Filipino Religious Identity: The Garden Way of the Cross
Photos by: Nina Zamora and Jojo Gloria
RW Editor in Chief Betsy von Atzigen in an e-conversation with Monsignor Claro ‘Matt’ Garcia, Parish Priest, St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish in Magallanes, Makati Philippines
Roots & Wings’ spring issue welcomed Readers’ top 15 Philippine destinations to promote a travel rebound. Congratulations to the Garden Way of the Cross of St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish in Magallanes, Makati which made it to the top list. Rawmags editor in chief Betsy von Atzigen connected with Monsignor Claro ‘Matt’ Garcia, parish priest in an insightful e-conversation.
Rawmags readers are curious about the beginnings of the Garden Way of the Cross. How did the idea evolve? What role does the faith community play in its design and sustainability?
Monsi Matt: The Garden Way of the Cross was an inspired idea from the mind of Ildefonso Santos—National Artist for Architecture—who is also the pioneer in Philippine landscape architecture. He, being a longtime Magallanes Village resident and parishioner of St. Alphonsus, together with then parish priest Monsignor Ernesto Cruz conceived to transform the church’s rear driveway into a place of prayer…a garden of sculptures depicting the Way of the Cross. I.P. Santos’s artist-friends soon came on board, given free reign over their interpretation of each of the fourteen stations. Generous parishioners sponsored the artworks as well as the construction of the garden where the sculptures reside. Completed in 2002, it faced some challenges when a fire damaged the church in 2004. In 2017, to celebrate the parish’s golden jubilee, there was a massive effort to rehabilitate the garden--now including a water feature--with emphasis on respecting and retaining the original design. It is now sustained by periodic donations of plants, organic fertilizers made on-site and a lot of care by parish staff and volunteers.
Our June issue highlights what it means to be Filipino under the theme SINO AKO? What is Filipino religious identity from the context of an urban community like St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish (SAMLP)? Who is the Filipino believer? How relevant is the Catholic faith today among the urban rich and struggling populace?
The Filipinos have always put their Catholic faith as a primary source of strength and survival. In St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish, being comparatively a middle-class neighborhood, our faith is given a face, an identity, and purpose for each of us. The parish provides the opportunity to practice, to act on the social teachings and sincerely believe in its value, love of neighbour if we believe we love God. Hence, community pantries mushroom in many more affluent areas to provide assistance.
Our faith provides the solace and consolation in difficult times such as now. There is a certain clarity or meaning to the struggles and challenges we face in our daily lives. The Catholic faith being a primary source of strength and survival is more evident in the poorer parishes with the increase in presence of people inside [these churches] despite the restrictions. With Filipinos, when there is no other way to survive, the old saying holds so true…… tanging ang Panginoong Diyos lamang ang may awa.
What faith-future do you envision for Filipino believers regardless of geography, of those deep in materialism or poverty, resilient or despairing in this prolonged period of pandemic, those witnessing the faith or having given it up? Where is God in our lives today?
The message of Christ 2,000 years ago is still the same today. He gave up His life and took up the cross because of His great LOVE in order for us so to have eternal life. What a great gift! As we celebrate our 500 years of Christianity, we, as Filipino believers, are called to be ACTIVE and COURAGEOUS sharers of our faith. When we were children, we acted like children. However, just as we transform from children to adults, it is our challenge to likewise grow and mature in our faith and be disciples. We set aside our childish ways and nurture our relationship with God and with others. God is alive and present today. He gave us clear instructions, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
We can be WITNESSES by the life we live. May our thoughts, words and actions give glory to God. Christ gave His all for us, we too can give our all as our gift to Him.
Monsi Matt, SAMLP Parish Priest
For 35 years Monsignor Claro “Matt” Garcia has been a priest assigned to various parishes, always leaving a mark in the hearts of his parishioners. His approach to shepherding is multi-disciplinary—with a master’s degree in educational management—melding professionalism with a spiritual dynamism that is infectious. But what really shines is his availability for those who need him, his cheerfulness and patience, his love for the Lord and his flock.