Tondo church gives hope in the time of COVID-19

posted April 29, 2020 at 08:30 pm
by  Manila Standard
Amid the difficulties brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of a church from what used to be a mountain of garbage provides hope that with faith the entire world will overcome this horrific plague.

Tondo church gives hope in the time of COVID-19

It started with scavengers at the infamous Smokey Mountain in Tondo putting up a modest makeshift chapel of only around 100 square meters--a mere part of an unfinished structure that provided a roof to a livelihood facility.

That time the chapel could only accommodate 60 worshippers, out of the 2,500 households or some 25,000 individual residents of the Parish of the Risen Christ.

The parish at the dumpsite was established on 27 March 1989 through the proclamation of then Manila Archbishop Cardinal Sin, upon the request of Rev. Fr. Cornelio Alpuerto of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD, or the Divine Word Missionaries).

“Kristo Basurero”

Neither the thick and suffocating dark smoke which usually engulfs the church  nor a swarm of  flies pestering the area prevented it from functioning  as a house of prayer - holding regular ceremonies like baptisms, confirmations, weddings, catechism classes, retreats, recollections, and bible studies.

The altar of the Risen Christ with an image of Jesus rising from decaying garbage in triumph, depicting the parishioners’ aspiration to rise from their wretched situation. Scavengers fondly refer to the image as “Kristo Basurero.”

 In a bid to address their basic needs, especially health and education, the parishioners formed several organizations with the church at the fulcrum and common faith as the driving force.

 But the situation would change when businessman Reghis Romero II took on the challenge of building a medium-rise residential condominium complex atop an unstable ground of methane-emitting and leachate-contaminated muddy soil, now known as the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMDRP).

As fate would have it, Romero of R-II Builders and parish priest Fr. Ben Beltran crossed paths at the National Housing Authority. Beltran was then seeking for an onsite housing project at the Smokey Mountain while Romero was in the lookout for an opportunity to rid Manila of the eyesore dump. 

Because of the project’s technical and financial challenges, only two companies submitted the bid. It took two presidents to complete the bidding process and another two to finish the project and award it to beneficiaries.

Refuge for the poor

The project was finally completed and turned over to the NHA by R-II Builders in 1999, and its housing units awarded to the beneficiaries in 2003. At this point, the Church of the Risen Christ remained on the same site, which is a prime 2,000-sqm lot that formed part of Romero’s 5-hectare share in the project.

Romero’s R2 completed the construction of the Church of the Risen Christ on 04 October 2017, expanded the 100-sqm floor area to 3,500 square meters, including the second floor, for a total combined seating and standing capacity of 532.

 From its humble beginning, the chapel morphed into a full-fledged house of prayer, with large frames of stained glass depicting the Stations of the Cross and a wooden altar carved by renowned craftsmen from Guagua, Pampanga.

Despite the improvements, the church kept its patron “Kristo Basurero” in its original form, but this time in a glass showcase, and the image of Virgin Mary known as Maria Ina ng Bayan—in modest Filipiniana garb.

Paradise Heights

Both religious icons symbolize the transformation of the lives of the residents of Smokey Mountain—now caller Paradise Heights.

Recently, Manila Archbishop Cardinal Tagle reviewed the photos of the old and new church, in preparation to its consecration, the realization of the dream of the Smokey Mountain residents which took six presidents, three cardinals, and three decades to come to fruition.

Topics: coronavirus pandemic , church , Tondo , Cornelio Alpuerto , Societas Verbi Divini
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