Although inspired by true-to-life events, Miracles of Quiapo in its totality is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No offense is intended for any mention of names, places or things that bears similarities with actual or existing names of persons (whether natural or juridical), places or things. Where the novel mentions Quiapo Church or Manila City Hall, among other iconic places, to cite a few examples, it is only because they are integral to its plot, and which otherwise further aims to edify their historical and/or cultural prestige.
At 3:00 AM Father Andoy was up. In minutes he would be ready to leave his room, and descend from the third floor to the ground floor of the convent where work awaited him. For three years now this had been his routine: leading the first mass of the day—at 4:00 AM—except on Fridays.
As was his wont, he would, after a cup of coffee, wander for a few minutes towards Plaza Miranda just to smell morning air and greet one or two of the early risers. The first time he did this, he wondered if people—especially the vendors—ever went to sleep. He could see them milling about in that open space and farther onto the adjoining narrow streets. Several times he had been tempted—his seminary training urged him to talk happily to people—to ask, and the responses he got have been more or less the same:
Yes, everybody seemed to have found a way to sleep. Some, especially women, for two hours. Others for three hours. The men, women told him in jest, drunk alcohol so that nobody would have the courage to wake them up while asleep.
Father Andoy at 29 was typical among young priests who have been assigned at the St. John the Baptist Parish in Quiapo, more popularly known as Quiapo Church, in Manila, Philippines. The parish is home to a black statue, almost of real-life size, of what has come to be known as the “Black Nazarene,” which re-creates Jesus Christ carrying a cross on his way to his crucifixion. Accounts have it that a sculptor from Mexico—whose name chroniclers have unfortunately missed out—carved the icon from a dark mesquite wood. In 1606, the black statue found its ways from Acapulco, Mexico, to the Philippines via the galleon trade which at that time linked the two former colonies of Spain commercially and culturally.
In its early years of being an object of devotion for Filipino Catholics, the image hopped from one parish to another within Manila. Written accounts further say that “on January 9, 1787, the Augustinian Recollects donated a copy of the image to the Church of the Camisa (one of Quiapo Church’s original names). This donation later on was celebrated by the faithful every January 9 by means of a procession (henceforth called the Traslación) from Intramuros (its original home, San Nicolás de Tolentino Church; later from outside Rizal Park) back to Quiapo.” The original copy was believed to have been destroyed when Manila was bombed in 1945 as World War 2 reached the peak of its orgasmic madness.
Aside from the Traslación, which in later years had drawn crowds in millions, the Black Nazarene attracted throngs of devotees every Friday, prompting media to label that day as “Quiapo Day,” with heavy connotation on the monstrous human and vehicular traffic this devotion had generated in that part of Manila.
Devotees of the Black Nazarene have attested to its miraculous healing powers. Aside from physical healing, many believers have credited the Black Nazarene for helping them pass licensure examinations, overcoming all sorts of addictions, and even saving personal relationships. Athletes in two of the country’s most popular sports, namely basketball and boxing, could be seen among the Friday crowd especially if they were involved in big games lined up towards the week end.
Plaza Miranda was iconic as a melting pot for public debates in the same way that Quiapo Church was haven for private devotion and piety. In early 1970s, Plaza Miranda the was site of a political rally when a bomb explosion killed and maimed local and national candidates.
Today—marked in a calendar hoisted at the door of a nearby store as Monday, 22 March 1976—had by all naked signs appeared to Fathr Andoy as just another day in the office. Mobile vending carts were getting into position. Customers haggled with sellers, who seemed very good at hustling their way into closing a sale. Even kids as young as four could be seen selling sampaguita flowers. Two policemen (they almost always showed up in pairs), whose bunkhouse occupied a prominent space at one of the corners of Plaza Miranda, appeared roused—which was a normal sight to anyone who had been in that area for a long time—as they slipped out of their station.
But Father Andoy spotted something odd at the far end of an adjoining street, a view which was impossible during Fridays because of so many people blocking it from where he stood. A group of people had converged rather animatedly in a corner which he reckoned was close to the side of the street being appropriated as dump area—to the endless rant by street cleaners—by vendors. He could not see horror in their faces, convincing himself to dismiss the idea that crime had taken place.
He glanced at his watch. It was 3:25 AM. He decided to go back to the convent. In 45 minutes, he would, in the performance of his duties and being true to his priestly calling, facilitate the celebration of a mysterious miracle, or miraculous mystery, that happens every day in all Catholic Churches: the transformation of bread and wine into body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Right after he finished presiding over the mass, he shed his cassock and took a quick breakfast. Dawn was breaking but some unlit portions of interior streets were still dark. He traced his way back to where he saw some kind of commotion an hour ago.
He saw a few people huddled together; a slim fellow groped for his balance under the weight of a TV camera but otherwise looking athletic enough as he overtook him; and the two policemen he saw earlier were at the far end of the street, one of them talking to a hand-held radio. In his early Quiapo days, Father Andoy has learned that media networks were a dial away from the policemen in the area. Media people scrambled among themselves for tips that would lead them to being the first (and preferably the only ones) to cover and publish choice content, and the Quiapo police topped the list of tipsters.
He was about ready to mingle with one of the huddling bystanders, in kibitzer-like manner, when the son of an Hijo friend—one of the Hijos who became a confidante—came rushing to him with news that somebody was seeking his help. Following the path which the boy was pointing to, Father Andoy spotted a middle-aged woman standing fidgetily in front of one of the rows of stores about 300 meters south of Quiapo Church. Her body language suggested urgency. He then took quick steps in her direction.
As soon as he got close enough to hear what she had to say, she pleaded with him, in hushed tones:
“Father Sir, please, the Social Welfare Office will be taking this baby away,” pointing to a cartoon box which both of them can barely see, parked somewhat hurriedly in the corner of an adjoining room.
Seeing that the priest was searching for his thoughts and seemingly unsure of what to say, the woman continued: “Can you take him for a few hours so I will be able to convince the Social Welfare Officer that his biological parents have retrieved him?”
Father Andoy shook his head, smiling, looking both surprised and heckled at, even defamed.
“It’s not what you think it is, Father Sir,” she explained. “What will happen is that the Social Welfare Office will take possession of this abandoned child unless the biological parents come forward to claim him.” To convince him that she was an authority on the subject, she told him that she knew of at least three similar cases that happened in Quiapo and nearby Sta. Cruz areas.
Father Andoy nodded in agreement. “And the parents will have to convince government that they are capable of taking care of the child” he said, almost absent-mindedly “… competently and properly.”
And dumping a child, they both agreed, was almost always a certain ground for parents to disqualify themselves as custodians of their own children.
“Yes, I think so. But if I tell them that you are taking custody of the child, they will have no further questions. Then I will take him back from you as soon as talk about him is down from buzz to hiss, as it were,” she said, with one eye half winking.
She tried to draw him closer, but failing that, she whispered, pointing her kisser towards the still baby: “I saw something in him. I think he has powers.”
This time Father Andoy could hardly hide his annoyance. But as he gestured to be excused, the woman pressed her case. “Do you know how I found him over there?” she asked in a tone that did not expect any reply, pointing to a pile of trash at the opposite side of the road. For a moment this caught his attention.
She took advantage of his wandering focus and went on to unload her tale. “You know, Father Sir,” trying to level her tone, “these freshly-dumped mix of food and merchandise waste are fodder for stray dogs and cats. But when I found them here, these animals were not touching anything. Instead, they were just staring at the box, as if performing a duty, like Rizal’s guards at the Luneta.”
She meant to entertain but Father Andoy turned serious at this point. Sensing this, the woman apologized. But she continued to plead for his help. Unknown to her, something shook him, tugging fragile chords at his memory bank. Father Revo! He told him a week ago that something like this would happen.
Father Andoy finally asked to be excused and left. With mixed feelings of hesitation and audacity, he said to the woman: “Ok, if it is allowed, please tell the Social Welfare Officer I can take custody of the child.”
Back at the convent, he waited for Father Revo to show up at the mess hall. This is where, at this hour, they usually traded feel-good banter, along with other priests and church workers. This time, though, he wanted to talk to him in private.
Father Revo used to be considered as the most radical-minded among Quiapo’s clergy. He joined street protests. With cassocks on, he manned picket lines with laborers who were on strike. Some four years ago, he rose to national prominence when photos of him in the middle of a fracas graced a tabloid. He was in an urban poor community, trying to pacify its leaders and members of a government demolition team who found themselves at the edge of a violent confrontation.
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But recently Father Revo’s wings had been clipped. If the Quiapo rector was a coach of a team sports, it looked as if he had cut Father Revo’s playing minutes to the minimum. Unlike fellow priests who were assigned to preside masses at specific hours, Father Revo’s role was to substitute for someone who could not, for whatever reason, officiate at a mass. Thus, he was, more often than not, at the confessional rather than at the altar.
The official explanation for his demotion was that he was having recurring bouts with diabetes and other health issues. Nobody—not even Father Revo—questioned the factual basis for that explanation. But fellow priests also knew that too often he used the pulpit as platform for his political views, and the hierarchy had to have a way to limit his airtime.
This did not stop him from being immersed in the community, however. He knew how many homeless families spend their nights in the streets of Quiapo. He remembered the names of babies born from these families and the women who got pregnant in their teens. In that sense, he was the good shepherd, trying to smell just like how stinky his flock was.
He was particularly proud of the credit union he helped organize among vendors at Plaza Miranda. The association did not only help its members cope with financial problems, especially during emergency situations. It also helped them bargain with the police and collectors from City Hall to reduce their daily tax from 25 pesos to 20 pesos.
When Father Revo finally appeared at the mess hall, Father Andoy was almost done with his coffee break. “Rev, can I join you in your table?” Father Andoy greeted Father Revo. It was more like a command than a request, much less a question.
Father Revo moved about with an uncharacteristically noticeable bounce, as if he reaped something rejuvenating from his sleep. In contrast, Father Andoy looked winded this early, which also was quite uncharacteristic for him.
Father Revo noticed it and tried to whack him right away. “What is it?”
“That phony tale you shared with me a week or two ago, can you give me more details about it?”
Pupils in Father Revo’s eyes shrank as he moved his head to squarely face Father Andoy, as rays of the morning light, deflected from a signboard atop a nearby building, bathed him. “Which one?” Father Revo sounded innocent.
Prompted by snippets of what Father Andoy went through this morning, Father Revo narrated once more his encounter with a panicky woman at the confessional. She told him she had just given birth to a son and was asking for forgiveness as she planned to abandon him. He asked her about the baby’s father. She told him she has lost communication with him.
Father Revo advised her to see the social worker at the parish office or the social welfare office of the city government.
“You see, the seal of the confessional does not apply here,” Father Revo ribbed Father Andoy, “because she was contrite for an offense that she was merely planning to commit.”
“I don’t know if the child she was talking about is the same child for whom somebody out there, just minutes ago, asked me to assume custody,” Father Andoy said, concern on his face still evident.
“Wohooo!” Father Revo could not contain his jubilation. “Cheer up, Father Andoy. What seems to be the problem? You are 29 now, are you not? About time somebody calls you father, in addition to the multitude of souls that sees you like one!”
Except for how he said it, Father Andoy could not find sarcasm in Father Revo’s words.
“Where is he? Let’s get him baptized ASAP. And let’s call him Anding!” Father Revo declared, laughing, “hahaha!” By Anding, Father Revo meant the child was a small copy of Andoy. He then turned serious. “Father Andoy,” he said, “remember Mama Mary. She faced risks of public derision for bearing a child out of wedlock, but she said ‘yes’ anyway.”
Hours later, Father Revo found himself in a meeting that would decide the fate of the child, on Father Andoy’s behest. Participants in that meeting included two social welfare officers from the City Government, the woman in her 40s who found the baby, the two priests, and the chief of the police station. They were huddled together inside the latter’s cramped office. About fifty to sixty onlookers, including a TV crew, were waiting for “news” outside.
Everybody in that meeting was upbeat, exchanging repartees and small talk. When the meeting turned serious, and after having introduced themselves to one another, Sylvia Monir, the finder-keeper, volunteered to open the discussion.
“Father Andoy here told me earlier he was taking custody of the child,” she said.
“We have discussed everything with the foster parents, so protecting the interests of the child should be in good hands,” Father Revo quickly added, sounding much like a lawyer for Father Andoy.
It had been a tribute to the enduring moral suasion among priests that people were ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, where no further questions needed to be asked, in a context that allowed a positively generous interpretation of whatever it was they have to say, even away from the pulpit. In this case, the social workers and the police understood Father Revo’s “manifestation” as suggesting that Father Andoy had filial interests in the child.
One Social Welfare Officer whispered to the other: “How will I fill up the case management form?”
The reply: “Just copy what the reports say in similar cases.” The body language suggested their office overflowed with piles of similar cases, and counting, to the delight of the police chief.
The meeting ended just like the way it started. Everyone had a smile on their faces, except perhaps Father Andoy.
The next day one newspaper headline screamed:
“Abandoned child fathered by a priest?” with a sub-headline “Scandals continue to hound the Catholic Church.”
The report quoted a by-stander who heard Father Andoy say he was taking custody of the child. Sylvia was also interviewed, who said the Social Welfare Officer has made it known that one of the biological parents was taking custody of the child. There was no reference of who the priest was, except that “he could be one of the young and debonaire priests of Quiapo Church.”
In the evening, TV news (and now more or less all media networks had covered the story), more clips of interviews among witnesses were shown. One reporter also managed to elicit a few words from the parish office.
“Is it true that Father Andoy is the father of the child?”
“I’m sorry. Really do not know, you have to ask Father Andoy himself.”
Hours earlier, the Rector called his priests (all 11 of them) to a meeting to address what seemed to be a gathering firestorm of buzz bits. They agreed to gag themselves. Two days later, however, reportedly on “strong suggestion” by the archbishop, Father Andoy allowed himself to be briefly interviewed on TV. He denied fathering the child, but has decided to take custody of the child in the belief that his action would benefit the child.
The next day, about a thousand placard-bearing rallyists chanted “Down with hypocrites!” and “Father Damaso!” in front of Quiapo Church. This, too, hugged tabloid headlines.
Eight days after Father Andoy consented to be the child’s “father,” the Quiapo clergy baptized Anding. The official name on record was Leandro Deo Renato Moscavida. It was the result of a compromise among quibbling priests. The child’s surname was copied from a file of a maternity clinic where supposedly the child was born, based on results of a Father Andoy-led investigation.
Aside from Sylvia being the actual custodian of the child, part of her agreement with Father Andoy was to collaborate on establishing official records for the child. She however had nothing to contribute except a disposable baller which had something like “Moses Maternity Clinic” written on it. After an exhausting search, Father Andoy decided that no such clinic existed. But the search led him to “MMortal Maximilian Clinic” instead.
Father Revo suggested something like Martin Moscavida, which to him was apt to remember St. Martin de Porres by. The saint was born out of wedlock to a mixed-race couple, then went on to overcome prejudice and gained acceptance throughout his entire life simply by loving his neighbor and practicing humility. But the rector suggested Deo Renato. And obedience was often a fact of priestly lives.
“Deo Renato means Deo Regnat in Latin,” said Monsignor Hoben Ubanon, the rector of Quiapo Church. He did not need to explain, but said so anyway. “In English: God Reigns. Then ‘ad regnum’—to the reign, my personal motto—prays that every hand may help us lead our flock back to the reign.”
The baptismal rite was a show of force for the Quiapo clergy. The rector presided over it, and all his priests stood as Godfathers. In a way, Anding early in life has reached a level of social prestige and standing only a few of the children of the super-rich could match: being ushered into God’s kingdom by a platoon of His worldly ministers.
BUT UNKNOWN TO THEM, the anointing would also usher in Anding’s early ascent to his calvary. The weeks that followed showed that Sylvia had little interest in protecting, much more in promoting, the interests of the child. She was secretly, unknown to Father Andoy, selling Anding to the highest bidder.
She made use of the priest to take possession of a commodity that she planned to profit from commercially. And Father Andoy seemed happy to be of service, until news broke out that Anding was nowhere to be found.
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The author is indebted to the memory of people whose lives have inspired kindness, compassion, and forgiveness among the many lost generations that followed them.
Although true-to-life events have partly inspired the stories presented in Miracles of Quiapo, this work in its totality is a work of fiction, a novel. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. No offense is intended for any mention of names, places or things that bears similarities with actual or existing names of persons (whether natural or juridical), places or things. Where the novel mentions Quiapo Church or Manila City Hall, among other iconic places, to cite a few examples, it is only because they are integral to its plot, and which otherwise further aims to edify their historical and/or cultural prestige.
Copyright © 2022 Ingming Aberia
All rights reserved.
Photo Credits: QuiapoChurch.com.ph