Tinkering with the ticket machine to catch a train bound for Parma, Italy, Celeste couldn’t help but laugh, saying, “I don’t know how to use this anymore.”
After three years, she’s finally stepped back on Italian soil on a special occasion to reunite with her main inspiration during the Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) competition; her mother.
Navigating the train station, Celeste exudes excitement for being able to finally be in one of her homes aside from the Philippines. Bright-eyed and all smiles, her enthusiasm infected her companions as everyone anticipates the little surprise. On the way to her hometown, the atmosphere was electric she bantered with fellow beauty queen and newfound sister, Michelle Dee, and also exchanged chika with her mentors, Voltaire Tayag and Jonas Gaffud.
Arriving at the train station in Parma, the group was greeted by Francesca Rossi whom Celeste describes as her “best friend in the whole world.”
The two had grown up together since around the age of five. They played in their neighborhood park, and Celeste often paid surprise visits to Fran’s house. Even during Celeste’s stay in the Philippines, the two had kept in touch. Celeste bashfully admitted, “I think I contact Fran more than my mom.”
Aside from being the coordinator of the reunion, Fran also played a part in being one of the people who pushed Celeste to join MUPH. A lot of people, and even Celeste herself, attest to her being undecided about applying. When she won, Fran couldn’t help but jest, as friends do, “Who told you first [to join]? It was me, I told you first.”
Upon reaching the apartment, everyone waited in bated breath as the door swung open, revealing Maria Luisa Rabimbi Cortesi – or “Mother Universe” as dubbed by Celeste – in the flesh. Also greeting everyone was Celeste’s OG fur baby, Amira, and Fran’s mother, Elfranca, who is also the best friend of Celeste’s mom.
At first, Luisa was too stunned to see her daughter in person. Surreal as it was, it was evident how mother and daughter had missed each other when they immediately put their arms around each other. It wasn’t long after she went into full Filipina mother mode, greeting the guests with, “Naku! Hindi ko pa nalilinis ‘yung bahay!”
When the shock had worn off and everyone had settled down in the cozy apartment, Luisa took a good look at her daughter and couldn’t help but get teary-eyed. “Nabigla kasi ako,” she kept repeating, still taking it all in.
Celeste’s deep admiration and respect for her mother isn’t unfounded since she was somehow able to manage juggling work and raising two kids as a single mom when their father passed away. Her love and dedication for her children have been her fuel to move forward. Still, she acknowledges that it was not without challenges. “Di ko nga rin alam pa’no ko kinaya,” she said in retrospect.
Putting great value over family ties, Celeste has always been inspired by her family. Of course, she even mentioned it in her winning answer during the final round of MUPH. As Luisa’s daughters had been her motivation in moving forward with life, she also served as the same driving force for her child Celeste.
As a child, Celeste had always been independent and a persistent go-getter. Even while in Italy, she joined different pageants during her teens, although Celeste wasn’t vocal about it at the beginning. “Nahahalata ko lang kasi pag umuwi siya, may sash siya, may korona, pero wala siyang sinasabi [tungkol sa pagsali] no’n,” Luisa said, “[Hinahayaan] ko lang naman siya, basta nag-aaral siya [at] okay pag-aaral niya.”
Apparently, pageantry runs in the blood. Mother Universe also tried out in a few pageants, just as Celeste’s grandmother had done in their time. When asked if she ever imagined that her daughter would be the next Miss Universe Philippines and that Celeste would be representing the country in the next Miss Universe pageant, Maria Luisa said, “Pangarap niya kasi ‘yan [mag-join ng Miss Universe Philippines]. Alam kong gustong-gusto niya, kaya alam kong makukuha niya ang korona.”
Reflecting on what Celeste’s dad’s reaction would be toward her daughter joining MUPH, Luisa is convinced that he would be supportive. “Unang-una, gustong-gusto ng asawa ko sa Pilipinas kaya siguradong mas andun pa siya kaysa sa akin,” she said, laughing softly.
“Nag mature na siya,” her mother noted when comparing how Celeste was a kid to how she is now. The competition seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, but her mother knows how Celeste’s hard work in her training had paid off, especially when witnessing the improvement in her communication skills. “Nabigla ako, ang galing na mag English,” she said. Her worries were proved to be for naught with Celeste’s wonderful performances in her competitions.
Like thousands of other Filipinos supporting Celeste, her mother believes that she has the it factor. She only wishes that she stays sincere and kind to others. “Maging natural lang siya,” she simply stated as her motherly advice.
Armed with confidence, skills, and talent, Celeste only needs to look forward to the Miss Universe stage while her family, friends, and countrymen have her back. Just like her namesake, we know that Celeste’s road to Miss Universe is bound for heavenly heights.