Bernardo M. Villegas
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Giving Homage Through Beautiful Flowers

           Ten years ago this month, I traveled with my then 93-year-old mother and siblings to Rome to attend the canonization of St. Josemaria Escriva by Blessed John Paul II.  Besides the spiritual blessings of praying with the Pope, the Prelate of Opus Dei and some 400,000 pilgrims from all over the world who also attended the ceremonies at St. Peter' Square, one of the most unforgettable experiences my mother and I had was to see tens of thousands of the most beautiful flowers decorating the stairs leading to the altar where the Pope celebrated the Mass.  I inherited my fondness for flower gardening from my mother.  All the way up to her seventies, my mother took care of thousands of rose bushes in my parents' home in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.  Her rose garden was almost a tourist attraction on the national highway leading to Batangas City then, before the STAR highway was constructed.  Ever since I can remember, my mother was always busy in her garden, growing roses, bandera espanola, gumamelas, poinsettias and other colorful flowers.

          My gardening skills are very elementary.  I am unable to grow roses, orchids, and other more delicate flowers.  I can only keep alive the simplest flowering plants like bougounvillas,  gumamelas, vincas, zinnias, and petunias.  I don't have the specialized skills of VIPs like Manolo Lopez with his orchids, Flor Tarriela with the many cut flowers she grows in Antipolo or Mayor Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City who used to grow some of the most beautiful roses in Lipa.  But I enjoy growing flowers during the weekends and am of the opinion that a garden without flowers is always incomplete.  That is why when my mother and I saw those fresh flowers in bloom decorating large areas in St. Peter's square, we rejoiced that even in the small detail of beautifying the surroundings during his canonization, people from different parts of the world knew how to show their love and veneration for the Founder of Opus Dei.  I don't think St. Peter's Square has ever been bedecked with such abundance of flowers as those days before and after October 6, 2002.

          I am sure my mother, who just died a few months ago last February 15, would been very happy to read a book that was just launched at the Fully Booked store in Fort Bonifacio.  It is a book by Bessie Briones entitled "A  Homage in Flowers."  It is a coffee table book that describes in detail the making of the floral carpet that hundreds of thousands of people saw during those days of the canonization of St. Josemaria.  Ms. Briones, who was then residing in a Center of Opus Dei in Rome, was the one who supervised the laborious task of using tens of thousands of flowers to decorate not only St. Peter's Square but other churches in Rome in which liturgical services were held in connection with the canonization event, such as the Basilica of St. Eugene and the Prelatic Church of Holy Mary of Peace.

          The thousands of flowers came mostly from Ecuador, considered as the Holland of Latin America for exporting cutflowers to all parts of the world (an industry that the Philippines can one day emulate following the footsteps of Thailand and Malaysia).  The moving force was an Ecuadorian by the name of Jose Ricardo Davalos, whose business is one of the principal producers and exporters of roses and varied types of cut flowers to the entire world.  He mobilized many of his colleagues, many of them devotees of Blessed Josemaria or had benefited from the means of formation of Opus Dei, to contribute the flowers needed for the decorations.  He also approached some Dutch companies with whom he was doing business to help in the transport of the flowers to Rome, ensuring that they would remain fresh for a long time.  The logistical requirement involved cutting and putting the flowers in water, having them ready to be transported to Rome and at the same time assuring a long shelf life.  To keep the flowers fresh for several days it was necessary to place each stem in a phial full of water.  Just think of how tedious the work was for numerous volunteers to ensure the freshness of 73,000 flowers for St. Peter's Square and another 7,000 for the other churches!

          Ms. Briones describes what my mother, I and hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world witnessed during those days:  "The platforms in front of the sagrato (altar) seemed like a garden of roses amidst the leather ferns, false bird of paradise, ginger and cascades of potus.  The scalinata (staircase) shows off with the floral carpet and enormous vases of birds of paradise, waratahs--indigenous flowers from Australia--ginger and golden rod.  Those dates corresponded to autumn, but the radiant sun, in contrast with the blue sky, illuminated St. Peter's Square, bursting with flowers as if it were spring.  It reminded me of the words of the Pope about the spring of the Church, which he desired ardently for the new millennium.  What could not be perceived at first glance was that all that explosion of colors was the materialization of abundant prayers, sacrifices, and efforts, of such a great devotion to the Founder of Opus Dei from his daughters and sons, and of hundreds of thousands of people from all points of the globe."

          Going through the pages of the book, illustrated with the most colorful photographs of the flowers from all possible angles, brought back fond memories of being with my mother, siblings and friends to celebrate the canonization of the "Saint of Ordinary Life," as Blessed John Paul II called him the day after the canonization, October 7, which was also the Feast of the Holy Rosary.  It was indeed very fitting that a feast of Our Lady was closely associated with the day of his canonization, because St. Josemaria always said that the greatest love of his life, after Jesus Christ, was the Holy Mother of God.  It was also providential that the feast was that of the Holy Rosary, because Rosary means a garland of spiritual roses that we offer to Our Lady every time we pray this devotion so close to her Immaculate Heart.  We can be sure that St. Josemaria in heaven was offering those tens of thousands of flowers, especially the roses, at the feet of Our Lady.  Those who are interested in getting copies of the book may get them in all the branches of Fully Booked or may get in touch with Dr. Veronica Ramirez at veronica.ramirez@uap.asia.  I would especially recommend the book to all those who traveled to Rome during those unforgettable days in October 2002.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia