Craftsmen who made Pope altar: A labour of love

Craftsmen who made Pope altar: A labour of love
A carving for the altar that would be used by Pope Francis in Tacloban City.

CEBU CITY, Philippines - When Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Tacloban City on Jan. 17, he would do so using an altar and lectern made by hand by some of Cebu's best craftsmen.

The altar and lectern that would be used by Francis during Mass at the apron of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport on Jan. 17 are being made by workers of a company called Mehitabel Inc., which is based in the city.

Mehitabel, a 65-year-old furniture company known for its fine wood and rattan furniture, volunteered to make the altar and lectern after the company was endorsed by a furniture firm in Pampanga that was making the chairs to be used by the Pope and other priests during another Mass in Manila.

"It's an honour to do this for the Pope," said Robert Louis Aboitiz Booth, owner of Mehitabel.

"Everybody working here is very happy and excited in doing this project. They even worked over the holidays just to get this (done on) time," said Booth.

He said being able to contribute to the papal visit is a rare opportunity. While he may not be able to meet the Pope personally, he said he felt that his company is able to be part of the celebration of the Pope's visit.

The Pope's simplicity served as an inspiration for the design of the altar and the lectern, said Booth.

"These are actually simple pieces of work, compared to the usual furniture that we process here. It is because we know, the Pope prefers simpler things," said Booth.

Lenie Fernandez, Mehitabel's engineering department head, said workers took into consideration the Pope's request for a simple preparation.

"We were given two designs of both altar and lectern. The designs were very intricate and grandiose. Knowing how our Pope is, I revised the design," said Fernandez.

"This is a combination of traditional and contemporary art," she said.

Fernandez said that 50 workers of Mehitabel helped build the altar and lectern, which are made of mahogany wood and fossil stones.

The altar's table top and four legs are made of fossil stone while its body is made of mahogany wood. The front, side and back of the altar would be covered with carvings from Pampanga that arrived on Thursday.

The altar is about 970 millimeters (3.18 feet) in height, 3100 millimeter (10.17 feet) in length, and 1200 millimeter (3.93 feet) in width.

The lectern is also made of mahogany while the reading desk is made of fossil stone to match the altar's table top.

Fernandez said workers first started to work on the altar on Dec. 18 and work on the lectern started on Dec. 29. The two pieces of church furniture would be shipped to Tacloban City on Tuesday, four days before the Pope arrives.

"It's a short time but we were able to manage. We are 70 per cent done," said Fernandez.

She said the carvings were to be in place yesterday. The two pieces of furniture would be transported to the archdiocese of Palo, Leyte on Tuesday.

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