Overseas Filipinos Never Forget the Poor Town They Are From
A Pilgrimage Site is Born
A story of faith, loyalty and tireless idealism
After the visit of Pope Francis, I could not help but reflect on the fact that if other countries have the Olympics and the World Soccer Cup, here in the Philippines, we can be proud of the most moving and well-attended Papal Visits.
Wherever Filipinos are, they are some of the most faithful and endearing missionaries of the Catholic Church. With almost 10 million of them around the world, that’s a powerful force.
In this article, I talk about a series of remarkable events that led to the birth of a new pilgrimage site in the Philippines – the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija.
Nampicuan is a small, poor, agricultural community, awkwardly situated in the western corner of Nueva Ecija, closer to Tarlac – a bit like the neglected child of Nueva Ecija, and the adopted child of Tarlac.
Many of Nampicuan’s people have gone abroad in search of a better life, to places in the US and the Middle East. However, through their busy lives of earning a living and raising their families, they nurtured a silent wish, that one day they would find a way to help their “kababayan” in Nampicuan. This wish was first articulated 30 years ago by the late Ernesto Gonzales, former lay minister of the Immaculate Conception Church and husband of Candida Bigting, sister of a former mayor of Nampicuan. This small group kept in touch over the years and in 2013 called themselves, “Dreamers for Nampicuan.”
The story starts with a Filipina emigree in Seattle named Daisy who, like many Filipinos, plan their world travel around religious sites. She had been to Israel 7x, Lourdes 7x, Fatima 8x, Guadalupe 2x, and at least once to Turin, Garabandal, Medjugore, Akita, etc. Daisy liked to keep track of new pilgrimage sites around the world and in 2006, she read about Pope Benedict’s much-publicized visit to the Holy Face of Manoppello in the Apennine mountains. During his visit, the Pope elevated this church to the Basilica di Volto Santo (Holy Face). Five years later in 2011, Daisy made the trip to Manoppello and became one of the most devoted followers and missionaries of the Holy Face.
One summer day in 2013, Daisy found herself in the Carmel Mission church in California, and unbeknownst to her, another Filipina was also paying her respects to Blessed Junipero Serra. Daisy and Lenlen met by chance and struck up a conversation that eventually meandered to the Holy Face of Manoppello. Lenlen, also very religious and used to praying 2000 Hail Mary’s in one day non-stop, was fascinated.
Two weeks later, Lenlen was back in Las Vegas, and met another Filipina named Eugenia in a doctor’s waiting room. Ever friendly, Lenlen found out that Eugenia was from Nampicuan and was in fact selling tickets to a Gala event in California organized by the “Dreamers for Nampicuan.”
Between Daisy, Lenlen, Eugenia and several other Nampicuan “dreamers,” a tour of the Holy Face Relic was organized in the US West Coast and the Philippines for September 2014, with the approval and support of the Guardian of the Relic, Capuchin Fr. Cuccinelli and Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte.
Meanwhile in Nampicuan, a young, newly ordained priest in the parish church of the Immaculate Conception, heard about the coming of the Relic and was overcome with a sudden, burning passion. He asked his parishioners to embark on a prayer crusade for many days and many nights. Social media spread the word here and abroad.
Apart from the initial proceeds from the California Gala, donations poured in from “dreamers” all over the world, from cash to a new chalice, sacristan outfits, microphones, computer, projector, outdoor benches, trucks of gravel, sacks of cement, tiles, prayer cards, leaflets and a 20 foot statue of the Virgin Mary holding the cloth with the Holy Face.
The Relic arrived in the Philippines on September 10, 2014 and was viewed in packed churches in Forbes Park, Makati, EDSA shrine, Quiapo, Sta. Ana, Lipa, Batangas, etc. In Nampicuan, the entire town welcomed the Relic with a three mile parade. On September 16, 2014, the day before the Holy Face Relic was about to leave the Philippines, the Guardian of the Relic, moved by the faith of the people of Nampicuan, gave his permission for its enthronement in the Immaculate Conception Church in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija. He said, “…this littlest church….deserved to be the home of the Holy Face in the Philippines and in Asia.”
What is the HOLY FACE OF MANOPPELLO?
The burial face cloth or “sudarium” of Jesus, which bears an “acheiropoietos” (ie., not made by the hand of man) image of the Risen Jesus, a partner cloth to the Shroud of Turin.
How do I get there?
From Metro Manila, take the NLEX, then the SCTEX towards Tarlac and continue on the TPLEX. From TPLEX, take Anao exit, follow signs to Sanctuary of the Holy Face (2km).
Suggested HOLY WEEK Itinerary:
The following pilgrimage sites are on the way to Baguio (via TPLEX) and about a one hour drive from each other. Start in Tarlac (2 hours from Manila), go on to Nampicuan (take ANAO exit) and then to Manaoag.
1) Monasterio de Tarlac, San Jose, Tarlac – Piece of the True Cross
Take TPLEX to Tarlac City, take Santa Rosa-Tarlac Road, then P. Burgos St. (22km), then Lubigan Brgy Rd. (25 km).
2) Sanctuary of the Holy Face, Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija
From TPLEX, take Anao exit, follow signs to Sanctuary of the Holy Face (2km).
3) Our Lady of the Rosary, Manaoag, Pangasinan
From TPLEX, take McArthur Road South, take Urdaneta to Manaoag Road, then Milo St.