International singing sensation Charice and her brother, Carl on their baptismal and confirmation day at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pasig City (Photo Courtesy by CBCP Monitor)
“CHARMAINE Clarice, what do you ask of God’s Church?” “Faith,” international singing sensation Charice Pempengco standing at the entrance to Baptistry of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of the Diocese of Pasig, responds to Bishop Francisco C. San Diego. “What does faith offer you?” the Bishop asks. “Eternal life,” she responds. Then she and younger brother, Carl Ceiven, who was asked the same questions, enter the Baptistry and take their respective places to begin the rites for their Baptism and Confirmation. It was 9:45 am, Saturday, May 22, 2010.
As early as 8:00 am that morning, media vans, cameras, photographers, and reporters from over 50 local and foreign media companies were seen coming into the churchyard of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Pasig folk became aware of the special event that was about to take place and flocked to catch a glimpse of the stars and celebrities present. Security was tight.
Inside, only the godparents, close family members and friends would be accommodated to witness the ceremonies. But media people eager to cover the event, found their way into the Baptistry, which was filled to standing capacity when the ceremonies began.
“Today we are here to accept Charmaine Clarice and CarlCeiven into the Church,” Bishop San Diego began his homily. “In this case we have, not the infant baptism, but the adult baptism. Not because of the fault of the two, but because it so happened that the parents were of different belief.”
Raquel Relucio Pempengco, mother of Charice and Carl, was seated in a special place behind her two children. In 1995, a victim of domestic violence, she fled her husband’s home in Laguna, taking her two children. “And now the mother would like them to be baptized and have the same faith as she has, so she requested that the daughter and the son be baptized in the Catholic Church,” Bishop San Diego said in his homily.
Conversion to Catholicism
As early as 1995, Raquel already considered having her two children baptized as Catholics, but thought it was complicated or probably not possible, given her marital situation. Then the demands of being a single mother having to raise her children through challenging times took over life.
At a very young age, Charice developed a passion to help her mother. She started joining singing contests at age 7 and contributed her prize money to the family income. She made it to television in 2005, reaching the finals of ABS-CBN’s Little Big Star competition. An avid fan posted videos of her live performances on YouTube. And this was the medium through which Charice started to be viewed by people from all over the world. These and subsequent YouTube posts became the passport for this poor girl from Cabuyao, Laguna to get invited to perform abroad. Between 2007 and 2008 she performed in Sweden, Korea, England, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States.
Ellen de Generes was the first one to invite Charice to the US, but it was Oprah Winfrey who launched Charice’s career in 2008. Oprah was charmed by er personality and promised to help her fulfill her dreams. She introduced Charice to David Foster and other big names in the music industry. Since then, she has performed with Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, and shared the stage with stars like Alicia Keys, Josh Groban and Michael Bublé.
In such a short time, Charice has achieved the status of an international singing star. She launched her self-titled international Album last May 11. In its first week, it landed No. 8 in the US Billboard charts with sales of 43,000. Her single “Pyramid” was several weeks No. 1 in the US Dance Club charts. She is the first Asian to reach these heights.
Charice has always considered these “dream-come-true” turn of events as God’s blessings to her after so many difficult years, and she does not cease to thank Him. It keeps her humble and well-grounded. As she shared in a television interview, “Kaya niya po ako binigyan ng talent, para po i-share ko po sa mga tao, and para po mapasaya po sila, and maging parang inspirasyon.”
Meeting the bishop In February 2010, Raquel Pempengco met with family friends Jei-Jei Victorino Gertes and Michelle Lim-Gankee, at the latter’s Sterling Paper Products head office to discuss plans for Charice’s 18th birthday on May 2010. “You want it to be ‘bonggacious’ or simple?” asked Jei-Jei. Mom Raquel said they wanted a simple celebration. Jei-Jei Gertes, a financial executive, who is one of the officers of the Ministry on Cultural Affairs of the Pasig Cathedral, then suggested a feeding program and gift-giving for street children of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Soup Kitchen. Raquel happily agreed.
Later on at dinner, Mom Raquel had a special request. “Gusto ko sanang pabinyagan si Charice.” Jei-Jei was taken aback, not knowing what to make of the request. Was Charice not a baptized Catholic? Clarifying matters, he immediately promised all-out support and arranged for Mom Raquel and Charice to personally meet with Bishop San Diego of the diocese of Pasig to formalize matters.
Present in the meeting with the bishop on February 25 were Mom Raquel, Charice, Jei-Jei and wife Geanne. Interviewed by Bishop San Diego, Charice confirmed that it was her desire to become Catholic, and be of the same religion as her mother. The mother had raised her children in Catholic practices. Charice had also received Catholic training in her grade school and high school. Satisfied with the candidate’s background, the Bishop agreed to administer not only the Sacrament of Baptism, but also the Sacrament of Confirmation.
That was not the first time that mother and daughter had met Bishop San Diego. On Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, Mom Raquel, Charice and [her] brother Carl were at the Pasig Cathedral as early as 4:00 am for the “Salubong” and Easter Dawn Mass celebration. Mom Raquel had accepted Jei-Jei Gertes’ invitation for Charice to render two “harana” songs for the Blessed Mother and the Risen Christ on that occasion. In the Dawn Mass that followed, the Pempengco family brought the Hosts and Chalice during the Offertory procession.
As special guests of the diocese that morning, they had breakfast with Bishop San Diego together with the Ministry on Cultural Affairs officers. That was their first meeting, and as designed by Providence, a familiar connection was immediately established. The bishop was happy to learn that they were from Cabuyao, Laguna, and therefore faithful of his former diocese. Bishop San Diego was in San Pablo City prior to his transfer to Pasig.
“You will notice that there is a big difference between the infant baptism and the adult baptism,” the Bishop explained in his homily, “if there is a Mass, they can already receive Holy Communion, without going to Confession. You may be surprised!” he exclaimed, “it’s because all the sins they have committed in the past will be forgiven, whether venial or serious sin.” This is the great privilege of those who undergo adult baptism, he said.
Addressing the godparents, Bishop San Diego explained that only one male and one female godparent for each baptized person will be entered in the registry book of the parish, “but you are all considered sponsors and witnesses during the Baptism of these two, who will become son and daughter of God after Baptism.” He encouraged them to guide the newly baptized with their personal example of Christian living.
Mom Raquel and Charice wanted, as a sign of gratitude, to invite as Godparents, key persons who had helped her become the person and the personality that she is today. Heading that list were Oprah Winfrey and David Foster, who could not make it to the event. Celebrities present from among Charice’s list of 24 pairs of godparents included Mrs. Charo Santos-Concio, President of ABS-CBN; television hosts Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino-Yap; broadcasters Karen Davila, Jobert Sucaldito, and Julius and Tintin Babao.
It was 10:20 am when Bishop San Diego baptized Charice and brother, Carl, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Sacrament of Confirmation followed and the liturgy ended at 10:30am. The bishop greeted Charice for her 18th birthday, which was on May 10, and congratulated her because today, he said, was her birthday as a daughter of God.
“Right at this moment, talagang sobrang sobrang saya ng feeling,” Charice shared after the ceremony. She considered her baptism and confirmation the greatest birthday gifts she received. “Very happy ako na Catholic ako ngayon. Sobrang blessings lang po talaga ang dumating nang araw na ito.”
“I hope that God continues to shower her with his light and his grace, so Charice would continue to be a role model, hindi lang para sa mga kabataan dito sa Pilipinas, kundi para sa lahat ng kabataan sa buong mundo.” This was Ms. Charo Santos’ wish for Charice.
Role model for children
There was no reception with the godparents and guests following the ceremonies. Instead, Charice proceeded to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral’s Formation Center for a get-together with street children. After the rousing “Happy Birthday” and the blowing of the birthday cake candles, 18 young girls went up to Charice, each giving her a rose and she [is]giving a kiss to each one. She was moved at that point, saying that it reminded her of how difficult those years were when she was their age.
She sat down and mingled with them. She sang for them two songs—an impromptu rendition of her latest hit “Pyramid” and “We are the World” as requested by the children. “Sa mga bata, once in a lifetime na mangyari yon. Bihira naman sila makakita ng ganyan,” said Millette Marcelo of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral soup kitchen. “Feeling nila na, Wow! nakiupo pa si Charice sa kanila, like one of them. Hindi siya nag-suplada. And she’s so sweet.”
It was Charice’s wish that, instead of personal gifts to her on her birthday, her supporters and well-wishers would send food and gift items for less-privileged children. And so it was. Charice’s 18th birthday was a special blessing for 500 children and their families in 10 barangays in Pasig.
Assisting Bishop San Diego in administering the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation were Rev. Father Orlando B. Cantillon, Parish Priest, Rector and Vicar General of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral; and Rev. Father Mark Eman H. Sese, Parochial Vicar. (Written by Conrado Ma. Ricafort; Reprinted from the CBCP Monitor, Vol. 14, No. 14, p. B4 dated July 5 – 18, 2010)
Note: Yours truly is writing since 2008 to the CBCP Monitor.