‘Repair my house’
The first images of the destruction wrought by the killer quake that struck the island provinces of Bohol and Cebu on Oct. 15 were those of ancient churches that crumbled to the ground like polvoron. Only later, after the media had arrived, were more images seen and voices heard from ruins in remote places.
Churches, being the prominent landmarks and tourist-drawers in hard-hit Bohol, became, for a while, the focus of interest and panghihinayang (feeling of loss). Not to say that lost lives and the suddenly homeless and injured human beings are secondary. But for many Boholanos, the churches are also their homes, part of their lives and the history of generations.
And so ancient churches crashing down, and what might be the symbolic meaning of the heaps of debris, are not lost on many. It really depends on what the word “church” signifies to whoever is contemplating the devastation. From power to powder? What means “church”? Structure or people?
I have visited the churches in Baclayon, Loboc and Maribojoc in Bohol. In the Loboc church (home of the famous children’s choir) I was able to photograph the paintings on the ceiling (frescoes) that showed Jesus calming the wind and the turbulent waves opposite a rendition of the compassionate Jesus the Good Shepherd. The paintings are framed by what look like carved pink moldings which are actually flat, done in renaissance Italian chiaroscuro style that gives depth and volume.
After the earthquake ruined the Loboc church, I posted the photo on Facebook and got many “likes”.
Discovered only a few years ago in the Baclayon church was Misa Baclayana, an old musical score believed to have been written in the 1800s. I was able to see the huge original score and listen to the children of Loboc sing the hymns in Intramuros in 2010. I did write about it (“Misa Baclayana: ancient beauty that sounds so new,” May 27, 2010).
Credit goes to Ma. Alexandra Inigo-Chua, musicologist and author of “Kirial de Baclayon Ano 1826: Hispanic Sacred Music in 19th Century Bohol, Philippines.” A music CD goes with the book. Chua’s study focused on the “Kirial de esta Yglesia de Baclayon” dated 1826, which contains compositions used in the liturgy.
I was at the town fiesta of Maribojoc in May 2009. I attended Mass at the old church and, with the crowd, danced the “enteng-enteng” around the statue of the patron St. Vincent Ferrer. (“Enteng” is a nickname for Vicente.) The spiritual life of Maribojocanons deeply connects to the limestone church that also has ornately painted ceilings. The church was also damaged.
Maribojoc, which is about 30 minutes by motor vehicle from Bohol’s capital, Tagbilaran City, has a population of only 18,000. Many are into farming and fishing. The town boasts of its legends and history, among these the bell at the bottom of the river, the centuries-old Punta Cruz watchtower by the sea, and beside it, the wooden cross planted by Italian navigator Pigafetta. The film “Lagablab sa Maribojoc” starring the late Fernando Poe Jr. was filmed there.
The town’s motorcycle-riding mayor, Leoncio “Jun” Evasco, is a former Catholic priest. During the Marcos dictatorship he joined the New People’s Army. Four comrades who were arrested with him were summarily executed. Evasco was detained for several years and released during the Cory Aquino presidency. He later worked as chief of staff of Davao City’s Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Maribojoc still has some of the biggest mangrove areas in this country. Lining the banks of the Abatan River (which runs through four towns) are thick rows of nipa palms and mangrove trees that sustain a variety of wildlife. Multiawarded poet Marjorie Evasco (a cousin of the mayor’s) wrote of this habitat as “a temple of dark green silence.” Ecotourism is among Maribojoc’s come-ons.
The mayor is now appealing for help for his people. You may send donations to Tabang Maribojoc, LandBank SA number 0612 1012 05.
Bohol’s severely damaged churches are mainly made of limestone. Postearthquake photographs show that they have no inner metal support whatsoever. A video clip showed portions of a belfry crashing down during an aftershock.
It is said that when St. Francis heard the Crucified Jesus (the Byzantine cross in the church of San Damiano) speak to him, “Go, repair my house,” the poverello of Assisi thought it would be an order to repair the decrepit church. He later realized that it was the living church and not the church structure that needed repair. And so he did. He became one of the most beloved saints in history because of his example of giving up his wealth, living poorly, and loving the poor and God’s creation.
At the recent three-day Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) hosted by the Manila archdiocese, where Catholic lay, religious, priests and bishops from all over the country and abroad gathered, Pope Francis reminded (via video) the 5,000-strong throng “to love the Church more… Don’t get tired of bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the sinful people, and family. Let Jesus speak now in the world of politics, business, arts, science, technology and the social media.” There is much to be repaired.
The impact of the earthquake was not lost on the PCNE participants, who dug into their bags to give material aid and carried home with them messages old and new. The PCNE was a watershed moment. One got a special sense of it (even musical for me) when, at the end, the UST chorus and symphony orchestra gave a thundering rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
There is much to be repaired.
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