By Kristin Aldana-Lerin. Sun.Star Cebu
SOME journeys are riddled with potholes. While others, flow freely like water.
And this is how Nerito “Rey” A. Martinez was set smoothly adrift, with the gentle breath of St. Therese filling his sails.
An invitation in 2000 started it all. Piqued by the visiting “bukog sa Santa,” Rey, together with his wife, found themselves at the Carmelite Monastery at the crack of dawn. Two hours in, defeated by the long line of pilgrims and equally long wait, the couple fished for their car keys and decided to head home. Their hasty retreat was interrupted by a friend with connections. An air force officer in charge of the relics’ air transport, he was able to take the couple past the long line, past the long wait and up and beside the visiting saint’s remains.
A motorcade to send the saint off followed. Rey just tagged along for the ride, not knowing as impromptu pallbearer, he would be in the thick of it all. All around, throngs of devotees, elbowing at a chance at a simple touch, a hope to transform small squares of cloth to cherished third-party relics. Though not quite the believer yet, he couldn’t stop from stealing a furtive brush, gripping the precious cargo closer, right before laying it into the departing plane.
Sitting on a plane to Manila, Rey hunts for something to kill time. He fingers the pamphlet in his pocket passed on to him earlier by a stranger. Something familiar registers. Was this not about the saint whose bones he carried three days ago?
He takes in her life story on one page, and is struck by a line on the next: “I will fulfill your plea to ‘be made known everywhere’ and will continue to lead others to Jesus through you.” This statement sticks and spurs him to reprint 20,000 copies that he gives to everyone he meets.
A few months later, he is in Calubian, Leyte, threshing out a family problem. Here, something catches his eye: a scenic property with a view of the straits and mountains of Biliran province. This would be the perfect spot, he thought, to build a little chapel for St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a small gesture of thanks for all the wishes she has granted in the short span that he has known her. Unfortunately, this slice of heaven was not on the market. Yet.
A few days later, the owner has a change of heart. He donates the land for the chapel. Help pours in with friends chipping in for construction material, and town folk joining their hands in labor. In three months, the chapel is complete.
Then things start to roll. A year later, marking the second fiesta, the Chapel of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus is declared a Diocesan Shrine by the Bishop of Naval. An adjacent property is acquired, and the following year, a New Way of the Cross sits for all to participate in. In 2003, the first Siete Palabras debuts and becomes a yearly event. In 2004, the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Diocesan Shrine Association is formed. Last month, Rey and St. Therese meet yet again, as the shrine was among the hosts to her relics as the saint visited the Philippines for the second time.
And now Rey Martinez finds himself at the top of a hill, backed by mountain ranges and Biliran Bay stretched out before him. And close by, a place of rest for his constant travel companion.
Perhaps a series of fortunate events will take you here, over land, over water, over seemingly insurmountable circumstances, up 98 steps to this very spot in Calubian, where St. Therese, has chosen her place.
* In addition to the national shrine in Manila, The Shrine of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Calubian, Leyte is the first Diocesan shrine in the Philippines. For more on the shrine, one may visit www.saintthereseshrine.com