In the ’80s, I spent four meaningful years of my life at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and after having spent most of my school years in a Catholic school with daily prayers, benediction and weekly Masses, the atmosphere at the non-sectarian state university was a big change.
I found out in the course of the eight semesters I spent in Diliman that in a way, UP strengthened my faith because my feet took me to the UP Diliman Chapel, now the Parish Church of the Holy Sacrifice.
During holy days of obligation, like on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the chapel would be filled to the rafters. I would look at the sea of people around me, people you wouldn’t imagine would take time out for holy Mass in UP’s freewheeling campus, and yet they were all there.
The chapel, which marks the 65th anniversary of its completion this month, is a work of art. Designed by National Artist, the late Leandro Locsin, it also features the works of now National Artists Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz and Napoleon Abueva.
In 1954, Fr. John Delaney, SJ, the first Catholic chaplain of UP Diliman, initiatd and supervised the building of a chapel in the campus. Fr. Delaney commissioned up-and-coming artists, engineers and an architect to create a place of worship that was at the same time a virtual citadel of modern Philippine architecture. The Crucifix by Napoleon Abueva is the focal point of the UP Parish Church. The interior as seen from above boasts Arturo Luz’s Terrazo, entitled the River of Life, flowing from the altar towards the four major aisles of the church.
These artists would eventually be honored as National Artists of the country.
Upon its completion in December 1955, the chapel was blessed by the Archbishop of Manila, Rufino Cardinal Santos.
The parishioners, led by their current parish priest, Fr. Jose “Bong” Tupino III, as much as allowed by safety protocols, commemorated the milestone with a special Thanksgiving Mass in what is now the Parish Church of the Holy Sacrifice. Most Rev. Honesto F. Ongtioco, Bishop of Cubao, presided over the celebration. Very Rev. Primitivo Viray Jr., SJ, Provincial of the Society of Jesus, co-presided.
(The Local Government of Quezon City, in collaboration with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), has allowed religious gatherings of 30 percent of the venue’s seating capacity.)
Churches need not be repositories of art; they can be simple structures. But man has a tendency to make them repositories of art as well, to pay homage to the Creator, to someone so edifying. They say singing is praying twice, and I would like to add that making beautiful artwork is also like a prayer and an offering — man making full use of the talent that could only have come from Him.
During a Zoom Mass presided over by Father Francis Alvarez, SJ during my Assumption Convent batch’s Christmas party, he engaged us — we were attending from all corners of the world — with a thought-provoking question: What one word would you use to describe 2020?
Some answered, “Pandemic,” but many also answered, “Faith,” and “Family.”
I personally answered, “Faith.” Only faith could have seen us through a year of seismic changes and adjustments never before seen in our lifetime. During the first few months of the pandemic, no one knew where the COVID-19 tunnel would lead us, if there was any light at the end of it, or if it even had an end.
We were uncertain about the future. Would we end up boarding up our houses like in movies that seemed like science fiction before — but which seem to be bordering on truth now? Would infected, barely recognizable humans be roaming the streets like in World War Z? With the economy grinding to a halt, would there be a food shortage? After losing two very dear friends in April, I knew COVID-19 was painfully real. It wasn’t just a news story.
And yet faith in God, in man (oh, those valiant frontliners!) and in those we trust has seen most of us through. The lockdown gave many the gift of pause, to reflect on their priorities, to catch their breath and reboot. Even nature had a reboot.
The lockdown gave me the gift of time to be with my family. A friend with young children told me that for children, the lockdown was probably the happiest time of their lives because they saw their busy Dads and Moms virtually 24/7.
We mourn those we have lost to COVID-19, and we comfort those who bear unbearable losses.
But we soldier on and look forward to 2021 with hope. There are vaccines from reputable firms, and Filipinos have seemed to have taken to wearing masks and face shields like they were essential clothing.
Hope. Faith. Amen.