Welcome to the Bohol Restoration Group
His Excellency Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations speaks to BRG’s restore and rebuild heritage missions from Bohol at the UN Delegates Dining Room, New York, 20 April 2016
“In less than a minute, we lost the heritage that our ancestors bequeathed to us and to future generations. Honestly, I had never realized how precious our cultural patrimony was until I saw those churches reduced to rubble. “
Your Excellency Ambassador Jose Cuisia, Jr, and Mrs. Cuisia,
Mme Marie-Paule Roudil, UNESCO Representative to the UN in New York ;
Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am deeply honored by your presence tonight and I thank you most sincerely for your generosity, because the cause of tonight’s Gala Dinner is not only very close to my heart, it is in my heart and in my DNA!
I was born and raised in the village of President Carlos P. Garcia, in the town of Talibon in the northern part of the island of Bohol, Philippines. My four years of high school studies in the southern part of the island, in the Provincial Capital City of Tagbilaran, provided me with many opportunities to admire and know the Spanish colonial churches that dotted many towns along the roads that ring the round-shaped island of Bohol and the interior route that cuts through the famous Chocolate Hills.
I took those roads so many times, so muddy during raining season and so dusty during the dry season. Every two weeks my younger brother and I traveled home to visit our family, get our laundry done and pick up some pocket money! I loved those serpentine roads along coastlines or across forests in the interior part of the island. While the lush scenery and the blue sea have hardly changed in these intervening 44 years, the mud and the dust are practically gone, as the roads have been cemented. We call that progress without harming the environment! Sadly though, extensive portions of the cemented roads were also damaged by the earthquake.
Nothing could have prepared me to see so many of those beautiful coral stone-built Spanish colonial churches reduced to smithereens, and with them priceless altar pieces, retablos and statues. The October 2015 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol completely destroyed many of them. It severely damaged scores of others, among which was the most precious of them all: the Church of La Purísima Concepción de la Vírgen Maria in Baclayon, whose foundations were laid in 1595. In less than a minute, we lost the heritage that our ancestors bequeathed to us and to future generations. Honestly, I had never realized how precious our cultural patrimony was until I saw those churches reduced to rubble.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know that outstanding cultural heritage is a precious legacy that needs to be preserved, enriched, and handed down from one generation to the next. That patrimony tells us much of the history and the identity of a people.
In our days, preserving cultural heritage has become a huge challenge. A great number of cultural treasures have been destroyed and are gone forever. Some were destroyed by natural catastrophes, like the Bohol Spanish colonial churches; others due to neglect because the preservation of cultural heritage is undeservingly low in national priorities; others fall victim to changing cultural tastes; and, sadder still, many have been destroyed by utter human folly, like the iconoclasm that destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the Roman antiquities of Palmyra. Alas, protecting cultural heritage in the midst of conflicts has become one of the biggest challenges facing cultural preservation and restoration in our days!
Once lost, destroyed or damaged, the restoration of cultural heritage is tremendously challenging. But we, Boholanos, and our friends believe that we can – and we must – recover the cultural patrimony lost or damaged during the 2013 earthquake. And we want you to be a part of this dream. We believe that, by your presence tonight, you share our dream, our dream to rise above the ruins! There are churches to be completely rebuilt and there are those that need major restoration. There are masterful altar pieces and statues whose broken pieces need to be put back together and those that are beyond recuperation but can be reproduced using the ancient methods of sculpting.
Ambassador Cuisia and Mrs. Cuisia,
Your presence here this evening is a demonstration of your generous and persevering commitment to rebuild and restore the cultural patrimony and the local communities in Bohol… It is even more admirable for the fact that you are not Boholanos!
Moreover, you also represent the Republic of the Philippines, with whom the Holy See signed an Agreement on the Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church, which entered into force in May 2008. The Preamble of that Agreement emphasizes, “Considering that the cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in the Philippines constitutes a very significant part of the cultural patrimony of the Nation,” and “realizing the need for close cooperation between the Church and the State as regards the ecclesiastical cultural heritage, … the Holy See and the Republic of the Philippines, each within its competence, are committed to cooperate for the protection of the cultural heritage of the Catholic Church.” (Art. I).
As a fruit of that Agreement, the Church and local government in Bohol are therefore working with national heritage authorities to bring that cooperation to full fruition.
I would like to thank the Bohol Restoration Group, under the energetic leadership of Margaret Ecarma, for organizing tonight’s event.
When I went home to visit my parents in Bohol last February, the Bohol Restoration Group launched one of its many projects. The project consists in financing the restoration of the retablo of one of the coral-stone churches, which was reduced to small pieces, some of which were beyond restoration. The project includes a specialized training of poor out-of-school young people in the arts of stone carving and carpentry as they were practiced during the Spanish colonial times in Bohol. Their mission is to restore the damaged pieces and to recreate the missing pieces of the retablo.
The objective of the project is not only to recover what was damaged and recreate what was lost, but also to provide poor young people opportunities to learn and master a trade. Rebuild that beautiful retablo… and put some bowl of rice and fish on the table. Indeed, the restoration of our cultural heritage can also or should also be a productive economic activity.
We all share the same passion for cultural heritage. It defined our past and continues to define our present. The identity of the Boholanos is so intricately tied to their Catholic faith. Churches are part and parcel of their life. When my home diocese was created thirty years ago, the population was 99.2% catholic. And it has remained more or less like that until now. The population of the entire island of Bohol is around 93% catholic.
One can thus understand the attachment the people have to their churches, and the sense of great loss when the most historic and beautiful ones were destroyed by a natural catastrophe. Those churches were our common wealth, our common home, our common inheritance from our ancestors, our common legacy that we intended to bequeath to future generations.
Three or four centuries ago, our ancestors hauled huge coral stones from the sea and those huge pieces of timber from the forests. This memory of our ancestors will not allow us to leave those churches forever in ruin. We will raise those ruins again. We will rise above the ruins.
This tremendous yet exhilarating challenge has reenergized our faith communities and civic society; it has renewed social cohesion; it has fostered a rediscovery of our collective ownership and collective responsibility to care for our cultural heritage, spurring us to a greater participation in the restoration and management of our common wealth. We have rediscovered that our cultural heritage is an asset for all and a responsibility for all. Thank you for sharing this passion.
Tonight, we have come together:
-for the sake of the future generations of Boholanos who need a memory of their past and a reflection of their identity;
-for the sake of Mother Spain – which, for some, was not always a good mother! – and above all for the glory and honor of the missionaries who brought the faith and build monumental churches in Bohol;
– for the sake of those who mourn the loss of our heritage churches – which means all of us!;
– for the sake of the beautiful and spiritual legacy of the past, so that it continue to be a source of joy and inspiration in the present and in the future;
– for our sake and for all, the restoration of Bohol’s cultural heritage is a task worth pursuing…
There’s a famous Boholano proverb that most of us are used to: “Ang kasingkasing sa mga tao mao ang kasingkasing sa langit.” I suppose that all of you understand Boholano! If not, you can still understand the proverb, because it talks about the heart… and the heart that loves understands all things, and a heart that believes has reason that reason doesn’t have! The proverb means: “The heart of the people is the heart of heaven.”
Boholanos live on earth with their hearts lifted upward. This project of restoration, therefore, is not just any other rebuilding effort, but it’s a means by which, in rebuilding these Churches and sacred art that lift our hearts to God, we are restoring the heart of our people.
Thank you for being a part of it. God bless you all.
Bohol Restoration Group (BRG) was formed from the Philippine Embassy’s call to the local Washington, DC community after the Bohol province in the Philippines was badly hit on October 15, 2013 by a 7.2 earthquake, and three weeks later, with the landfall of super typhoon Haiyan. As a result, centuries-old cultural heritage properties were severely damaged and distressed their surrounding communities.
A group of Filipinos and Americans immediately came together in an all-volunteer effort to create working committees based on professional expertise involving restoration, architecture, community advocacy, and fundraising.
Our volunteer team of restoration experts keep the community’s safety and both immediate and long-term restoration priorities at heart.
With the restoration initiative supported by the Ambassador of the Philippines to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and his wife, Victoria, BRG continues to work closely on the ground with respective stakeholders from the affected community parishes, the local government agencies, and the Governor’s office along with other non-government organizations involved in the overall restoration plans for these historic structures.
The Bohol Restoration Group, Inc. is incorporated in Washington DC and has IRS 501(c)(3) exempt status. Donations to BRG are generally tax-deductible; please consult your tax advisor for details.