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Be wary of church renovations

/ 12:08 AM April 06, 2015

(This is a continuation of the column of last Wednesday, April 1, on the mysterious, simultaneous renovations of at least three churches—in the towns of Angat, Hagonoy and Sta. Maria, all of Bulacan.)

ALL THESE projects were started without permits from the diocese, without consultations with the parish pastoral councils, and without informing the parishioners of the plans. Why? Bulacan Bishop Jose F. Oliveros has ordered a stop to all the renovations.

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In Angat, the plan was to replace the church’s old floor tiles with new ones of a different design. In Hagonoy, the plan was to build a covered court in the patio. In Sta. Maria, there were two planned but questionable projects: (1) the construction of a retablo and (2) replacing the old images of saints that are owned by prominent families of the town with a new image owned by the family of the mastermind of the planned projects.

The mastermind is neither a priest nor a lay minister. How did he enter the picture? Sometime ago, he showed up and became active in organizing processions. He ingratiated himself with the assistant parish priest.

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Suddenly, the priest told the families who owned the images in the church (e.g., San Roque, San Francisco de Assisi, San Isidro Labrador, Mother of Perpetual Help, and the life-size image of Sto. Rosario, which has been in the La Immaculada Concepcion Church for about four decades) that they would have to donate their images to the church or they would be moved out of the church. The excuse: to give way to the construction of the retablo. Parishioners were shocked to learn that under the retablo project the images that had been in the church for decades would be replaced by the Birhen Esperanza Macarena owned by the family of the mastermind of the project.

The priest has moved several images (except for the life-size image of the Sto. Rosario which is too heavy) to make way for the retablo and the installation of the new Birhen Macarena. And the demolition of the marble wall of the church at the altar, where the Sto. Rosario is, has already begun. Even when the bishop’s order to stop the projects was received, the workers hurriedly continued the removal of the altar. Why?

Upon investigation, it was discovered that both the retablo project and the installation of the Birhen Macarena do not have the approval of the diocese of Malolos which has jurisdiction over Sta. Maria. It was also learned that the projects were planned without consulting the parish pastoral council and without informing the parishioners. The bishop ordered the projects stopped.

Misrepresenting himself, the mastermind had been collecting donations for the projects from parishioners. Why are they doing this?

Here is a clue: A priest allegedly asked for the price of gold. Now why would a priest be interested in the price of gold? Because of the belief that the fabled Yamashita treasure is buried out there, waiting for the lucky treasure hunter, there is talk that the alleged “renovation” of the Bulacan churches is just a camouflage to disguise the search for the Yamashita treasure. (How many churches and places have been dug up in the fruitless search for the treasure?)

Altars are the favorite search areas. Is the Sta. Maria Church’s retablo project a camouflage to hide an excavation under the altar? I do not know the answer to that but the suspicious are asking: Why did the workers hurry the demolition of the marble altar even after the bishop had ordered a halt to the retablo project? Did they expect to find the treasure there? Why did a priest ask for the price of gold? Was he confident that a treasure in gold would be found in the church?

The suspicious also conjecture that certain characters wanted the old tiles of the Angat Church removed to make it easy for them to dig under the flooring in search of the elusive Yamashita treasure. Other churches have already been subjected to this kind of search, they said. Do priests also succumb to temptation of and greed for treasures? I do not have the answers to these questions. Only conjectures, suspicions and theories. And the thought that priests are only human and subject to human frailties.

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That’s not the end of it. Observers claim that there are also gangs of dress designers who change the clothes of the Virgin Mary and other saints with clothes of their own designs. They solicit funds for these projects from parishioners. Then they can boast later on that the clothes of this or that image were designed by them.

One last thing: Old churches, those with exposed adobe walls, with moss growing on them, are more venerated, more respected and more valuable than those renovated with smooth cement walls painted with garish colors. Let the old churches be.

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