The San Vicente Ferrer Chapel of Pitalo rises from the ashes
Not too long ago, they shed tears of sadness and regret. The mood has changed.
The San Vicente Ferrer Chapel in the village of Pitalo in the southern Cebu town of San Fernando, which was razed by fire on May 3, 2016 after the nearly 5,000 candles lit by a devotee went out of control, has risen from the ashes.
Most parts of the heritage chapel have been restored to its original beauty even as reconstruction continues. The new roof and ceiling are up. The altar has been refurbished.
“Not even the flames can destroy our faith,” said Carmelo Manlosa, the president of the San Vicente Ferrer chapel leaders’ association.
The rebuilding of the chapel came just as Pitalo residents and devotees from other places are preparing for the feast of San Vicente Ferrer on April 10.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma will officiate the Mass at the roadside chapel that has been frequented by people who seek the saint’s intercession. To them, the image of San Vicente Ferrer enthroned at the altar’s retablo had been a source of divine favors.
Two years ago, the chapel was engulfed by fire after a couple, who wanted to give thanks for an answered prayer, lit 4,900 candles at the back of the altar. The 49 packs of candles they lit represented the weight of 49 kilos the man lost before he was cured of cancer. Each pack contained 100 tapers, or a total of 4,900 candles.
The flames lapped up the wooden structure at the altar and quickly went out of control. From the chapel, the fire spread to the neighboring houses, destroying at least 13 homes.
The chapel’s altar and the roof collapsed. The huge cross at the left side of the chapel fell and the feet of the crucified Jesus were burned. Only the concrete walls and columns of the chapel were left standing but the residents managed to save its religious images and statues.
Engineers who evaluated what was left of the chapel found no need to demolish the remaining structure, and it was safe to just renovate it.
Donations in cash and in kind to rebuild the chapel poured in. “We didn’t even have to ask for it. Devotees just came to give whatever they can contribute to restore the chapel,” Manlosa said.
So far, at least P5 million has been spent for the chapel’s restoration, he added.
To avoid a repeat of the 2016 fire, the dagkotanan or the candle lighting racks are now placed outside of the chapel but still within its compound. As an added measure, chapel officials put at the dagkotanan area a fire extinguisher, peebles, and water-filled drums to suppress any blaze.
San Vicente Ferrer, a Dominican friar from Valencia, Spain who gained acclaim as a missionary and a logician, is portrayed as a saint with wings because he is said to have been endowed with the power to be in several places at a time.
Devotion to San Vicente Ferrer in Pitalo started in the late 1800s when the village was saved from an epidemic through the intercession of the saint. But it was not until 1925 when, Antonio Delgado, a devotee of San Vicente Ferrer, ordered the construction of a chapel made of cement in the village.
Delgado, whose wife was a Pitalo native, used to travel to Toledo City in western Cebu to pay homage to San Vicente Ferrer, until he decided to build a chapel in Pitalo to propagate the devotion to the saint in their place, narrated Angelita Papas, the chapel’s custodian of 12 years.
Devotees swear to answered petitions after praying to the saint, lighting candles, and attending Masses at the chapel.
“People were healed of their illnesses, some find jobs, passed licensure examinations, and obtained good health,” Papas said in Cebuano.
But as the chapel became popular and awashed with donations, conflicts set in.
In 1998, Papas said Pitalo residents staged a “people power” to remove the chapel’s president of ten years who refused to step down amid allegations of irregularities.
Just then, the brother of the person whom the residents wanted to become president was gunned down.
The unpopular president left on his own, and a new president was elected to manage the chapel for 15 years.
In 2013, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, after he approached for help by Pitalo residents, decided to let the priests from the San Isidro Parish in San Fernando town supervise the San Vicente Ferrer chapel.
The priests led by Fr. Nazario Vocales decided to set a term limit of five years for all chapel officers.
The chapel and the land where it stands remains a property of the Delgado family, even as it is under the name of San Vicente Ferrer Chapel.
Politics notwithstanding, the core of the devotion – the wooden image of San Vicente Ferrer enthroned at the altar’s retablo – keeps pilgrims in search of miracles coming.
Papas said she was a beneficiary of the saint’s miraculous intercession, recalling that when she was young, she was bedridden for about a year due to a heart enlargement and amoebic dysentery, a type of blood diarrhea. Her constant visit to the chapel and pray for healing led to her recovery, she said.
She said some skeptics might think that it was “superstitious belief” but to her, the miraculous healing was real.
Renowned Iconographer Clodoveo Vicente Nacorda also attested to how God grants favors through San Vicente Ferrer.
He said he was afflicted with tuberculosis as a child and his father would bring him to the San Vicente Ferrer chapel in Pitalo to lit candles and hear Mass every Sunday.
“My parents actually entrusted me to the care of San Vicente Ferrer; that is why my second name is Vicente. I, too, am a witness of the miracles endowed by God through the intercession of San Vicente Ferrer,” said Nacorda, who wept when the chapel was razed by a fire.
Msgr. Esteban Binghay, the retired episcopal vicar of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said the chapel, being over 50 years old, is considered a heritage institution.
Binghay said Masses are held at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. every Sunday officiated by a priest from the San Isidro Labrador parish church. On Weekdays, a stream of people visit the chapel.
“This is a pilgrim’s chapel so to speak. Not a single day passed without people coming here to take refuge and seek God’s help through San Vicente Ferrer,” said chapel Supervisor Luz Lopez.
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