Church treasures recovered; police arrest suspected thief

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


GUAGUA -- Parishioners of Santiago Apostol Parish in Guagua's Betis District here can now breathe a sigh of relief as joint efforts of the Caloocan and Guagua police led to the recovery of the recently stolen century-old images of the Nuestra dela Consolacion y Correa and Sto. Nino and the arrest of one suspect.

Parish Pastoral Council president Banjo Serrano told Sun.Star Pampanga that the Northern Caloocan police led by Police Superintendent Bernard Tambaoan turned over, on the eve of July 1, suspect Jeffrey Quintos; 29, a resident of Barangay San Jose in Macabebe town, after found to be in possession of the stolen Sto. Nino. The suspect was arrested along Bonifacio Monument Circle (Monumento) in Caloocan City. The suspect was allegedly in the act of selling the image.

The image, ivory head and two sets of detached hands and feet, was turned-over to the Guagua police. Serrano said that the image was confirmed to be the missing image and was formally turned over to Rev. Fr. Ray dela Cruz, the parish priest of Santiago Apostol Parish for safekeeping.

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Guagua police chief Inspector Angelito Estaban told reporters that they were able to track down the location of the other missing image after interrogating the suspect who gave details on their whereabouts. The image was tracked down in a remote area in Barangay San Basilio in Santa Rita town, a town near Guagua. Police recovered the ivory head and a set of ivory hands.

The two images were stolen from their altar inside the Santiago Apostol Church last June 30. The church has been declared a National Cultural Treasure shrine, since 2013. The image of the Child Jesus was previously stolen during the Betis district's feast day last December 2013 but was returned to the church after it was bought by a certain Tom Joven.

The local church authorities tried to put up closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras but these were not yet operational during the latest theft incident.

Meanwhile, the local police are currently investigating other possible accomplices of the suspect.

Guagua Mayor Dante Torres, who was formerly part of the parish finance committee, said that they will now be implementing stricter ways of safeguarding the images. He added that there is plan to have it kept and only to be shown to the public on during the town’s Fiesta.

It was found out that before the recent incident, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David who is also director of the Archdiocese of San Fernando’s church heritage commission was said to have tried to persuade the Betis Parish Pastoral Council “to commission a replica of the image and entrust the safekeeping of the original to the archdiocesan museum.”

“They refused, of course, and assured us that they could secure it themselves. Perhaps now our archdiocesan commission need not persuade them anymore about the safekeeping of the other heritage pieces that remain in the Betis church,” Bishop David told reporters of a national daily.

Fr. Dela Cruz said that they will be meeting with the PPC on the next steps to take for the safekeeping of the images and the how to prevent further incidents of theft of church treasures here.

The ivory images of the Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion y Correa and the Niño Jesus are among the many religious treasures left by the Augustinian Order that founded the first mission church in the town.

The two images are dressed with cloth cinctures (correa) around their waists. This came from the story of how St. Monica "in a vision received a black leather belt from the Blessed Virgin, who assured the holy widow that she would take under her special protection all those who wore it in her honor. In return, Monica gave it to her son, Augustine who later changed his ways and eventually became one of the saints in the Roman Catholic Church."

However this story may just only be embellishment, as Religious Orders, not just the Augustinians, have the tradition of dressing the image of the Virgin Mary according to their religious habits. The cincture is also part of the monastic habit of the Augustinians.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on July 03, 2014.

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