Kapampangan artist gets top Papal award

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- Kapampangan sculptor and ecclesiastical artist Wilfredo “Willy” Tadeus Layug has been honored by the Roman Catholic Church with the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (For the Church and the Pope) or “Cross of Honor” medal--the highest medal that can be awarded by the Papacy--for his contributions in making last year’s Papal visit a success.

Layug is the first and only Kapampangan so far to be honored with the gold medal, which was established by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888 to commemorate his golden jubilee and was originally bestowed on men and women who aided and promoted the jubilee, and by other means assisted in making the jubilee and the Vatican Exposition successful.

The son of a simple boatman who started sculpting at five years old using clay, Layug created the image of Our Lady of Palo used by Pope Francis in the Holy Mass in Tacloban. He now joins the elite rank of four other “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” Filipino awardees which include musician and composer Ryan Cayabyab, noted liturgist and theologian Dom Anscar Chupungco, OSB, Jesuit composer and Cebu politician-writer Mariano Jesus Diosomito Cuenco and musician Rev. Fr. Eduardo Pardo Hontiveros.

Other recipients of the Cross of Honor depicting the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul with the inscriptions “Pro Ecclesia” and “Et Pontifice” are Queen Paola of Belgium; Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois; Queen Fabiola of Belgium; multi-awarded Spanish historian Fidel Villarroe; Japanese writer Ayako Sono; and American physician and former US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Vice-Admiral Regina Marcia Benjamin.

Proud, humbled

During a press conference on Friday prior to the official conferment of the award on March 8 at the Metropolitan Cathedral in this city, Layug said he is proud for “being noticed by the Church for his contributions” yet feels “humbled by it all especially with the responsibility that goes with the honor.”

“I am proud that a simple ‘santero’ or ‘magluluma’ now called an ecclesiastical artist has been noticed by the Pope. I am happy my work and contribution to the Church has been recognized. Yet, I feel humbled because there is a big responsibility that goes with it. Iyun bang ngayon, lahat ng tao ay nakatingin sa iyo and that I have to do better,” he said.

Layug admitted he did not know who “nominated” or “recommended” him for the honor since the process was confidential and kept in wraps.

“I only got to know about it when after we came from the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, when [Lingayen-Dagupan] Archbishop Socrates Villages called me up the following Tuesday asking me to come to Dagupan at 3:00 p.m. for what he said was a ‘project design.’ To my surprise, what he presented we was the Papal bull or scroll certificate and the red box containing the medal. He just said ‘O, Papal awardee ka na.’ I didn’t know what to say,” he furthered.

“And having it now makes me think of the responsibility. Dapat gamitin sa tama at makatulong sa lahat,” he added.

Go on with ecclesiastical art

Layug said that he will pursue his craft in ecclesiastical art, having inspired by the Vatican award.

“As my friend Eric Cerrudo told me, our contributions to the Church have been recognized. And that will serve as the spirit, so to speak, for me to move on into improving ecclesiastical art,” he said.

The Kapampangan artist from Betis in Guagua is the first Filipino to up the first ever Filipiniana-inspired altar dedicated to Filipino Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Blessed Pedro Calungsod at the prestigious Pontifico Collegio Filippino. He has done major retablos including that at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Nueva Ecija, the St. john Cathedral in Lingayen-Dagupan, San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod aqnd Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion in Urdaneta, Pangasinan.

Layug, a presidential merit awardee for his outstanding achievement in ecclesiastical art, was also named Outstanding Guaguaeño for sculptor, Most Outstanding Kapampangan for ecclesiastical art and Best Actor in the 39th Metro Manila Film Festival for “Dukit,” an autobiography of his life as an artist. He is the most accomplished sculptor of his time. (JTD)

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