‘Event of the century’ for Palo Cathedral
Since it became the seat of the archdiocese, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Palo in Leyte has never hosted any major event for over 75 years.
But on Saturday this week, the Neo-Gothic Church dedicated to the Lord’s Transfiguration will be graced by Pope Francis during his visit to Palo town, Leyte province.
“I can’t express it in words. For me, it’s the event of the century; an event of a lifetime,” said Msgr. Rex Ramirez, the soft-spoken rector of the Palo Cathedral.
“Since time immemorial, only diocesan events and a few national gatherings were held here. The coming of the Holy Father will be the biggest. There’s nothing more significant than that,” he said.
Pope Francis is set to visit the cathedral where he will meet the clergy, nuns, members of religious communities, seminarians, and some survivors, then lead the Vespers and give a short message in the afternoon of January 17.
The Holy Father will go out through the sacristy and spend a few minutes at the mass grave beside the cathedral to pray for the bodies of those who perished at the height of supertyphoon Yolanda on Nov. 8, 2013.
The Church earlier agreed to a mass burial of 150 persons whose dead bodies were bloated when brought to the cathedral days after the supertyphoon.
The mass grave is placed at the left part of the cathedral, close to its Millennium Tower.
The names of the bodies who were identified are engraved on tombstones surrounding the tower.
Church workers are busy preparing for the papal visit—the first in Palo and the entire Leyte province.
The Palo Cathedral earlier underwent a major renovation in preparation for its Diamond Jubilee as a diocese last November 2012.
Restoring the cathedral cost over P25 million.
But a year after the renovation was completed, the cathedral, which was originally built in 1768, was devastated by supertyphoon Yolanda.
Its roofs were all blown away, the ceilings removed, the stained glass windows were broken, while the altar and pews were ruined.
Msgr. Ramirez said it was not easy to restore the cathedral after the super typhoon.
“The church was new. And here comes Yolanda. It was too much to ask the people for donations since they too are victims of the storm surge and the typhoon. Good that there are several donations from other churches and groups,” he said.
Due to a number of donations coming in, the cathedral was renovated for the second time in a span of less than five years.
Ramirez said works done at the cathedral will be finished by the time Pope Francis arrives.
Since the regular seating capacity of the cathedral is only good for 1,200 people, the rector said they will put more chairs to accommodate the visiting priests from neighboring regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Organizers are expecting 1,500 priests, nuns, and seminarians who shall attend the activity inside the Palo Cathedral.
Since the cathedral will be occupied by the clergy and the religious, Ramirez said the lay people shall be situated outside the church.
He said they hope to install wide screens outside the cathedral to allow the public to witness the gathering inside the church.
“I believe that the Holy Father was inspired by God (to visit Palo). We’ve been longing for a relief after the supertyphoon. And as one person here said, the pope is our relief,” said Ramirez, who is also the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Palo.
The Palo Cathedral was built in 1596 under the direction of the Jesuits. It was taken over by the Augustinians in 1768 and by the Franciscans in 1843.
It was proclaimed a cathedral on March 25, 1938, just a few months after the Palo Church was formed as a diocese.
The cathedral was used as a hospital by American Liberation Forces from October 1944 to March 1945.
It was renovated with a Neo-Gothic design and was elevated to an archdiocese in 1982 with Calbayog, Borongan, Catarman and Naval Diocese serving as suffragan to it.
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