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Hands to work, hearts to God  

By JH CORPUS Published Jan 06, 2024 9:06 am

From Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, the Diocese of Dumaguete hosted the 13th Biennial National Convention of the Church Cultural Heritage and was organized by the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church (CBCP— ECCHC) and University of Santo Tomas Graduate School Center for the Conservation of Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics.

Every two years, those who work on or specialize in church heritage come together to share knowledge through lectures, presentations, heritage tours, and collaborative conversations. Guiding and focusing the attendees, prayers, Lauds, and Masses punctuated the conference proceedings.

The Ceilings of Jasaan Church of Misamis Oriental replete with indigenous designs

The value of the cultural heritage of the Roman Catholic Church has been officially embedded in our government, diocesan and World Heritage designations. The first inscription of built cultural heritage was the serial nominations of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines in 1993 by UNESCO. Represented in this grouping are diverse churches that are informed by Filipino, Chinese, and European designs, also known as arquitectura mestiza.

In fact, this mélange of influences is the expression of inculturation of faith—faith that is evangelized through the lens of local cultures. Not only does built heritage contribute to mutual understanding but the process is made more palatable and understandable through the intangible: language, music, spiritual traditions, and other expressions or responses to the Divine.

Attendees at the 13th National Convention of the Church Cultural Heritage

Archbishop Charles Brown, Apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines, states, “In his recent Catechesis, His Holiness emphasized the importance of inculturating the faith and evangelizing the culture… St. Cyril translated the Bible and liturgical texts for the Slavs… This way the people felt that the Christian faith was no longer ‘foreign,’ but rather it became their faith, spoken in their native language. Pope Francis notes that evangelization and culture are closely connected. ‘One cannot preach the Gospel in an abstract, distilled way, no: the Gospel must be inculturated and it is also an expression of culture’ (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, Oct. 25, 2023).”

This process is not new to the Church in the Philippines; actually, it has been practiced, most especially during the spread of Christianity, when it flourished arm in arm with Spanish Colonial Empire. One only must look at our heritage churches and spiritual practices to discover our ancestors through religious artistic expression.

From left, Bishop Danilo B. Ulep, prelate of Batanes and incoming CBCP-ECCHC chairperson, Bishop Julito B. Cortes of Dumaguete and former chairperson, Regalado Trota José, archivist and church historian, and executive secretary of the CBCP-EEHC, Father Milan Ted D. Torralba

That said, the underlying theme of the conference was synodality or “the process of fraternal collaboration and discernment,” which bolsters the theme of the conference Working Together, Journeying Together in the ministry of church heritage work. According to the incoming chairperson of CBCP-ECCHC, Bishop Danilo B. Ulep, prelate of Batanes, synodality includes three major facets: communion, participation, and vision. Communion for the clarity of a singular purpose; participation for active or proactive action and devoted involvement; and vision as missionaries and disciples of God who are carrying out His vision on Earth. Bishop Ulep’s message was for the sacred purposefulness of church heritage work in its local cultural expression and a call for cooperation, despite differing approaches to the conservation of built heritage.

Leo Ranier delivers a talk on the restoration of the Bacong church organ.

These messages were woven through the conference, as evidenced by the collaborative atmosphere from various stakeholders and organizations in attendance, hailing not only from the dioceses from across the nation but also professional and governmental heritage practitioners.

The diversity of speakers and topics reflected the diversity of concerns and highlights that have evolved over the centuries. Presentations wound its way around diverse topics through the lens of art history, church history, material science, climate change and disaster risks, and the conservation and interpretation of ecclesiastical works of art. Some highlights of topics presented were presentations by Regalado Trota José in a series of five lectures that ranged from tabiqué pampango, the Philippine version of wattle and daub, to La Japonesa: How Would She Have Looked Like?—a 17th-century expression of La Nuestra del Rosario with Japanese features housed in Santo Domingo Museum in Quezon City.

Marilyn R. Canta, PhD, delivers her lecture on Betis church documentation.

Mayor Maria Lourdes P. Lacson talked about Lubenas ning Pasku in Magalang, Pampanga, and their efforts to revive a dying cultural tradition at Christmas. Marilyn R. Canta, PhD, shared her experiences on how she conducted the documentation of wooden saints at Betis church in Pampanga. Maria Lourdes U. Po, a conservator from the Museo ng Arkidiyosesis ng Maynila, presented strategies to promote visibility and accessibility to its collections while maintaining a sustainable, stable, affordable museum environment.

The CBCP-ECCHC outgoing chairperson, Bishop Julito B. Cortes of Dumaguete, stated that the care the Church relies heavily on those whose are called to share their talents and skills so that the pastoral needs of the Church can be met in this time of synodality. Work can be a transformative experience, for it is the work of God: “The output of heritage work then are works of human hands that God brings forth to their final fruition. This work done well in the Holy Spirit glorifies God, Christ-ifies culture, and in a mysterious way, Edenizes the world.”