Like many of the parishes in the area, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish started as a small chapel, in Tierra Verde Homes I, that was served by priests of the Franciscan Our Lady of the Angels (OLAS) in Novaliches and the nearby Vincentians of the Santuario de San Vicente de Paul, as well as the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Queen of the Apostles (Societas Missionalis Sororum Reginae Apolostolorum, SRA), who had moved in to the nearby Aldrin Street. Other parishioners would participate in church sacraments at the chapel of the Culiat High School or at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, in Project 6.
The first chapel was dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, which was constructed in 1983. Yet as the community began to grow, the residents demanded for a parish with a larger venue. And in 1987, the new church was established, and was named after Saint Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), who was canonized as the first Filipino saint on the same year. Lorenzo Ruiz hailed from Binondo, Manila; and was one of the Catholic martyrs who were killed in the Christian persecutions of Japan. Ruiz dies by the Japanese hanging torture method called tsurushi.
What makes the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish so special is its impressive collection of religious artworks, by the National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva. Living right beside the church, Abueva once served as the president of the pastoral council. Abueva’s works can be immediately seen at the entrance to the parish, with his version of the Jewish tradition of the “144 Names of God”, where he places names of various deities of different faiths, instead of the Hebrew variations. At the bottom of the list, Abueva features Jesus Christ fallen with his cross, and asks the question: “They know me, they call me in so many names, but do they really love me?”
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
During the passing years until his first stroke in 2008, Abueva would continue to place artworks with throughout the parish compound. Some pieces would contain inspirational quotes, such as one from St. John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, 1542-1591) stating: “At the sunset of our life, we will be judged by love”, from the Dichos 64.
Another artwork contains a part of the Bible verse of Matthew 28:6, where the angel tells the women seeking the tomb of Jesus “He is not here, He has risen!” But in this relief, Abueva changes the quote to “He is not here. His love, His words, His tools are here”, as to pertain to the presence of Christ in the parish.
The are some plaques by Abueva that do not contain a direct religious quote, but a deep message for those who come to the parish. One work has a line from the play Hamlet (1.5.167-8), the English playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Written between 1599 and 1602, the scene happens after Hamlet and his friend Horatio witness the ghost of the former king. Horatio tried to tries to rationalize that what they have seen cannot be real, and Hamlet answers “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In sharing this quote, Abueva tells the audience that they must remove all doubts to what they witness as God’s creation and love. This piece was created by Abueva with the aid of his former student, Jun Vicaldo, in 1992.
Priscillano “Jun” Rodrigo Vicaldo Jr. (1963) is a sculptor, who was first interested in sculpture by his santero (religious icon maker) neighbor, in his native Camarines Sur. Vicaldo soon moved to Manila, and studied along with other noted artists such as Agnes Arellano (born 1949) and Peter Tiamzon de Guzman (born 1962), under National Artist for Sculpture Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930); while he was studying at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA). After graduating from U.P., Vicaldo continued his studies at the La Salle SIA School for the Arts, in Singapore; and worked under Manuel Casal. Adept in both classical and modernist styles; Vicaldo has exhibited extensively and has many public pieces commissioned all around the country, including pieces at the Subic and Olongapo, the Adamson University, the National Historical Commission Building, the Naga City Robredo museum, the Naga Cathedral, the Penafrancia Shrine, and in Magdalena Laguna.
Located all around the parish grounds are some copies of Abueva’s 14 Stations of the Cross, which he had originally created and installed at the Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace (Our Lady of EDSA), in 1989. Abueva’s Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, are scenes of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that starts with the Last Supper of Jesus and his Apostles, and ends with Christ’s Resurrection from the Tomb.
Another interesting plaque in the compound is Abueva’s “Professor Jesus Christ, PHD II: Carpentry”, which a humorous curriculum vitae of Christ as the builder of the Church.
And at the rear of the church, there is the concrete figure of “The Resurrection of the Christ”, with Jesus emerging triumphantly from his tomb, as he breathes the fresh air of a new dawn, with the entrance to the tomb that has been rolled away.
This concept of the triumphant or resurrected Christ has always been a favorite theme of Abueva, who has sculpted many variations of this theme in different churches, throughout the country. An at the altar of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish, Abueva presents his carved wood “Defiant Christ”; the image of Jesus standing dignified before his cross, with his nailed hands stiff with defiance against eternal death.
There are more art pieces by Abueva within the church, including his rendition of the Pietà, the 1499 marble masterpiece of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), found in the Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. Abueva’s version is much smaller, and it made of resin.
At the edge of the Choir Loft’s balcony, Abueva presents a small version of the “Immaculate Conception”, which the artist also rendered on wood.
In 2002, Father Emmanuel “Pong” del Rosario took over as parish priest for the San Lorenzo Ruiz. Fr. Pong is also an artist, who specializes in iconographic art, and he paints in the Byzantine/Coptic style. Before his transfer to another parish, Fr. Pong also left his own set of artworks, for the parishioners of the San Lorenzo Ruiz. One of the most noticeable pieces are the four banners hanging from the ceiling of the parish, with abstracted images of the “Four Evangelists”, and with their names written in the ancient Tagalog script called the Baybayin: San Mateo (Saint Matthew), San Lukas (Saint Luke), Santo Wan (Saint John), and San Markos (Saint Mark).
There are more works of Fr. Pong throughout the church, and at the left transept of the altar is his version of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help”, complete with gold leaf used on the robe lining, crown and halo of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.
In 2006, the Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist Chapel was opened, and Fr. Pong and Billy Abueva both contributed to the new structure. Inside the chapel, Fr. Pong created the “Our Lady of San Lorenzo Ruiz”, picturing the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanying Saint Lorenzo. Napoleon Abueva created the monstrance of wood and bronze, in which the Holy Eucharist is on display.
The Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist Chapel breaks away for the parish’s modernist architectural style, and draws inspiration for the Spanish-American pueblo colonial architecture. And at the door, Fr. Pong renders the “Guardian Angels” who watch over all those who enter the chapel, and the “Holy Face of Christ” at the base of the chapel’s belfry.
The last artwork that struck me the most is a collaboration between Abueva, his student Vicaldo, and the glass artist Pastor Escuadra, who apprenticed under Abueva during the 1990s. This plaque features a quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:12, stating “For everything, there is a reason to be born and a time to die.” Surrounding the Bible verse are images of Abueva’s life: starting with an image of his famous work “The Rice Planters” (1952) that signifies his native Bohol, to his conception and birth, to playing with his siblings, to his own marriage, the first pregnancy of his wife that is immortalized in his work “Kaganapan” (1953), and finally to his death and burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery). What is eerie about this piece is that Abueva was predicting his own death, 26 years before, including how his wife and children will outlive him. And with this piece, Abueva accepts his fate and places it in the hands of God, just as Jesus Christ, San Lorenzo Ruiz, and even Socrates have accepted their own paths all in the name of faith. A powerful message that Abueva shares to all who come to the Parish of San Lorenzo Ruiz, in Barangay Culiat, Quezon City.