectare field. 200 toilets and baths constructed ala-military style completed the camp. The place was huge!

SFC leaders from Bataan, Quezon, Bicol, Antipolo, Cagayan de Oro, Leyte, Nueva Ecija, Northern Samar and Manila Central A outdid each other doing military drills complete with flags and poles in a 'military' Praise Parade (Cagayan de Oro won).

60 brethren from Bagong Silang, mostly former drug-addicts, earned for themselves legitimate profits out of their enterprising peddling of the welcome ice-cold Coke and bottled water. The sky sprayed its refreshing mist Saturday mid-afternoon, washing the dust out of sun- baked skins of both the rich and the poor, the famous and the masses, the educated and the illiterate.

Looking impressive in his commando uniform, 'General' Shok Arriola with his 'lieutenant' Richie Ladrido barked orders to the welcoming platoon of SFC full timers, while the real platoon of Philippine Coast Guards watched from the sides. Even Tony Meloto sounded Pattonesque in the Fulltimers Meeting when he gave instructions to look after the welfare of the delegation first before their own, “Be the last to sleep and the first to wake up … let them have their meal before you do.”

It was no party!

It was no party. Yet for two nights in a row to an-hour-and- a-half past midnight they partied hard. CFC Cebu's FLAME Band played Friday night with Paulo being swooned over by the girls from a distance, while “Big Deal” played Saturday night. At both they danced the night away, the women, undeterred by the large number of men, secure in the fact that they are gentlemen though they be not all officers.

Mornings and early afternoons were for island tours, sightseeing, hiking, swimming or just plain lazing around in the tents trading stories of conferences and service and missions until the voices trail off incoherently under the sun's sleep-inducing spell.

Or, if games coordinator Badge Zapanta had his way, he would make them have more fun, games and sweat, getting them to conquer walls (Wall Climbing), run military-grade obstacle course (Iron Man and Iron Woman), steal base flags while dodging plastic water bombs (Agaw Base) and fire these same bombs while hiding in wooden shields (Combatuhan), pull their own and others' weight (Tug of War), and for good measure run their already tired legs (Running), pull their already sore arms (Arm Wrestling) and still throw each other on the grass (Sumo Wrestling).

Brian Galang of the TV show “In His Steps” and SFC Spain leader Marla Chavez, emcees for the whole conference, took to the stage only late in the afternoon when the sun was about to set and the talks began. McLaur Productions sent 7 cameramen with 3 cameras to document the conference.

It was no retreat!

It was no retreat. Yet all they talked about was Jesus as the true hero. Mgsr Baluma in the Sunday Mass said, “We are all together in this one work of bringing souls to Christ.” When SFC Coordinator Gary Faustino opened the conference at 8:52 pm, he declared, “In this weekend, let's redefine ourselves - what the Lord means to us, what freedom is all about!”

Even Creative Director Celso Magcalas, alias “The Master;” on Friday night got his previous group Douglas Nierras Powerdance to interpret in dance the “Three Mysteries,” a masculine yet gentle ballet tracing the life of Jesus in the three decades of the rosary. Its moving 'La Pieta' choreography was the talk of the town - how can such a small woman carry the man?

If Tony Meloto was asked, he would ask back, “Why, in the first place, is she carrying the burden? La Pieta is not just the death of the Savior. It is also the death of man. Man has abandoned his God-given role in society. Woman and children suffer because of his sin of abdication. For example, after abortion woman suffers alone its effects, while man goes about secure in his merry ways. In this generation, the women are taking on more and more the traditional male roles because of the failure of men to be effective. We are raising a new generation of leaders, of men liberated from the wrong machismo culture that brings about corruption (man's failure to be honest), criminality (man's failure to protect), break-up of families (man's failure to pastor) and, most visible of all, poverty (man's failure to provide).”

Continue to Part 2

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