A wedding

Rooting through a clutch of dusty 3.5-inch diskettes (remember those?), I chanced upon this sidebar story I wrote 10 years ago (in May 1999) for The Manila Times, about a Gokongwei wedding in Hong Kong with a President in the entourage.

HONG KONG – St. Anne’s Catholic Church on Tung Tao Wan Road in Stanley, on the southeastern side of Hong Kong island, is a chapel in the act of becoming a church. Major renovations were completed a year ago, but improvements in the 50-pew hall are continuing. The clear, new window behind the altar, for example, is stained-glass-in-the-making.

In the meantime, there are masses and baptisms and weddings to attend to. The church’s weekly newsletter is, as it says itself, full of “coming events — some old, some new.” Today’s wedding at 10 in the morning adds “something borrowed, something blue.”

Like the church itself, the wedding of Jimmy Tang and Hope Gokongwei is essentially a simple affair: boy meets girl; boy meets girl again, and again, and again; boy and girl finally fall in love.

But because Hope’s father owns The Manila Times (among many other things), and because Jimmy’s father invited the President of the Philippines, an old high school classmate, to stand as principal sponsor, their wedding has become a gatecrasher’s dream: an important event in a public place, with plenty of seats for the willing, and no gate to speak of. It is also only a 20-minute bus ride from Central, for the knowing.

The outside of the church doesn’t look like much. It looks like a school, actually, painted Rosary blue and plain white. On the main pillars of the façade, the church’s name has even been painted on, in sinful red.

Inside, the church opens out into a spacious and airy hall, made twice bigger by the absence of wall fans and loudspeakers and other essentials of communal space. (The secret, Father Elmer Wurth says, lies in the “magic boxes,” seven rectangles on each side of the church that hide the airconditioners, the fans, and the extremities of a decent public-address system.) The lines are clean and straight, the ceiling high, the walls solid. It is a good place to get married in.

In fact, it will remind the Metro Manila visitor of Mary the Queen parish church in San Juan, only smaller. It even resounds with noise that only students can make; St. Teresa’s, a Chinese elementary school, is right beside it.

Mary the Queen church was the sacred space, the no-man’s land, that divided Xavier School, where Jimmy went to school, from the Immaculate Conception Academy, where Hope studied. The two have  known each other since high school – although it may be more precise to say Jimmy did most of the knowing. Hope declined to become more than friends; my father is too strict, she said once.

They met again in college, in La Salle, which rewards the persistent with many opportunities.

Like many couples with long histories, Jimmy and Hope have had their share of trials, their portion of tribulation. Their own wedding, for instance, may turn out to be a circus, instead of a literal walk in the park.

They will do well to note the stations of the cross in St. Anne’s. Made by a banker appropriately named Fred Sturm, the stations are amazing foot-high bronze sculptures, that are at once minimalist and fully dimensional. (They also cost a pretty Peter’s pence: US$1,500 a station. Were they donated? Father Wurth makes a wry smile. “Oh, no,” he says.)

Out of adversity, art.


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