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San Jose Monasteryo

The Department of Tourism in Central Luzon recently cited the Monasterio de Tarlac as "the most revered pilgrimage site" in the region "on account of its spiritual prominence as the shrine of the sacred relic of the true cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified and died."

The relic is contained in a silver reliquary housed in an ornately decorated glass case on one of the altars of the Church of the Risen Christ in the sprawling monastery where one also finds a 30-foot statue of the Risen Christ.

Atop the imposing altar is the Latin inscription Ave, Crux, Spes, Unica, which means "Hail, the Holy Cross, Our Only Hope."

"We expect it to become the center of spirituality this Holy Week," said DOT regional director Ronnie Tiotuico.

He said the relic is the only one of its kind in the entire Asia and is now under the ministerial care of the Servants of the Risen Christ, a monastic congregation led by its prior, Frater Ronal Thomas Cortez.

The congregation has only 30 contemplative monks or religious brothers nationwide. They are also called "frater" to the Catholic community.

Tiotuico said Msgr. Volker Bauer of Germany turned over the sacred relic to Prior Cortez during the 2005 World Youth Day held in Essen, Germany.

In Essen, he said Bauer first informed Cortez about plans to turn over the relic to the Philippines. Last Jan. 29, Bauer flew into the country with the relic, which was first brought to a church at the Clark Freeport before being transferred to its final destination at the Monasterio de Tarlac.

At the monastery, Papal Nuncio Rev. Fr. Fernando Filoni and Tarlac Bishop Florentino Cinense led the "dedication" ceremonies.

Since then, Tiotuico said the number of pilgrims to the site has swelled, prompting the monks to hold 10 a.m. Masses on Saturdays and Sundays.

"After the Mass, the faithful are allowed to have a closer look at the cross fragment in the reliquary to pay homage and be blessed spiritually," he said.

Starting Sept. 14 this year when the entire Christendom commemorates the anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Tiotuico said the silver case containing the relic would be opened for public veneration.

In 1963, the Catholic Church declared Sept. 14 of every year as the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The DOT recalled that the veneration of the true cross of Jesus Christ started in the fourth century.

"According to Christian tradition, when Emperor Constantine granted religious freedom to Christians in the Roman Empire in 313 A.D., his mother, Queen Helena, later in 326 A.D., made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to locate those places sacred to Christians and found the authentic cross of Jesus," the DOT said in a statement promoting pilgrimages to the Tarlac monastery.

"Queen Helena had churches built in many of these sacred sites, such as the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, the exact place where Jesus was born. She also found the true cross buried under a pagan temple as well the nails used to crucify Jesus, and the title that was affixed to the cross," it added.

Queen Helena was said to have verified the true cross among the three that were unearthed under the temple, as it produced miracles, including the return to life of a dead girl when her body was placed on a part of the cross.

"She left part of the cross in Jerusalem, gave some parts to her son in Constantinople, and took other parts back to Rome where the Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem was built," the DOT said.

"Pieces of the cross were venerated as holy relics, and fragments were given as gifts to many churches in Europe," it added.

Tarlac Gov. Jose Yap developed the 278-hectare Tarlac Ecotourism Park where the Monasterio de Tarlac is located.

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