FR. RENIER Noel Llorca, former parish priest of the Santa Clara de Montefalco Parish in Pasig, once dreamed of a bigger place to hold mass for his parishioners. Today, his dream is almost fulfilled—but to a magnificent extent.

Currently standing at 57 meters tall on 11,230 square meters of land, the new Sta. Clara de Montefalco Church on C. Raymundo Ave., Brgy. Caniogan, Pasig City, although still unfinished, is already dubbed as the tallest church in the Philippines.

However, according to Llorca, now the parish administrator, building his dream did not come easy.

The Sta. Clara de Montefalco Parish is one of the oldest chapels in Pasig.

The Spaniards settled in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig after they docked on its riverbanks in 1572. As more people poured into the town, expansion took place. The Agustinians built visitas or chapels for churchgoers from the outskirts of Pasig, among which is Caniogan, part of the Immaculate Conception Parish, named after the patroness of Pasig.

The great earthquake in 1880 led to the construction of a new church, which was completed five years later. The chapel, which still stands up to this day along Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue, has been recognized as a historical site by the National Historical Institute.

Caniogan was formally established as the Sta. Clara de Montefalco Parish in February 1994. However, the chapel’s 150-person seating capacity proved inadequate for the thousands of parishioners.

When Llorca became parish priest of Sta. Clara de Montefalco in December 1994, he began dreaming of a bigger church so that everyone could hear Mass every Sunday without having to stand or stay outside the church. Msgr. Emmanuel Sunga, the parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Parish at that time, supported the idea.

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He presented the concept to the then Manila Archbishop, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, in 1995. Despite much discouragement from the cardinal, who thought the project too ambitious, Llorca was not disheartened. He conducted a survey in Brgy Caniogan, and 99 per cent of the people said they wanted a new church. Armed with the facts and strong belief in his fervent dream, he again presented the idea to Cardinal Sin. In 1996, the Cardinal gave the go signal.

Tallest in the Philippines

Architect Noli Bernardo, a UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts alumnus and designer of St. Peter’s Parish in Quezon City, drew the floor plan for the Sta. Clara de Montefalco Parish.

As the church was envisioned to hold more people than the Immaculate Conception Parish, Bernardo and Llorca thought of increasing the church’s height to give justice to the immense floor plan.

The finished church will have a dome rising to 53 meters, capped with a four-meter-high cross, increasing the church’s overall height to 57 meters.

The church will surpass the 52-meter high shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran.

Other plans for the church include: a 7,000-crypt ossuary, a belfry with carillon bells, and a mural inside the walls of the dome.

Llorca began the search for a lot big enough for the project. He chose an 11,230-square-meter lot two kilometers away from the old church as the new site.

“We chose this lot because this is owned by the Church (Lupang Pari), and because there are no problems with squatters and the land title,” he said.

Land filling started, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in August 1996. However, construction was halted in 1996 and 1998 because of lack of funds. Llorca borrowed money from friends, conducted raffles and built an ossuary to raise funds for the project, but he never considered borrowing money from international financial institutions.

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“The ossuary has been our main source of funding since we introduced it to the public,” Llorca said. “It has given us more (money) than what we need.”

After all the problems, the Sta. Clara de Montefalco church was finally inaugurated in 2004, though more work needs to be done.

An inside look

The Sta. Clara de Montefalco’s dome, patterned after the majestic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, greets visitors from less than a kilometer away. When finished, the dome will be accessible to pilgrims and tourists via an elevator at the back of the church.

A semi-circular ramp welcomes visitors to the church lobby. Two staircases in the front will also lead into the lobby. Llorca wanted to make the church more open to people, so he put up four more stairs in the sides, leading one inside the main church.

The hall has two floors: the ground floor, which can seat up to 2,000 people; and the balcony, which extends to the left and right sides of the church, with open space that can accommodate about another 500 people. Twenty tall windows, with clear glass panes, will soon be decorated with stained glass, each window depicting a mystery of the Holy Rosary. In the meantime, tarpaulin posters of the mysteries simulate the appearance of the windows.

The magnificent altar is adorned with intricate carvings themed after the coconut tree (the tree of life), and figures of the Crucifix, St. Joseph, the Immaculate Conception, and the parish’s patron saint, Sta. Clara de Montefalco in the center. Two minor retablos will also be constructed on both sides of the main altar. The church also has a seven-story rectory at the back, which 16 rooms for the use of priests.

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The ossuary, named Santuario del Amor Divino, or Sanctuary of Divine Love, is located at the ground floor, along with the parish office and the adoration chapel. The ossuary also has a chapel, with a stained-glass panorama depicting the risen Christ surrounded by people of all races in the background. Angels kneel in front of the altar, adorned by statues of the Risen Christ and St. Joseph carrying the baby Jesus. There are 17 ossuaries in the first phase of the project, each named after a saint. The 17 ossuaries combine to hold 2,848 crypts, with 70 per cent already occupied by donors.

Nearly there

Although the Sta. Clara de Montefalco Church is already standing, Llorca says there are still many things to do. He says the church is about 85 per cent complete.

The belfry is the only part of the church not yet built. Finishing touches still need to be done with the outer wall, the ceiling, and the windows. More crypts need to be built in the ossuary. The pavement and parking space need to be fixed, and the belfry, minor retablos and the sunken garden still need to be constructed.

Despite the tasks to be completed, Llorca is optimistic. Despite the controversial talks, he is happy to have realized a dream and an unusual feat—building the tallest beacon of faith in the country. N. S. Melican

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