The month of September will always be special to me. I remember vividly in my growing-up years, September 8 would always be a day for Mama Mary. My late mother, Lydia Ong Fernandez of Carcar, Cebu was a great Marian Devotee. We got through so much of our family’s ups and downs through the Blessed Virgin Mary’s powerful maternal intercession.
Our nightly family rosary prayers helped me navigate the travails of my life as a teenager who lost a father early on.
September is also particularly important because every September 23 is St. Padre Pio Feast Day. Since leaving Cebu in 1997 to be a volunteer English teacher in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur, knowing St. Padre Pio and being loved by the Padre Pio Home Family in Tugbok, Davao City has been my life’s greatest blessing.
I am, after all, a misyonerong Cebuana in Mindanao. I dedicate this simple reflection in honor of the most powerful intercessor of our time, St. Padre Pio.
My sacred story with him began in 2007. Just after my second miscarriage, I was already on the brink of despair. It was in the canteen of the Holy Cross of Davao College on one fine day after my IIREF masteral class with Fr. Malley, SJ when suddenly I had the urge to fill my hungry tummy with a sumptuous lunch. But deep down in my heart, I wanted so much to cry and wail for after all I just went through another miscarriage.
Then the first teardrop fell, and before I knew it, I was already crying profusely. Then a kind stranger by the name of Sr. Rachel found me in that little spot in the canteen.
Sr. Rachel was from Tugbok. She was an AJC Sister of Padre Pio’s Home for Children. She mirrored Christ to me that day. She introduced me to the Padre Pio Home. She promised to pray for us and asked for a little wedding picture of Nelson and me so she could put it under the sacred relic of the most powerful intercessor on earth.
I found hope and comfort in Tugbok. I wasted no time and visited the home for abandoned and neglected children. I met the kids. Ollien was still very young. I played with them. Every time I would come and visit, I would find joy and fulfillment. I would often pray in the chapel and cry there hoping that the good Lord would hear our plea for a bundle of joy.
Nelson and I got married in 2002. And we were both eager to start a family of our own. He was 33 and I was 24. But then, the Lord had other plans. It took us almost 10 years of patient waiting before I got pregnant with Marian but that is actually getting ahead of my sacred story.
It was not an easy nine years of married life. I was young, career-driven and bent on achieving my personal dreams living a fast-paced life with weekdays of full-time teaching. On weekends I spent on earning my Masters in Religious Education with then Fr. Malley, SJ of which Nelson and I shared the same love for learning and serving the church in Mindanao.
My second miscarriage led to my retiring from the teaching profession in order to choose family life. In all those almost 10 years of infertility, Nelson and I continued to serve Padre Pio Home. I utilized my time with the kids and I started my Art and Reading Advocacy with them.
I convinced Nelson to be their resident music teacher since the home had all sorts of musical instruments for a Rondalla guild. And the rest they say is history.
Now, after almost 15 years, my fave kids in the world play the best Rondalla in Mindanao.
I love the kids like my own. I would often buy them the best books and dictionaries and coloring materials every time. I wanted them to love learning and heal from their trauma through art and color. I healed too from my own pain of not having a child of my own.
The Padre Pio Home is always a magnet of love. Every night, the children would kneel down and pray for us to be given a child soon.
To be honest, I almost lost hope but then a ray of light came through in and through St. Padre Pio. I learned by heart in all those years I have been with them the sacred teaching of Padre Pio: Pray. Hope. Do not worry.
The kids and the Sisters mirrored that to me. I was pulled out from the depths of my despair miraculously.
On December 3, 2011, our beautiful bundle of joy came to the world on the Feast of St. Francis Xavier. Thank you St. Padre Pio for your most powerful intercession, Marian Ysabelle was born via normal delivery. She will forever remind me God’s fidelity in our married life. After six days, Marian was carried by Mother General and was warmly welcomed by the whole Padre Pio Home.
St. Padre Pio is my great teacher in the faith. In my moments of despair, he was my refuge. He led me closer to Jesus. In my great suffering, he comforted me and taught me how to be his spiritual daughter though unworthy as I am.
In my sickness and ailments, he brought Jesus’ healing balm to my wounded soul.
The AJC Sisters have become my family. They have stood by me through thick and thin. They have prayed for me and my family as true warriors and lovers do.
Their language of love is always felt by me even if we do not get to see each other every day. St. Padre Pio is truly a great miracle worker. The love and care of Heaven is always felt by everyone because the Padre Pio Home in Tugbok is a magnet of love and hope for all who wish to get to know St. Padre Pio even more deeply.
Pray. Hope. Do not worry. God is merciful and will hear every prayer from the heart. I have truly experienced that in my life. I praise and thank the Lord for this blessed chance to be part of Padre Pio Home.
In 2007, I came. I visited. I volunteered. I love them all. I will continue to love them and care for them for as long as I live. In 2021, I became officially an orphan with the death of my Mama Lads, and I would often joke Sr. Domenica that I am now officially part of the roster of children in Padre Pio Home.
This 2023, successive trials were experienced by my family in Carcar, Cebu: harassment, eviction, and home demolition in Burgos which triggered my BP to shoot up and led me to the ER twice. And true enough, my Padre Pio Home family stood by me steadfastly in prayer and love. I am so lucky and blessed to be loved by all of them. I may not have all the money in the world, but with my Padre Pio Home family, I am richly provided for; hugs are available anytime, prayers are offered every time even at the wee hours of the night.
I am blessed! I am loved! I can declare by faith: Pray. Hope. Do not worry. God is merciful and will hear every prayer from the heart.
Thank you, Lord for everything. Thank you St. Padre Pio for your love and care. (Frances Nina Fernandez-Bitang)