Cheryl, 29, and Philippe, 32, were both born in Quezon City. They met in high school at St. Jude Catholic School where they became friends, best friends, and eventually, sweethearts.
Although they had a Catholic foundation, it took years before they truly appreciated their religion.
After graduation, Cheryl took up Early Childhood Education in De La Salle University-Manila to become a pre-school teacher. She is the blogger behind LittleRunningTeacher.com.
Philippe, on the other hand, finished his course in Computer Science at the Central Colleges of the Philippines, also in Manila. He now works as a software engineer.
The couple had to wait 12 years to get married because Cheryl had a pending petition for citizenship in the United States. It was a long wait because, apparently, God had so much more in store for them. As His plan prevailed, both went through a rediscovery of faith just months before their wedding.
Cheryl : When I was younger, my mom brought me along to this non-Catholic church where I got to attend Sunday school or Bible Study. We spent the first 30 minutes of the class singing praises, then another 30 minutes for Bible study. I loved it there!
On weekdays, I went to St. Jude Catholic School. We didn’t have classes on Thursdays as my school observed St. Jude’s Feast Day. Instead, we went to school on Saturdays where we were also required to attend the anticipated Mass. I never gave much thought about the Mass back then. To me, it just felt like an obligation I needed to fulfill because it was simply the “right” thing to do. But, I found it somewhat fun since I was with my classmates.
I met Philippe at St. Jude, when I was already in high school there. We became best friends.
Philippe: I attended the anticipated Mass in our school every Saturday. This was more of a requirement than a choice. Come Sunday, I attended Mass again with my family in our parish. Despite my almost perfect attendance, the Holy Mass never really had that much of an impact on me. I didn’t think I needed to do something more about my faith. I thought that my mere presence in the church was enough.
Besides, although I was not enthusiastic about the Mass, I felt I was still very close to Jesus. I looked to Him as a brother and friend, someone I could talk to and who would listen to me whenever I needed Him. It was only later that I realized how shallow my relationship with God was at the time.
Cheryl: After high school, and almost 10 years of Saturday Mass, I went to college and I felt I was now in the real world. I got busy with college work that going to Sunday Mass now became a chore. Many times, I glanced at my watch, wishing the Mass would already end.
Philippe, then already my boyfriend, insisted that I continue attending Mass. He often reminded me how it was through Christ that our relationship blossomed and through Him that it would continue to grow. I agreed and attended Mass with him and his family.
Over time, however, I began to put top priority on other activities instead of the Mass. One skipped Mass turned to two, then three, and so on. Eventually, I reasoned it was a bigger sin going to Mass and wishing I was somewhere else. So, I stopped going altogether.
Philippe: In college, I failed a lot of my subjects and each time, I would be reminded to say a short prayer, asking Jesus to help me finish my course. But when I started working, I had to meet so many deadlines that Christ placed only second in my order of priorities. And as I became successful in my career, I simply forgot the role of Jesus in my life and credited only myself for my accomplishments.
Finding The Feast
Cheryl: I love running. I started blogging about it back in 2010 and soon became part of the bloggers running community. There, I met Edwin Soriano, who was also affiliated with the running community. Later, we became Facebook friends.
There came a time when I felt lost and confused. I posted on my Facebook page questions like where life was headed. Edwin, who I wasn’t really close to at the time, sent me kind and encouraging comments. He even invited me to a number of seminars that he said could help me. One of these was a gathering of the Light of Jesus Family dubbed Light Thursdays, held at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig City.
“Come this Thursday,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun night with good food, amazing music, and wonderful stories.”
I decided to look for more information on the event online. Keywords such as “God” and “worship” appeared and that kind of threw me off. I didn’t really feel like going to a worship gathering.
But I happened to have a media event in BGC that very day. Though the event was happening earlier than Edwin’s gathering, I had a good excuse to tell him I couldn’t make it to Light Thursdays.
After my media event, I decided to leave BGC immediately, but as if planned by God Himself, I ran into the very person I was trying to avoid— Edwin!
Not knowing that I was dodging him, Edwin happily ushered me to the Light Thursdays venue. Not wanting to embarrass or disappoint him, I chose to follow him instead.
To my surprise, the songs in the gathering were not really praise songs— just upbeat secular ones. The mood was pleasant, and food was even served. I surmised it was called Light Thursdays because the gathering wasn’t like the rather heavy, serious worship services I knew of. In Light Thursdays, I felt relaxed.
The main preacher, Bro. George Gabriel, talked about defining one’s life directions. He shared something about being in the right place at the right time and things happening for a reason.
To my amazement, the talk actually answered my questions. I realized I was exactly where I needed to be. And I just felt God embracing me, like He was calling me back home.
There was a small group sharing after the talk. When my turn to share came, I broke down in tears as I found myself telling strangers, and Edwin, how glad I was to be there. I am thankful that God used Edwin to draw me back.
That first visit made such a huge impact on me that I kept going back week after week. Later, I started helping out by promoting the gathering on social media and inviting people to join Light Thursdays. I soon became part of the core group of servants, welcoming new guests and serving the attendees every week. Slowly but surely, I felt I was getting closer and closer to God.
Philippe: Cheryl asked me to attend Light Thursdays with her. I went not knowing what it was. I went only because I liked being with her.
As I listened to the talk, I thought, “I’ve heard that before.”
I’d been going to Mass so I felt that I’d heard a lot already about the teachings of Jesus. Also, I was never really a fan of other church-related activities. I felt that my Mass attendance and random prayers were enough.
Cheryl: I learned a lot from Bro. George’s talks. One time, he talked about sex and addictions. I couldn’t believe it! I thought such topics were taboo in religious gatherings. He also revealed how he was once addicted to pornography and how he surrendered his vice to God and really felt His forgiveness and unconditional love for him.
Bro. George’s openness made me realize that I didn’t need to be perfect to be loved by God, because He already loves me despite my imperfections. It was okay to make mistakes and that just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, my Father in Heaven was waiting for me to return home.
Bro. George spoke highly of Bro. Bo Sanchez, the founder of the Light of Jesus, and about The Feast he leads at the Philippine International Convention Center. So one Sunday, Philippe and I checked it out.
At the Feast PICC, Bro. Bo talked about religious fanatics who did atrocious things thinking they were doing these in God’s name. This made me remember certain people in my life who sometimes made me doubt the Lord because of their beliefs. Understanding then the difference between fanaticism and faith, I felt I could love the Lord more openly without turning into a fanatic and hurting others.
Philippe: I continued attending Light Thursdays and The Feast only because of Cheryl. My heart wasn’t there. I liked the people I met there, especially the Light Thursdays core group, but the gathering itself could hardly make a dent on my already hardened heart.
Sad to say, I couldn’t keep pace with Cheryl’s spiritual growth. There were times when she and I argued because we were not in sync spiritually.
Cheryl: I observed that Philippe was losing faith in God. In one of our fights, he said, “How can I worship Him whom I don’t even see?”
We were already planning our wedding then and it pained me to think that I was marrying someone who didn’t believe in God, especially at a time when I was getting closer to Him.
I cried to the Lord, telling Him not to make me choose between Him and Philippe.
Philippe: Cheryl’s family had always intended to migrate to the United States. Her parents petitioned for her sometime in 2004, the same year she became my girlfriend. The petition papers indicated that Cheryl was single. So we thought we should wait until the petition is approved before we got married. But it turned out to be a long, long wait.
Cheryl: In 2014, we got wind of my petition’s approval. We got so excited that we quickly set our wedding date for July 26, 2015. But the papers needed for my green card got delayed. To our dismay, we had to postpone the wedding.
Philippe: That was very difficult for us to accept. We had already waited 11 years for this wedding. And now, when we were all set— we had already printed the invitations, and we had booked services from various suppliers— the wedding had to be postponed.
Cheryl: I guess the postponement was a blessing in disguise. It happened that in May 2015, Feast PICC, now called Feast Bay Area, announced a retreat for singles called LoveLife. With no more wedding to plan, I opted to sign up for this retreat instead. I enjoyed it so much that I begged Philippe to sign up for the next seminar— scheduled in July.
Philippe: Remember, I was the guy who talked to Jesus only when he had some heavy burden. Cheryl asked me to attend the Lovelife retreat in July. Though hesitant, I agreed to it to make her happy. Moreover, being close to God as a child, I felt slightly guilty for turning away from Him. Hence, I committed to keeping an open mind and attended the retreat.
Cheryl: I was anxious that Philippe won’t be impressed with the retreat. I prayed that he’d be touched deep enough that his faith in God would be restored. I shared my fears with Bro. George who helped calm me down by saying, “Give up to God what you have no control of.”
And so I surrendered my anxiety, I surrendered Philippe to the Lord.
Philippe: During the retreat, I realized that I had taken Jesus for granted and had forgotten to acknowledge Him for all the blessings I had in my life. There, I promised to start communicating again with Jesus.
Cheryl: We met after the retreat and I could see that a heavy burden was lifted off Philippe’s shoulders. He didn’t say much but he later admitted that he cried during the retreat, something very uncommon for Philippe.
The following Sunday, at The Feast, I saw Philippe praying intently. I knew then that God was well working in him. Tears of joy welled in my eyes. Incidentally, that Sunday was July 26, 2015— supposedly the date of our wedding.
Philippe: After LoveLife, I joined Cheryl, Edwin, and friends from Light Thursdays in a discipleship program, Love Someone Today (LST), following a booklet of the same title by Bro. Bo Sanchez.
Rezza Custodio-Soriano, Edwin’s wife, and one of the senior members of Light Thursdays’ core group, led the LST sessions. Talking to Rezza, I started seeing things in a new perspective. I began to accept how pride got the best of me and that I had lost my way.
One chapter of the Love Someone Today booklet talked about surrendering to God and letting go of one’s pride. Through Rezza’s guidance, I realized I became too dependent on myself and didn’t know that I needed to lift both my failures and successes to the Lord. As I slowly learned to surrender to the Father, I also sensed myself drawing closer to Him. I actually felt God working His way to me.
Now, I understand why things had to happen the way they did. I was sick— spiritually. And so God, in His goodness, let me go through a healing process first, before I was to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Cheryl: It wasn’t until September 2015 that I got my green card and finally, after 12 years since we went steady, we got married on February 7, 2016, in the same place we first met, at the National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus.
Philippe: Many of our guests said it was one of the most beautiful weddings they had attended. They saw and felt the love between me and Cheryl. And knowing what we went through and our journey in faith, they were overjoyed, just as we were, to finally fulfill our dream to become a married couple.
It was a lovely wedding. But it wouldn’t be as beautiful if it happened sooner. Looking back, it had to happen that way so I could go through some of my faith issues and undergo a healing process. Things definitely happened for a reason.
Cheryl: Our Light of Jesus Family joined us on our special day, including Fr. Bob McConaghy and Fr. Alex Balatbat, who celebrated the rites. They helped us grow spiritually and tremendously the past months prior to our wedding. To this day, we are grateful that they are part of our life.
Though we were roughly the same age and very close friends, we opted to make Edwin and Rezza, as well as George and his wife Dinah our godparents. The couples had such huge impact on our life that we just wanted them to play as big a role as possible in our wedding.
Philippe: It’s been more than 12 years since Cheryl and I became a couple. To this day, we remain committed to each other, our love getting stronger every day— thanks to our faith community.
Back to the Church
Cheryl: As time went by, I had a change of heart towards the Holy Mass. During one of our Light Thursdays, retreats, our guest speaker, Fr. Bob McConaghy shared how feeling sleepy at Mass was normal and that what was important was that we pray for that one word or phrase that God wants us to hear.
With that approach, I learned to appreciate the Mass. I no longer felt going to Mass as an obligation, but I saw it as a way for me to listen to God’s message for me.
Philippe: While Cheryl already learned to love the Mass and was really into it when we started attending The Feast weekly, I only got to appreciate it again sometime in November 2015 after our LST sessions.
Though I don’t raise my hand in worship as other people do, I now close my eyes with my hand on my heart to really hear and feel God’s personal message to me. I actively participate in the Mass now and attend it not out of obligation but out of thanksgiving and in awe of our Almighty Father.
I realized that even though you’re not into it yet and you’re just going through the motions, God will find a way to pull you into His loving arms.