When a TV production team was planning a soap opera in late 2008, they looked for a church fit to set its religiously-themed story. A live feature on morning show Umagang Kay Ganda ended their search.
More than a year after, the series became the country’s most watched and the church one of the most familiar in popular culture.
This sanctuary in sleepy Bacolor, Pampanga is now more known as the “Simbahan ni Bro”–the center stage of events in a fictional town and its miracle boy, Santino.
But before it served as the backdrop of sleeper hit “May Bukas Pa”, the San Guillermo Parish Church already told a silent story of its own.
It’s a story that perhaps explains why this temple of stone became the face of a Philippine microcosm aptly named Bagong Pag-asa.
The 430-year-old church was the only visible remnant of Bacolor more than a decade ago after lahar from Mt. Pinatubo buried the town.
Seeing Santino and his “fathers” walk around a plain-floored, one-story sanctuary, you would not easily count San Guillermo among those grand Spanish-era churches.
The ash flow claimed all in the church’s lower ground–the altar, cemetery and monastery. Only the choir loft and bell tower remained above.
After Pinatubo, Bacolor’s citizens salvaged the sunken altar, retablo and the statues it contained. They restored the images and raised the retablo to fit under the single-level dome.
They opened new entrances to the other rooms and blocked off the half-buried ones. They laid out new pews, markers for the Stations of the Cross, and started anew.
With its curious appearance and story of recovery, the church was picked to play the part of humble town parish. San Guillermo’s rise from the ash flow soon extended to Bacolor.
It started with the constant presence of the actors and crew from “May Bukas Pa.” Every part of the church and the town was put to good use–with rent paid.
Then the tourists came. From buses of students on field trips to groups of overseas Pinoys on vacation, all came to see the church of Santino. Local vendors were soon earning from the visits.
When the show ended on February 5, residents would miss its characters and the uplift it brought the town.
“May Bukas Pa” became Philippine TV’s symbol of hope in 2009. But for Bacolor, it literally became its “Bagong Pag-asa.”
All with the help of this church that kept hope alive amid the flood.
See other pictures of San Guillermo church in this pinoyjourn Multiply album.