Visita Iglesia 2013: Honoring Holiness

This is part 2 of my chronicle of our community’s Lenten Pilgrimage. Read the first article here.

With so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us, we too, then, should throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us. –Hebrews 12:1

I had written once before about being pleasantly surprised to find the relics of Thérèse of Lisieux enshrined so close to home. I was no less surprised to find that Pampanga was home to the relics of not one, not two, but four saints held dear by Filipino Catholics.

During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, the archipelago was divided into regions that were then subsequently assigned to the different religious missions. Since the Augustinian missions were delegated to Pampanga, it is no surprise that many churches across the province exhibit some influence of Augustinian spirituality in one form or another; none more so than the St. Augustine Parish Church in Lubao.

Built in 1613, the oldest in Pampanga, the church was has been declared a National Historical Landmark. Last year, on the occasion of the church’s 440th founding anniversary, primary relics of both St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, were welcomed into the reliquaries built specially for the town’s patron saints.

Reliquary for St. Augustine and St. Monica, St. Augustine Parish in Lubao, Pampanga (Photo credit: Kathy Robles)

Reliquary of St. Augustine and St. Monica, St. Augustine Parish in Lubao, Pampanga (Photo Credit: Kathy Robles)

After a number of relocations, repairs and rebuildings (surviving floods, Japanese bombings and volcanic ash fall), the church’s red brick facade lends a more rustic vibe than an ancient one. It is said that after the original San Agustin church, built in 1572, was repeatedly flooded, the church was relocated to its present location using locally made bricks and, quite ingeniously, sand mixed with egg albumen donated by the locals (the province is one of the country’s leading providers of egg and poultry). The church was rebuilt by Fr. Antonio Herrera, the same who built the other well-known San Agustin church in Manila.

The pilgrims in front of St. Augustine Church (Photo Credit: Kathy Robles)

Next on the list was Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish in San Fernando. We were welcomed by the very charismatic parish priest, Msgr. Gene Reyes, who graciously shared with us (complete with slideshow on powerpoint) a short history of the church, stories about the life of the aforementioned patron saint, as well as the locals’ faith and spirituality. Proud of the fact that Sta. Rita is known as a particularly quiet, peaceful town, Msgr. Reyes posits that this serenity is a reflection of the faithful’s deep commitment to prayer. Case in point: every Good Friday, part of their tradition is carrying a 300-kg (did I hear this right?) wooden cross around town while praying the Stations of the Cross (a practice you can read more about here).

Reliquary of Sta. Rita de Cascia, with the wooden cross the faithful carry every Good Friday. (Photo Credit: Kathy Robles)

I will not argue that the peaceful atmosphere of the church and its surrounding town was very conducive for prayer. Plus, hearing the story of Sta. Rita, greatly devoted to receiving Christ in the Eucharist and who shared in His suffering through the thorn that mystically pierced her forehead, was a good teaching moment Peter and I were able to share with our kids who were with us on the trip.

Last but by no means least of our saintly visits was to the Sta. Lucia (St. Lucy) Church in Sasmuan. As our bus couldn’t go all the way through the town’s narrow streets, we walked over to the church’s side entrance and, unfortunately, were not able to view the church’s famed facade with floral carvings. One detail I found interesting though was how the church only had minimal light inside, except for the area of the main altar and the reliquary just a few feet to the side of it, which is illuminated by natural light coming from the windows on the dome directly above it. Perhaps an homage to the patroness whose name is derived from the Latin for “Light?”

Reliquary of St. Lucy in Sta. Lucia Church in Sasmuan. (Photo Credit: Kathy Robles)

Tradition tells us of St. Lucy’s story of courage and virtue, that when Roman guards ordered to execute her were mysteriously unable to move her, they resorted to gouging her eyes out with a fork (not a story for the fainthearted). But, owing to this story and the depiction of St. Lucy holding a golden plate with her eyes on it, she has been known as the patroness of the blind, and many have attributed the recovery of their sight through the power of her intercession.

A Doctor of the Church and his persevering mother, a woman who lovingly shared in Christ’s suffering, and a virgin who shone Christ’s light with her martyrdom. All deserving a special place of honor in our Church, and lovingly remembered by the faithful of Pampanga.

Read about the last 2 churches in Visita Iglesia: Rising From the Ashes.

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