Friday, February 6, 2015

WHY NAMPICUAN? The story behind the scenes of the Holy Face enthronement

by Merla Tabora Canoy
photos courtesy of Fr. Christian Magtalas

EPILOGUE , a 30 year journey continues ,   the biggest event to remember, the coming of the Holy Face of Jesus  of Manopello enshrined into our Immaculate Conception parish of Nampicuan, Philippines

It has been fifteen days since my husband and I got back from the Philippines. The exhiliration and euphoria along with the jetlag is beginning to calm down my nerves. It was a trip and the most exciting pilgrimage of a lifetime. To think that what I wrote 10 months ago and got published at the Asian Journal during the Christmas season was an excitement  I could not  shake off till today  and now I have to tell a more exciting story and I don’t know where and how to begin. I keep praying to the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me write the whole story as it is.

Yes, our hometown pastor Fr Hanz Christian Magtalas, a very young priest whom I got to chat on Face book about 10 months ago as I was scouring Facebook for some inspiration to add to the flip side  of  the first edition ticket for our first Gala for the Nampicuan Dreamers , I friend-requested  him.  He then mentioned about  his dream to elevate our church to become a pilgrimage church for the Lady of Immaculate Conception with pictures and building plans for this huge project. Our church there was his first assignment, the poorest church in one of the smallest town in Nueva Ecija. Yet his enthusiasm and his rapport with the community were infectious. It is as if God was listening and so He made us all to get together and worked hard to make it happen. 

A chance meeting by one of our members Eugenia Bartolome with Lenlen Alzate at a medical center in Las Vegas was the beginning of this journey. To meet the couple Lenlen and Ernest, their generous offer of support for our organization was a huge opener. To have them as our main guests as well as sponsors for major door prizes for the Gala event was an unexpected gift. What a coincidence is it that while our group was having a meeting and cracking our brains  what major door prizes   to give away coming from own personal limited pockets sometime , and then the phone rang. It was Eugenia calling and handing the phone over to Lenlen to talk to us about  saving a table for her and her family and offers of 15  major and small prizes to give away at the Gala.  Such a huge surprise, we were totally knocked out by her call that we all felt it was a miracle right then and there.  

Ernest, Lenten’s husband, is the grandson of the first ambassador from the Philippines to Australia and a descendant of the former hacienda landowners. No one from our town can forget working on their lands and how even before the land reform his family gave the town a village for the farmers and planned it like the first small scale duplicate of Chicago downtown’s  linear grid. His family left the town many years ago after the land reform. 

The only memory they have left was their old mansion that was donated to the diocese, renovated by the diocese to become a full function house and hall for special meetings. Just recently it has been consecrated as the House of Mary. A special house  guest lives there intermittently, a  young Lady , a movie star by the name of Chin Chin Gutierrez who has left the glam and glitter of the movie screen in exchange for a quiet, reserve  life of a consecrated woman determined  to serve the Lord above all else.

   During dinner at their country club, our friend Marite, one of our cofounding members mentioned to Lenlen that she probably will undergo chemotherapy after the doctor’s second opinion. Lenlen then took a card from her purse and told her; pray to His Holy Face, miracles are already happening.  Oblivious to this, I was not listening to what was going on. Little did I know that this was the first encounter with the Holy Face and the beginning of a beautiful story with a wonderful miraculous ending.  

After a long conversation and getting to know each other at the dinner table we walked back to their beautiful house on a hill overlooking Las Vegas and its glittering lights. The house is filled with the subtle sound of music of the Dominican monks and their Gregorian chant.  Lenlen is so down to earth, so easy to be with and could not help myself asking her how she and Ernest met. They were introduced by Lenten’s very close friend. Ernest made the first move  of  a marriage proposal after their first date, what can I say , she says, we have the same interest and faith in God, we both found out we go to church every day and for more than 30 years we never had  a fight. Whenever we have some difficulties or we want to pray for somebody in need, we pray the 2000 Hail Mary’s all day nonstop. He will be upstairs reciting the prayers and I will be downstairs responding as he leads or we take turns. That was the time I felt the uniqueness of this couple, so prayerful, so divinely beautiful and in tune with the Holy presence of God in their life.  

During the Gala the couple handed us a check for our organization to add to the kitty of funds to be donated as planned. A few days after the Gala Lenlen called telling me she is going on a trip to the Philippines and would like to visit our church in Nampicuan and meet with the  parish priest and would I help her  find a guide  to get there .

I found her a guide indeed with my cousin Marissa Africa Cabugao who continued this journey along with Doris Lopez (Len Len’s best friend) to help   with the planning, funding and preparing for Fr.Carmine’s visit.

Lenlen Alzate ‘s first encounter with the Holy Face, September 2013
A few weeks before our dinner invitation with the Alzates, Lenlen and Ernest travelled to Carmel California. Ernest is meeting with his golf buddies for the weekend. They attended an early morning mass at the local church. While Ernest was out playing golf with friends, Lenlen stayed at the hotel and went back to sleep. A few hours later she woke up hearing a voice telling her to go back to church, find the mission church. Lord, Lenlen says, Lord I went to church already this morning. Still that voice keeps on telling her, go back to church, and find the mission church.

 Like Jesus telling his disciples “follow me, come and see” she listened to this voice, willed herself to go out and just do it. As she was leaving the hotel, a woman across the street was yelling at her “don’t forget the Dolphin Hotel!” 3 times she yelled at Lenlen, so she said ok, whatever you say. Not knowing where to go she kept on walking down the road, many cars  were passing by , every people she meet she was asking for direction where could she  find the mission church and everyone always telling her “oh, that’s  too far to walk, you need a ride” but keeps on walking anyway  until she prayed and  said” Lord, you are sending me to some place that’s way too far, send me a ride” and at that moment a car stopped, with 3 girls in the car , the driver asking her where  is she going? She answered I’ m going to the mission church and the lady said: that’s too far, hop in we are going the same way. Feeling safe she hitched a ride and as soon as she got out, they sped up right away back to the freeway.

 It was already a little dark when she found the Carmel Mission church. 

(editor's note:  this church was founded by Blessed Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary known as "the apostle and father of California" who Pope Francis announced last month during his trip to the Philippines that he will canonize during his upcoming trip to the United States this September.  Blessed Junipero founded this church in Carmel to be the headquarters of all the California missions.). 

Carmel Mission photo by Stephen Lea from Wikipedia

The church door was closed and dark, except for the front door light shining on this lady sitting alone by the church doorstep. Lenlen feeling, puzzled, confused and anxious to go back to the hotel right away but the call of nature and looking for the nearest restroom got her into conversation with that lady sitting by the doorstep. She directed her where to go. A few minutes later she came back to thank her and she introduced herself. They struck up a conversation. They found each other having a mutual common ground about owning properties in Las Vegas. 

The lady introduced herself as Ms.Daisy Neves from Seattle, WA, and then asked her if she knew about the Holy Face. Lenlen said no but is it the same as the Shroud of Turin she asked..  Ms Daisy then took out a picture of the Holy Face  telling her the story of its origin in Manoppello and believes there was a very fine  handkerchief placed over Jesus' face during His entombment  and that during His resurrection  as He opened His eyes, He left this indelible image untouched by human hands  , a picture of himself with those beautiful eyes, showing the marks of thorns on his temple and the bruises in His cheeks and around His mouth reminding us all the humiliation and beatings He suffered to redeem us from sins of our own human failures. 

Lenlen immediately accepted the picture and a couple of prayer cards and discussed her plans to take it to the Lady of Las Vegas church as far as to San Francisco. Daisy Neves was so amazed at Lenlen’s focus and attention. Amazed that Lenlen accepted her belief and expressed her interest in propagating the Holy Face without any hesitation, she seemed relieved that perhaps she is the one she has been waiting for after all those months or years of searching, travelling from one mission church to another all over the country, denied so many times by many church parishioners, even deacons and priests would say no, they are not interested.  It was time to go back to the hotel,

 Lenlen had no idea where to get a ride. Daisy said she has a car and offered to drive her to hotel, however she cannot remember at which hotel she is staying. At that moment, Lenlen asked her, was it the Dolphin Hotel next to mine? And Daisy was surprised, yes that’s it, how did you know. Lenlen simply said, while I was walking out of the hotel a lady was shouting and determined for me to remember the Dolphin hotel , 3 times she yelled at me,  a confirmation of the Lord’s message “ Follow me, come and see” .

A few weeks later a chance meeting   with Eugenia  at the doctor’s office or is it really  a chance, a coincidence  or a miracle of  His Divine Providence, to start the beginning of a another journey with the Nampicuan Ne  Dreamers to come full circle with the wish of a newly ordained parish priest  Fr . Magtalas to elevate our church (some 10 months ago) and  now to have become a pilgrimage church of the Immaculate Conception.  Not only this  wish was granted but with an added huge surprise to become  a shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello  from  Italy, the first Shrine in the country  and the first in the entire Asia. 

Which leaves everybody from out of town asking, why ? why of all places, the littlest , most unknown ,poorest town in Nueva Ecija , why was our town and church  chosen to be the Shrine of the Holy Face of Jesus in this country. If these things happened without Divine Providence then what is this? If every one of us can only believe it, it happened because of this, the first Gala invitation ticket and post card of the Blessed Mother Of Immaculate Conception of Nampicuan comes with a prayer and petition, a picture of her and the fundraising efforts of this little parish asking for help to raise funds for the improvement and building of a retablo. 

Add to the fact that 2 months before Ernesto Gonzales’  death, he was as reminiscing his days in Nampicuan as an active minister of faith for the  community of the Immaculate Conception parish in Nampicuan.  Along with his wife Nene  who was the church  treasurer, he expressed his wish for Nampicuan to become one day a pilgrimage church like the Lady of Manaog . His wife Nene expressly objected to his idea by saying Impossible! but secretly wishing for it too. 

And another person I have in mind is my uncle Leopoldo Africa who was the inspiration to form this organization some 30 years ago has passed on 7 years ago. He did not live to see the beauty and glory of our unique organization but I know deep in my heart that these two people had been watching us and praying for us to succeed as a cohesive group , as a community of faith and service in His name.

This month of October being the month of the Holy Rosary the priest in my church reminds us all from the book of John:
“The Lord said to his Mother. “Let your heart rejoice and be glad, for every favor and every gift has been given to you by my Father in heaven and from me and from the Holy Spirit. Every soul that calls upon your name shall not be ashamed, but shall find mercy and comfort and support and confidence both in the world that now is and that which is to come, in the presence of my Father in the heavens.”

 Sept 28, 2014:  A reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Philippians  4:6-9
“Brothers and sisters, have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petitions with thanksgiving, make your requests know to  God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and in Jesus Christ. Finally my brothers and sisters , whatever is true ,whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious ,if  there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise , think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you”

To the NNE Dreamers who attended last year’s Gala, please look into the invitation card again and check it for yourself. Has a miracle happened because we asked for it, prayed for it, we petitioned for it and Mother Mary interceded by whom all graces bestowed upon her by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, today we have a Shrine of the Holy Face of Jesus and Blessed Mother and together, in our little most beautiful church, built together with love and labor by this little community of faith. 

The entire preparation to finish the renovation was a complete surprise, everyone in the community even non Catholics came by to help. Because everybody already felt His presence, His visible visit and affirmation of a priest from Manopello, by his Divine Providence, sent living disciples in the spirit of Lenlen and Ernest and Daisy Neves leading and choosing everyone to come, follow and see the goodness of the Lord. If this is not a miracle, then what do you call it otherwise? 

A few months ago I was listening to a homily by Father Cassidy at my parish of Immaculate Conception in Monrovia; he asks everyone, what do you think of the word coincidence? To some people, they shrugged it off, it just happens they say. But to many of us, we call it a miracle because we have faith and the belief that God’s  miracles is the only way in this modern day and age for Him to convey his message to us. It may take a little while to get there, bumps along the road they say, but these are challenges He wants us face just like He did 2014 years ago. And so He came to our community to remind us all that He loves us, His presence is all around us that as we seek His face in prayer to honor and adore Him and thanking Him`, He is already consoled.

written as it is , as it happened, as it was told

Merla Tabora Canoy

October 19, 2014

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