San Jose, Tarlac, the Philippines
May 2, 2014
“The Twilight Zone that is Tarlac,” went a friend’s Facebook comment. No explanations needed, the landlocked dust bowl of Luzon was known for its endless expanse of farmland and nothing else. On a road trip with my homies, the province did feel like the middle of nowhere. Asked about our whereabouts, my friend Danson told it like it was: “I dunno.”
And I thought we were in Rio, what with that strangely familiar figure standing atop the same hill we were. Rising 30 meters from the aptly named Mt. Resurrection, the statue’s arms were outstretched toward the plains of Tarlac. It was the lost twin of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, here called the Risen Christ. The panoramic views and towering statue inspired groufies and jump shots, despite the challenge in fitting all of Christ in the frame.
The statue stood as an icon of Monasterio de Tarlac, an hermitage of the Servants of the Risen Christ Monastic Community. With the sponsorship of then-governor of Tarlac, Aping Yap, the monastery was built at the turn of the century as a sanctuary for “consecrated men.”
The mountain monastery was open to everyone, consecrated or otherwise. While the Mass was underway, the priest’s homily, broadcast from loudspeakers, was carried by the fresh mountain breeze beyond the chapel. There was no escaping the Word even as Danson was collecting banaba leaves, traditionally known as an herbal remedy despite no approved therapeutic claims.
My more devout friend, Vang, fit in a prayerful moment or two as she fell on her knees and laid hands on the Risen Christ’s whitewashed surface. She was practically knocking on heaven’s door as she knelt before all other statues, including her personal intercessor, St. Therese. Digitally documented, of course, because it did not happen if it was not posted on social media.
However, I was truly Twilight Zoned when I entered the chapel and found the metal arc that supposedly contained the true relic of the cross of Jesus. I had not known such relics existed. How were they certain it was a sliver of Jesus’ cross, out of all the crosses used in the Roman Empire? Doubting Thomas aside, it was short of finding the Holy Grail. Now who said there was nothing in Tarlac?