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OLAP: Through the 10 years
By Myrna Ferriol Virtudazo

The mustard seed that a person took
and sowed in the fields has grown
into a large bush,
where the birds of the sky come
and dwell in its branches...

It was 9:40. I inched my way through the parked cars occupying the three lanes along Mindanao Avenue as more continued to pile up under the heat of the morning sun. I left mine almost near the entrance gate of St. Charbel Subdivison and walked to OLAP lest I would be late for my 10 a.m. schedule. Jeepneys and FXs would stop every now and then to unload people for the next Mass. Three traffic aides were dutifully trying to ease the flow of traffic.

An overflowing crowd was already spilling out of OLAP, some contentedly thronging the stairs of the main entrance or standing it out at the side entrance. The St. Vianney Chapel was filled with men and women with babies or children in tow, patiently waiting for the baptismal rites to begin. There at the entrance were Bro. Bert Caralipio and Bro. Eddie Ulanday who would give parishioners not the usual perfunctory greetings, but the cheerful smiles and “Good morning sister!” as a warm welcome to the house of God.

I walked past the parishioners (and could-not-be-refused non-parishioners) queuing up at the free clinic of the Social Services Development Ministry. The ladies in blue, none other than the Catholic Women's League, doctors, nurses and other lay volunteers led by Sis. Angie Panganiban were busily attending to their medical or dental needs, taking cognizance of the church's preferential option for the poor. That day, some 100 parishioners would be wearing a happy smile: each was going to try their new set of free dentures that were sponsored by the Rotary Club.

The faithful were singing “Ama Namin.” There was enough time to meditate at the sacristy – in all its air-conditioned comfort – in preparation for the sacred duty of proclaiming the Word of God that beautiful and blessed Sunday morning…

It is somewhat humbling to the OLAP family, with Rev. Msgr. Jaime Zurbano Jr. as parish priest, to see a church developing way beyond its expectations. He takes pride in the beautiful façade of the church with two angels warmly welcoming churchgoers, that symbolically impart the real essence of the people that built it: a moving and dynamic spirit of a parish community who attribute their growth to God's amazing grace. And everyone is invited to partake of it! Indeed, the mustard seed that a person took and sowed in the field has grown into a large bush, where the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The parishioners are now reaping the fruits of their labor, and are hospitable even to strangers from different places.

OLAP's nascent stage saw a handful of churchgoers, sometimes not even surpassing a hundred, who either heard the 7 a.m., 9 a.m. or 7 p.m. Mass. Those were the days when Masses were held in a tent-like structure, with wooden rafters holding up the roof. The grass was its carpet – where a herd of cows would sometimes graze if not rest their weary limbs – that give way to mud and all on rainy days. And its ceiling the beautifully crafted buntings that incessantly flutter to the beat of the whispering wind – providing a rhythmic musical backdrop as Holy Masses were celebrated.

Today, a majestic and imposing church encompasses an area where once stood a nondescript structure. To accommodate the thousands of churchgoers from its villages and subdivisions, not to mention those from other parishes as well, OLAP holds 13 Sunday Masses in which the last schedule is at 9 p.m.!

But that was not even half of the story.

The parishioners formerly belonged to the parish of San Nicolas de Tolentino, run by the Augustinian Recollect Fathers. Under its jurisdiction were the Saint Vincent Seminary Chapel of the Vincentian Fathers, the JEM 9 & 10 Chapel, and the Landcom Chapel.

In 1990, a raring priest from Mercedes, Camarines Norte, named Rev. Fr. Jaime Zurbano Jr., set foot on our parish soil. And life had never been the same.

Msgr. Jun recalled the memorable day he broke the news to the SNDT parish priest and council officers regarding the plan of the Archdiocese of Manila to establish a new parish under his wings. As he was leaving by his lonesome, Ka Romy Jacobo followed him. Touchingly, he assured Fr. Jun of his wholehearted support, as well as those of the JEM 9 & 10 people (that true enough, have rallied behind him through thick and thin, and brought forth the first Parish Pastoral Council president in the person of the late Capt. Antonio Aguilar).

God is faithful to His promise that He would never abandon His disciples. He sent Fr. Jun some people who took care of him as he sought one temporary shelter to another, from Taurus St. to Landcom to St. Charbel Subdivision. Each time, he would be carrying his personal belongings, from his suitcase to his own caldero. He was grateful to Sis. Jean Rosario, Mrs. Lourdes Torralba, Bro. Roy and Sis. Judy Odsinada, Mr. & Mrs. Cenen Torralba, Mr. & Mrs. Ed dela Cruz, Elmer Calderon, among others, for helping him grope his way to his new assignment.

In 1991, St. Charbel Chapel was constructed with the permission of His Eminence, Jaime Cardinal L. Sin DD to be the designated place of worship of the future parish. That same year, Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, VG, led the inauguration of the Chaplaincy of St. Charbel and installed Fr. Jun as chaplain.

I remember with fondness that Mark, my fourth son, was baptized in this chapel, as well as Maan, my fifth. (The sixth, Ren-Ren, was baptized at the fully constructed OLAP Church.) Being the eager pastor that he was, Fr. Jun stood as one of the ninongs to both children, and to the many other OLAP babies whose parents were mesmerized by his mélange of charism, arousing in them a new spirituality and enthusiasm to serve the Church.

Going back to the construction of St. Charbel Chapel, it was during this period when all at once, Fr. Jun felt the generosity and cooperation of the very people that he would shepherd. Bro. Joe Lugtu lent his architectural services for free. Then, there were the cursillistas, the Apos. Funds were raised in constructing the building, and later on in donating electric fans, rattan chairs (courtesy of seafarers in the nearby community), furnishings, etc. At last, Padi was enjoying the comfort of a cozy residence at the back of the chapel.

The stage was set. St. Charbel Chapel would later be elevated as the new parish church. In fact, Cardinal Sin confirmed this in one of his many visits to the newly established chaplaincy.

But the course of history changed. The homeowners association of St. Charbel appealed to Fr. Jun and the Council that the plan of developing the chapel into a parish church could not be accommodated in their subdivision, what with the growing number of worshippers and many other inconveniencies that would be brought about by this supposed plan.

At first, confusion was palpable throughout the chaplaincy. But it turned to joy as the parishioners would later realize that God worked in different and amazing ways. God had a much more beautiful plan, making the homeowners' appeal His instrument in fulfilling it. It led to the decision of the parish Council to build a new place of worship.
Masses were held at a temporary lot, thanks to the generosity of its owners, Mr. & Mrs. Cris Constantino. As God always did, He also sent the likes of Mr. & Mrs. Rey Mirano, Mr. Andy Guanlao, and Mr. & Mrs. Mar Plopenio. Everybody took the task of looking for an available lot that would be the construction site of the future OLAP Church.

With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a new site was found along Mindanao Avenue at St. Dominic 3 Subdivision, a 1111 sq. m. lot owned by the Geraldez Family. Half of the total land area was donated by the benevolent Geraldez sisters while the purchase of the remaining 50% was made possible by the Archdiocese of Manila through His Eminence Jaime Cardinal L. Sin.

The ground-breaking ceremony officiated by Cardinal Sin on October 19, 1991, Saturday, at 10 in the morning, formally started the construction of the new parish church. After a few months of the following year, the chaplaincy was elevated by Cardinal Sin to Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish, on March 25, 1992, Saturday, at 8 in the morning. Msgr. Arsenio Bautista suggested the name.

We could have easily asked for foreign funding, like from Germany. Call it amour-propre, but the parish priest believed in the capability and cooperation of the people. The council helmed by Bro. Rey Mirano thought so, too. It was short of saying that they would have to move heaven and earth during that time when raising millions of pesos was a hubristic hope (cost of OLAP Church construction as of this writing is P15-M!). From then on, different fund-raising campaigns were held. There were raffle draws, dinner for a cause, Bb. OLAP, Birthday For a Cause; Bingo Socials, income-generating blessings and novenas of Bro. Elmer Calderon, etc. You name it, we have had it. Thus the title Hiling Father for Fr. Jun.

It was in February 1993 when the foundation and main structures were constructed under the teamwork of Architect Luis Nicanor Aguire IV and Associates, Engr. Benjie Reyes, and TERP Construction Company.

When the Adoration Chapel was opened to the public in 1996, Fr. Jun attests that God also opened the floodgates of heaven and showered His blessings to the church coffer. More and more people have become involved in the parish. Meanwhile, the Mother Butler Guild, aside from its duty in the upkeep of the altar, was always there ready to support Fr. Jun.The Couples for Christ, for instance, had been ever ready to lend not only the members' time but also treasures to be able to support projects. I could go on and on naming groups and individuals… It is seemingly endless.

So at last, the dream became a reality. On March 12, 1997 at 5 in the afternoon, the blessing and dedication of OLAP was solemnly officiated by Cardinal Sin.

Until now, OLAP is still making history. The installation of the carillon bells to the tune of P1.8 million on the beautiful New Year's day of 2001 once more proved that with God, nothing is impossible. The launching of the OLAP Ossuary on Feb. 11, 2001 paved the way for a memorial service to the parishioners. And the blessing of the St. John Mary Vianney Chapel, aptly named after the patron saint of priests, by Cardinal Sin on Nov. 24 of the Great Jubuilee.

Through the ten years of OLAP (actually 12 years with the Chaplaincy of St. Charbel included) there were many notable and memorable events. But one of the most momentous occasions was the awarding of the title “Chaplain of His Holiness Pope John Paul II” to Fr. Jun on May 29, 2001. As the OLAP family puts it, the fact that we are able to bring forth a monsignor in our midst is truly the parishioners' pride and honor!

Truly, the genuine giving of self of the council presidents, namely Bro. Antonio Aguilar, Bro. Rey Mirano, Sis. Cora Plopenio, Bro. Roy Allan Magturo, Bro. Joe Bartolome, and Bro. Efren Capa propelled the emergence of a majestic church that is OLAP, an avenue for the building up of the Kingdom of God.