Candles flickered at the altar and the huge chandelier hanging at the central nave sparkled like myriad sun rays. They reflected all the gilt adornments on the main altar and canopied throne at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, spruced up for a solemnity that rarely occurs.
Nine distinguished ladies from the Cebu community were to be installed as Dames of the Order of St. Sylvester. This is one of five orders of knighthood awarded directly by the Pope as Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, and as head of state of the Vatican City.
Heavenly music floated down from the choir loft as the choral group of the University of the Visayas intoned hymns of praise. It was a sign for the congregation to rise as the processional flowed down the aisle. First to appear was Dame Norma Lim Liu, the first Cebuana to be given the honor by Pope Benedict XVI.
Then followed the ladies who were inducted into the fold, in alphabetical order: Anita Esmeralda Cabinian, Julie Ramon Gandionco, Rose Maria Espina Garcia, Conchita Gastador Go, Lourdes de Dios Jereza, Lourdes Vilma Cornejo Lee, Anita Yu Sanchez, Alita Mendoza Solon and Mariquita Salimbangon Yeung.
The clergy in cortege followed with His Grace the Archbishop of Cebu Msgr. Jose Palma. With everyone in his place, the rites began with a holy mass. The homily was delivered by His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu.
The Cardinal was forceful, firm and infallibly eloquent. Of course, he touched on the issue of the day. And yet, if one listened carefully, the topic of the sermon could be summed up in one simple statement: Morality is the perfection of freedom.
The installation ceremony followed, with Archbishop Palma seated on a throne to hand out the medals of the Order of St. Sylvester. The names were called out by Msgr. Cristobal Garcia. The ladies all wore black silk gowns, black lace mantillas and long black velvet capes trimmed with golden leaves.
The mass proceeded with more stirring music, prayers participated in by all present, and an overwhelming communion ritual. For the awardees, there were photo opportunities at the altar after the concluding benediction.
There followed a reception and dinner at the grand ballroom of the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel, attended by more than 500 guests.
The awardees sat at a round table together with Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Palma, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Rep. Ben Hur Salimbangon.
A brief program hosted by Mary Rose Villacastin Manghuyop highlighted the occasion, and opened with Psalm 6 sung by Girlie Lapinid Laspiñas. Welcome remarks were delivered by Archbishop Palma.
A rationale for the choice of awardees was given, citing their merits. Most of them are involved in parish work, feeding programs for the poor, making donations to worthy projects, giving support for seminarians, and excellence in their chosen professions.
Cardinal Vidal was asked to impart a message. He was lighthearted this time, promising not to touch the “issue.” What he did extol was Christian charity, as exemplified by the awardees. He said it is based on the premise of “Love one another, as Jesus Christ said, and did.”
The response on behalf of the awardees came from Dame Lourdes “Odette” Jereza, who immediately said, “Why me?” She has the gift of gab, that’s why. She expressed everyone’s feeling that the award had indeed humbled them.
“This is not the culmination of our lives, but rather the start of a long way to go as servants of the church, and to do more for those who need us,” she said.
At any given time there may be only 300 knights and dames of the Order of St. Sylvester around the world. Only death can cause a vacancy. The honor used to be granted only to men.
Blessed Pope John Paul II during his reign extended membership to women. Cardinal Vidal, before retiring as archbishop of Cebu, sent a long list of nominees from Cebu. Only nine ladies were chosen.
Bencab and his art come to Cebu
The Maribago Bluewater resort in Mactan island has an art gallery committed to promoting Philippine artists. In progress since May 15 is the first solo show in Cebu of National Artist Ben Cabrera.
The opening took place amid a large gathering of art collectors and patrons. Some had come earlier than the appointed time, the better to view the exposition in advance.
Cutting the ceremonial ribbon were Rafaelita Pelaez and Raul Arambulo, together with Bencab himself.
Very much present were members of the family that owns Maribago Bluewater: Honorary Consul General of Austria Arcadio “Dodong” Alegrado and his wife Marle; daughter Julie Alegrado Vergara, who is Honorary Vice Consul of Austria; her husband Vic Vergara, who is the art gallery’s director; and younger daughter June Alegrado, who with her usual charm attended to the prominent guests.
Jude Bacalso hosted the brief program that marked the event. “Yes, Consul Alegrado has ordered the full moon tonight,” he said. Everyone gazed up and clapped as the moon peeked through the palm fronds.
The exhibit “Bencab: Life Drawings” consists of 20 works on paper done in charcoal and pastel daubs of color.
They were done between 2009 and the present, kept as a collection in the artist’s Baguio studio.
Bencab at Maribago Bluewater is on up to June 12. Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. -6 p.m. daily.