Where every Visita Iglesia must end
By Jojo Gumpal Silvestre
WOULD you like a visa to the United States? There is no assurance you will get it, if you do not have enough faith. But if you do, you can ask for all that the Lord wants you to have. Just claim His promise.
That’s a very basic tenet of the Catholic Church. If you and the Lord are in agreement over what He wants for you and what you want for yourself, you will certainly get it.
And you don’t even have to go to the ends of the world to speak to the Lord. It is in silence that we communicate with Him, don’t we?
Recently, I came upon the best place where the Lord sure dwells. If every heart is the home of the Lord, then, the Monasterio de Tarlac, a 40-minute drive away through hills and plains from the capital town of Tarlac, is the Lord’s mansion. Here, He dwells in His utmost glory. Here, a part of the cross on which He died is kept and it is here that you and I, in search of a place to be in one with Him, should come, after having visited all 14 churches, all in a day’s journey, of course, on a week as sacred as this.
But it doesn’t have to be Holy Week to come to the Monasterio de Tarlac. It could be anytime of the year, although the best would be on Saturdays and Sundays when The Chapel of the Relic of the True Cross is open, and a Holy Mass is celebrated at 10 in the morning.
But if you really want a hands-on experience, the reliquary is open to the public only every September 14, the Feast Day of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. On this day, you come face to face with the matchbox-sized fragment of the Holy Cross, normally kept in the silver arqueta or ark enclosed with glass and grills right under the altar table.
Some things just happen, and you know they are providential. And the story of the Relic of the True Cross coming to our country is one of them.
Let’s go back to the founding of the Servants of the Risen Christ Monastic Community by Father Ronald Thomas “Archie” Cortez, a diocesan priest, in the late 1990s. Father Archie says, “I had always wanted to enter a monastery but since the opportunity did not present itself, I found myself in the company of young people who had also wanted to serve the Lord in the same manner.” Their common wish soon found fruition in their community, which naturally, led a quiet existence. This would not be long, when Father Archie, while attending the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, met Msgr. Volker Bauer of Essen, the custodian of the relic. The long and short of it is the latter found the perfect community that would take good care of the relic, at a time when monastic life in Europe was dwindling and the relic is in need of its perfect custodians. It even made sense that the Philippines is also the first and only Catholic country in the Far East.
Only last January, the relic finally found a home in the Relic of the True Cross chapel, made possible by donors, and the turning-over of a public land to the community, with the help of Governor Aping Yap of Tarlac and the provincial government.
Just recently, the food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp. invited members of the press to the site where participated in a solemn Mass and recollection. After which, our host served us a sumptuous buffet-lunch of callos, lengua and leche flan preceding an informal conversation with Father Archie. The he community stands right on top of a mountain, with the chapel and the private quarters of the monks occupying one side. Along the slopes may be found medieval era-inspired structures that serve as retreat homes for priests and the religious.
Father Archie is aware that pilgrimages could get in the way of their quiet life, hence the request that the faithful come on Saturdays and Sundays. This Holy Week, of course, they will welcome everyone up to Easter Sunday. You can even buy their calamansi concentrate and honey concoction interestingly called Calamonks, which certainly is good for the body.
But healing of the spiritual kind can certainly be sought here. Father Archie speaks of testimonies, but admonishes that “faith is a personal thing, and to those who believe, nothing is impossible, but to those who don’t, what is there to believe?” In the end, he says, it is God, above all, who makes all these happen.” To one family, coming over got them a United States visa.
If you just want a break from your worldly cares, the site itself has much to say of God’s wonders to behold, as it were. A panoramic view of Tarlac awaits the visitor. The sight of monks in prayer is not an everyday occurrence to city people like us. In silence, the wind is a symphony. The stars, a canvas of all that, can be. And when you have been to all the shrines in this country, you have no choice but to come here where the proof of the Lord’s triumph as the Son of God lies quietly in its majestic glory.
To those who believe, this is where your search ends. And this is where your new life begins. But to those who remain skeptical, a glass of Calamonks juice should convince you only heaven could have created something as naturally soothing as this.
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