SHE saw them take down the stars. It may be that she’ll never see stars the same way again.
Each star was nearly as big as a person. In driven white, the “parol (Christmas lanterns)” dangled above the parishioners one day last December.
Theatrical as stalactites, the stars framed the immense crucifix bearing the back-to-back images of the Christ that hung above the pulpit at the center of this church in this city.
Wrought by renowned artists, the church has a unique dome shape. Imagine the concave half of an egg, with a hole cut out in the center.
Suspend from this hole with a tracery of thick cables a heavy cross of old, dark wood, bearing the carven images of Christ. One shows the body of the carpenter they crucified. At the back is the resurrected and risen, lording over death and sin.
Despite their size and placement, the stars are just décor. There’s more than enough art to engage anyone in this church. In the flurry of ornamentation during the holidays, three or four stars draw no comment.
The crew of three and the woman got in just before the gates closed in mid-morning. The men’s red shirts must have been what made the woman look up. Kneeling near the altar, surrounded by pews radiating from the center, she looked up and caught her first glimpse of the man reaching for a star.
The worker was balanced on the suspended web of cables that held the immense crucifix. He leaned against a cable to reach for the rope holding a star. A co-worker looked down from the hole in the ceiling, lowering what was needed. Another fellow waited in the pulpit below for the stars to descend.
The team worked in perfect silence. They must have done this work countless times to work in wordless synchronicity. They were efficient.
The woman lost count of her rosary beads. She finally looked up because when she bent her head to pray, she expected the fall.
It took a long time for all the stars to come down. The worker tightroping above the pulpit had salt-and-peter hair. The shock of that whiteness and the red shirt were burnt in her pupils.
As he leaned and reached over empty space, his torso, arms and legs seemed to intersect, a silhouette of another crucifix. Only a harness was his lifeline if a foot slipped. She waited for his fall.
Finally, the last star came down. The worker on the ground carted it off. The assistant on the roof also came down. Releasing the lock of his harness, the last worker gripped the rim of the hole for handholds while inching his way across the void. His slipper-shod feet clung to the cable like a pair of commas.
When he approached the pulpit to take away a piece of rope left behind, he turned out to be shorter and slighter than he seemed while up in the air. The dismantled stars were bigger than they looked when they still dangled, pretty and too paltry to risk a life for.
The stars went into storage. The workers left. The woman went away. The church stood empty.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 20, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column