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With typical "malasakit" San Miguel employee takes care of Our Lady of La Naval

Nick Cruz of San Miguel Food Group talks about how his devotion led him to restore the santo of Our Lady of Naval to its original glory.

If you happen to drop by San Miguel’s head office lobby just before 9 a.m., or just after 6 p.m. and you’ll find a handful of people patiently queuing up. Not just for the lifts or the finger scanner; they’re falling in line to venerate the image of Our Lady of La Naval. Immediately you’ll see where they’ve touched her. The varnish on the front of her vestments has been stripped away, the carving on her midsection is not quite as raised as the hem of her dress or the cherubs that adorn the base of her statue. Her forehead, nose have been smoothed by the hundreds of fingers that have anointed her face. For many San Miguel employees, Our Lady of La Naval is part of the beginning and end of every working day—and has been since 1983 when San Miguel’s headquarters in Ortigas were first built.

This year, just in time for Holy Week, the Virgin received a facelift courtesy of one San Miguel employee.

For its restoration, Nick Cruz took the image of Our Lady of La Naval to where it was made decades ago in Adriatico, Ermita. Cruz kept tabs on the restoration effort, ensuring that the "santo" was returned to her former glory.

Nick Cruz has worked with trade marketing and sales for the San Miguel Food Group for nearly 15 years. He runs in-store promotions and handles several key accounts. A Catholic, Cruz is a camerero, someone who is in charge of caring for the upkeep of the altar and religious images. Cruz also collects santo. Having started his collection a decade ago, he now owns over half a dozen life-size santo which—as an act of devotion—he parades in the streets every Good Friday in Mandaluyong.

While Cruz doesn’t hold office at San Miguel’s head office complex, he drops by occasionally for meetings. A friend and church mate who also works at San Miguel Properties wanted to donate a new pair of hands to the image of La Naval, so Cruz paid a visit.

Cruz felt the santo was looking a little worn, and right there and then, called the head of San Miguel’s pastoral council, offering to personally bring the santo to a workshop of some carvers he knew. He remembers, “I felt her saying to me, what took you so long? Why do you just pass me by? I can’t explain it but at that moment, I felt that I must do something.”

He immediately sought out the head of Admin and asked for permission to lead the restoration effort.

Having received the go ahead, Cruz retrieved the santo and upon lifting it noticed a small plaque at the very base of the Virgin. The plaque bore the words Talleres de Maximo Vicente. Vicente was master carver whose workshop in Adriatico, Ermita was one of the most successful commercial taller in the 1930s. Vicente died in 1964, but the workshop still exists and is run by his namesake, his son, Maximo Jr. It was to the taller that Cruz brought the santo and over the next ten or so days, oversaw the painstaking process to restore the Virgin to its original state.

Everyday after work and during the weekend, Cruz visited the taller to keep watch. Employees whose daily habit it was to genuflect before the statue heard he was leading the effort and would text Cruz instructions, “Don’t make her look gaudy or too perfect,” read one text. “What have you done with her?” went another.

In the workshop, two tiny new sets of hands were fashioned; later stained with an antique finish so as to match the grain and finish of the original. The old paint and grime was lifted and the statue given a light sanding, before it was stained again and given a fresh coat of lacquer and acrylic paint. A set of lashes was painstakingly glued to the Virgin’s eyes. Handed a new wooden staff, the statue itself was complete. The finishing touch: newly gilded halo and crown befitting a queen and the mother of Jesus.

Says Cruz, “I really took the responsibility for restoring the Virgin to heart because I know how much she means to so many of our employees. They come to her with their prayers and their petitions. They have their own story of happiness and despair when they touch the Blessed Virgin.

“Their day isn’t complete unless they touch her or speak to her, and I really wanted to honor the place she holds in their hearts. Now, just seeing her look calm and clean with a fresh coat of varnish and paint, I’m sure anyone who stands in front of her will feel the same calmness she gives out.”

Today, in her old alcove she stands, rightfully restored to a familiar place of prayer and pilgrimage. Her new vestments might be rough to the touch, but her face is still smooth from the adoration she’s received over the last 30 years.

She will continue to draw believers from all over the San Miguel family who venerate her and who wish to prayerfully reflect and ask for blessings. Enthroned as the protector of the San Miguel Group, her radiance calls forth those who have placed their hopes in her, and speaks to the generosity of spirit of one particular San Miguel employee who will now forever be a footnote in her history.

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