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Mercy Beyond the Grave

The Mercy of Apung Mamacalulu: the Sto. Entierro of Angeles City

by Joel V. Ocampo

Every last Friday of October, the Feast of the Apung Mamacalulu is celebrated in Angeles City. In this city, in the province of Pampanga, there is a devotion to Apung Mamacalulu, the Sto. Entierro. If in Quiapo Church, the devotees of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno come to ask and receive Poong Nazareno’s grace, in Pampanga, the devotees come to Apung Mamacalulu to ask for His mercy.

Apung Mamacalulu, literally “the Lord who bestows mercy” is the image of the dead Christ, the Christ in the Holy Sepulchre. He is also called “Apu”, the Kapampangan’s term of endearment for Apung Mamacalulu. This image of the dead Christ bestows mercy beyond His grave.

The Birth of the Devotion to Apung Mamacalulu

The devotion to Apung Mamacalulu of the faithful in Angeles City began when Fr. Macario Paras, the parish priest of Holy Rosary Parish from 1829 to 1842, gifted the parish with an image of the Sto. Entierro, said to have been sculpted by a sculptor named Buenaventura. Initially, Fr. Paras installed the Apung Mamacalulu image for veneration in his family’s premises in old Talimundoc (now Lourdes Sur), and then donated it to the parish church in 1872.

According to the records of Don Mariano Henson and the Center for Kapampangan Studies, the image was acquired in 1834, but the devotion to Apung Mamacalulu grew in 1897 as a response of the community to a crisis situation. During this year, Pro-Spain Cazadores arrived in the town and their presence in the town heightens tension among the people, especially after arresting those they suspect of coddling or joining revolutionaries. As a result, local principales petition the parish priest, Fray Rufino Santos, OSA, to start a Quinario, a five-day novena in honor of the Five Wounds of the Sto. Entierro (Apung Mamacalulu). Thus, the tradition of celebrating Fiestang Apu on the last Friday of October begins.

In the same year, a man named Roman Payumu, arrested on suspicion of being a Katipunero, sentenced to die by firing squad, miraculously escaped death during the Quinario. While he was being led to his execution at the back of the church, he turned to the image of the Apung Mamacalulu in one of the side altars of the church and prayed, “Oh my Merciful Lord! Can’t you see me? They clubbed me and hit me in spite of my innocence! Now they’re even going to kill me! Oh My God, turn your merciful gaze upon me! Please arise from Your recline and come out to me! Embrace me tightly and enfold me with Your holy robe and save me, and cast away my executioners!” After praying, the ropes loosen, and he manages to flee to the nearby sugarcane field, thus surviving death.

Because of the miracles attributed to the image of Apung Mamacalulu, a descendant of the Paras family caused the image of Apung Mamacalulu to be forcibly taken during a procession in 1928. In March 25, 1929, the Supreme Court En Banc issued a resolution on the case filed by the Archdiocese of Manila (the Diocese of San Fernando had not yet been created) as the complainant and the descendants of the Paras family as defendants. The court ordered the defendants to return the image and carriage to the church.

The Mercy Continues

Until this time, many come to Apung Mamacalulu to ask for mercy. In the study made by Dr. Homer J. Yabut of De La Salle University-Manila, the devotees flock to Apu in order to show their faith to Him, to express their gratitude for all the blessings, and some come to ask for supplication. For other devotees, they feel the presence of God when they go to Apu, and they experience a stronger faith in God despite the many hardships in life. Some devotees even leave a petition letter under the mantle of the image of Apung Mamacalulu. These letters are prayers for healing, financial assistance, success in board examination, successful job interview, etc. The volunteers of Apung Mamacalulu collect these letters. What is surprising is that after some weeks, another letter of thanksgiving for an answered prayer was written with the same penmanship on the previous letter.

According to His Excellency Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D., the then Auxiliary Bishop of San Fernando and parish priest of Holy Rosary Parish, Angeles City, “The proper disposition for one who wishes to meet the Apu is humility...the admission of one’s wretchedness, sinfulness, one’s need for God’s mercy. He bestows mercy on those who have the humility to admit that they are poor (kalulu) themselves, that they need His ‘pakalulu’ (mercy). No wonder the devotees who line up patiently to touch the Apu ask, seek, and knock in humble supplication.”

Mensahe ni Apu

Because of these stories, in January 2011, Bishop David introduced the Mensahe Ni Apu (Message of the Lord). Bishop David printed the words of Jesus Christ, written in the Four Gospel on colorful sheets of paper, placed them in a jar and told the parishioners to pick one. He said, “Today is National Bible Sunday. On this day, the Lord Jesus wants to give his message to all present in this place. So, pray to Him, pick a sheet of paper, and that will be His message to you.”

After some months, during the Season of Lent, Bishop David formally launched the Mensahe ni Apu in the Archdiocesan Shrine of Christ our Lord of the Holy Sepulcher, commonly known as Apung Mamacalulu Shrine. In this shrine, devotees line up towards the miraculous image of Apung Mamacalulu. Before reaching the image, devotees write their Mensahe kay Apu (Message/Prayer to the Lord). Then, they will pray to Apung Mamacalulu, the Lord who bestows mercy. Afterwards, the faithful will pick the Mensahe ni Apu in a box, placed near the image.

Oftentimes, devotees share that the Mensahe ni Apu for them is really the answer to their prayers. A devotee once shared that he went to Apu, prayed for his coming board examination, then received, “O you of little faith, why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). He took another one and got, “Do not worry...O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:25-34). Another devotee shared that he had a misunderstanding with a fellow parish volunteer, then he got this Mensahe ni Apu, “Go and be reconciled first with your brother or sister” (Matthew 5:24). Still another devotee, a college student, looking for financial resources to pay his tuition fee, suddenly received ₱10,000, went to Apu and received this message, “You will see greater things than these...” (John 1:50b).

Since the shrine is located near two hospitals, many people seek for miraculous healing. The Word of God through the Mensahe ni Apu became their source of strength as they received, “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34); “I do will it; be cured” (Mark 1:41); “Go! It will be done as you believe it would” (Matthew 9:29); “How great is your faith! Your wish will be granted” (Matthew 15:28); “With God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27b).

As for the students, studying in the nearby schools, praying for success in studies, some shared getting the following Mensahe ni Apu: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18); “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14); “Do not worry about tomorrow; let tomorrow worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34); “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Luke 6:38b); “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Some parents who got “Let the children come to me...for to such as these belong the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14), continued bringing their children closer to the Lord. There were also conversion stories from people who lived a sinful life in the past on how the Word of God changed their lives after receiving these Mensahe ni Apu, “I have come to call not the righteous, but the sinners” (Matthew 9:13b); “So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do unto you...” (Matthew 7:12); “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12); “Go, sin no more!” (John 5:14 or 8:11); “My child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

Center of Mercy

Finally, the Word of the God, through the Mensahe ni Apu gave birth to the “Sentru ning Pacalulu” (Center of Mercy), the social action center of the shrine. This happened after some devotees who received miracles from Apu, after thanking the Lord for the blessing received these Mensahe ni Apu: “Go and tell the whole world what God in His goodness has done for you” (Mark 5:19); “Give, and you will be given a good measure, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38a); “Let your light shine before people that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16); “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven...” (Matthew 6:19); “You have received freely; you must give freely” (Matthew 10:8b); “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple...will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). These devotees who received mercy, ended up becoming instruments of God’s mercy to other people.

The Life-giving Death of Apung Mamacalulu

In one of his homilies, Bishop Pablo David said,

"I used to think of the devotion to the icon of a dead Christ as morbid and inconsistent with our faith in the resurrection. My appreciation for the solid Christology that went with this devotion came about only after some conversations with devotees. I remember asking one of them: “Why the fixation on the icon of a dead Christ, when we know he was raised back to life?” Here’s an answer that floored me. “Oh but my devotion to Apu is not about fixation on a dead Christ! It is about finding strength and life in the death of God.” I laughed in amusement at the devotee’s use of the expression “death of God”. It reminded me of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the revered father of postmodern thought. What he was prophesying was the apparent demise of religion or the idea of God, which he thought was already happening in Europe. But I was quite sure this old devotee had never read Nietzsche nor even heard of him. So, I just said, “Maybe you mean the Death of Christ. God cannot die; He is eternal.” I replied to him with a patronizing tone. The old man retorted just as quickly, “But haven’t you been telling us that Jesus is God? True God and true Man? He died; didn’t He?” I was stunned by his reply. It made me hold back my imaginary theological cue cards. If Jesus indeed was the incarnate Son of God how could I attribute his death only to his humanity? I remember how my Christology professor at Loyola had explained to us that most of the Christological heresies in the past always had to do with tendencies to dichotomize between the divinity and humanity of the one person of Christ. God, in embracing humanity in Jesus Christ, had indeed embraced our death as well. It would not be a sound theology to say only the human Jesus experienced suffering and death. Suddenly I was genuinely interested in what this old man had to say about his devotion to the “death of God” in Apu. He went on. He said “We are afraid of death because it means the end of life for us. Not with the death of Christ. His death puts an end to death itself; it gives life.” And so, he could understand why people who contemplated on the death of Apu would leave strengthened, revitalized, and hopeful. The devotion to the Apu, he said, was an invitation to touch the lifegiving death of God in Christ."

Prayer to Apung Mamacalulu

By Bishop Pablo David (2011)

I come to You, O Apung Mamacalulu

with all that weighs down my soul,

with all my worries and anxieties,

with all the trials that confront me,

with all that troubles my heart and my mind,

with all the needs of the people I love,

with all my sins and weaknesses,

with my frail faith,

with my wavering trust,

with my imperfect love.

I come to You like the woman who had been bleeding for years so that like her, I, too, would be cured by just touching the hem of Your garment.

I come to You like that leper who begged for Your mercy so that You would touch me and heal me, so that You would cleanse my soul and my body, so that You would grant me a new life and new sense of purpose.

I come to You to commend my loved ones to Your care like the people who brought their paralytic friend before You so that he could be touched by You.

I too, dear Lord am longing to bring my loved ones closer to You so that they too would get the chance to hear Your comforting words, so that by the power of Your grace their wobbly knees and drooping spirits would regain strength, so that they would not falter and fall or lose their way again.

I come to You O Apung Mamacalulu like the Canaanite woman, who pleaded and begged on behalf of her sick daughter and believed in the goodness of Your heart and in Your infinite mercy and compassion for the helpless. Like her, I count on Your grace like a dog waiting for scraps to fall from the master’s table.

I come to You like the woman accused of adultery, who was bound to be stoned by the self-righteous, because I know that You are merciful, and that You alone can forgive my shortcomings, You alone can shield me from shame, and You alone can lift me up.

I come to You like St. Peter when You appeared to him and he almost drowned in shame, when You invited him to break bread with You so that he could reaffirm his love for You, despite his repeated denials of ever knowing You at the hour of Your trial.

I come to You, like the disciples on their way to Emmaus so that like them, I, too, could walk with You and find enlightenment along the way, so that through Your divine words my heart, grown cold and numb and shrouded in darkness, would be set aflame and find light in Your love, so that I would sense and appreciate Your presence in our midst and find the strength to confront the realities that I have always been avoiding.

I surrender everything to You, O Apung Mamacalulu – all that I have and all that I am because You alone are my Lord and my God, You who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

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