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At shrine, prayers under lock and key

LUCBAN, Quezon—At Kamay ni Hesus (Hand of Jesus) Shrine here, one can lock and send a prayer straight to heaven.

Taking off from the love locks made famous by Paris, where couples profess eternal love by leaving padlocks on railings of a bridge and throwing the key into the river below, this pilgrimage destination has given devotees a place to commune with God in penance for their sins, or to request for favors.

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On Saturday, Fr. Joey Faller, the “healing priest” and founder of the religious complex, and Fr. Melo Velocillo blessed the shrine’s latest spiritual attraction—a “prayer lock” station.

“Through these padlocks, all prayers and special requests by the faithful will be delivered straight to heaven,” Faller told the Inquirer. “The prayers will be locked and sealed forever.”

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Shrine personnel offer new brass padlocks with two keys at P50, P75 and P100 each. The padlocks are accompanied with a prayer in Filipino and sealed in plastic wrappers to protect them from rain.

Prayer intentions

Prayers for at least five wishes and intentions were written by Faller and printed on colored sheets of paper.

A prayer for a “special favor” is printed on a pink sheet, on green for “personal request,” violet for “repentance and return to God,” white for “thanksgiving,” and blue for a “prayer for the departed.”

“But I also want them to recite their own prayers straight from their heart,” Faller said.

LOCKED PRAYERS A devotee inspects her padlock at the “prayer lock” station, the latest spiritual attraction at Kamay ni Hesus Shrine in Lucban, Quezon. Up to 6million pilgrims are expected to visit the place during Holy Week. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

LOCKED PRAYERS A devotee inspects her padlock at the “prayer lock” station, the latest spiritual attraction at Kamay ni Hesus Shrine in Lucban, Quezon. Up to 6million pilgrims are expected to visit the place during Holy Week. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

The padlocks will be attached to three steel nets at the prayer lock station at the back of the church. Devotees keep the keys after saying a prayer and locking the device.

Shrine personnel also offer five small candles, at P25 a pack, whose colors correspond to the prayer intentions. Candles are lighted on a steel rack inside a station beside the prayer lock site.

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Padre Pio Shrine

Faller said the selling of padlocks and candles was “not for profit.”

He said the idea of establishing a prayer lock station was taken from Padre Pio Shrine in Santo Tomas, Batangas province.

Lulu del Prado, who came from Tanay in Rizal province with her husband and two children, attached three padlocks for personal requests and a prayer for her late mother.

“My mom died last year and we’re missing her terribly. I prayed that she’s happy in heaven,” she said.

She looked at the padlock and said: “Don’t worry about us, Mother, we’re all doing fine, especially the children.”

Personal messages

Two teenage girls bought a padlock each for “special favors.”

One of them said: “I prayed for my guardian angel to help me pass my final exam on a major subject. I won’t let my parents be disappointed with a failing grade.”

At the back of most plastic wrappers were personal messages of devotees.

Faller said the shrine was ready to welcome the influx of devotees from all over the country starting on Palm Sunday.

Lenten pilgrims who used to visit Mount Banahaw are expected to visit the shrine due to the continued closure of the mountain.

Lucban, 118 kilometers south of Manila, lies at the foot of Banahaw. Faller built the shrine in 2002 on a hilly part of Barangay Tinamnan, 2 km from the town center.

The shrine has been hosting thousands of devotees since the start of the Lenten season.

“For Holy Week, we expect 5 to 6 million visitors,” Faller said, citing the number of shrine visitors the past few years.

The shrine staff and security guards are equipped with handheld clickers to count visitors.

Faller said preparation for the Lenten activities took more than three months of meetings with the staff, volunteers, policemen, soldiers and government agencies to focus on security and crowd management.

“I have also prepared myself for the rigorous but spiritually enhancing marathon of prayers and healing sessions with devotees this Lent,” Faller said.

Sanctuary for family

Among the new attractions is a wide, grassy area known as Holy Family Park. It has images of St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus in a playful scene, while the Virgin Mary looks on.

“It is the sanctuary of the Filipino family where they can pray together in peace,” Faller said. Adjacent to the park is a diorama of the 5-hectare Kamay ni Hesus Shrine.

On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the relic of saints, or “Arma Christi Reliquary,” will be displayed for devotees to venerate, Faller said.

Arma Christi is a reliquary from a monastery in Rome, according to a Facebook page on the relic.

“It contains small precious fragments from the Instruments of the Passion of Our Lord: from the True Cross, Nail, Thorn, Column of Flagellation, Reed, Purple Cloak, Seamless Robe. It also includes the precious first (bone) and second (clothes) class relics of 56 other saints, including the 12 Apostles, 10 Doctors of the Church, 10 Founders of Religious Congregations and many more,” it said.

‘Stairway to Heaven’

Kamay ni Hesus is now home to close to 200 concrete images of saints scattered in the complex. These were made from donations of devotees.

The latest addition is an image of St. Padre Pio, a gift from a shrine staff member.

Dolores Gracias, 36, said Faller gifted her with a miniature image of the saint when he returned from the Vatican several years ago.

“I believe St. Padre Pio helped heal my illness. As an expression of my gratitude, I commissioned the making of his image and donated it to the shrine,” said Gracias, who has been working as a member of Faller’s office staff for 13 years.

Faller asked devotees to follow guidelines from the shrine’s staff and security aides to manage the crowd, especially those wanting to climb the 300-step “Stairway to Heaven” to reach the 15.24-meter-tall statue of the resurrected Christ atop a hill.

The statue is touted to be the third tallest concrete icon of Jesus Christ in the world, after that in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (45.72 meters high) and in Bolivia (21.33 meters high).

Visitors are allowed to stay overnight at the complex during Holy Week.

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