Opinion & Analysis

A tribute to my hometown church

6:59 PM, October 28, 2018

Philippines:St. Peterís Basilica may be the most beautiful church in the world but our church in Loay holds the most significance for me.

In the nave of St. Peter's Basilica are bronze markings giving the sizes of some of the biggest churches in the world, including St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington.

Nothing, however, comes close to the dimension of St. Peter's. It is said that no church should surpass the nave of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Even the St. John the Lateran Basilica, considered the "mother and head of all the churches in the city of Rome and in the world," is smaller than St. Peter's.

There is no Philippine church listed in the nave. Even the Basilica de San Martin de Tours in the town of Taal in Batangas province, Asia's largest, is not on the list.

My parish church in the town of Loay, in the central province of Bohol, is even less well known.

Writing this, I hope that I will be able to help you reminisce about some of the beautiful memories associated with your church in your province during your younger years, when things seemed much more simple and unsophisticated.

Many years back, in my ecclesiology class with Jesuit theologian Catalino Arevalo, I learned that the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist could be described succinctly as the "gathering of the people," the "telling of the story," and the "breaking of the bread."

While the "storytelling" of the love of God happens in the Liturgy of the Word, and the "breaking of the bread" occurs in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, all three action words are realized in a place we usually call the "church."

Thus, if we understand "Church" (with a capital C) as the People of God, we also understand "church" (lower case) as the privileged place of encounter between God and His People.

This makes the parish church of the Most Holy Trinity in my hometown very significant to me, just as it is to my townsfolk.

More than being the place of my first confession and communion, the place where I offered flowers to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the month of May, where I donned my best clothes during Christmas, where Holy Week processions were filled with "lighted crosses" lining up the streets, where the tolling of bells at six in the afternoon signaled the praying of the Angelus, it is the place where I discovered my vocation.

Before going to class during my four years in high school, I would pass by the church every single day to say a prayer. And when life became difficult financially, I always found a nook on the left side facing the altar where I could pray the rosary on bended knees.

I did not know then what God had in store for me. I only wished that life would not be as hard for my parents and my family in the future, but at the same time I aimed to serve the church, like the many priests in my parish who had come and gone, some already forgotten.

I once visited a former parish priest who had lost his eyesight. I told him how happy I was to see him and he responded by saying, "You can see me, but I can no longer see you."

At the time I thought that entering a missionary congregation meant leaving my family, only to find out that it means embracing the bigger family of God, where one finds more mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.

Every time I celebrate Mass in our church, I take a glance at the very spot where I felt the seed of vocation for the first time, and I honor the memory.

Life can only be understood in retrospect, as Soren Kierkegaard once said. In hindsight, I realized that the church in my hometown was the beginning of a beautiful journey of faith.

Years later, the church became the place where I celebrated my "thanksgiving Mass" after ordination, where I presided over the golden wedding anniversary of my parents, and where I concelebrated the funeral Mass of my father before he was laid to rest.

St. Peter's Basilica may be the most beautiful church in the world, but our church in Loay is the most significant for me.

Every year, on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we, the people from Loay, make an effort to come home to adore the Triune God.

We line up to kiss His image as a way of saying "thank you, Lord" for the life of faith and grace that God has shared to us through His Son in the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, we can worship the Lord everywhere, but there is no place like our church because this is the place where we found God, or better still, where God found us.

Thus, after the rehabilitation of our church following the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in 2013 that devastated its facade and caused cracks in its interior, we could only rejoice in thanksgiving for the restoration of our spiritual home.

Home is defined as a place where God is near and where everybody is a brother or sister in Christ.

Filipino Claretian Father Elias Ayuban Jr., CMF, a doctor of canon law, is an official at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Holy See.

Source: UCAN

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