In Bohol, the people were still reeling from a 7.2 earthquake of October 15, 2013, which shook structures to the ground, causing massive destruction of schools, commercial buildings, homes and churches. Efforts to raise funds for recovery from the earthquake were thwarted weeks later, when Typhoon Haiyan hit.
Bohol’s heritage churches in Baclayon, Loboc, Loon, Maribojoc, Loay, Dimiao and Dauis were damaged extensively, some of them leveled to the ground. These churches are a distinct collection of Roman Catholic edifices established during the early Spanish colonial period. Four of these churches – Baclayon, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc – are named National Cultural Treasures for their cultural, historical and architectural importance to the Filipino people. Loon Church, reportedly the largest in Bohol and one of the oldest, was destroyed and turned into a pile of rubble. The Church of Maribojoc was also leveled to the ground by the quake with nothing left standing.
The quake also destroyed newer churches made with reinforced concrete. San Isidro Labrador Church in Tubigon lost its facade and other structures in the church complex. Saint Michael Parish Church of Clarin, also made with reinforced concrete, collapsed, leaving just the bell tower and the facade of the church standing. The Inabanga Church also collapsed, leaving just the facade and back of the building.
It has been over a year now, and progress is slow as people struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives. During a recent vacation to the Philippines, Fr. Arnold Zamora, whose roots are from Bohol, visited a small island. One Sunday, he walked with friends to the nearest church, when it started to rain heavily. They thought that the church would protect them from the pouring rain but sadly, the church roof leaked everywhere, including in front of the altar.
“It was literally raining inside the church and the floor flooded,” Fr. Arnold reported. “Suddenly in the middle of the priest’s homily there was a blackout. Luckily, the electricity came on after minutes of darkness.”
Nature has presented the Singing Priests of Tagbilaran (SPOT) an important mission. In the devastated island, where a church symbolizes a refuge for the spirit, it can be demoralizing to people when the refuge itself becomes rubble, leaving them without a place of worship and kinship.
With the churches in need of restoration or reconstruction, the priests of Bohol have actively involved themselves in reaching out to those who can help. SPOT in particular have been singing for church rebuilding.
A New Attraction
Bohol’s main attraction has been its Chocolate Hills, an array of perfectly round hills that are usually green most months but turn brown in the summer. The famous tourist attraction is located in Carmen, Bohol, the epicenter of the 7.2 earthquake that also rocked the neighboring island of Cebu. The viewing deck at the Chocolate Hills sustained serious damage. The quake also caused landslides on some of the hills.
But another main attraction now comes from Tagbilaran, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary (IHMS) – the Paring Bol-anon (Boholano Priests). IHMS produces a large number of priests who serve internationally, including His Most Reverend Archbishop Bernardito Auza, who is now serving as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See in the United Nations. Before becoming the Vatican ambassador to the UN, the archbishop also served as Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince for a year following the death of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot as a result of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. And, yes, he is also a singing priest.
IHMS is the home of SPOT, founded by Fr. Arnold Zamora. They are all graduates of IHMS and received their musical training there. They started as part of the Jeduthun Ensemble, the choir of IHMS. Fr. Arnold Zamora and Fr. Irvin Garsuta have both served as music directors of SPOT. Fr. Irvin holds the distinction of being its resident artist, designing CD covers, posters and other promotional materials.
The Singing Priests of Tagbilaran are now on the third generation of singers, with some first generation members. One of the distinguished original members, Msgr. Jeffrey P. Malanog, is currently the Vicar General of the Diocese of Tagbilaran and also Pastor of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, one of the heritage churches damaged in the earthquake. Msgr. Malanog formed the third generation of SPOT, now on tour in the US to raise funds to help rebuild the churches.
The popularity of the Singing Priests in the US comes not only from their ability to entertain crowds with music and fun, but also their natural ease in connecting with their communities of faith. For the archdioceses of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the move to invite them for pastoral work served well. Many of the priests ended up as administrators and pastors of parishes, and some of them served in California, namely:
Msgr. Floro Arcamo, former Vicar of Filipino Clergy in SF Archdiocese and former Pastor of Star of the Sea in San Francisco, formed the Singing Priests of San Francisco and recorded and performed in the US. He was also a former Pastor of St. Mark Church in Belmont and St. Andrews Church in Daly City. He retired years ago and resides in San Francisco.
Fr. Eugene Tungol, currently the Vicar for Filipino Clergy in the SF Archdiocese and Pastor of Church of the Epiphany in San Francisco. He is also a composer/lyricist and considered the major catalyst of SPOT’s performances in the US and a mentor for many Boholano priests.
Fr. Jesus Labor, former Pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd in Pacifica, recently moved back to the Philippines to retire after several years of service in the SF Archdiocese. In his younger days as a priest, Fr. Jess used to ride his motorcycle into the remote villages in Bohol to do missionary work, offering Mass or other services to those who could not afford to travel to the churches in town. Now that he is back in Bohol, he might just be found working again with the poor.
Fr. Mel Monreal, Pastor in St. Columba Catholic Church in San Diego. Fr. Mel is a lead vocalist and his voice is often heard in SPOT recordings. He occasionally travels to the San Francisco Bay Area to reunite with fellow Boholano priests.
Fr. Manuel Curso, former Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy in Daly City and Holy Angels Church in Colma, is still serving in the San Francisco Archdiocese as Parochial Vicar in Mission Dolores.
Fr. John Pernia, former Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Daly City.
Fr. Doming Orimaco, Pastor at Our Lady of Mercy in Daly City, still joins the Singing Priests when his schedule permits.
Fr. Arnold Zamora, founder of the Singing Priests of Tagbilaran, is a nationally renowned music director and arranger/composer in the Philippines. He is Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in San Francisco.
Fr. Arnold remains a resident arranger for the Philippine Madrigal Singers, which he joined while pursuing his choral conducting degree in the University of the Philippines. His friendship with musical giant Ryan Cayabyab led to musical collaborations, resulting in Fr. Arnold’s crossing over to different music genres including jazz, pop and Filipino classics. His non-liturgical musical compositions are frequently performed by the Singing Priests. He also serves as the official chaplain for the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco. Fr. Arnold’s parish, Holy Name of Jesus, will be hosting the Singing Priests’ benefit concert on September 26, 2014 to help rebuild the churches destroyed in the Bohol earthquake of 2013.
Benefit Concert to Rebuild Churches in Bohol
SPOT performances include religious, jazz, pop and Filipino songs in Tagalog and Cebuano. They evangelize from the stage in songs and dances, as well as comedy. Proceeds from their concerts are generally for religious causes, with their latest concert tours held to benefit the efforts to rebuild destroyed churches in Bohol.
The Singing Priests have been touring since last spring and are slated for more benefit concerts. In a departure from their repertoire, their concert in San Francisco on September 26, 2014 will be a special program directed by its Founder and former music director Fr. Arnold Zamora.
The concert VOICES OF HOPE: A LIGHT IN THE DARK will be held in Holy Name of Jesus Church at 7:00 pm. Holy Name of Jesus Church is located at 39th Avenue and Lawton in San Francisco. Tickets are only $10 for general seating (children under 12 are free) and are available by calling the Holy Name Pastoral Center at 415-664-8590 or may be purchased at the door before the concert.
Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.
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