City parish offers solace amid distractions
By Myrna S. Bermudo
Established as a parish 25 years ago, San Francisco Church, located in downtown Naga City, continues to provide spiritual solace by providing more Sunday masses and confessions and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Friday.
Four to five priests are available to hear confessions every Friday, according to Fr. Wilfred Almoneda, parish priest. Considered a melting pot, “Churchgoers at San Francisco are mostly transients, not residents of barangay San Francisco. They are office workers, market vendors, students,” Fr. Almoneda said.
“The parish, located in downtown Naga, has no office lunch break, including Sundays, to serve the parishioners and those who come. During Sundays, there are eight masses in the morning from 5am to 12 noon and five masses in the afternoon from 3pm to 7pm, a total of 13 masses. We see to it that there’s regularity of Friday confessions; at 4:30pm there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament while four to five priests hear confessions.”
For Fr. Almoneda, being located in the city’s busy streets of the central business poses a challenge: it is the Church’s mission to provide a haven for those who seek peace and quiet especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“There are plenty of churchgoers here compared to the other city parishes because this church is the most accessible. Many churchgoers come here to hear Mass. There is also a need to provide more schedule for confessions aside from the Friday schedule. Why? Even after daily masses, people would come in lines to request for confessions,” explained Fr. Jhun Oliva, parochial vicar.
“Additional schedule will help uplift the spiritual life of those who come here: those who seek guidance, comfort, guide in decision making and spiritual comfort and thanksgiving for the blessings received. Office workers, boarders, students, business owners and those who live and work in the neighboring buildings. Care and comfort and a sanctuary of peace amid the surrounding distractions in life is what the San Francisco Parish offers to those who come and enter its church doors.”
The parish was established in February 20, 1998. Due to the Covid19 pandemic restrictions, the activities for the silver jubilee celebrations were limited.
The opening mass was held on October 4, 2022, Feast of St. Francis and the closing mass, on February 25, 2023. Activities were limited to outreach projects among children in the barangays of Dayangdang, Tinago and San Francisco.
The children are gathered every Saturday once a month in their respective barangays for regular feeding program and catechesis. Catechists, youth volunteers and the priests of the parish unite for the outreach. Regularity of the feeding program has attracted not only children but also their parents. Some have started joining the praying the rosary. The aim of the parish is to attract parishioners for catechesis and for the building of small Christian communities.
“We are also in the process of conducting a survey to get to know the parish demographics much better, thereby, come up with an authentic and credible parish profile. This parish profile will be used not only in organizing the SKK or Saradit na Kristyanong Komunidad, but also, in analyzing other needs and in facilitating applicable programs and services, “ said Majo Francisco, head of parish social service committee.
According to Fr. Almoneda, due to the pandemic, there was no pastoral council organized. Face to face meetings were kept at a minimum in observance of health protocols. Instead, a management committee (ManCom) is helping to implement pastoral programs. Now that the government has eased the restrictions, the parish has conducted team buildings for the members of the newly organized Parish Pastoral Council who were installed last February 20.
Fr. Almoneda was installed as the 5th parish priest of San Francisco Parish on October 15, 2021, in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic.
Connie De Guzman has served the parish for 25 years as a lector. For her, the parish church is significant because it is one of the old churches founded by the Franciscan missionaries.
“Sometime in 1577, the first Franciscan missionaries, Fray Pablo De Jesus and Fray Bartoleme Ruiz, arrived in the prosperous villages of Naga by way of the Bikol River and soon established the Convento de San Francisco.” This is an account in Pagsalingoy, published in commemoration of the 10th Foundation Anniversary of the parish.
“It is accessible to all, and churchgoers come from all walks of life. Accessibility of the church attracts people.” For de Guzman, the regular masses in the barangays help in making the presence of the church felt by the parishioners. She believes that the parish leaders need to have frequent dialogue with the people and listen to their needs.
The walls of the San Francisco church have undergone cleaning and painting last year due to accumulation of molds and dirt. It is now painted with the color similar to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Surrounded by modern business buildings, the church‘s color is brighter.
The parish believes that the church should always stand out in the business district. Located in downtown Naga with a unique structure, it is a reminder that the building is something holy, something set apart, something sacred and is distinct from the buildings that surround it.
In front of the church’ s façade, facing a busy road, stand the images of the two great pillars of the Catholic Faith namely, St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. This is a reminder that they are always present to guide the Church and the faithful.
“The church’s location speaks that God’s presence can also be experienced within the bustling, commerce-oriented area of Naga. When a person goes to Naga centro, it’s either for an errand or that they work around the area. The church’s location makes attending mass accessible and possible for people on-the-go. The San Francisco church has also been people’s “stop-over” area where they would pause briefly to pray, to rest or to recollect thoughts,” Francisco said. Aside from being the coordinator for social service committee, she is also a lector and commentator.
The church’s Friday services -- the Confessions and Holy Hour -- provide a prayerful environment wherein the image of the Merciful Father is made present to the faithful. For Francisco, these services work hand-in-hand. “Based on experience and from what I typically hear penitents say, “napadaan lang ako ng San Francisco, tapos...”. While there are those who would intentionally go to the parish on Fridays to spend time with God and be reconciled with Him, it has been a recurring story of many that they only happened to pass by, had the idea of entering the premises, sat there in the presence of God and next thing they know, they had gone to confession. With these services, the San Francisco Parish has been instrumental in providing an atmosphere that encourages the faithful to reflect/introspect and eventually direct them towards reconciliation with God.”
“As to why these services attract people... I believe it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. God, alone, is enticing. God, alone, is attractive. God, Himself, calls His people back Him,” Francisco reflected.
Caceres Archbishop Rolando J. Tirona, OCD, Fr. William Parde, Jr. and some Caceres clergy pose in front of the original image of Nstra. Sñra Pronto Socorro, Reina Del Pueblo Buhi after the episcopal coronation held at St. Francis of Assisi Parish Buhi on May 6, 2023 ( CCCom Photo)