Sunday, June 29, 2014

Coming Home

San Lorenzo Ruiz statue enthroned at St. Anthony
Church in Norton, Virginia (Photo: Oliver Oliveros)
Norton, Virginia—Today, Sunday, June 29, 2014, St. Anthony Church welcomes home a four-foot-tall brown-skinned wooden statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), the Philippines’ first saint and protomarytr.

Carved by Junior Cayanan of the famed Cayanan woodcarvers of Santa Barbara in Bacolor, Pampanga in the Philippines, the serene statue of the saint, made from santol wood, and whose two palms are folded together, holding a rosary—a fitting tribute to the saint’s devotion to the Confradia del Santissimo Rosario (Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary)—is a gift from my family in Manila to Dr. Francis Jaynal, and his wife of 50 years, Mrs. Nilda Jaynal, whose kindest hospitality offered me a roof over my head when I had none midway my post-graduate studies at New York University.

For the both of us (the statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz and me), it has been a long arduous journey “finding home” since the past three years, peppered with divine interventions (which I’m a firm believer) that were too obvious to ignore.

For several months, Mr. Cayanan worked on the statue from scratch, and made several revisions to bring out the best possible facial features that could resemble the Filipino-Chinese ethnicity of the saint. Countless emails and phone calls were made between Manila (my mom, my sister, and their friends the Gregorios) and New York/Virginia (Mrs. Jaynal and me) to exchange instructions and to ensure that expectations were met. 

Photo: Oliver Oliveros
Shipping the statue from Manila to New York, where the Jaynals were based for more than 40 years, had set another bump in the road: shipping via air cargo would have cost an arm and a leg. But thanks to once strangers Mr. and Mrs. Castillo, owners of Phil-Am Foods in Queens, New York, for shouldering the costs. Earlier this year, I prayed to San Lorenzo Ruiz and made a cold call to Mrs. Ida Castillo, asking help to bring the statue to the United States. Fortunately, Mrs. Castillo did not think twice about helping.

Looking further back, like a beacon of light guiding me on my second year as a post-graduate student in New York, San Lorenzo Ruiz paved the way for me to come to know the Jaynals. In the Bronx, on an Ash Wednesday several years ago—on my way home from school--I was mugged; pinned into the pavement; and punched more than 20 times in the head by my aggressors. Traumatized by the experience, I chose to flee the Bronx. My friends introduced me to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Downtown Manhattan, where I met Mrs. Jaynal, a devotee of the saint, who opened her home in Westchester County to me until I finished my post-graduate thesis.

Needless to say, my devotion to the Filipino saint has further strengthened since then. By your lonesome, he is like an imaginary best friend that you can fall back on when there is something amiss with your faith or when you are becoming too impatient for the coming of the spring, amid a long, treacherous winter’s night.

Today, as I glance at the statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz, neatly enthroned in its own pedestal at your church—surrounded by verdant gardens and the vast Stone Mountain under the clear summer skies—I’m delighted that San Lorenzo Ruiz has found a nice place here.

May the saint’s presence in this church—for many years to come—remind us all of his great story to sainthood: a simple family man from Binondo, Manila, who was martyred for his belief; and who was willing to die not just once but a thousand times for his faith in God.

Like what the Jaynals made me feel: Please treat him like your own.

He is home now.

God’s Blessings,
Oliver Oliveros
Devotee, San Lorenzo Ruiz
Alumnus, New York University