SCULPTOR Wilfredo Layug was conferred the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award, the Holy See’s highest recognition for the laity, for his ecclesiastical art, joining the Thomasian roster of papal awardees.

Layug, 57, received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award, which translates to “For the Church and Pope,” during Holy Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Pampanga offered by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas last March 8.

Layug joins the list of Thomasian papal awardees such as Chief Justice Andres Narvasa (1977), former Graduate School Dean Magdalena Villaba (1987), Dr. Milagros Fernandez (1984) and Benedictine liturgist Fr. Anscar Chupungco (2013).

In a phone interview with the Varsitarian, Layug said he was overwhelmed in receiving the papal honor.

“Diba Katoliko tayo, mahal natin ang Holy Father. Kapag binigyan ka ng ganitong karangalan, [nakaka-overwhelm]. Sinurpresa ako ni Archbishop Socrates Villegas [nung binigay ang award na ito],” Layug said.

Asked what works he considers his masterpieces, the sculptor cited the retablo behind the altar he had donated to the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome and his “Our Lady of Hope,” a seven-foot Marian image placed at the sanctuary during the Mass of Pope Francis in Leyte last year.

Layug, who was unable to finish his fine arts degree in 1983 due to financial problems, said the identity of his works stemmed from the “hyperrealism” concept, describing his pieces as having “almost real” skin texture.

He said that when he was young, he sculpted a UST-inspired wooden piece, as his mother really wanted him to study in the Pontifical University.

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As a student in 1981, Layug was asked by the government of President Ferdinand Marcos to restore the woodwork of the Fort Santiago gate in Intramuros, Manila.

He underwent apprenticeship in Spain in the 1990s.

In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit Award by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In 2013, he was the subject of “Dukit,” a full-feature film in the Metro Manila Film Festival’s New Wave Category by acclaimed screenwriter Armando Lao.

On June 2, he will finally receive his bachelor’s degree as a Rector’s Scholar, together with his son Josef, also a student of the College of Fine Arts and Design.

“Na-develop ko ‘yung style na ‘to. Hindi kasi parang paggising mo may talent kang ganito. It’s also inborn. I believe it’s inborn in my younger days na nakakapagtrabaho na ako ng clay,” the Pampanga-based sculptor said. “‘Yung tradition dito ng wood carving matagal na sa Betis [in Pampanga]. ‘Yun ang base ko. Tapos, in-improve ko lang ‘yun. Nakatulong ‘yung UST sa akin sa paghubog ng talent na ‘yun. Hindi naman madali iyon. Kailangan mo talagang lumabas, i-expose sa lahat.”

Other notable works include altarpieces in chapels, churches and cathedrals across the country such as Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, Dagupan and Urdaneta in Pangasinan, San Jose, Nueva Ecija and at Loyola Memorial Park in Parañaque. Jerome P. Villanueva

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