CEBU CITY, Philippines — Don Carlo Lleva Matugas is a camarero, an avid collector of religious images. He has been a collector since his childhood and is a devoted Marian.
Matugas hails from Barangay Suba in Danao City, northern Cebu, and started his collection when he was seven years old. He would save up his school allowance to buy Holy Images of Virgin Mother and of the saints.
“I remember the first images I bought in the church was the image of San Vicente and San Roque,” he told CDN Digital.
Matugas could no longer count the number of images he has collected or the amount of money he spent on them. He doesn’t mind since he is satisfied that his collection is more than just statues on display. Some of them are actually featured in Church activities.
His collection is continuously being used in feasts in Cebu, especially in Danao City. He also serves as a Guardian of the Oratory of Our Lady of Sorrows located in Barangay Suba and President of Holy Week Camareros of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish in Danao City.
In fact, on the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, 13 of Matugas’ images of the Virgin Mary will be featured in an exhibit at the SM Seaside City Cebu. His collection can be viewed among other images starting April 11.
“They are significant to me because they are the symbols and images of our faith, these images are not mere statues but are people who existed and have done God’s will throughout the ages,” he said. “They continually inspire us even until now because these people have done significant goods and contributed a lot to our society. it somehow inspires you and me to do the same.”
Matugas’ family moved to the United States (US) when he was 14-years-old, yet this did not stop him from caring for and collecting more Holy Images.
He would constantly come back to the Philippines to care for his collection and prepare images for certain fiestas and exhibitions.
It was only the past year that he could not go home because of the global pandemic. He misses his collection and the Church activities so much. For now, his collection are being taken cared of by relatives.
Of all his collections, his favorite is the image of the “Bambina Maria,” or the infant Mary, saying that when he looks at it and holds Her, he is reminded that the little baby Mary started the story of salvation for humankind in the New Testament.
Marian as he is, his favorite of all Holy Images in the Church is the Inmaculada Concepcion.
Described as a silent worker of the Church by many clergy and staff of the Archdiocese of Cebu, Matugas said he is generally a silent even in his sufferings, the way Mary had kept all her troubles in her heart.
“My devotion to the Blessed Mother of Sorrows or Birhen sa Dolorosa would often help me a lot whenever I meet circumstances and difficulties in life. I just think of her, her courageousness, braveness, and fearlessness at the foot of the Cross, and I am reminded to become like her or a very small of her at least. To be silent in all struggles and to remain standing in all difficulties,” he said.
Caring for Holy Images is not as easy as it seems. Matugas said it takes a lot of discipline and money to maintain the statues’ color, garments, and other intricate needs.
Per tradition in his family, once the statues are being brought out for procession during the Holy Week, a grand fiesta is held in their household. This tradition also entails funds and manpower.
These Holy Images are sacred not only to Matugas but for the entire family as well.
Although many non-Catholic Christians have been criticizing camareros saying that their collection of images is a form of idolatry, Matugas said this is simply a lack of understanding in their part of the doctrines of faith in Catholics.
The Catholic Church has clarified that the veneration of images is not a form of worship, but only serves as a guide to God Incarnate.
For Matugas, their collection is both a practice of faith and an appreciation of art that deserves respect.
“Tanan nato naa man gyud tay mga tagsa-tagsa ka hilig. naay mag collect ug mga sakyanan, mga firearms and handguns ug mga different animals as pet so ang kinahanglan ra gyud nato diri is mag renespetohay sa usag usa. After all, these are representations and images of people who are now in heaven and to whom, according to our Catholic faith, we can reach out to intercede for our prayers,” he said.
Matugas hopes to inspire Catholics, especially the younger generations to grow stronger in faith with these Holy Images that they can see, materializing their faith.
“Most of all let us always do good to our neighbors so that we can truly imitate them. These are all nothing if we ourselves do no follow their virtues and examples,” he added.
For this Lenten season, Matugas prays people will see the goodness of God in each one and appreciate more the love of God for mankind, that kind of love that surpasses all understanding.
“That love that pushed Him to die on the cross for us so that we may share that kind of love to our neighbors; to be more understanding, to humble ourselves down amidst persecution of any kind. To our government leaders for good governance. If we love God, every good thing follows for the better. If we love God there will be peace, there will be good, there will be harmony among people,” said Matugas.