The Jesuit-administered Archdiocesan Shrine of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Cebu City is unique.
It is the only Roman Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Cebu that is classified as a “personal” parish for the Chinese-Filipino community of Cebu, with territorial jurisdiction. And because many of its parishioners and churchgoers come from the middle-class to the upper middle-class, the parish has been perceived to be “elitist.”
“Sacred Heart (parish) has always been perceived to be rich and for the elite,” said Rev. Fr. Archie Carampatan, S.J., outgoing parish priest. He has served in Sacred Heart for the past 19 months and will soon assume a new post in Australia. (Fr. Felipe Bacalso is the acting parish priest.)
Unknown to many, however, the Parish Pastoral Council, accompanied by its parish priests, previous and current, has quietly undertaken programs and activities that serve the Anawim (the lost, the least, and the last). They hope to erase the notion that the parish only caters to the well-heeled.
“What we are trying to bridge are the rich, mostly of Chinese ethnicity, and the territorial parishioners who come from the four chapels under the jurisdiction of the parish. There is one territorial representative who sits in the Parish Pastoral Council,” said Wilfredo “Boie” Chy, Parish Pastoral Council chairman and Parish Caritas Council coordinator.
For the past 25 years and without fanfare, Sacred Heart parish has been paying it forward through programs and projects that reach out to the marginalized sectors.
Both Fr. Carampatan and Chy single out their college scholarship program for indigent but deserving students as one having a long-term impact. Its scholars are enrolled at the University of Cebu under a partnership agreement with the school. The success rate is high, with only an average of two out of 20 scholars dropping out midway. Five are currently in the dean’s list. One graduate who is now making good donated two brand new computer tables for the parish’s “internet cafe,” where the scholars can attend online classes.
Parish helping parish
Aside from education, the Sacred Heart Parish Caritas has its “Parish Helping Parish” program, where pails containing ten kilos of rice, canned goods, noodles and hygiene kits were handed out to city parishes in need By Christmas of 2021, they had reached out to 18 parishes.
“It was the right time for us to share the blessings we have and to give to other parishes that were hard up because there was no income at the height of the pandemic because there were no in-person Masses. We’re so gifted so we share,” Chy said.
“The plan is to make this a 500 Years of Christianity legacy project of the parish,” Chy added. For the parish fiesta celebration in June, they plan to expand it to other parishes outside the city and, at the same time, spread the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“Before the distribution of the pails, we plan to give a 20-minute talk on the devotion,” he said.
In the next eight years, they plan to distribute 6,000 pails containing food and hygiene kits to all 170 parishes of the Archdiocese.
After super typhoon Odette, the Sacred Heart Parish Caritas handed out relief goods to hard-hit parishes in Cebu province.
After super typhoon Yolanda ravaged fishing communities in the northern part of Cebu province, Sacred Heart Parish, through its volunteers, formed fishermen’s organizations and distributed hundreds of donated fiberglass boats. Two fisher-families shared one boat.
Under Project Stella Maris, the Parish Pastoral Council conducted values formation sessions with them.
One success story in this project was the Juan Nepomuceno Fishermen’s Association in Barangay Tuminhao, Daanbantayan, which further strengthened the group even long after Yolanda. They elected a set of officers and were the beneficiaries of 26 new boats. They sell their catch to the association president.
During pre-pandemic times, the Sacred Heart Parish Men’s and Ladies’ Association spearheaded a project called “Helping Hand,” where 500 food packs were distributed weekly to communities in need. This ran for over a year but was stopped because of the lockdown. One of the beneficiaries of this project was the Zapatera Elementary School.
In its place, soup kitchens called “Food Stations” were set up beginning May 2021 when movement restrictions were slowly eased. On Mondays and Fridays, 150 packs of rice toppings are given to the Blessed Sacrament Parish, and on Wednesdays, to dwellers on Mabini Street near the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.
Caritas showers for street dwellers
In July 2021, the Sacred Heart Parish Caritas built a two-stall shower room for street dwellers. The facility is open every day from eight in the morning to 12 noon. It averages 15 users daily.
Fr. Carampatan notes that the number of persons who avail of the free shower, complete with soap and shampoo, increases on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when they have the soup kitchen.
“When I saw people who were hungry and dirty, I decided to go around and distribute leaflets to street dwellers so they would be made aware that a shower facility was available in the parish compound.
“We want to change the image of the parish as ‘elite” by doing all these charitable works,” says Fr. Carampatan.
The latest project of the Sacred Heart Parish Caritas is the greenhouse, which uses hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil. During the lockdown, when gardening became a hobby and made “plantitos” and “plantitas” out of many of us, the question was asked: Why not plant edible plants instead? And so, the parish’s Ecology Ministry led by Robert Tiu, set out to implement the Caritas Greenhouse project.
The parish organically grows lettuce in its demo greenhouse. It hopes to encourage its parishioners and visitors to engage in this type of farming which uses less water than traditional soil-based systems. According to research, hydroponic growing allows for faster growth and higher yields than traditional soil-based growing systems. Both Fr. Carampatan and Chy said they hope to sell their first harvest at 300 pesos a kilo very soon. The parish also has its own vermicomposting pit.
Medical and dental services
Over the years, the parish has been giving out both free and discounted medicines and vitamins through its clinic. It also successfully held a one-day medical mission, with about a thousand patients availing of free medical consultations and treatment from 30 volunteer doctors.
Two years ago, with the help of a Manila-based doctor and some nurse volunteers, it conducted a weeklong free cataract removal for some 150 patients.
Fr. Carampatan is optimistic that his successors will continue the projects began under his watch and those of his predecessors.
“With the institutionalization of Parish Caritas, we can empower the lay in the parish to continue the charitable works and projects,” he says.
For Chy, his hope is that the 30 mandated organizations in the parish can get together and consolidate their plans to better serve those in need.
(For more about Parish Caritas in the Archdiocese of Cebu, please read: Parish Caritas in Cebu: Serving the Anawim.)
Attorney Paredes is a Trustee of Cebu Caritas, Inc. and Member of the Good Governance Committee. Before her retirement, she led the Public Affairs division for Visayas and Mindanao of Smart Communications, Inc. She used to work in media both for print and broadcast.