Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

A birthday in a little chapel with the Papal Nuncio

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 23, 2023 5:00 am

I spent my birthday last Monday in a little chapel in a crowded area in Sampaloc, Manila. Crowded with rows of shanties, rowdy children playing in the streets, and jeepneys blaring through the maze.

But the little chapel is a jewel in the neighborhood. It has united the people there in prayer. The crime rate in the area has gone down since the chapel was built.

It all started in the ’60s when Felipe Legaspi found the headless statue of Our Lady of Manaoag in his backyard. Coincidentally, his parents came from Pangasinan with a framed image of Our Lady of Manaoag, and when he set the headless statue against the picture, it looked complete. 

Our Lady of Manaoag altar in Sampaloc, Manila

As if overpowered by piety, Felipe put up a place of worship using wooden planks, hollow blocks, and car parts. Neighbors started helping. Soon, kindhearted people donated construction materials and those who could not afford to give, volunteered their free labor in true bayanihan spirit. There, Felipe held daily recitations of the rosary and the Angelus. A little chapel was born.

Soon donations came in from pious devotees who believed in the power of Our Lady to intercede for the sick and the desperate. At present, the chapel looks charming in Marian blue and gold, with an image of Our Lady of Manaoag resplendent at the altar. It has rows of proper pews, a balcony for the choir, and mini cathedral windows. It now looks like a church.

His Excellency Charles John Brown

Last Monday, I was lucky to have been invited to hear the Mass officiated by the Papal Nuncio, Charles John Brown, Vatican’s envoy to the Philippines. It marked the start of Our Lady’s feast, which culminates on April 26.

The history of the chapel is filled with heartwarming stories of answered prayers and everyday miracles by Our Lady. I felt it in my heart.

The Papal Nuncio was invited by Gambia Consul Agnes Huibonhoa, one of the Marian devotees who have been helping maintain the church through the years since she met Felipe the founder in 1991 (he passed away in 2011). Agnes has also been conducting medical missions and gift-giving activities for indigents since the place has become close to her heart. She herself has experienced an epiphany after her prayers for healing for her family and friends were granted by Our Lady.

Chanting of prayers, beating of the drums before Mass

After the Mass, the Papal Nuncio joined us for a birthday dinner hosted at Cerveseria by Agnes for me and co-April celebrants Therese Santos, Tetta Agustin, and Christian Baverey, who are all Marian believers. Joining us were resto owner Maritel Nievera, Fe Rodriguez, Tina Cuevas, Keren Pascual, Tessa Prieto, Rosan Cruz, Jojo Ongsiako, AC Legarda, Rowena Tomeldan, and of course chef Gilbert Pangilinan. His Excellency was as amiable and down to earth as the first time I met him, when he told me: “The best thing that happened to me during the start of COVID? I was assigned to the Philippines!”

Rev. Charlie Brown, as he is affectionally called, during dinner at Cerveseria with (from left) Keren Pascual, Fe Rodriguez, Maritel Nievera, Tina Cuevas, Tetta Agustin, Christian Baverey, Tessa Prieto, Agnes Huibonhoa, Millet Mananquil, Jojo Ongsiako, Rosan Cruz, Therese Santos, AC Legarda, and Rowena Tomeldan

During dinner, Archbishop Brown said: “It was really a privilege and a joy for me to make my second visit to the chapel of Our Lady of Manaoag to celebrate the first Mass of the novena, which will culminate on her feast day this Wednesday. I was amazed and edified by the sincere devotion of the people at the Mass. The whole experience made me understand, yet again, why the Filipino people are called the ‘pueblo amante de Maria.’”

Papal Nuncio Charles John Brown with the author, Fe Rodriguez, Tetta Agustin, and Agnes Huibonhoa who helps maintain the chapel

Yes, we are. The history of the chapel is filled with heartwarming stories of answered prayers and everyday miracles by Our Lady. I felt it in my heart. That this is the little chapel that could.