“Francisfest 2013: Music of the Heart, Grateful and True” by Letty Jacinto-Lopez‏

The heavy, massive doors were flung open and I stepped inside a chamber with billowing smoke gathering under my heels. Tina Teehankee broke my gaze, “Letty, do you know where you are seated?” Standing a few steps away, Randy Limjoco, chairman of Francisfest 2013, greeted each parishioner who came to watch the show. When I looked up, the high ceiling reflected a soft glow.

“I’m seated at the 13th pew, from the main altar,” texted my husband. The rest of the pews were filling up. Barbara Go and Tessie Luz sat in front of us while Marilou Senn sat a few rows away. When parish priest, Father Joel Sulse, stood by the steps of the main altar, everyone rose and bowed in silence, “Thank you Lord for gathering us tonight to celebrate the many blessings you have bestowed on Santuario and our community,” he prayed.

The main altar was the focal point of the entire production. The set designer made good use of its beautiful and imposing structure which was very appropriate to bring alive the saga of St. Francis of Assisi.

Franco Laurel begun, “A young Giovanni nicknamed Francesco by his father, (a wealthy silk merchant), searched for conversion in San Damiano, an ancient church near Assisi. Francesco saw the figure of Christ crucified come alive, saying to him, ‘Francis, don’t you see my house is crumbling apart? Go, then, and restore it!’” (Saint Francis took action to repair San Damiano although he eventually realized that God’s message to him was to restore the Church as a whole rather than literally repair churches.)

That was the cue. Coro de San Antonio together with the OFM Friars and OLAS Seminarians appeared from different parts of the stage and formed a two-tier lineup. They sang with voices, smooth and flowing. “Come build my Church, give stones and mortars, tell of His mercy, sing of His love”. To compliment this song, Nonon Baang sang “Corner of the Sky” from the Broadway musical, Pippin.

Aside: There is a hip-hop, rap version of this song, conceived by young Franciscans, with a simple query, “Sino ba si Kiko bago nagbago?” (Who was Francis or Kiko before his conversion?)

Santuario de San Antonio was completed in 1953 to replace the one destroyed in 1945 in the walled city of Intramuros. “So, in a continuing sort of way, Santuario was likewise built by St. Francis himself,” said Franco Laurel.

Coro soloist, Renabel Baquero and Santuario’s own singing sensation, Edmund Lim, sang “At the Beginning” with support narrations from the Youth of San Antonio – Leandro, Arianna, Josh, Mitzie and Christopher.

The Youth lit the stage in their black and red outfits. When they sang in perfect harmony, Beautiful City and Seasons of Love, the long practices and late hours paid off handsomely. The 2nd song was from the musical, Rent, a runaway favorite with the younger set, “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, measure your life in love.”

To introduce the construction phase of Santuario de San Antonio, another young music scholar, Gaby Vasquez, took center stage. Gaby sang “One Voice” about the power of one and its rippling effect.

She was followed by the elegantly dressed group of the Vocalismo who enthralled the audience with their version of “Total Praise” and “This is the Moment” from the musical, Jekyll and Hyde. I fell in love with this song on Broadway and still am. The Vocalismo revived that sweetest, greatest moment of them all.

There was a throwback scene on the first parish priest, Father Hugh Zurat, and we listened to the anecdotes shared by Menchu Bautista and other members of her family who recalled how Father Hugh inspired churchgoers with his humble and truthful demeanor. One time, he knelt before the altar and made a public confession. He showed strength of character yet greatness in humility that many of us have aspired for. That period was also the time when relationships formed and slowly, Santuario turned into something more than a parish; it blossomed into a family.

Cocoy Laurel sang the Prayer of St. Francis, baring a heart moved with deep emotion, a fitting reminder to live in charity and compassion. George Yang, tenor, in his distinct and crystal-clear range, sang poignantly “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables while Koro Ilustrado made their appearance singing “Ave Maristella”, alluding to the loving and gentle presence of Mama Mary in our lives.

Before anyone could yield to sweet nostalgia, the Health Care Ministry’s Danzercise group filled the stage in a blazing outburst of red as they moved to the rhythm and beat of “We are Family”. It prompted the audience to hail and clap, if not tap their feet, in time. These big-hearted ladies call themselves the Young Once but they showed off their cache of vim, verve and vitality to keep the young ones on their toes if not running, to keep pace.

The Coro de San Antonio sang the double medley of “I Believe and Ave Maria”, a favorite arrangement that never fails to move the heart every time it was sang during Easter vigils. The original song “Nanay” sang tenderly by the Filipino Tenors produced a dewy-eyed response from the audience touched by motherly, nurturing love.

Scene 14 focused on the WESTY principle that described the works of the respective ministries in San Antonio: Worship, Education, SocialService, Temporality (Finance) and Youth. This part of the program brought to the fore the full performing energy of the Laurel Family represented by David and Ruby, Susie, Lynnie, Denise and Cocoy. Their upbeat and infectious song-and-dance routine of “Jesus, you are so good” reminded the audience of the unrelenting love and kindness of Christ that bring sunshine even through overcast moments.

I clapped with delight when I saw the familiar faces of our pastoral presidents who consistently dedicated a great part of their time and effort for Santuario. From Patrocino Dayrit to Imelda Cojuangco through to Mike Limpe. The various chairmen of Francisfest through the years were also flashed on the church dome, a lovely beam of light on generous and staunch supporters, from Petrona Lim, Joey Soriano, through to Ruthy Vera, etc.

A tribute to the departed Franciscan priests who served the parish followed. As the images of Franciscan Father Urban, Father David, Father Ike and Father Jerome flooded the church dome, a collective prayer of thanks was raised paying homage to these dedicated stewards of San Antonio.

What followed next summed up what the parish aims to achieve: To be a continuing, encouraging presence in the lives of the Christian community. Tina Teehankee, JJ Yulo, Micki Poe, Betty Roxas-Chua, Carina Lebron and Edmund Lim, representing the various ministries, reiterated this commitment that Soprano Reynabel Baquero lifted in a song, “Your Heart Today”.

The penultimate number gathered Coro de San Antonio – resplendent in shimmering gold, Vocalismo – in deep, royal and powder blue, Koro Ilustrado – garbed in a cool pink and lime green barong, the Youth of San Antonio-vibrant in red and black and the OLAS Seminarians – in earth brown tones, singing “Umagang kay Ganda”. Indeed, a promise of many more sun-filled tomorrows as beautiful as the next. Did anyone spot Father Joel Sulse in this power-packed assembly of songbirds?

When I checked the program and realized that we were in the Finalé, the lineup was packed with voices supreme. It came as a surprise to hear Franco Laurel announce that the new song composed by Joe Mari Chan will be sang by his better version, Jose Antonio. The young Jose Antonio didn’t disappoint. He carried the song in wings of the nightingale, moving the heart to accept Pax et Bonum in its maiden performance. Peace and all that is Good be with you. Composer, Joe Mari, stood up to acknowledge the shouts of cheer of an ecstatic audience.

“Smooth and perfect synchronization,” whispered my husband when he realized that two hours had passed effortlessly.

This astounding production would not have been made possible without the staff and crew who worked behind the curtains led by the writer and director, Joel Trinidad and the music director Onyl Torres. I spotted Onyl leading the musical ensemble in the Finale, standing in front of the video camera, but obscured by the shadows. I didn’t see Director Joel. He must have worn an invisible cloak because despite his absence (blame my dwindling eyesight), everything ran like clockwork – a sign that it was a well-thought out, well-mounted and well-put on performance. Clearly, a swelling of swell(s).

Joel, won’t you tell me how you conceived of the luminaire-illumination that captured the brilliance of the night in a symmetrical or asymmetrical way? The spectacle of music bathe in a spectrum of colors was simply entrancing.

It got me wondering why we never made use of the church dome as another medium to honor and celebrate the glory of God…until now?

To all who made Francisfest 2013 a five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred measure of a work filled with love. Maraming salamat po.

About Letty Jacinto-Lopez and some of her published articles