Sunday, May 2, 2010


OL' MAN RIVER. A grand pagoda bearing the antique ivory image of Apalit's "Apu Iru" wends its way on the Pampanga River, accompanied by a fleet of bangkas, bearing devotees and fiesta revelers in the annual fluvial procession. Before the advent of motorized boats, the Libad Bangka of Apung Iru was a quieter affair. Ca. 1965.

Every year, on the 28th of June, the ancient town of Apalit becomes a showcase of unabashed Kapampangan religiosity and revelry as it celebrates its 3-day fiesta in the grandest, wet and wildest manner. The Feast of the town patron, Saint Peter, fondly known here as Apung Iru, is marked with the usual religious rituals, capped by a colorful fluvial procession—Libad Bangka—that takes devotees on a raucous and even dangerous 6-hour journey of faith along the waters of Pampanga River.

The principal figure of veneration is an age-old ivory image of San Pedro, once a plain fisherman by the name of Simon Peter, who became one of Christ’s apostles and later, the first Pope of the Catholic Church. The seated image, based in Capalangan, shows St. Peter as a Supreme Pontiff, robed in papal regalia. It dates to the second quarter of the 19th century. In 2002, a fire razed its shrine, destroying the saint's original accessories —gold and silver keys, tiara, pectoral cross and emerald ring. But the image remained unscathed, and this fortuitous event was hailed as a miracle by residents.

The Apung Iru image is associated with the old Arnedo family, having been passed on to Dña Maria Espiritu de Arnedo, wife of Macario Arnedo y Sioco, who brought Apung Iru to Capalangan. To ensure that the cult is perpetuated, a corporation known as St. Peter’s Mission was put up by the Espiritu-Arnedo-Gonzalez-Ballesteros-Sazon families, which designates an official caretaker of the image--a camadero/camadera . Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez III is the current camadero of the precious heirloom santo.

The Libad Bangka was said to have been organized by Don Pedro Armayan-Espiritu in 1844, shortly after obtaining the image from his aunt. But such riverine rituals were not unknown in pre-colonial times, often undertaken by natives to appease angry river gods.

The traditional ritual process observed today starts with the “Pamandakit”, where Apung Iru is fetched from his Capalangan shrine and brought to the dome-shaped Apalit Church. Here, he stays for the duration of the fiesta, to be brought out in a land procession (“limbun”) led by the Knights of St. Peter. At Gatbuca, near Calumpit, the image is transferred to a small pagoda to shouts of “Viva Apu Iru!” by revelers on boats and along the banks of the river.

The first leg of the journey begins until the mini-pagoda, escorted by a fleet of brightly decorated boats, reaches the mouth of the great Pampanga River. The image is once again transferred to a grand “plancha” or pagoda float, already filled to the brim with avid devotees. More boats join the fluvial procession, until they number in hundreds, and as the water parade gets into full swing, revelers douse each other with water from the river. As the procession progresses, the atmosphere grows even more festive and wilder: in a state of frenzy, devotees shower each other with fruits, cooked foods, candies and viands in plastic bags, and more water.

The libad ends at twilight, and in Barangay San Juan, Apu Iru is conveyed back to the church through another “limbun”. A display of fireworks and an applauding, jostling crowd welcome back the image, born on the shoulders of the Knights of St. Peter. An all-day, all-night feasting follows, with Apaliteños opening their homes to guests and pilgrims to partake of their special menu of asado, menudo, embutido and other Kapampangan delicacies.

On the last day of the fiesta, Apung Iru is returned back to his Capalangan shrine, in a ritual known as “Pamanatad”. The riotous revelry on the Rio begins again. On land, the bunting-decorated streets leading to the Capalangan shrine are filled with people waiting to get a glimpse of the returning image. Emotions run high as Apung Iru makes its way to the shrine, with people clapping and cheering his name. Gradually, the din subsides, the town settles down as the devotees make their way back home, basking in the glow of another successful Libad Bangka, while counting the blessings bestowed by one who never fails them, their high and mighty patron, Apung Iru.

*196. EDDIE DEL MAR, Kapampangan 'Rizal' of the Silver Screen

MI ULTIMO RIZAL. Eduardo "Eddie" del Mar gave such a stirring and unforgettable performance as the national hero in the movie "Ang Buhay at Pagibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal", that his name has become permanently linked with that prized role. This is a small, giveaway photocard of the Kapampangan actor, ca. 1950s.

The life of our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal has been the subject of many Philippine movies through the years. The first Rizal biopic was entitled “La Vida de Jose Rizal”, filmed by theater-owner Harry Gross in the first decade of the 1900s. Honorio Lopez, a writer-actor, got the plum role of Rizal. Gross would later make the first film adaptations of the hero’s novels, “Noli Me Tangere” (1915) and “El Filibusterismo” (1916).

Many actors have essayed the role of Rizal since— Joel Torre, Albert Martinez and Cesar Montano are but two contemporary actors who have won acclaim for portraying him. But the one movie star most famous and identified with the prized role of Rizal is none other than the Kapampangan film great of the 50s and 60s, Eduardo ‘Eddie’ die del Mar.

Eduardo Magat was born on 13 October 1923 in Candaba , Pampanga, the son of Albino Magat and Benigna Sangalang. After finishing his Associate in Arts course, he enrolled at UST to study medicine, but the war intervened. He was set to join the ROTC contingent bound for Bataan but became a guerilla fighter intead, almost losing his life for his underground activities.

After the War, he resumed his medical studies--until a classmate of his, Lucas usero, a relative of the Veras of Sampaguita Pictures, brought him along to a party at the Vera residence. Mrs. Dolores H. de Vera offered to screen-test him under Gerry de Leon's direction. He passed the test and became a featured player in "Kapilya sa May Daang Bakal" (The Chapel by the Railroad) starring Oscar Moreno and Tita Duran. Directed by Tor Villano, he was intridyced as 'Eduardo del Mar'. He was next cast in “La Paloma” (1947), directed by Tor Villano, with Paraluman, Fred Montilla and Lilian Leonardo as lead stars. He was unbilled in that movie, but he made quite an impression that his star was soon on the rise.

In the next few years. Eddie was kept busy doing movies not just for Sampaguita but also for the Nolasco Brothers, Liwayway and Lebran Pictures. He made his mark in such movies as "Lumang Simbahan" (1949), "Kilabot sa Makiking", "Huramentado" (1950), and Lebran’s first anniversary movie presentation, “The Spell”, which was in English. It was at Premiere Productions that he renewed acquaintance with director Gerardo de Leon with whom he made his most memorable film "Sisa" where he took on the role of Crisostomo Ibarra. Again, his performance generated much buzz and an acting nomination, overshadowed only by Anita Linda's, who was named Best Actress that year. The 1951 film itself won the top "Maria Clara Award". Thus began his association with "Rizaliana movies".

In 1952, he played the title role of “Trubador”, a Filipino folk hero who was a rig driver by day and a protector of the oppressed by night. He did “Bandilang Pula“ in 1955 for which he would receive his first Film Academy of Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Best Actor nomination. Suddenly, Eduardo delMar found himself among the big leagues of Philippine moviedom.

It was his 1956 film, “Ang Buhay at Pag-ibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal” that would change his showbiz career forever. Produced by Balatbat and Bagumbayan Production, this movie that dramatized the romances of our national hero. He was joined in this movie by Edna Luna, Corazon Rivas and Aida Serna, under the able direction of Ramon Estela. Eduardo, in the title role, was so effective and memorable in his portrayal of the national hero that, in the minds of moviegoers, he and Rizal were one. This was not lost on the FAMAS jury who gave him the Best Actor Award for 1956, a highlight of his career. This role would influence his movie project choices for the rest of his life, mostly with patriotic and heroic themes.

Another unforgettable opus would come 5 years later in the movie adaptation of “Noli Me Tangere” of Bayanihan-Arriva Films. The film was made to commemorate the birth centenary of Rizal in 1961. “Noli” was megged by the brilliant Gerardo de Leon, and in this Rizal masterpiece, Eddie del Mar copped the role of Crisostomo Ibarra, with Miss Philippines Edita Vital as Maria Clara and Leopoldo Salcedo as Elias. Eddie actually conceptualized this ambitious project, and when it was premiered at the Galaxy Theater on Avenida, it proved to be a blockbuster hit, grossing over P100,000 in its first week of showing alone.

In the 10th FAMAS derby that year, he found stiff competition from his co-star Leopoldo Salcedo, who edged him out for the Best Actor award. “Noli Me Tangere” would win the top award for the evening as the “Best Film” of the year, with its director, Gerardo de Leon, earning another Best Director trophy. But what Eddie cherished more was his being named as a "Knight of Rizal", during the 99th birthday of Jose Rizal, a distinction he received in Calamba, Laguna.

Eddie continued his winning streak by appearing in “Sino ang Matapang” in 1962, for which he was nominated again for Best Actor. Gerry de Leon’s “El Filbusterismo” also was released the same year with Eddie conspicuously absent from the star line-up. As if to showcase his versatility at portraying roles of opposing character and temperament, he appeared as the revolutionary hero, Andres Bonifacio, in the 1964 epic, “Andres Bonifacio (Ang Supremo)”.

Eddie del Mar disappeared from the movie scene in the 1970s, but resurfaced as part of the cast of the popular hit, “Tinik sa Dibdib” in 1986. A son, Louie Magat, briefly dabbled in showbiz, assuming the screen name, Eddie del Mar Jr. to honor his father. Eddie del Mar died on 8 November 1986, but his memory lives on in his films, most especially his Jose Rizal movie classic, that not only immortalized the talent of this Kapampangan screen luminary, but also brought back to our consciousness, the life and loves of our national hero.

*195. ROSA ROSAL: The Vamp with a Heart of Gold

BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE. Rosa Rosal aka Florence Lansang Danon, made her mark in Philippine cinema playing vampy roles that were a far cry from her real-life persona. She credits her Kapampangan mother, Gloria Lansang of Sta. Rita, for molding her into the successful achiever that she is today. This postcard documents her foray into the new medium of Radio, as a singer for Purico Radio Show in the 50s.

On screen, she smoldered as a sexy siren, the scheming contravida, the “other woman” who toyed with men’s hearts, the thorn in many a movie heroine’s side, wrecking homes and romances. But once the camera stopped, Rosa Rosal’s real persona surfaced, a woman of substance who set her heart to doing public service, a role that would be her passion all her life, leading to Asia’s most noble recognition of all—the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Rosa Rosal came from a multi-cultural background, but it was her indomitable Kapampangan spirit fired by her mother’s example that saw her through her life’s darkest hours, emerging as one of the most accomplished movie stars of our time. She was born as Florence Danon y Lansang on 16 October 1931. Her father, Julio Danon, was already a fiftyish French-Egyptian when he met Gloria Lansang, an 18 year old Pampangueña from Sta. Rita. Before she was 5, Florence lost her father; her mother remarried, this time to Ruperto del Barrio, who had a buy and sell business in the busy Sta. Cruz district of Manila. This union produced 3 daughters and two sons, and in the small apartment where the Del Barrios lived, Florence took command as the “ate” of the house.

“Don’t allow God to wait for you”, was Gloria’s oft-quoted reminder to her children, and they grew up attending Mass, eating their meals together and openly showing their affection to each other. At the Antonio Regidor School where Florence studied, she extended her sisterly role, protecting classmates from bullies, while excelling in declamation contests.

The simple, idyllic life of the Del Barrios was disrupted by World War II, forcing Florence to quit her studies at Arellano High School. When the Japanese occupied Manila, Florence, barely in her teens, found employment as a news reader in an Escolta radio station. When a Japanese sentry found her listening inadvertently to an illegal broadcast, Florence was forced to leave the station and flee Manila. By then, the whole family was ready to evacuate to Laguna, but in Bacoor, they were caught in a crossfire between the Japanese and the Americans. Her aunt perished and her mother was seriously injured. While staying in the hospital, Florence saw the horrific consequences of war, and it was here that she saw her first blood plasma, an image that would haunt her for years.

When the war was over, Florence landed a job at the National Chest Center under the management of Dr. Sixto Francisco. She just didn’t do clerical work but also learned to operate the X-ray machine and helped out in the radiology department. One evening, while walking home, she chanced upon a film shoot happening on a street. A caster took note of this exotic gawker, and she was immediately signed up as an extra in a group scene, even meriting a brief close-up. When the film producer, Luis Nolasco saw Florence’s fleeting exposure, he sought out Florence and offered her a contract. He cast her immediately in the 1946 film, Fort Santiago. The next year, the sixteener played a sexy villain in Kamagong, alongside Leopoldo Salcedo, a film which proved to be a blockbuster.

At the cusp of stardom and a new career, Florence regretfully ended her work with Dr. Francisco, who gave her his blessings. Florence gained her now-famous screened name in one banquet for a visiting Hollywood producer. The tables featured floral centerpieces of gardenias (rosal) and roses, and when Florence picked up a ‘rosal’, Luis Nolasco saw the similarity and gave her the name—Rosa Rosal.

Soon, every studio wanted Rosa Rosal to join their stable of stars. Her meteoric rise to stardom was capped by her winning the “Queen of the Philippine Movies” title in 1948. LVN Studios, under Dña Sisang de Leon successfully wooed her away from Nolasco Brothers and Premiere Films with the promise of a fat paycheck, a house and a car. Indeed, at LVN, she made her most memorable films.

She had started out as a contravida, but now wanted to step out of her comfort zone. In 1950, she appeared as a sweet girl with no mean bone in the movie Biglang Yaman with Jaime de la Rosa. Then, Rosa landed the female lead in the historic movie Anak Dalita, a love story between a Korean war veteran and a prostitute, directed by Lamberto Avellana. Anak Dalita emerged as Best Film in the 1956 Asian Film Festival in Hongkong while Rosa Rosal earned a presidential citation from Ramon Magsaysay. The following year, Rosa did Badjao, a story about a noble Tausug princess and her marriage to a pearl diver. Dña Sisang was reluctant in giving the role to Rosa as she did not look ethnic at all; but Rosa pleaded, got the part and the movie went on to win 4 major awards in Tokyo.

Her other noteworthy acclaim was the classic Biyaya ng Lupa, where she played the lead, a farmer’s widow coping with her husband’s murder and a daughter’s rape. She was totally made unglamorous for this part, a far cry from her sultry image as a vixen in a slinky gown, bangles and dangling earrings. Rosa lost the Asian Best Actress Award by half a point when it was entered in the 1960 edition of the festival. In 1976, Rosa once again reprised her role as an oppressed sugar plantation worker in the controversial movie, Sakada.

She would also dabble in Radio as a singer, and appeared on TV in sitcoms (Yan ang Misis Ko, with Ronald Remy) and as a public service host (Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko, Damayan) in the 70s. These appearances spotlighted her legendary spirit of volunteerism for Red Cross, an obsession that began way back in 1948, when American Ray Higgins took Rosa along to one of his blood donation drives under the auspices of the Red Cross. She saw a comatose young girl revived to life at the Philippine General Hospital after a successful blood transfusion. This life-changing experience led Rosa to become a volunteer for Red Cross on 4 July 1950.

Rosa was indefatigable in her work with the Philippine National Red Cross. She sought out funding for new blood testing equipment and for the improvement of Red Cross facilities, organized blood letting drives (Operation Dugtong Buhay, Operation Purple, Operation Blood Brother—with American donors from Clark Field), went on mercy missions even during the height of Martial Law and People Power Revolution and helped in establishing blood programs like blood testing, collecting and the commemoration of Blood Donors’ Month in July.

Rosa has dedicated over half her life to public service via her strong ties to Red Cross, leading to high profile recognitions both here and abroad. Aside from the prestigious Magsaysay Award, her other achievement is daughter Toni Rose Gayda, also a TV personality, her only child with American pilot Walter Gayda whom she met in Hong Kong in 1957. Her incredible career run is far from over, and this half-Kapampangan who started as a showbiz contravida has become a larger-than-life heroine with a heart of gold, joining the ranks of the most admired and most accomplished Filipinas in the country today.


FR. VICTOR BALTANAS DE LA VIRGEN DEL ROSARIO. Briefly worked during the term of a more famous predecessor, Fr. Gregorio Bueno before being assigned to Escalante in Negros. There, he met his untimely death with the involvement of a prominent family— echoing the circumstances of Fr. Bueno’s earlier murder.

There has been so much focus on the gruesome murder of Fr. Gregorio Bueno, and his infamous curse on Mabalacat, that it all but overshadowed the cases of two other Mabalacat frailes who died in almost the same violent and controversial fashion. By strange coincidence, both priests served as assistants to the more well-known Fr. Bueno.

Fr. Juan Herrero1 was Fr. Bueno’s compañero for just a period of 5 months in 1885. From Mabalacat, he was sent off to Cavite where he became the manager of “Compania Fomento de La Agricultura”. He, together with 9 other Recollect friars, were holed up in Imus, Cavite where they were shot to death by passionate Revolutionists.

The other unfortunate victim was Fr. Victor Baltanas de la Virgen del Rosario 2. Fr. Baltanas was born on 17 November 1869 in Berceo, La Rioja Spain. After becoming a Recoleto on 24 October 1886, he left on board the steamer Isla de Panay, and sailed to Barcelona. He continued his journey to the Philippines, arriving in Manila on 21 October 1891. No sooner had he unpacked when he was assigned to Mabalacat in late October 1891.

He was sent to Mabalacat as a young deacon to learn, strangely enough, Tagalog basics. Indeed, an examination of extant canonical books confirmed his presence in the town, assisting Fr. Bueno in his daily ministerial grind —from administering holy oils and chrisms to performing sacramental rites. His assignment was not permanent though, and he was shuffled from Mabalacat to Manila (where he received the Holy Order of presbyterate in 1892), Palawan (1894-1895), San Nicolas priory in Intramuros (1899-1902), back to Taytay, Palawan and then finally to Valencia, Negros Oriental where he served as assistant priest to Fr. Eusebio Valderrama. Finally, in October 1907, he became the parish curate of the Roman Catholic Church of Escalante town.

It is here in Escalante town that he was hacked to death in the head by an Aglipayan assassin, Mauricio Gamao, on the night of 15 May 1909, succumbing to his wounds the next day. The murder, motivated by the schism between Aglipayans and the Roman Catholic Church involving church property, was planned in connivance with the town head, Gil Gamao—Mauricio’s relative, who was subsequently convicted an American judge of the Court of the First Instance, Albert E. McCabe after a 3-month trial in Bacolod. Mauricio Gamao, as well as his cohort Gil Gamao, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Fr. Baltanas died a martyr of the faith. Fr. Francisco E. Echanojauregui, parish priest of San Carlos who attended to his dead fellow Recoleto in Escalante described him in a 1909 letter to the vicar provincial: “Americans, Spaniards and Filipinos all assure me that he was an authentic priest, a zealous curate with unblemished repute…Everyone attests to me that Fr. Victor was incapabale of raising his voice—not even to his boy-servant....his life was well ordered like that of a convent..This is to say he was an excellent person, as an individual, as a parish priest and as a friar”.

The martyr of Escalante was interred in San Carlos, but his bones were exhumed in 1995 due to acts of vandalism and robbery in the cemetery. These were then kept at the Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos.

Two Mabalacat padres—Fr. Juan Herrero and Fr. Victor Baltanas thus shared the same sad fate as their superior, Fr. Gregorio Bueno, meeting their hapless deaths in the hands of Filipinos in an uncanny parallel manner-- all happening in the heat of the Revolution and religious schism, and with influential families involved.


HALT! WHO GOES THERE. A typical Maytime Santacruzan from Central Luzon. The procession topbilled Reina Elena, the Empress who found the True Cross, escorted by her son, Constantine. ca. mid 1920s.

There is no Santacruzan like the Sabat Santacruzan of Pampanga—a religious procession based on an age-old tradition woven around the finding of the True Cross. But this Kapampangan version has a unique, surprising twist, integrating theatrical features, poetical jousts and moro-moro elements for an even more entertaining drama on the streets.

The original Santacruzan as we know it, re-enacts the return journey of St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great from Jerusalem back to Rome, after discovering the cross on which Christ was crucified in 326 AD. She had stumbled upon three crosses at the crucifixion site, and the real cross was determined by having sick person lie on the crosses; he was instantly cured upon lying on the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).

Celebrated every 3rd of May with a long procession featuring various incarnations of Elenas, biblical royalties and characters representing Virgin Mary, the festival was introduced by Spain and there was no stopping its widespread popularity ever since.

The Kapampangan version is different in that the procession is halted several times by costumed actors who challenge the Reina Elena in a poetic joust and engage her troop in a swordfight derived from yesteryear’s moro-moros, hence the name “Sabat Santacruzan” (Halt the Santacruzan).

The basic plot dramatizes the perilous journey of Elena and her son Constantino to the Holy Land. Her royal retinue is ambushed by heathen ‘moros’ led by Reina Florifis. Elena sends Goy de Borgonia (Guy of Bourgogne, an 11th c. French crusader, hence the ‘sabat’ is also known as “goydo-goydo” in Sapangbato, the only town in Pampanga that continues to stage this folk event) to launch a counter-attack but instead, is smitten by Florifis. Elena asks Carlo Magno of France to help and responds by sending eight of his Doce Pares, namely, Prince Roldan, Oliveros, Reynaldos, Conderlos, Goyperos, Montesino, Galalon and Ricarte.

On her return trip to Rome, Elena gets ambushed yet again, this time by Principe Turquiano, Florifis’ brother. But before he could spirit away the precious relics of the True Cross, Elena pleads eloquently about the significance of the cross to the whole Christian world. The deeply affected Turquiano and his men lay down their arms and are converted to the new religion.

The chief dramatis personae of Sabat Santacruzan are an anachronistic mix of characters, real and made-up, from different periods of history: biblical characters (Methuselah, Queen of Sheba, Judith, the Three Marys), Marian personifications (Rosa Mistica, de las Flores), allegorical figures (Faith, Hope & Charity), plus a band of heavenly angels. Extant scripts of the Sabat Santacruzan written like old Pasyon books are very rare, and one, a prized heirloom of the David Family, is the basis for the May pageant staged in Sapangbato. The roles are filled up after rigid auditions, which puts oratorical talents first above looks.

In recent times, there has only been two stagings of the Sabat Santacruzan, both sponsored by Holy Angel University’s Center for Kapampangan Studies. The last outing in Sapangbato, which was held last 22 May 2010, featured seasoned performers dressed in colorful costumes, faithfully recreated using old Santacruzan and moro-moro photos as references. There is no stopping the Sabat Santacruzan tradition, a pageant of faith rooted in the strong religious convictions of Kapampangan people, at once folksy, festive and true.

*192. MSGR. JOSE R. DE LA CRUZ: Renaissance Man of the Cloth

FR. JOSE DE LA CRUZ, as a graduate of Sacred Theology of Santo Tomas University. Dated 1943.

Recently, just a week after Good Friday 2010, Kapampangans mourned the loss of one of the most accomplished Kapampangan religious ever to come from the the province. Msgr. Jose Reyes de la Cruz passed away on 10 April 2010, almost month short of his 97th birthday. The good monsignor lived a long and full life, marked with brilliant career achievements not only as an extraordinary man of the cloth but also as a theologian, world traveler, literary and musical genius and a Catholic mass media practitioner.

The future monsignor was born in the sleepy barrio of San Matias, Guagua on 8 May 1913. His uncle, Fr. Vicente M. de la Cruz, was a well-known priest in Sta. Rita, and this must have also spurred him to answer his priestly calling. At age 15, he entered the San Jose Seminary as a high student and graduated as the class valedictorian. He continued to earn a Philosophy degree from the seminary and in just three years, graduated Summa Cum Laude.

The bright seminarian was sent to the International Gregorian University in Rome, but his frail health did not allow him to finish his studies there. He went back to the Philippines in 1937 and the following year, he enrolled at the Central Seminary of the University of Santo Tomas. In 1941, after graduating with a licentiate Summa Cum Laude, he was finally ordained as a priest. Two years later, he earned a doctorate degree in Sacred Theology, Magna Cum Laude. Not content with a doctorate, he also obtained a Bachelor of Laws from the pontifical university.

In the mid 40s, “Among Pepe” was assigned as the parish priest of Licab in Nueva Ecija. His other postings included San Marcelino in Zambales, Guagua and Bacolor. A seasoned global traveler, he has gone around the world 10 times, and has visited 37 countries in 18 separate trips. In Rome, he would act as a guide for visiting Filipino priests, often accommodating their requests for tours around the Vatican and its environs.

In 1952, he represented the Diocese of San Fernando in the International Conference of the Apostleship of Prayer and Nocturnal Adoration in Barcelona, Spain. In 1958, he attended the Centennial Celebration of the Lourdes apparition in France.

Back home, he helped in launching the crusade of Charity revolving around Virgen de los Remedios, the patroness of Pampanga. He anchored a radio program over DZPI Manila, using the show as channel for his catechism. He also became a columnist for several Catholic religious publications. Msgr. De la Cruz also served as the longtime parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Church of Guagua from 1957-1974, taking over Rev. Fr. Pedro Puno. While there, he livened up the local church scene by organizing the People’s Eucharistic League and activating the Cursillo Movement. He also improved the church, reconfiguring the altar area to make it circular, and adding on a golden monstrance to the church vessels, a precious find from is many travels.

In 1964, Among Pepe figured in a sensational criminal case in which 15 year old Corazon “Cosette” Tanjuaquio, daughter of a prominent Guagua family, was kidnapped for ransom. The perpetrators chose the priest to act as an emissary between them and the authorities. Several times, the courageous reverend volunteered to deliver the ransom money, often driving alone to the agreed-upon site, waiting long hours and even surviving a shooting attempt. The kidnappers were eventually apprehended.

A multi-dimensional Kapampangan, Among Pepe also dabbled in music and was adept in playing the violin. During his student days, he was named as the Orchestra Conductor of the San Jose Seminary and the Central Seminary of U.S.T. He was also an outstanding poet and prodigious writer, composing inspiring prayers in English, noted for their intuitive and vivid sensitivity. On 26 August 1969, Msgr. Dela Cruz delivered the invocation of the World Congress of Poets held in Manila.

In the 1980s, Msgr. De la Cruz continued to write religious features and columns while ably assisting Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz of the Archdiocese of San Fernando. His last assignment was at the St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in San Agustin, San Fernando. About 6 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet him in his St. Jude home. Though slowed down with age and needing assistance, his mind remained clear and alert, and he talked to us in a gentle, but commanding tone in impeccable English. In his little room, he sat and chatted with us, surrounded with mementos of his life—stacks and shelves of well-thumbed books, diplomas on the wall and his favorite violin.

Reflecting on his death, I am drawn once more to one prayer he wrote, one of the most lyrical, most touching ever composed:

“Lord, let me find you in the angelic smile of innocent children..
And in the measured pace of old age.
Let me hear you in the aged canticles of singing streams..
And in the soft murmur of evening breezes..
Lord, let me find you and hear you, everywhere I go
And at every moment of my waking hours,
For the whole universe is Your image and all good music s your singing voice..
This, my humble creator, is my humble prayer. AMEN.

In the bosom of his Lord, we will find the good monsignor again.