Persona

A storm named Raf

The wedding that was like an answer to a mother’s prayers

Raf and Kay Sobrepena in high energy yet romantic vibe after saying the nuptial rites at Christ the King Church in Greenmeadows, Pasig. Their hashtag #ohKaysaRaf says it all. (Photos from Raf Sobrepena IG)

The mother and the son who makes her laugh, in a shot taken before the wedding

(While the answer to a mother’s prayers seemed a long time coming, Anna Sobrepeña’s remarks during the wedding reception of her son Rafael and Kay Marie Berangel last June 3, 2023  clearly showed that God was listening and His response was nothing less than wonderful.)

Rafael was born in the middle of Typhoon Bining, which sank at least four ships. It peaked at 137 km/hour winds, toppling concrete electric posts here in Manila. There was a period of unusual tranquility between the strong winds and rain when we made our way to the hospital. According to the weathermen, that lull presaged difficult times.  It could have augured what was to come. God had told me in prayer that our second child would be a good son and I believed Him. I believed Him even when it seemed otherwise.

The father and the son before the wedding

Raf was spirited, a fearless boy who, at three years old, climbed the walls of his nursery school in our village to walk home alone.  He walked home barefoot from his friend’s house two streets away when he forgot his toy at our place. When he moved to kindergarten at La Salle where we enrolled him to prepare for the transition to a big school, he managed to slip through the guards. Our driver was delayed in picking him up but fortunately saw him just as he was exiting the campus’ Greenhills gate and about to turn into Edsa.  He was five years old.

Then as a kindergarten student at the Ateneo, he was playing on top of the 8-foot-high playground climber when he remembered leaving his sandwich in his school bag at the onset of hunger pangs. Raf decided it was faster to get down by letting go and crashed to the ground. I happened to be in the school’s admin office that morning and saw this little boy who looked like my son, walking towards me from the clinic. His arm was in a sling and he was grinning from ear to ear. I was aghast to realize it was Rafael who was wearing his injury like a badge of honor. Soon after his arm healed, he was back on top of the climber. He had no sense of fear.

One time we were all dressed up at a celebration being held at Xavier School. Raf had escaped to the football field and climbed the goal. He sat up there, unmindful of the entreaties of his yaya. There was no time to look for my husband Chito in the crowd. I had to go up after him, climbing up in my long Filipiniana dress to bring him down before he got it into his head to take a joy leap to the ground.

Someone who saw the spectacle of this mom climbing a football goal later told me that I might have to save up for his bail in the future. He was being tagged as a mischievous boy, who, at another time, had locked himself in the car in the parking lot, while the driver repeatedly tapped on the closed window pleading with him to open the door. Raf smiled at him and waved the keys from inside.

Raf’s guardian angel was working overtime most of the time

There were heart-stopping occasions, like when I got a call informing us that he was in the hospital emergency room.  He had walked into a golf swing and needed to have his upper lip stitched up. When I got to the ER, he was grinning like it was no big deal. Raf’s guardian angel was working overtime most of the time.

But he was a charmer, who easily fit into everyone’s arms. A friend in the neighboring village recounted how Raf rang their doorbell one afternoon, parked his bike in their garage, sat in the living room and had a cordial conversation, asking how tito was and what he was doing, before turning to tita, inquiring if she still had some chocolates in her room. They were quite disarmed and bemusedly went to share the hidden stash of chocolates upstairs.

Raf would walk down our street with construction workers on either side of the road. They would call out to this pudgy four-year-old, greeting him, “Good morning, Raf.” He would acknowledge with a wave or a tilt of his head like a little mayor.

He liked people and people liked him back. He had numerous circles of friends growing up and would bring them together. Different groups would become one big barkada. I would find them asleep on my living room floor, sprawled on mats during sleepovers. They were all grade schoolers, and I preferred having them where I could keep an eye on him.

There were daily occasions when I wondered if I heard God incorrectly, but there were also many happy times. Raf knew I appreciated classical music so when he was a second grader, he enrolled as a student of Coke Bolipata and learned to play the violin. The afternoon he went for his first lesson, he played two chords all the way home and it sounded like Vivaldi to my ears. When I was sore at him for some misdemeanor, he would begin to play the violin, knowing the magical effect it had on me. I can still see this chubby child all muddied after his football practice transforming into an angel as he took up his violin.

There are countless warm and funny recollections of the boy that Raf was, who broke my heart a million times, infuriated me with his antics and derring-do, and yet could make me laugh so hard with his gestures of atonement, like when he gifted me with a flat iron after he heard the maid report that ours was broken. He would sing in his child voice songs I still play in my head to this day. He recited night prayers with me and held my hair till he fell asleep.

One big family hug before the wedding: Raf and Chito and Anna Sobrepena with daughter Mica (second from left), her husband Joash Llaneza, Gab and wife Gen and daughter Galilee

He grew up to be caring, generous, and loving. He embraced being a brother. He looked up to his kuya Gab, and went into sports because his brother did and he wanted to be like Gab. Despite the crazy quarrels in their growing years, they became good friends. He loves his sister Mica unreservedly and unconditionally. Even when she is mad or upset with him, he loves her. When her honeymoon plans went awry because of the pandemic, he made alternative arrangements, planned an itinerary, made hotel and transport bookings and provided tips on dining options. He wanted her to be happy.

The newlyweds with the bride’s father Mario Berangel and brother Michael

The newlyweds and parents Chito and Anna Sobrepeña, with family friends, the Ty family led by Mary (in blue), principal sponsor Arthur (third from right), Zandra (second from left), and siblings, from left, Alesandra, Zandra, Cherry, Anjie, Alfred and Alvin Ty

Chito shared how loving a son he is, making time even in his busy schedule to be there for us. It is always a joy when he is around.

So, yes, I did hear God correctly even if it seemed otherwise when he was growing. He was a storm in our life, but he was also a rainbow, the sunshine after the rain, the promise that came true.

Kay, the Raf you now know is an answered prayer. He is nothing short of a miracle.  He has a great capacity to make others feel loved. His heart is big. When he loves, he wants to share. When he brought you to meet us for the first time, he wanted to share you with us.  He shared about the support you give him, your friendship and your openness and willingness to grow in a faith life that matters deeply to him. With Jesus Christ at the center of your marriage, you will weather typhoons and monsoons to the best times and your best life.

Raf, you are my laughter. You are my beloved son. While a part of you will always be my little boy, I see the man you have become and behold God’s wonderful response to our prayers. I can only thank God for sharing you with us.

The newlyweds with former Vice President Leni Robredo, one of the principal sponsors (From Raf Sobrepena’s IG)

Principal sponsor Rep. Mikee Romero and wife Sheila

(Rafael C. Spobrepeña worked for Pilipinas Shell after he graduated from the Ateneo de Manila with a degree in Business Management. He began his corporate career as account manager in the Visayas. After four years, he was promoted, given a raise and awarded best performer for Southeast Asia. A month after, he tendered his resignation and became an agri-entrepreneur. He told his parents he wanted to apply what he learned to help the farmers in his province even if it was a major risk and an uncertain source of income.  Later he became a franchisee of four Banh Mi Kitchen stores in Cebu and established a commissary that services other BMKN stores in the VisMin area. He commutes between Cebu and Nueva Ecija to manage his businesses.)

Dainty setting of the wedding reception at Greenhouse Cosmopolitan

Raf’s happy grandmother Cecille Crisostomo, with his dad Chito and guest Thelma Sioson San Juan at the reception

The newlyweds’ moment at the reception, before the watchful eye of Raf’s niece Galilee

Raf recalls:

I met Kay when I was still working for Shell. We appointed a new distributor and needed to introduce them through a big event. In that event, we needed models and Kay was one of those who attended the casting call. She was so intrigued and shocked that I was asking different types of questions, inquiring more about who she was and what she was about, instead of the usual modeling experience questions. I believe that left a mark on her.

Unfortunately, when I told her that she was chosen as one of our models, she wasn’t allowed by her ex to join. That was when I backed off and respected that relationship. I just added her on Facebook and Instagram to keep tabs from a distance, liking all her pictures and videos every time she posted.

Sadly, after four years in Dubai, she had to go back to the Philippines because of her mom’s death. That was when I reached out to her again. Luckily, I found out that she was now single and that she was an aspiring travel videographer. Because I arranged tours for friends that I called #raftours, my pitch was to bring her around the Philippines so she could have a lot of content to use for her portfolio. I brought her to Nagsasa, Sagada, Baler, Bantayan, Malapscua, Masbate, Alaminos, Bolinao, and many more places.

Through all these trips, I realized that she wasn’t just a pretty face. She had a very sincere and caring heart that made me feel safe. The same zest for life as I did, going beyond her comfort zone and experiencing new things with me. The willingness to learn and grow despite the difficulties that come her way. The same curiosity in finding out more about ourselves. Most importantly, the same love, respect and fear for the Lord.

As we were cultivating our relationship, the pandemic happened. Kay was in Cebu and I was in Nueva Ecija. It was Fr. Tito Caluag’s Mass every Sunday that kept us together and stronger. Even if we weren’t physically beside each other, we felt like we were, every time we would pray before the laptop on YouTube.

That’s why having Father Tito marry Kay and me will always feel extra special. It was a perfect culmination of our love together. Finally face to face.

The newlyweds with officiating priest Fr. Tito Caluag whose online Sunday Masses during the lockdowns brought the couple closer

The newlyweds with principal sponsors: from left, front row, Leonor G. Robredo, Marivic V. Belena, Guia Pilar C. Tan, Mikee L. Romero, Arthur V. Ty; from left, back row, Peregrina J. Sumatra, Vilma B. Santillan, Zandra M. Ty, Susana P. Tinsay, Sergio C. Bernal Jr., Carmelino D. Jallores, Alexander B. Belena, Erwin Anthony Y. Garcia, Irwin Y. Cua

About author

Articles

"Our meaningful lives are the healing stories we need to tell a wounded world." - Anna Isabel C. Sobrepeña. She was recognized as one of Filipina Women Network Most Influential Thought Leader and Innovator in 2019 and received the Asia Leaders Award Editor of the Year in 2018. She was editor in chief of a lifestyle heritage brand publication for 11 years. A writer by passion, she dabbles in fine arts photography, has a taste for Yeats, Shakespeare, Neruda and Bach. She likes cerulean blue, unicorns and people who are comfortable with silence.

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