First published in The Expat Travel & Lifestyle Magazine September 2008
The history of the Church of Rome is littered with artistic indulgencies that not only reflect upon the glory of God but also upon His patrons. They who commissioned the brightest and the best to create a back drop of awe to inspire the flock. Among the best known is Pope Julius II who employed Michelangelo to create the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel's scenes from Genesis including the world famous "Creation of Adam".
In 2003 the archdiocese of Manila was at bursting point. With 12 million parishioners the job of overseeing their pastoral needs had moved far beyond the resources of a single archbishop. Consequently, the hierarchy of the Church created six dioceses from the one archdiocese. And on the 28th of August of the same year the Diocese of Cubao with bishop Honesto Ongtioco at its helm came into being.
The good bishop, who had spent over a decade in Rome cutting his administrative teeth at the Pontificio Collegio Filippino, concurred that the restoration of an existing church rather than building from scratch would suffice for his and the new diocese's Cathedral. The centrally located Parish Church of the Immaculate Conception had received the nod primarily for its ease of accessibility for the faithful.
When the call went out that the Church of the Immaculate Conception was to be restored befitting its new role as a cathedral, Rafeal del Casal's response was cool to non-existent.
Several months earlier he had visited the church as a newly arrived resident of Cubao. Neglect and the ravages of a tropical climate had seen the Immaculate Conception degraded to the extent that its assault upon his aesthetic sensibilities ensured an alternative was found for his devotions. "She had good bones but her complexion was mortified beyond words," he recalls thinking after his first visit.
The dramatic grandeur of the baroque that energizes so much of Filipino art predominated in the first design for the altar of the soon to be renovated Immaculate Conception. Although requested, the submitted design didn't sit well the Construction committee responsible for the restoration.
Long term Cubao resident and committee member Dr Raffy Lopez was aware that Del Casal, whom he had commissioned to produce designs for other projects, had moved into the parish. Lopez had also seen the designs Del Casal had produced for the Sto. Domingo Church's annual La Naval de Manila procession. He, consequently, cajoled the reluctant Del Casal to attend a Construction committee meeting and cast an eye over the disquieting design. Del Casal recognized at once that the opulent baroque design was in conflict with the neo-classical lines of the church's basic structure. Within a week Del Casal had produced a simplified design which found immediate acceptance with the committee. The chair of the committee, the former parish priest, Msgr. Dan Sta. Maria was so impressed with Del Casal's work that he recommended him to the bishop for the over all design responsibility of the renovation.