Sunday, November 19, 2006


What is now the Basilica Minor de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno was first established by 1574 as the Franciscan ecclesiastical mission of Quiapo. Its first makeshift church of light materials was later burned by Limahong’s raiders. In 1586, Governor-General Santiago de Vera established Quiapo as a district of Manila and by 1588, Fr. Antonio de Nombella (OFM) probably had another church built. This was razed by fire in 1603, probably rebuilt, and burned down again in 1639. A new church was again built in 1686 that British invaders unsuccessfully tried to raze in 1762. This same building was seriously damaged during the earthquake of 1863. Fr. Eusebio de Leon (OFM) then later Fr. Manuel Roxas Manio (OFM) reconstructed the church from 1879 until 1889. This was again razed by fire in 1929 and was reconstructed in 1933 under the supervision of Fr. Magdaleno Castillo with the assistance of Arch. Juan F. Nakpil. The church was enlarged and improved in 1984. The image of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno or the Black Nazarene is enshrined in the church and venerated by thousands of devotees.

During the G20 conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 8-12 last year, I was one of those sent by the Rice Watch and Action Network to attend a parallel forum of civil society organizations in its behalf. We have 8 days to prepare our travel documents and while doing so, we found out that we need around 15 days to secure an entry visa from the Pakistani embassy. This will cover the issuance of an NBI clearance that is a prerequisite for the issuance of a document from Malacanang’s authentication office that is required for the issuance of another DFA-authenticated document that must be submitted for the issuance of a Pakistani visa that requires 8 working days to process from application to release. I was ready to give up. On the way back to our Manila office, I asked Elias to drop by the Quiapo church to shoot some photos. A mass is being celebrated and people clogged the entrance so I decided to while my time at Plaza Miranda right in the church’s front yard. There, vendors are lined up offering blessings from heaven by buying and lighting their candles. I saw a bunch that said it is for travel requests. I am an agnostic at best but I thought I’ll give it a shot so I brought one, lighted it up, and silently asked God to help me go to Pakistan.

The next day, I was able to get an NBI clearance in an hour (which usually takes half a day) through the intercession of a friend. At the Malacanang authentication office, I went to the information booth and showed a nice lady my invitation to the G20 conference. She realized the urgency and promptly issued me the document I need (which would have taken 3 days). The next day, I went to the DFA and waited for almost a day just to submit my request. I did but was told that it will require 3 days of processing. “This is it,” I said to myself and prepared to go home. “Hoy, ano ginagawa mo dito!” It turned out that the young lady who received my application is the sister of a former colleague from San Jose City. I told her my problem and she promptly called her boss. I went to the Pakistani embassy that day with the document tucked safely in my bag and a growing optimism that perhaps I can really make it. But this was dashed by a masungit Filipino embassy staff who bluntly told us that they don’t accept applications on Fridays and that we were too late since visa issuance require around 8 working days and we are supposed to leave next week. Just the same we convinced him to at least accept our passports and applications. After that, Hazel made a phone call to a former government official who made a phone call to the embassy. That is how we got to got to Islamabad.

Islamabad is 2 hours away by plane from Karachi. It is a new city having been established in the 1960s in the hinterlands of Punjab province’s Pothohar Plateau near the Margalla Hills. The new capital site was selected to “reflect the cultures, traditions, hopes, aspirations and dreams of all diverse ethnic, linguistic and regional groups that constitute the Pakistani nation… isolate it from the onslaught of business and commercial interests… and located close to Muslim areas of Central Asia and in proximity with the fraternal people of Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey”. It is a well-planned and modern city as envisioned by the Greek firm Doxiadis Associates who was contracted to draw up the master plan.

The venue of our conference is actually 1 hour away by car from Islamabad at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas in a mountain resort called Muhree Hills. I think it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. After the conference, we spent 2 days and a night in Islamabad. It was a weekend and there were very few people around except in the shopping districts where tourists go. I convinced Hazel to go on a quick half day tour and hired a taxi. One of the places we’ve visited is the Shah Faisal Mosque near the Islamic University. It was constructed with the assistance of Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal and took 12 years to build --- from 1976 until 1988 --- based on the design of a leading Turkish architect. It is one, if not the biggest, mosque in the world and can accommodate 24,000 worshippers plus another 40,000 in its courtyard. Its 4 minarets are 88 meters high each.

Back in the Philippines, I made another visit to the Quiapo church to give my thanks. I lighted another bunch of candles this time for the health and wellbeing of my family. I came as a doubter. Now perhaps, I am a believer.

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