As far as she could remember, in her lifetime, the centuries-old Baclayon Church has never been as luckier than today.
Baclayon resident and Inmaculada Concepcion de la Virgin Maria parishioner and 96 year-old Martina Buhi-on Oppus has not seen a celebration as grand, as historic and as memorable than the reopening of the church “puerta mayor” and letting in the throng of parishioners eager to get into the church again.
It has been four years and four months that the old church closed its doors to the parishioners as local church authorities made sure that the integrity of the structure and the security of the church treasures are preserved after the 2013 earthquake toppled the church bell tower and affected the stability of the flying buttresses.
One among the hundreds who dressed for the occasion of the jubilee mass for the formal turn-over of the church to the Diocese of Tagbilaran after the multi-million restoration project, the parishioners, some teary-eyed, others held in awe by the memorable event, joined the procession to the altar and the mass celebrated by no less than the Vatican Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines and Italian Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia.
Also with Archbishop Caccia was Bishop of Tagbilaran Albert Uy, over a hundred secular and religious priests and nuns who took to the aisle as parishioners homed in on their pews, ones where their forefathers and their families have sat for generations until 4 years.
Oppus, who held hands with her husband, 99 year’s old Joel Oppus who fondly remembered all too well, when they exchanged marital vows inside the same church, 72 years ago.
When the authorities “closed the church,” and transferred its services to the alternative church which now stands beside the old church, the Oppus couple has to take the longer route to church, where longer is a couple of a hundred steps from their home in San Roque.
The church in Baclayon, which now stands above the site of the old church built by its founding fathers: Jesuits Juan de Torres and Gabriel Sanchez in 1596, as the oldest Christian settlement in Bohol before it was elevated into a full parish with the construction of the stone church in 1717, according to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Chairman Atty. Rene Escalante.
Considered as the church with the most well preserved interior among the Jesuit and Augustinian Recollect-built churches, the church and its parish celebrated its 500th year with major restorations including the setting up of steel trusses and the installation of galvanized iron style roof to ease the tension of the walls which have been burdened by centuries of adobe brick tile roofing.
The earthquake of October 15, 2017 however toppled the church’s iconic belltower, affected its walls and its flying buttresses, while church authorities attempted to salvage the treasures which the church keeps.
The Opus couple also fondly remembers their Sundays, the husband who was once serving as an “apostoles” while the wife helps in the preparation of the caros during processions.
This is the first time that we came in with this mass celebrated by the highest official of the Catholic Church in Baclayon, Martina shared.
Also making the mass as grand was the haunting music from the newly restored pipe organ and the grand choir composed of members of all functional choirs in the parish.
In his homily, Archbishop Caccia bared that he brings the blessings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis who fondly remembers his visit to the Philippines.
Cassia, whose name is Gabriele Giordano, hailed Baclayanons who were afflicted but refused to be crushed, projecting the image of a strong community that has lived through the sufferings.
Following bishop Uy’s cue, the papal liaison to the Philippines picked on the transfiguration, as God’s way of revealing himself; the church restoration as a fitting reminder that the earthquake proving now that it was more of a grace than a disgrace.
Archbishop Caccia also pointed out that the restoration project of the centuries-old church also included its well kept treasures.
The restoration is a product of a collaboration and partnership of the national and local governments, the diocese and the parish even as he thanked the government for funding the project and preserving the heritage structure which has become an identity for the community.
The government seed the cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in the Philippines as a very significant fact in the cultural patrimony of the nation, bishop Caccia noted.
As the NHCP sees the well preserved Spanish baroque art in the historic church, the restoration became a challenging monumental task, chairman Escalante admitted.
We have to follow the prescribed manner in the restoration and preservation while retaining the old look and using the right materials as much as possible, he continued.
The NHCP restoration largely focused on the toppled tower and its integral parts including the five centuries old bells, the restoration of the retablos (altars), the old pulpit, the two antique pews, the old pipe organ and the repainting of the ceilings with newer frescoes that show contemporary techniques but depicting the same old visions of heaven.
The paintings, a far cry compared to the ones done by Ray Francia and Canuto Avila and their sons, has earned both critics and raves, a fact that the NHCP graciously notes, to be a basis of further decisions in their future projects.
Except for the newer paintings in the ceilings, everything looks like it was, Martina, who still wears a disarming smile points to the modern depictions of the sacraments, some local scenes and the times in the life of Christ which the bible tells.
The couple was among the last group of people who attended the memorable turn-over ceremonies and who stayed longer to relish sitting in their pew, which they have sorely missed. (PIA)