PREMIER ecclesiastical sculptor Wilfredo Layug, who recently received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal—the Pope’s highest distinction to the laity—finally earned his UST diploma after a 30-year hiatus at the 2016 Solemn Investitures last June 2.

Layug graduated from the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) with the Pope Pius XII Community Development Award for his achievements as an ecclesiastical sculptor together with his youngest son Joseph.

Born on December 5, 1959, Layug grew up in a household of devout Catholics in Betis, Pampanga, one of the country’s centers of woodcarving.

At the tender age of five, he was already molding clays by the riverbank and casting an adoring look at the religious icons displayed in their house, wanting to make replicas of them.

“I was already feeling that sense of urgency which pushed me to be inclined to art at a young age and without prior knowledge,” he said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

A government scholar in high school, he was offered a tertiary education sponsorship by Pampanga Governor Estelito Mendoza who suggested that a fine arts program in UST would hone his skills.

Layug enrolled in the second semester of academic year 1979-1980 and majored in Painting.

He earned the first prize in UST’s 1982 annual on-the-spot painting Contest and became a finalist in the 1982 Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz Martyr painting contest, an on-the-spot painting competition commemorating the martyr’s beatification.

He considers Assistant Professor Danilo Santiago, current Painting Department chair of CFAD, as his mentor and one of his greatest inspirations during his stay in the University.

Although he finished his thesis, which was wood carving and relief, Layug was not able to graduate because of deficiences in four courses—the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Physical Education, Taxation and Philippine Government and Constitution—due to financial and emotional challenges.

Layug said he never thought he would complete it and graduate 32 years later.

After CFAD Regent Fr. Edgardo Alaruin, O.P. witnessed Layug’s prowess in sculpting when the latter held a workshop during the annual CFAD week, he encouraged Layug to come back to the University.

“I attended the same class with my son and had a professor younger than me,” Layug said.

Meeting the Pope

Layug received the papal award last March 8 at the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Pampanga. He said he would now have to face challenge of becoming a more responsible Catholic because the status “papal awardee” wiould be ascribed to his name for the rest of his life.

The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award which in Latin translates to “For the Church and Pope” is conferred by the Holy See to the laity for distinguished services to the Catholic Church.

Layug was honored for his retablos, a devotional painting in Mexican folk art, and sculptures, including a seven-foot tall wooden sculpture of “Our Lady of Hope of Palo” displayed in Tacloban during a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on January 17, 2015.

Two months later, Layug had the opportunity to meet and thank the Holy Father during his visit to the Vatican City.

“When I showed him pictures of my works used in the Papal visit along with the Our Lady of Hope of Palo, he turned to the Marian image and prayed,” he said.

Filipinized Marian images

Asked why he did not create the traditional image of the Virgin Mary in white and blue robes, Layug said he wanted to create something unique and special for the Holy Father.

“Why copy a Western image when we have our own to offer? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so I took the chance,” Layug said.

The Our Lady of Hope of Palo, inspired by Marian images Dolorosa and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, remains as Layug’s magnum opus. It depicts a tearful Mary dressed in Filipiniana with a black veil holding the infant Jesus who extends a rosary to another child clinging to the Blessed Mother’s skirt.

Layug emphasized how the Our Lady of Hope of Palo is not only about the “Yolanda” and other natural tragedies in the Visayan region, but also about the care for the environment in the spirit of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care of creation.

However, when he was conceptualizing the Filipinized Marian image, priests from parishes of Palo, Leyte advised him to ask for the permission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The priests then saw that a Korean Marian image was given to the Pope upon his visit to the country, which then gave the much-awaited go signal to the sculptor.

His other works displayed during the papal visit were the “Crucified Christ,” the centerpiece of the Quirino grandstand mass, an altar table crucifix used in Manila Cathedral made specially for the papal visit, and the “Filipina Immaculada,” a two-foot Marian image clad in traditional Filipiniana—Layug’s personal gift to Pope Francis.

“Dukit,” Layug’s biopic, won awards at the 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival, namely Best Director, Best Picture and Best Actor. The film was directed by Armando Lao and produced by Thomasian director Brillante Mendoza.

A book about his life as an artist and an art catalogue of his numerous works is set to be released around September this year.


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