When I received a box of ensaymada from Gourmet Breadhouse, I was instantly transported to St. Pio Center along E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue (Libis). Pre-pandemic, I would always make time to visit. Usually on Sundays, mid-afternoon, in between the masses so there aren’t too many people. Or on weekdays, on my way home from a meeting in BGC or Pasig.
St. Pio Center sits on a huge property and my favorite is the side closest to the parking area. That’s where I stay, I rarely go inside the main chapel. My routine starts with lighting candles then I settle down to write, they provide pads of paper where you can jot down your petitions. I make it a point to write, it pushes me to reflect. And no matter how much or how little I have to say, I stay seated for at least 30 minutes to just let myself be still. The serenity of the place is soothing, specially after a crazy day or week. I also take in the view – the patch of greenery, the stone walls, the ornaments, everything! Though I sometimes take photos, I make sure I keep my phone on do-not-disturb mode and not allow myself to get distracted by messages or calls. I savor the moment.
I dropped by St. Pio Center often enough that some of the staff members have become familiar with me. There’s Willie who replenishes the supply of candles and tends to other things in the area, and there are the ladies who see to it that the restroom is always clean and that tissue paper and soap are always available. It took awhile for Willie to warm up to me. Whenever I’d say hello or would wave at him, his smile would be awkward and wave very hesitant. He eventually got used to it, I was happy seeing him grow confident and comfortable. The restroom ladies know me as the the one afraid of birds. They’ve had to escort me a couple of times because I couldn’t go anywhere whenever there are pigeons around.
The numbers of pigeons in the compound has grown over time. They’re just everywhere, sometimes even in the restroom! Their presence seems to be a treat for everyone (people even feed the pigeons and take photos like in plazas abroad) except for me.
So what’s the Gourmet Breadhouse ensaymada got to do with St. Pio Center? Before heading home, I would buy ensaymada (the dulce de leche is my top pick) at Cucina di Francesco, the restaurant inside the compound. The establishment is owned by Mary Rose Peña who also owns Gourmet Breadhouse. I usually eat the ensaymada in the car during the crawl back home. But once in awhile, I’d sit down and have a full meal at Cucina di Francesco. I would go for either the Aglio Olio Pasta or the Rosemary Roast Chicken, and always the Caesar Salad. I don’t know why, I don’t even like vegetables. St. Pio really works miracles!
I’ve brought some friends to St. Pio Center, those who I know would appreciate the tranquility of the place. I toured them, accompanied them as they prayed, showed them my favorite spots, and dined with them at Cucina di Francesco. They’re always very grateful for the extraordinary pasyal.
Also within the property is the shop of Custaroonery. Once in awhile, I’d let myself indulge in a piece or two of custaroons.
“Pumupunta ka ba dito para magdasal o para kumain?,” asked my friend, chef Babes Austria as I took her around many years back.
Puede namang both, diba?
I always drive out of St. Pio Center sufficiently nourished, in body and spirit. I miss going there.
Philippine Centre for St. Pio Pietrelcina @stpiocentreph on Facebook