Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Veneration of the Holy Face in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija, Philippines

 A phenomenon that goes beyond the Philippines

The visit in August 2017 to Manoppello by Father Christian Magtalas - rector of the Shrine of the Holy Face of Asia

by Antonio Bini

originally published in "Il Volto Santo", the official publication of the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello

Fr. Christian Magtalas celebrating Mass at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello

Until just a few years ago we had never even heard of Nampicuan, a town of about 13,000 inhabitants, in the province of New Ecija, in central Luzon region, a hundred kilometers from Manila. Much has changed, and also for Nampicuan itself , since September 16, 2014, the date on which Fr. Carmine Cucinelli brought as a gift a replica of the Holy Face which was solemnly enthroned in the church of the Immaculate Conception. (cf. http://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2015/02/recap-of-historic-september-2014.html)

Fr. Carmine presenting Fr. Christian with a replica of the Holy Face

The event was part of a busy itinerary of what was the first international mission of the Holy Face to the Philippines and the United States, promoted and organized by Daisy Neves and a small number of friends. These included the spouses Ernest and Elena Alzate, Americans of Filipino origin, who wanted to pay homage to the town of Nampicuan, from which they emigrated.  (cf.http://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2015/02/why-nampicuan-story-behind-scenes-of.html)

The parish priest of Nampicuan, Fr Christian Magtalas, previously had not known of the Holy Face, but enthusiastically welcomed the mission of Fr. Carmine and dedicated all his energies so that the event was a celebration that involved the entire population, the religious of the diocese and the local Bishop Roberto Mallari, who became a passionate supporter of enthronement, also taking part was Archbishop Florentino Lavarias ( Archdiocese of Pampaga) and the Bishop Florentino Cinense (Diocese of Tarlac).  (cf.http://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2015/02/homily-of-bishop-roberto-mallari-at.html)

The months following this were unbelievable.

We had the opportunity to speak directly with Fr Christian who  last  August was able to fulfill his dream of arriving at the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello.
Father Christian is a youthful 36-year-old priest. He is very emotional in front of the Holy Face and his emotion becomes even more palpable during the celebration of Mass.  It does not matter if in front of him there is only a small group of pilgrims who accompany him on the pilgrimage.

Paul and Ellen Badde also traveled to Manoppello to meet the young priest whom they had met in Nampicuan during their September 2015 mission. Paul's embrace is particularly affectionate.
I have the opportunity to speak with Fr Christian, with the help of Fr Bonifacio (Ted) Lopez, a Filipino priest of the Diocese of Rome, who met Fr. Christian during his second mission in the Philippines, accompanying Fr. Carmine on his return to Nampicuan.  

Paul Badde and Fr. Christian Magtalas

Fr. Bonifacio (Ted) Lopez

Fr. Christian relates that he had only become a priest in 2013 and had been assigned to Nampicuan, in a poor situation, where even religious participation was rather limited. A path not easy for the young priest, among other things made more difficult by his precarious health conditions due to a tumor he was getting treatment for. This situation did not discourage him, immediately deepening to the maximum his commitment to the parish community. But it was then the arrival of the Holy Face to change things, turning the church into a destination of pilgrims and devotees from the surrounding areas, so much so that the religious authorities gave it the new name of Shrine of the Holy Face. The first shrine of the Holy Face in Asia.  Father Christian reports that even the governmental authorities have supported the phenomenon so much so that they declared - last May 17 - the Shrine as a site of national interest for religious tourism. The national government is committed to helping the development of the locality, which has begun to be included in travel programs by travel agencies. Road signs for the Shrine have been added to the nearby motorway.

But Father Christian especially wants to emphasize that there are many testimonies of faith and healing that have been reported. No less important was his ability to promote the creation of a group of people - called "Servants of Holy Face" - which is continuously growing and collaborating with the Shrine in welcoming pilgrims, organizing events and taking care of the surrounding gardens. to the church. Each of them enthusiastically wears a t-shirt that identifies them with the inevitable Holy Face.

The young priest expresses his enthusiasm for the visit of Cardinal Tagle to Manoppello and for his homily given on the occasion of the feast of the Holy Face in May. Looking at the photos of the cardinal during the procession he comments: "considering the authority and the consideration that Cardinal Tagle has in the Philippines and in other countries, especially in Asia, all this represents for me a further push to move forward in promoting the knowledge and devotion to the Holy Face ".

At the same time this phenomenon is registering an increasing number of pilgrims to Manoppello coming from Asia (the Philippines, South Korea, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.). Though not in large numbers but still, it's an unprecedented situation.

It is the same Father Christian who marvels about what has happened to him and the poor community of Nampicuan, in which they came to manifest unexpected acts of generosity that also led to the creation of a farm with a hundred mango trees whose income helps support the church and the local economy as well.

Also Daisy Neves, the tireless missionary of the Holy Face, on December 3, 2016 went on pilgrimage to the shrine in Nampicuan from the city of Bellevue (in the state of Washington) where she lives, personally witnessing the fervor of initiatives around the Shrine, encouraging the action of the young priest.

During his visit to Manoppello Father Christian received a gift from Fr. Carmine of a reproduction of the Shroud, which he himself had requested before coming to Italy. In the days immediately following his return to Nampicuan, the shroud with the face covered with a reproduction of the Holy Face was carried in a solemn procession through the streets of Nampicuan, accompanied by an immense crowd of people and pilgrims who came also from distant places. The event was also broadcast by CNN of the Philippines.

A unique initiative, which seems to correspond to the need for a united  representation of the two most popular cloths on which the image of Christ is exposed. In any case the Shrine is constantly at the center of media attention, as happened during last Easter week.

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