THE MANILA Cathedral reopened its doors last April 9 after two years of renovation.

Also known as the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral now has a stronger foundation and more polished facade and interior.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle led the Eucharistic celebration for the reopening of the cathedral, which was attended by President Aquino III and Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, vice chair of the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica Foundation Inc. Board of Trustees, explained how the unstable situation of the Cathedral became a concern for both Manila residents and the church officials.

“It was Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales who motioned the Manila Cathedral Basilica Foundation to investigate the sturdiness of the structure of the cathedral,” de Villa said in a phone interview. “Earthquakes happened often, so he was afraid that the cathedral might be damaged.”

The cathedral was shut down on Feb. 7, 2012. The Archdiocese of Manila sought help from the engineering and architectural firm, Angel Lazaro and Associates International, to conduct the study on the cathedral's structural integrity.

Angel Lazaro III, managing partner of the engineering firm, said work done in the cathedral is called “retrofitting” or the strengthening of the structure's foundation.

After the foundation of the basilica was retrofitted and secured to be more resistant to tremors, it underwent technical and interior “overhauling.” Plumbing and electrical systems were fixed and arches and walls were renovated. Four carillon bells from the Netherlands were added to the 19 existing ones.

Lazaro added there were no changes to the architectural design. The plan was to stick to the church's original look, focusing on cultural and spiritual values.

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“Every effort was made to make sure that it will look exactly the same as it was before. We may not be able to bring back the exact and original design, but what is important is maintaining the religious content of the cathedral,” Lazaro said.

The Archdiocese of Manila held its liturgical celebrations and events in Paco Church while the renovation was going on. Now that the cathedral is structurally fit, the 2,000-seater church is just waiting for donors for the air-conditioning system, de Villa said.

The Manila Cathedral had been rebuilt countless times since it opened as a small nipa church in the 1500s.

A veteran to all kinds of calamities, the church was elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1581. It was declared a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

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