MANILA— The longing is never far away. But neither is the hope.
More than four decades after a thief left a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel headless and handless, church authorities are still hoping that they would find its way home soon.
Their return, Augustinian Recollect Fr. Rommel Rubia said, would also put a special meaning as the country will mark the 400th anniversary of the icon’s arrival in the Philippines next year.
“Hopefully by next year they will be returned. It will be a big challenge for us but we will never know,” said Rubia, head of the Order’s Commission on Culture, Heritage and History.
The priest rallied the devotees to help in searching for the statue’s head and hands made of ivory, which are believed to still within the country.
“Let us all work for the return of the original ivory head and hands of the Virgin,” he said.
Fr. Joy Zabala, Rector of the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian, said the exact whereabouts of the stolen parts of the Marian statue remain unknown.
But initial information reaching his office, he said, revealed that the ivories were sold to an antique collector.
“So the thief already profited from it,” Zabala said.
A gift from the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Mexico, the image arrived along with an Augustinian Recollect mission to Manila in 1618.
She remains the patroness of what is now the San Sebastian Basilica in Quiapo, Manila, and devotion to her and the Holy Scapular of Carmel continues to run deep among many Catholics.
In 1991, Saint John Paul II himself declared the country’s only all-steel building a Shrine of the Canonically Crowned Image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
It was in July 1975 when the original ivory head and hands of the statue were stolen from the main retablo of the church.
Zabala said they are willing to negotiate for the return of the icon’s ivory parts “but just the same we need to identify the person who bought them”.
“If they want to return it quietly then no questions asked… thank you!” he said. “And if you want us to buy it again then tell us and we will raise the funds in order to recover them.” CBCPNews