Million Miles Entry#2 Half day at Montserrat

Just one hour from the bustling city of Barcelona is the breathtaking Mount Montserrat, a place where nature’s grandeur harmonizes with spiritual enlightenment.


From top, looking down

Nestled atop the serrated mountain is Montserrat Basilica, a significant religious attraction drawing pilgrims from different parts of Europe and the rest of the world. Constructed in the 1500s, the church is of Gothic architecture adorned with touches of renaissance design. Unfortunately, it suffered heavily during the Peninsular War but was then given due treatment when it was reconstructed after the Spanish Civil War.


The presence of the Black Madonna, or the Moreneta which is how they call it in Spain is the main reason people come to visit the Basilica of Montserrat. Many agree that the Madonna has healing powers and thousands of miracles has been credited to her. Thought there is no known origin of the statue, it is believed that the Moreneta has been carved in Jerusalem at the beginning of religion. And the reason it is black is because the wood has darkened over time. In 1844, Pope Leo XIII declared the Black Madonna to be the patron saint of Catalonia, making it even more important to the people of Spain.

The Black Madonna

The lady is well loved by saints. In March 25, 1522, Ignatius of Loyola visited the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat upon his recovery from battle wounds. This is the place where he laid down his military paraphernalia before the lady’s image. Another is St. Escriva who often visited the image during the 1940s and even more in 1946, the year of his move to Rome. On April 27, 1954, on the feast of the lady of Montserrat, after having suffered diabetes for 10 years, and following an anaphylactic shock from wrong dose of insulin, he was fully healed. The saint’s doctor was astonished since most cases of insulin reaction are fatal.

Our group lined up along the right side of the church for the 130pm visit even if we arrived 2 hours earlier. The delay was not caused by long lines of people but unmet expectations, miscommunication caused by misrepresentation that annoyed me greatly since a lot of time was wasted. Anyway, it is a paid visit inside the church and the amount depends on areas you want to visit. As we entered, we were greeted by the atrium of the basilica, also known as atrium of Abbot Argerich. It’s white marble floor with inscriptions in Latin was inspired by Rome’s Capitolium, designed by Michaelangelo. Looking up from the atrium you will see the facade of the church with Jesus and the 12 apostles.


As we entered the right hall, statues of Saints welcomed us. After a few steps we found ourselves going up to the second floor and along its walls are vibrant mosaics of important Catholic figures. There was a bit of a traffic along the way as people paid their respects to the Black Madonna. A few minutes into the line, we reached the room where the Madonna is, said some prayers and took photos to remember the moment. A 180 degree turn from the Madonna, you will see the whole of the Basilica from birds eye view. Pews are dotted with people praying, and some walking along the isle to document their visit. Along the sides of church you will find candle chandeliers representative of Catalan jewelry-making after the Spanish civil war, donated by Catalan towns and associations.

After the short prayer, we went down the stairs only to find ourselves, which to me is the most beautiful part of the basilica, the chapel behind the Black Madonna. The majestic circular space, surrounded by colorful stained glass windows, an embodiment of God’s beauty and perfection is spiritually inviting, a direct call from the divine.


Before we reached the atrium to end the visit, we had to pass through the side of the basilica, a space lit with candles contained in different colors, symbolic of hundreds of prayer and praises from people grateful for having seen and touched the divine in the beauty of the church, the truth in the feeling of God’s presence and the goodness of Moreneta.

Million Miles Entry #1 A Visit to St. Pio and St. Michael

The day (5/23/2023) began just before sunrise, with Ingrid and I rising at 5am in anticipation of our 5-hour road trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. Our primary destination was the shrine of St. Padre Pio, a revered figure known for his powerful intercession. The excitement was palpable as we prepared for the journey ahead.

At 6am, our group convened in the piazza, gathering together to meet our guide, Andrew. Our group consisted of ten individuals, including the two drivers. As the clock approached shortly after 6am, the first van departed, setting off on our adventure. However, we found ourselves needing to pause briefly, as Ingrid rushed back to our nearby apartment to double-check if we had left the iron on. Within a mere five minutes, we were back on track, ready to embark on our memorable excursion..

An hour into our trip, we did our first pit stop at a solitary gas station in the middle of nowhere to grab some breakfast. It was coffee and croissant for most of us. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward Italian breakfast. Before leaving we bought some road trip snacks. I got cipster. It’s something I saw being sold a few days ago in the Italian Open Tennis and got curious how it tastes. I didn’t buy it or any food during the tennis match because I avoided drinking as I didn’t want the trouble of needing to use the toilet in the middle of a tennis match. After 20 minutes, we were back on the road. The journey was relatively uneventful with only olive trees and vineyards occasionally punctuating the landscape. A serene expanse of greenery beneath the endless blue skies provided the perfect backdrop to try the cipster. It has an interesting taste, difficult to describe. It resembled kropeck that tasted like potato chips, or perhaps the other way around. Nevertheless, I found it enjoyable.

I approached the trip without dwelling on the specifics or setting specific expectations for myself. I consciously chose not to anticipate or plan too extensively, as I didn’t want to risk being disappointed. Instead, I embraced the idea that traveling should be a journey of discovery, allowing oneself to be open to whatever unfolds. By avoiding excessive research and maintaining a sense of spontaneity, the experience becomes more enjoyable and filled with surprises. Sometimes, it’s best to simply have a general destination in mind and let the journey unfold naturally, embracing the unknown and allowing for unexpected adventures along the way.

After a 30-minute drive, we traversed through San Marco, a charming town nestled within the province of Foggia. The vibrant atmosphere immediately caught my attention. Despite its small size, the streets were bustling with elderly individuals leisurely strolling and congregating in the town square. Numerous cafes, gelato shops, and small businesses added to the lively ambiance. Curious about the town’s economy, I inquired with our driver, who informed me that the majority of San Marco’s residents were involved in farming. This picturesque setting perfectly embodied my perception of contemporary rural Italy.

As we approached San Giovanni Rotondo, we ascended the mountain via a winding road, maneuvering through its zigzag curves at a speed of 80-100 km per hour, causing us to sway from side to side. Finally, at 11:20 am, we reached our destination, greeted by impeccable weather that struck the perfect balance between warmth and coolness. Eager to explore, we stepped into an elevator that brought us upwards. Stepping out of the elevator, we found ourselves in a vast, open space, with the old church and the hospital constructed by St. Pio visible to the right. Strolling along the open space, we veered left to visit the church, where we dedicated a few minutes to prayer and captured some memorable photographs. The church, although modern in its design, maintained a traditional essence that permeated its atmosphere.

After our brief visit to the church, we descended to pay homage to the body of St. Pio. As we made our way towards the chapel, we traversed a corridor adorned with vibrant mosaics, adding an artistic touch to our journey. However, upon reaching the chapel, we realized that a Mass was in progress, and we would only be able to approach the altar, where St. Pio’s body lay, once the Mass concluded.

As soon as the Mass ended, we promptly joined the line of eager visitors. Fortunately, the line was not excessively long and was steadily progressing. It did, however, irk me to witness some individuals attempting to cut in line. Regardless, the atmosphere was filled with prayers, the gentle touch of hands against the glass, and the clicking of cameras capturing the moment.

When my turn arrived, I stood before St. Pio’s preserved form, gazing at him with reverence. I reached out to touch the glass, making the sign of the cross as a sign of gratitude for his unwavering intercession. A sense of awe enveloped me as I captured a few photographs, preserving the memory of this profound encounter.

Ingrid, desiring more time in St. Pio’s presence, chose to line up again, and I willingly accompanied her. The entire experience felt surreal, especially considering that just a few years ago, we had fervently prayed for this very moment. Today, our prayers had been answered, and we were granted the opportunity to be in the presence of such spiritual significance.

Following our encounter with St. Pio’s body, we proceeded to the old church to explore a collection of his relics. Among the various personal items on display, such as books, chairs, clocks, and even soaps, I found his pens particularly intriguing. A selection of fountain pens was showcased, capturing my attention. One pen, specifically, caught my eye as it rested in its elegant Mont Blanc box. Additionally, there were several pens bundled together in a plastic bag, resembling the iconic Parker 51 design, yet distinctly different from actual Parkers. Regrettably, I couldn’t identify the exact make or model of those mysterious pens.

As our visit extended into lunchtime, we made our way to a small restaurant situated beside the complex. As expected, the food proved to be delightful. I opted for a pasta dish with a rich red sauce complemented by the flavors of eggplants and arugula, although I can’t recall the specific name of the dish. Being no food blogger, I simply reveled in the delicious flavors. The wine served was light and paired well with the meal, although I am by no means a wine connoisseur, content with savoring the combination of flavors.

Following our satisfying lunch, we were pleasantly surprised when the restaurant generously offered us complimentary servings of limoncello and amaretto. However, what made our dining experience truly captivating was the couple seated beside us. The woman hailed from Laguna in the Philippines, and the man, an Italian doctor, happened to be her former patient. Their connection blossomed into love, ultimately leading them to marry. It was an intriguing reminder that the most captivating aspect of any meal often lies in the stories and experiences shared by those around us, transcending the mere enjoyment of food itself.

Just as we were preparing to depart, the rain began to pour. I couldn’t help but feel grateful that it had held off until after our visit. It was truly a blessing. Following our lunch, we made our way to Monte Sant’Angelo to explore the sanctuary of St. Michael, the oldest shrine in Western Europe. According to legend, in the year 490, St. Michael the Archangel appeared multiple times to the bishop of Sipontum, instructing him to dedicate the cave to Christian worship and promising protection against pagan invaders.

To access the shrine, I descended a flight of stairs. At the bottom, the entrance to the cave awaited, while pews lined the right-hand side, leading towards the altar. The ceiling differed from any of the Roman churches we were familiar with; it consisted of natural mountain rock, a gray expanse devoid of any defined shape, painted by the forces of nature itself. The atmosphere within the sanctuary was characterized by shadows rather than light, creating an aura of solemnity and sacredness, an accumulation of countless prayers and miracles.

However, it’s not only the church that adds to the allure of the place. The small and picturesque town, adorned with charming little shops offering a variety of goods, ranging from delectable food items to colorful souvenirs, adds an extra layer of enchantment. It’s truly a delightful setting.

Despite spending ten hours on the road for just a couple of hours at the St. Pio shrine, where we marveled at his presence and learnt about his pens, and at the Sanctuary of St. Michael, where we offered our prayers and strolled through the charming streets of the town, the time and effort invested felt entirely worthwhile. If given the opportunity, I would certainly choose to spend a night in Foggia, as it would provide an even more immersive experience, allowing me to delve deeper into the wonders of this captivating destination.

The Birth of Brilliant Ideas

People with great ideas fascinate me. I am talking of people like the Wright brothers who created the airplane, Ford who modernized car production, Jack Ma who brought China to the world with his web development business, and Wozniak who engineered the first Apple. I wonder how they are able to conjure such brilliant ideas.

The word idea comes from the Greek word “idein”, which signifies “to see” or “to perceive.” But it is not just simply seeing or perceiving but being able to understand something in the broader sense. The names I just mentioned exemplifies the meaning as they did not only perceive but was also able understand beyond the idea as a concept. They have moved the idea from thought, to creative mental process, and to its tangible form.

The value of the idea lies in its function or how it serves people. Great ideas are able to change a person’s behavior: a good product moves people from not buying to buying, a good app helps solve personal or work problems. It cannot be like Chindogu, or the Japanese art of useless and weird inventions. Social media, cellphones, book printing, wheel, spear, or knife are examples of great ideas that turned into a product and has provided value.

A strong idea serves as the bedrock for positive actions and remarkable outcomes. It is the catalyst that sets things in motion, rather than the reverse. Every tangible creation originates from the realm of imagination. Ideas are the wellsprings of purpose, motivation, and strategic planning. Furthermore, clear ideas facilitate effective communication, enabling us to share our thoughts, collaborate, refine, and orchestrate with others to transform ideas into reality.

Exceptional ideas are borne out of individuals immersing themselves in their surroundings and engaging with the world around them. For instance, Wozniak thrived within the realm of electronics, while Jack Ma, an English teacher, utilized his linguistic skills to bridge the gap between China and the Western world. “The really successful entrepreneurs we know are not unusually separate from others; on the contrary, they are especially well plugged into the culture. What gives them the ability to sense what their customers will want is not some kind of mysterious alertness that gets “switched on” but their capacity to read the conversations of mankind. They can pick up the sense of where their fellows in the culture stand, what values they adhere to, what purposes they pursue, what they consider beautiful, and what they deem profane.” Disclosing New Worlds.

The free market economy provides individuals with the opportunity to explore and engage with their world. It acts as a vibrant arena where people are at liberty to generate ideas, advocate for government policies, secure funding, confront and resolve challenges, and compete with others. This dynamic environment fosters a constant flow of activity within the economy. Moreover, active participation and interaction in this economy enhance the likelihood of generating exceptional ideas.

Great ideas are not conjured in the mind, but rather a result of the amalgamation of various sensory inputs derived from immersing oneself in the free world.

Value of Labor as Vocation

Today is labor day and it is a holiday, rest day for some, while for others, a time to voice out their concerns on the street. This shows us a clear difference: those who enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor and those whose fruits are not enough. If this tells us anything, it is that labor is seen as working for wages. In this age of consumerism, labor is a commodity; men are simply numbers, and statistics. As society have put a high value on wealth and financial success, labor lost its essence as a vocation or calling.

In a society that puts price on everything, more and more people will be inclined to find the fastest and easiest way make money without hard work since for them labor is just a means to an end. This kind of thinking gave rise to best-selling books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, The 4-day Work Week, business models like multi-level marketing, and even gave rise to Prosperity gospel and manifest philosophy.

Before I move, I just want to make it clear the I am not against being rich or the rich. Not even against income made from investments, an example of making money work for you (a rich dad poor dad principle) because investments promote private property, a Catholic principle, and investments are also necessary since they safeguard human dignity. And in most cases, the money that has been invested was a result of labor.

One of my heroes in business is Konosuke Matsushita, Japanese industrialist and founder of Panasonic. In one of his essays, he warns us on the effects of earning easy money as it takes away the value of hard work. This is in line with “wealth without work” principle, which Gandhi thinks is a “deadly sin” as it affects the man, and the society he is in. What they are against is the idea that there is such a short cut to making money as a result of labor as commodity.

In this modern age of easy money, hacks and short cuts, one needs not lose sight of the value of labor as vocation or calling which is higher than simply making a living for leisure and personal gains.

Labor is an essential part of human life as it makes good use of one’s natural talents, and not a necessary evil. Through one’s talents, one makes a living that can contribute to the well-being of their family and improvement of communities.

One learns to be excellent in small things as he is engaged in skilled and meaningful work that requires knowledge, experience, and creativity. Work then becomes a source of pride as one seeks to perfect his craft, recognizing that the quality of his work is a reflection of his own character and values.

Labor provides a deep sense of purpose and meaning as one recognizes that his labor has a direct impact on the well-being of those around him, and takes this responsibility seriously. The purpose and meaning adds to his dignity regardless of status and prestige of his work.

Labor also provides a sense of humility as one sees that his labor is meant as a service to others as he puts others before himself. Labor seen from the perspective of service can become a source of fulfillment.

Labor as vocation sounds so pious that it seems no successful person sees labor that way. Not for Matsushita. In his book “Not for Bread Alone,” Matsushita wrote: “Work is not just a means of making a living. It is a means of finding fulfillment and of contributing to the welfare of society.” Matsushita is a participant in the philosophy that labor is a vocation. He made use of his natural talents in electronics by founding one of the largest companies in the world. He excelled in the little things when he made a small improvement in bike lights, when he created a bike lamp with batteries that lasted longer than others that created a big impact on bicycle riders’ safety. Imagine that this is the 1920’s, a time when most bike lights used gas lamps. He didn’t mind the status or prestige of his job when he put up a small shop to be able to provide for his wife, and continued to work until it became big. He saw labor as a service rather than try to make money quick.

Today, also happens to be the feast day of St. Joseph the worker and I cannot help but mention how Matsushita reflects the qualities of St. Joseph the worker, a carpenter, who recognized the value of labor regardless of status, the importance of skills and talent, the responsibility of being a provider and putting others first.

Work for the sake of work, work seen as a commodity, leads man to look for ways to make easy money. Easy money may bring you wealth but it certainly doesn’t provide you with the fulfillment one gets from the physical and mental exertion that creates products and services that is meaningful, and purposeful when one see the value of labor as vocation.

Passions and Actions

Photo by Arina Krasnikova on
The Business Class Podcast

I read this article from about the morality of human actions and the content of which is something that was discussed previously in one of our circles. Allow me to share it and apply in the context of work.

I cannot help but notice that since the past decade, people value so much to the word authenticity. We can even hear the words of Pinoy Big Brother Housemates say, “nagpapakatotoo”. Thinking about it, I couldn’t help but cringe. It appears to me that what they are trying to say is this: I say what I feel or do as I feel even if it is hurtful because the most important is what I feel. This makes feelings, not objective truth, the most important thing in this world.

It is first important to differentiate passion from action. Passion is our feelings and actions is our voluntary act. Anger from a word we find offensive, happiness hearing of being awarded, or sadness of hearing a friend resigning are feelings, or according to the article, “psychic states which occur without our consent (to which we are, so to speak, passive subjects), are commonly called feelings or passions.” Voluntary acts on the other hand are how we respond to happiness, sadness or anger. Throwing a punch or keeping quiet when angry are voluntary acts, but one is directed towards good and the other, not.

In the world of work, uneducated feelings cannot rule our actions. And this is one of the foundations in building one’s professionalism and work integrity. If negative feelings rule our actions, we will be inconsistent in our productivity, teamwork relationship and come up with inconsistent quality of work.

Yes, you read that right, feelings can be directed and educated and it does not mean you lose your authenticity. When I say educating the feelings, I am referring to the process of becoming more aware of our emotions, understanding where they come from, and learning how to regulate and express them in a healthy way.

The article states the downside of not educating our feelings, “If the inner world of feelings is not guided and educated, it will be difficult to discern what is good, because the negative passions darken the mind, and one will often yield to them and do wrong, and the continual struggle may well lead to discouragement or exhaustion.” In other words uneducated feelings will be an obstacle to our work and life.

Contrary to what media is telling us to do, to be “authentic”, I suggest we go a different route, to educate the feelings. In Christian formation and life, it is crucial to educate oneself about the complex realm of emotions. This involves shaping and cultivating our feelings in a positive and Christian manner, so that our spontaneous emotions can aid us in discerning and performing good deeds quickly, accurately, and pleasantly. The way to regulate our passions is to develop good moral habits or virtues such as prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, which can alter the underlying inclinations that give rise to our emotions. When our feelings are ordered by virtue, we are naturally drawn towards doing what is good.

In the context of work, someone who is virtuous practices integrity. They are honest and shows more consistency in the output of their work. This leads people to trust them better. They also practice humility by understanding their limits, so they ask for feedback and are open to constructive criticisms. Since they know their limits, they also improve themselves. They also practice prudence so they are more careful with their decisions. They do their research or consult more people before arriving at a decision. Finally, they demonstrate courage. They are not just afraid to make decisions and be accountable for the results, they also speak up when there is something that is not aligned to their values.

Directing our feelings towards the good is essential to our personal life and professional life. Educated feelings lead to right actions in personal life and professionalism in work life, and this is done by cultivating virtues.