By Lourdes R. Policarpio
By a coincidence which, I believe, is not coincidence but the hand of Divine Providence, I found myself with my husband and daughter Ria at the new shrine of Blessed John Paul II in Morong, Bataan, Philippines on the day of his beatification last May 1. To be honest, we did not intend to be on a pilgrimage to his shrine on that day. We intended to spend the week-end in a beach resort just fifteen minutes from the shrine.
But Fr. Fernando Loreto, the parish priest of Morong church, invited us to see the shrine.It was on the front page of a major daily newspaper. “It is just here in our parish in Morong,” – he texted, sounding so happy and pleased, that we felt impelled to go.
Days before the trip to Morong, I reminisced my own fond memories of the revered Pope. Years ago, on October 18, 1987, our daughter Ria was chosen to present the gift of the Filipinos (a statue of San Lorenzo) to the Pope during the canonization Mass in Rome. Ria was cured of a degenerative brain ailment through the intercession of then Blessed Lorenzo.
Taking out old news clippings I cherished, I refreshed my memory on the role that the Pope played in the canonization of San Lorenzo.
A news clipping I have is an article by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, former Cardinal of Manila, published in a major daily on October 17, 1988. In it, Cardinal Sin wrote of a special bond between Pope John Paul II and the Philippines, a bond which he said can be seen in three signs. One such sign, he wrote, is the beatification and canonization of Lorenzo Ruiz, with the brief interval between the two (1981 and 1987).
A portion of Cardinal Sin’s article really touched me. To quote:
The Dominican fathers, especially Fr. Inocenzo Venchi, to whom we owe so much in the matter of the canonization, have attested to the very exceptional interest the Holy Father manifested in the progress of the canonization. He supported the rapid recognition of the miracle performed by the saint in the case of Ria Policarpio.
Wanting to learn more about the Pope’s peculiar role in the case of my daughter Ria, I took out the book of Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P., “Lorenzo de Manila and His Companions”. While the technicalities cannot be expounded here, suffice it to say that the Pope intervened in the case of my daughter by no longer requiring the submission of more detailed medical records. With the Holy Father simplifying the proceedings, my daughter’s case was declared “a third-degree miracle or quoad modum” by the Promoter of the Faith on April 3, 1987. It can be said, therefore, that the Pope accelerated the canonization cause of our first Filipino saint.
During the canonization Mass, my husband, daughter Ria and I, had our one brief shining moment with then Pope John Paul II. To undertake this trip to Morong to see his shrine 24 years later would be such a small tribute for so great a blessing.
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The site of Blessed John Paul’s shrine has historical and religious significance.
From 1980 to 1994, some 365 hectares of picturesque rolling hills in Morong, Bataan were designated as a Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) ran and funded by the United Nations. The place became a camp for refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia who escaped from their troubled homelands by boats.(It can be recalled that, in 1975, Vietnam fell to communist forces.) These refugees came to be called as “boat people”. The camp was able to provide temporary shelter for more than 200,000 refugees whose papers were processed for permanent settlement to the United States and Europe.
In February 1981 when Pope John Paul II went to the Philippines to beatify Lorenzo Ruiz in Luneta Park, one of the places he visited was this refugee area in Morong, Bataan. Speaking before 20,000 Indochinese refugees, he spoke of God’s love for them.
When the refugees were in this settlement area, the Holy Family Chapel was built with a statue of the Immaculate Conception. This existed alongside statues and monuments erected by the boat people. When the refugees left, the area became the Bataan Technology Park Inc.(BTPI).
In 1996, the Holy Family Chapel was demolished and for a time, the remaining employees and residents did not have a place for worship. What was left standing was the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
We can only believe that the Blessed Mother continued to cherish this place. In the year 2007, a former staff house was repaired and with recycled materials, the Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi was built.
The idea to build a shrine for Blessed John Paul II was hatched by retired Commodore Amado Sanglay, vice president and chief operating officer of BTPI, and Fr. Fernando Loreto, parish priest of the church in Morong. An active member of the Knights of Columbus, Sanglay must have seen the spiritual legacy left behind by Blessed John Paul II. With the present plan by BTPI to develop the area as a hub for eco-tourism, leisure and retirees, it would do well to underscore the spiritual significance of the area.
In the late Cardinal Sin’s article, “Pope Has Special Bond with the Philippines”, he wrote that it would be difficult to claim that the Pope has an extraordinary love for us, Filipinos. For a Pope so loved and admired all over the world, all the other Catholic nations especially Poland can likewise claim a special bond with him. But Cardinal Sin said that the answer may lie in something the Pope wrote in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater: how a mother loves each of her children with a particular love which is not quite the same as her love for the other children. To quote the Cardinal: “Love is highly personal; each one of our love-relationships has a `specificity’ all its own.”
I join all Filipinos, especially the youth, in thanking Blessed John Paul II for that special love for us. In particular, I thank him for giving us our first Filipino saint and for the “rapid recognition of the miracle performed by the saint (Lorenzo Ruiz) in the case of Ria Policarpio”. (Cardinal Sin’s words) And as Morong is now like a “second parish” to our family, I suppose this also puts me in a position to say “thank you” to him for past, present – and future – graces he will endow on this simple, coastal town.
The motto adopted by the residents is quite apt, “Where Pope John Paul II goes, best things will be”.
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