Special feature :In honor of Blessed Pedro

- Vanessa Balbuena (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2012 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Blessed Pedro Calungsod's long road to sainthood will finally end this October 21, the awaited day when the second Filipino, after San Lorenzo Ruiz, will be canonized in Rome along with other new saints. That's 12 years after his beatification and 340 years after his death.

In the mountains of Cantabaco, Toledo City, another long journey is still awaiting completion: the eight-year-and-counting construction of the Parish Church of the Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the first church in the Philippines that honors the soon-to-be saint.

While its builders, benefactors and parishioners had hoped for it to be finished in time for the Oct. 21 canonization, it looks like they have to wait two or three more years.

The birth of this hilltop house of worship began in 2003, when Msgr. Jerry Jumao-as and Fr. Mike Hisoler inquired from Servillano C. Mapeso and his wife Josephine if they can purchase one hectare of land from the couple's 14-hectare property in Cantabaco for a church site.

The Mapesos gave them the rate of P100 per square meter, which at one hectare, would cost P1 million. But the prospective buyers could only afford P60,000.

After a week of mulling it over and consulting with their eight children, the Mapesos decided to donate one hectare to the Archdiocese of Cebu, with a condition that Cantabaco be turned into a parish.

"They actually chose another area, but we advised them against it since the location was prone to flooding. So we suggested a southern portion of the property. That's when they broached the idea of making it the Beato Pedro Calungsod Parish. We agreed because according to them, there was still no parish in the whole country named after Calungsod," said the Mapeso patriarch.

The church site is adjacent to Springpark Mountain Resort, also owned by the couple.

Since he was an architect, Mapeso offered to design the church. He said traditional churches are cross-shaped, but implementing that kind of design would obstruct the view of parishioners to the lush mountain scenery of Toledo.

"When I stood in the middle of the property, I had a 360-degree view of the mountains. If we designed the church perpendicular, people will not see the view. I thought of a modern, polygonal structure with corridors all around, so that people can view the surrounding forested area," he said.

Building a church does not come cheap, as the Mapeso couple know all too well by now. Spending a considerable amount from their own pockets was not enough. Creative fund-raisers had to be cooked up to finance the construction.

Their children were all willing to contribute. One of their sons, who resides in Canada and is a member of a band, held a concert-for-a-cause back in 2007. That event managed to raise P300,000.

When the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2006, they strategically placed an image of Calungsod and a donation box beside it in the entry way of the event venue. In lieu of gifts, they asked guests for donations towards the church's construction. They were able to raise P30,000.

He said that the Pastoral Council led initiatives to raise funds, while well-meaning individuals also coughed up donations. But Mapeso added that raising funds these days is a challenge, since less people are willing to part with their money.

Construction began in 2004, with some Cantabaco residents volunteering to do construction work.

They are particularly proud of the church's stained glass windows -- depicting scenes from Calungsod's life and the mysteries of the Holy Rosary -- the design of which can't be found anywhere else, according to Mapeso.

They also prioritized the completion of toilets in the basement, for the comfort of parishioners and church visitors.

Mapeso said the church is 65 percent complete, with the basement, convent, mortuary and landscaping still needing more work. He gives it an estimate of two to three years to be finally completed, depending on the funds that will come in.

The 80-year-old hopes it will be sooner, for he and his wife aren't getting any younger.

Asked what has kept him and his family unwavering in their commitment to see the church through after all these years -- despite malicious talk from some quarters, the slow pouring in of funds and instances of people using donations for their own benefit -- Mapeso said their blessings have multiplied when they began spearheading the building of the church.

"I have been blessed with good health and long life, for instance," he said.

"If donations from other people did not come, we also cannot finance the construction ourselves. We're also already senior citizens, so what else can we do? This is all for God and Beato Pedro Calungsod," Mapeso added.

Last October, the Mapesos joined a caravan which began in Cantabaco going to Ginatilan town in southwestern Cebu, said to be Calungsod's hometown.

Even if the Blessed Pedro Calungsod Parish Church is still unfinished, October 21 will be a day of celebration in Cantabaco. The young martyr, to whom the church was dedicated to, will finally become a saint.

When the young Calungsod was sent to Guam in 1672, along with other Jesuit missionaries, they were tasked to build chapels to encourage the natives to convert to Christianity. They were met with hostility for spreading their faith, but he persisted and paid with his life for it.

While the Mapesos and the people helping them are far from shedding blood to see this church stand, their faith, determination and generosity are consistent with the legacy that the Visayan martyr has left behind. — /QSB (FREEMAN)

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