Surrounded by a verdant spread of green, a hilltop in Tarlac stands in stark comparison to the deathly Calvary, which is believed to be the place of Jesus' crucifixion.
But pilgrims hoping to recall Christ's Passion flock to a sanctuary nestled therein, to venerate the "one true cross" and to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
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Monasterio de Tarlac in San Jose, Tarlac, holds a relic of the cross accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as the one where Christ died.
The monastery is run by the Servants of the Risen Christ (SRC) Monastic Community, which was founded by Fr. Ronald Thomas Cortez in 1998.
Land surrounding Monasterio de Tarlac has also been acquired and declared an eco-tourism park to prevent property developments in the vicinity.
Pilgrims who now visit Monasterio de Tarlac will therefore enjoy an unobstructed view of nature from the hilltop which has since been dubbed the "Mountain of the Resurrection."
In the middle of the secluded compound, surrounded by a piazza reminiscent of European churches, is a baroque chapel with an imposing facade which serves as the cross's reliquary.
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The holy cross came to the monastery in 2005 after its former custodian, the Diocese of Essen in Germany, deemed the SRC worthy to watch over the religious treasure.
The relic, authenticated by a papal seal, is said to be part of the cross discovered by Saint Helena, the mother Emperor Constantine the Great.
Religious accounts say Helena found three crosses and, to determine the cross of Christ, asked a dying woman to touch all three. The woman suddenly recovered when she touched the final cross.
For Filipinos, the story of Helena, though seldom told, is remembered through the pageant Santacruzan held on the last day of a month-long festival in May in honor of the Virgin Mary called "Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May)."
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In 2007, Most Rev. Fernando Filoni, then the pope's apostolic nuncio to the Philippines, enshrined the relic in the monastery's chapel.
The relic is enshrined beneath the chapel's altar, held by a golden arquetta embellished with religious symbols, which pilgrims are allowed usually to touch after masses (10:30 a.m. every day and an additional 3 p.m. mass on Sunday).
The relic of the holy cross is meanwhile exposed for veneration every January 19, for its enshrinement anniversary, and September 14, for the anniversary of the foundation of the SRC.
Pilgrims from all over the country also visit the Mountain of the Resurrection for the Holy Week, when monks lead rituals and celebrations.
A 12-room dormitory has been constructed in the hilltop to accomodate guests, especially those who seek spiritual retreats. Construction of more hospitality structures are also underway.
How to get there
From Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX)-Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), exit at Hacienda Luisita. Proceed to Tarlac City and turn left after Sogo Hotel and before SM. Follow the road leading to Brgy. Tibag junction going to Monasterio de Tarlac at Eco-Tourism Park, San Jose, Tarlac.
From the North, upon reaching Tarlac City, take a right turn going to Uniwide Mall. Follow the service road, turn right to Carangian Bridge and follow markers leading to the monastery.