Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Doc Joy and younger sister, Sade in Paris, France
“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13: 2)
Do you believe in guardian angels?
As a child, we were taught to pray to our guardian angel to protect us from harm and the prayer goes like this:
Angel of God
My guardian dear
To whom his love
Commits me here
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide.
I thought as an adult, I’ve outgrown my belief about guardian angels.
Until I experienced for myself that they do exist when I found myself in a series of unfortunate circumstances during the 2007 Holy Week that I spent with my youngest sister, Sade, in Europe.
It was April 2, 2007, and my sister and her husband, Johann, dropped me off at around 6 am at the busy Heathrow International Airport Terminal 3 to catch a 9 am flight to Toulouse, France.
“Ate, please call me or text me once you arrive in Toulouse, France. I will wait for you in Paris tonight. You have my number,” my sister said.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay,” I told her. (I may be older but since it is my first trip to Europe and with my petite frame, my sister could not help but treat me like a child.)
I thought I had enough time because I arrived three hours before departure. When I entered the gate and saw the long queue towards the check in counter, I had my misgivings. But I still stood in line to get my boarding pass lugging two hand carry bags, a blue Nike shoulder bag and a gray Nike backpack.
Suddenly, I heard the announcement: “Last call for passengers bound for Toulouse, France, your boarding gate has been changed.” That was my flight. The girl in front of me with Indian features, looked at me with her big brown eyes and long eyelashes and said: “We have to hurry up because our gate is closing in 15 minutes and we’ve got a long way to go. Follow me and make a run for it.” I did not say anything but just followed her lead because she seemed to know the way and I didn’t. Our gate closed behind us as we entered the gate and boarded the plane. We were the last passengers to board. We almost missed our flight.
Held at Immigration
Upon arrival at Toulouse, France, I was held at immigration. The Immigration officer behind the window motioned me to follow him to their office. “Wait here. I will call someone who speaks better English” he said in halted English.
I sat in a chair across the desk and after 30 minutes another Immigration officer came in. He was holding my Philippine passport and said: “What is your business in Toulouse, France?”
I replied: “I’m on my way to Lourdes, France.” He again asked: “Do you have a return ticket from here to London?” “I only booked a one-way ticket to Toulouse, France,” I answered.
He asked anew: “Why don’t you have a return ticket to London?” I told him: “I’m going to Paris from Toulouse to meet my sister and stay there for three days then go to Rome, Italy. Our return flight to London will be from Rome.”
“Do you have a hotel reservation in Paris?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied and handed him a copy of the voucher of the hotel booking. He picked up the phone and dialled a number. He spoke in French so I didn’t understand what he was saying.
After a while, he put the phone down, turned to me, returned my passport and hotel voucher and said: “Sorry to keep you waiting, Ma’am. But we have to check to make sure that you will not be an illegal immigrant in our country.”
I told him: “I understand. What is the fastest way to Toulouse Train Station because I have a train to catch by noon?” He replied: “You better take the cab because the bus makes several stops.”
“Thanks. Is there a foreign exchange nearby?” I asked. He replied: “There is one near the exit. Have a good stay in France.”
“Merci,” I said and gave him a big smile. He smiled back.
Train Ride Companions
I took a cab to Toulouse Train Station and arrived just in time to board a train to Lourdes. En route to walking towards the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, I bought 5 plastic containers with Mama Mary’s figure. I filled up the bottles with the holy water that flowed through the faucet from the spring and said a prayer at the Underground Basilica, the Basilica of St. Pius X. After my eyes feasted at the sanctuary before me, I walked back to the train station to board another train bound for Paris.
However, I found out that the arrival of the train will be delayed for 2 hours which means I will reach Paris at midnight. I called up my sister and told her that I will be delayed and not to worry. Then I saw two young men with clerical collar and Filipino features walking towards me. They approached me and asked if the train bound for Paris has arrived. They were seminarians on a brief visit and thought that they missed the train.
They became my companions during the train ride. I was thankful for their company because I was alone in a foreign country and did not speak the language except for “Merci.” Although they would alight two stops before Paris, I was not frightened and slept peacefully because it was about seven to eight hours train ride.
When I arrived in Paris, I asked the man at the ticket counter for directions to our hotel. It turned out that he has Filipino friends and we got talking about his favourite Filipino dish, adobo. He told me to ask the concierge at the hotel across Paris Train Station for a printout of the map of the hotel. I followed his advice and came back to show him the map. He told me to board a bus number 56 and get off at the 6th stop at Republique and walk towards the Hotel Absolute.
Angels all the Way
I finally reached the hotel at 1 a.m. and knocked on room number 46. My sister opened the door and hugged me tight. She thought I had gotten lost since she has not heard from me after I left Lourdes because I ran out of load.
Throughout the ordeal I was not afraid. I felt that God was watching over me and that He has been sending angels along the way to help me and keep me safe.
My first angel was the young lady at the check-in counter whom I followed around the maze in the airport. My next angel was the friendly Immigration officer who was helpful in giving me directions. Then came a pair of angels in the person of the seminarians who kept me company during the long train ride to Paris. It did not stop there. I met my next angel in the old man behind the window of the ticket counter at the Paris Train Station, as well as the very accommodating concierge at the hotel beside the train station.
I thought I left all my angels in Paris but they still followed us in the Vatican City in Rome, Italy.
On Easter Sunday, my sister and I decided to attend the Easter Sunday Mass to be officiated by Pope Benedict XVI. We left our camp early to get a good seat. We were next in line to a Filipino couple, who we learned were physicians at Makati Medical Center on their European vacation trip. They asked if we have tickets. We told them that we’re not aware that tickets are needed to enter the St. Peter’s Square. They just told us not to worry and if someone asked where our tickets are, we would just say that we are with them. Fortunately, after the usual frisk and check at the entrance and our bags passed through the xray machine, we found our seats.
Through the years, I found out that God’s angels are at work. They come when we least expect them and when we need them the most. And in the journey of life, during my biggest trials, they comforted me and showed me the way to answer God’s calling.
* Written by Dr. Joy Holgado and published in the book, "Hey, Is That Really, Really, Really You, Lord? (Encounters with God in Unexpected Places, in Unexpected Time)" by Rey Ortega