Bernardo M. Villegas
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Shrine of St. Josemaria Escriva

           Barely two months after it was dedicated and declared as a diocesan shrine by Bishop Florentino F. Cinense of the Diocese of Tarlac, the Shrine of St. Josemaria Escriva in Gerona, Tarlac has already become a pilgrimage place for thousands of devotees from all over the Philippines.  Strategically located on the national road to Baguio and just a few kilometers from the Pura exit of the TPEX toll road, the still unfinished Church is already a focal point for numerous liturgical services for both the citizens of Tarlac and Filipino and foreign pilgrims from all over.  It is a testimony to the widespread devotion to the "Saint of Ordinary Life," as St. John Paul the Great called him the day after the late Pope canonized the Founder of Opus Dei.  St. Josemaria started to preach in 1928 that every baptized Christian is called to be a saint.  This universal calling to sanctity, which sounded strange in 1928, was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council several decades later.  St. Josemaria was also the first to speak very clearly about the work of everyday life being the main instrument for one's sanctification, the sanctification of the work itself and the sanctification of others through one's work.  In fact, the person that was the most faithful to the spirit of St. Josemaria and who became his first successor to head this Personal Prelature, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, is about to beatified next September 27, 2014  in the City of Madrid.

          The homily delivered by Fr. Melvin Castro, Executive Director of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) of the CBCP, during the dedication rite explained some of the features of the Shrine.  "...in the facade of this altar, there is an empty space...For that vacant space, we are awaiting the beatification of Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo, the first successor of St. Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei.  Some of us have had the great privilege of having seen Bishop Alvaro in life.  He died March 23, 1994.  I will not forget that day.   Allow me to be personal for a while.  When Msgr. Alvaro died, I was still in my seminary formation.  However, I had to leave the seminary in April 1994, some weeks after Don Alvaro died, because of a grave family problem.  I thought at the time that I would not be able to go back to seminary life.  But I prayed to him...True enough, I was able to return by October of 1994, and I attribute this blessing to the intercession of Bishop Alvaro.  Having said this, we wish to take this opportunity to ask Bishop Cinense's permission to go to Madrid for Bishop Alvaro's beatification.  So, see you in Madrid in September."

          Fr. Castro also emphasized that the St. Josemaria parish does not belong to Opus Dei:  "This is our church, everyone's parish!  That's why the main painting in the altar's facade...shows, in the upper portion, this shrine being held by an angel, representing each one of us, each one of us who helped build this church.  On the other side of the facade, we notice another angel holding a piece of parchment paper, where the names of the barangays covered by the parish church is written...because this is the church of everyone…"  True enough, in a pilgrimage I made to the church last April 6, as I signed the book of pilgrims just at the entrance of the Chapel of Adoration, I read names of individuals from all over the Philippines, as far as Iloilo, Davao, Cebu, etc.  Already, in less than two months after its formal dedication, the Shrine of St. Josemaria Escriva has already attracted devotees from all over the Philippine Archipelago.  In no time at all, we should expect pilgrims coming from different parts of Asia.  As Fr. Castro explained:  "Let us not forget that this is the very first church established in honor of St. Josemaria in the whole of Asia.  Thus, it is an honor...that this singular privilege is being enjoyed by the Diocese of Tarlac, because one way or the other many of us in the diocese owe St. Josemaria a lot of favors.  In one way or the other, St. Josemari and many of his children have touched our lives; hence many of us remember him with great fondness. Thus, this afternoon is a celebration for all and of all."

          At the Holy Mass I attended in the Shrine last April 6, I was impressed to see married couples with their children filling the church.  When the parish priest, Fr. Renato Dimaculangan asked me to say a few words after the Mass, I told the Mass goers that St. Josemaria is a very effective intercessor for a happy family or as he would put it, "bright and cheerful homes."  I am encouraging people from the diocese and from all over the Philippines to go to the shrine to pray especially for the favors related to unity between husband and wife and harmony in every family.  During his life, St. Josemaria never tired of speaking about marriage as a path to sanctify.  Next to the Holy Family, whose image is the centerpiece of the Shrine, St. Josemaria will be known as the patron of a happy family, of a bright and cheerful home.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia