My family just got back from Bohol. It was a peaceful and pleasant trip. Visiting San Jose de Obrero Cathedral in Tagbilaran City and attending the Fiesta Mass for Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon Church. Baclayon Church, it was difficult to visit that place without grief surfacing in our hearts. In May last year, my family visited that Church. All four of us made the pilgrimage of the old churches of Bohol. These gorgeous stone churches were a testament to the Catholic and cultural history of our country. Immaculate Conception Church in Baclayon was the oldest, built in the late 1500s. There were antique religious images, beautiful Renaissance paintings on the ceilings and Churrigueresque altars and side chapels. I remembered my aesthetics courses in college. How I wished I brushed up on them before we left! Having stood for centuries, the churches seemed immovable, invincible.
Our timing was quite lucky! Or should I say blessed? Since it was late May, the townspeople all over all Bohol were celebrating Flores de Mayo. From church to church, we would see children dressed as angels or flower girls. As the townspeople, young and old prayed the Rosary, they would slowly carry the words “Ave Maria” down to the altar. I know that these practices are common in the provinces, but as a city-girl all my life, these were quite a novelty for me. How I wished I had a childhood like that! Clothed in pretty dresses everyday, with baskets of flowers and Rosaries for Mama Mary! We admired their faith. In Bohol, Masses can be full to capacity even on weekdays!
My brother enjoyed climbing to the choir lofts and bell towers of Bohol. I remember him telling us about the bats in the belfry. Once, he was at the very top, when the parish workers rang the bell. The clanging bells were deafening! Still it’s nice to know that they still use bells. Many churches in the Metro resort to loudspeaker recording of bells instead of ringing real ones.
The final stop in our pilgrimage was Baclayon Church. Fortunately, they were having Mass when we arrived. After Mass, there was a procession around the neighborhood. We stayed in the church and explored the grounds while it was empty. At dusk, my dad took a photo of us outside. It was one of many family vacations we’ve had around the country. We didn’t know that it would be one of our last as a complete family.
But the memories of that happy family trip were not the only reason why I felt sad when we visited. You see, Baclayon Church is a lot like our family now. On October 15, 2013, approximately 6 months before my brother passed away, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake devastated much of Bohol, hundreds died. And those centuries-old churches? They collapsed, caved in or crumbled to dust. Estimates say that it will take at least a decade or more to reconstruct the churches. Some of them can never be fully rebuilt. The damage was too much and their parishioners could never afford to rebuild it as it was.
Baclayon Church’s bell tower collapsed and the roof and wall of the church caved in. That same bell tower, my brother climbed when we visited before. The bell tower and my brother are both gone now. Yet, there is a seed of hope. The church parking lot is now filled with rubble. Archeologists and architects have helped the parishioners segregate them into piles for rebuilding. In the same way, God consoles us with the promise of eternal life.In the unfathomable immensity of His Divine Mercy, God assures us of my brother’s salvation. This may be the most difficult Advent for my family. Though we grieve, we are slowly healing. With trust in God, we pick up the pieces, living our live as best we can.