Destroyed by Yolanda, 16th-century church in Eastern Samar being restored

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GUIUAN, Eastern Samar—Immaculate Concepcion Church in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, a national cultural treasure, was among those ruined by the onslaught of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code Haiyan) in 2013. But with the help of the National Museum, it is expected that its restoration and reconstruction would be completed this year.

In 2016 the National Museum has provided the amount of P111,997,440 for the restoration and reconstruction of the church, with 2017 as its target year of completion under contractor J.S. Lim Construction and Trading.

“I am very grateful that after Supertyphoon Yolanda, the NCCA [National Commission for Culture and the Arts] and National Museum are restoring the church, and through them, the funding was approved and released, which paved the way to start of the restoration in one year. It is evident there is strong and fast restoration of the church structure,” Bishop Crispin Varquez of the Diocese of Borongan said.

Msgr. Lope Robredillo, the past parish priest, said a museum was created to store the remnants of the sacred images and artifacts affected by Yolanda.

One month after the typhoon, hundreds of people celebrated the Feast of Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2013, presided by Bishop Varquez, Robredillo and several concelebrants from the diocese and some visiting priests.

Outside the church ruins and convent, several tents served as the people’s protection from the scorching heat of the sun.

While the church is undergoing reconstruction, the parish has been celebrating daily Masses and liturgical activities for three years in a makeshift structure inside the churchyard, with the current parish Fr. Moises Campo Jr. officiating.

Church set for restoration even before Yolanda struck

Even before Yolanda has ruined the Immaculate Conception Church, a team from the National Museum had already completed the documentation and cataloguing of the shells encrusted on the altar and walls of the church for its planned restoration to preserve its cultural structural integrity.

The church was declared as one of the national cultural treasures by the National Museum, a government institution that distinguishes and appreciates cultural heritage of churches, cultural artifacts and museums in the country to preserve and protect these cultural properties.

The memorandum of agreement between the NCCA and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Committee for the Cultural Heritage states that structures, including the Immaculate Conception Church of Guiuan, are of “cultural significance that their restoration, preservation and conservation is in the highest public interest of the Filipino people”.

Based on the MOA, the NCCA has to provide technical and financial assistance for selected churches for their restoration and preservation.

The CBCP has the obligation to adhere to the master plan of the restoration and preservation and conservation work, in accordance with the “norms on heritage conservation emanating from the Holy See” in order to ensure the continued maintenance, conservation and preservation of the selected structures and sites.

History of Guiuan church

The Guiuan church is under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It celebrates the yearly patronal feast on December 8. With the Blessed Mother as patron of Guiuan, she is regarded as its protectress who defends the people from natural calamities.

In fact, the people of Guiuan considers the image of Blessed Virgin as miraculous since she shed tears in 1639 as a forewarning of an imminent fire that happened shortly after the miracle. The Jesuits, who were entrusted in 1595 with the evangelization of Samar and Leyte had Guiuan, Eastern Samar, as one of their assignment.

Fr. Alonso de Humanes and Fr. Juan del Campo spurred Christianity and delegated it to the Augustinians in 1768. The Franciscans continued to spread Christianity in 1795.

Guiuan was the first town pueblo in Eastern Samar that was Christianized by missionaries of Spain.

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