The city is still asleep when Mario Sanico heads to the Santo Tomas de Villanueva parish church in Pardo. The 58-year-old sacristan mayor heads to the parish as early as 3 a.m. when the streets are silent and a cool breeze greets him.

The hard-working husband and father of eight said these are the things he appreciates as he heads to church for work early in the day.

Sanico has dedicated his life to serve one of the oldest churches in Cebu. He joined the parish on March 4, 2018 through Rev. Fr. Arnel Autida, a friend who saw his commitment and diligence to work for the church.

Sacristan mayor Mario Sanico.
Sacristan mayor Mario Sanico.

As sacristan mayor, Sanico is at the church as early as 3 a.m. and stays until 8 p.m. assisting the priests, guiding the younger sacristans, attending seminars, and keeping the church well-organized for religious rites such as baptism, wedding and liturgical feasts.

On his first day, Sanico said he nearly gave up because he felt he was not ready for the job. He said he kept on having doubts on whether he was up to the task.

Still, he kept on showing up at the parish as a way of expressing his devotion to the Lord. Last March, he marked four years as sacristan mayor.

Sanico works in a church that is unique in its massive fortress-like façade. He said is deeply fascinated by the Latin-Byzantine-influenced church ever since he first saw it. He said he is amazed by the historically significant details found on the altar, windows, walls, roof, and statues.

The Santo Tomas de Villanueva parish church in Pardo has a massive facade.
The Santo Tomas de Villanueva parish church in Pardo has a massive facade.

He said the church has become his haven. Sanico said his job is not easy, especially working in an old and huge church with numerous devotees. He said it warms his heart every time he sees people attend masses, join processions, and celebrate significant occasions.

Sanico said he hopes that the strong devotion by the community will continue. He said he saw how strong people’s faith were during the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of Typhoon Odette.

Even with restrictions and health protocols, many devotees continue to offer their time for the church, either in virtual or in limited in-person activities. He also said parishioners and members of the community continued to send in donations to the parish.

“Dako kaayo ang tabang amo nadawat gikan sa mga tao nga padayun ang kusgan nga debusyon sa patron nga si Santo Tomas hilabi na sa panahon nga kinahanglan kaayo namo sukad pagsaka sa mga kaso sa COVID-19 diri sa Sugbo,” he said. (We received a lot of help from people who continued to hold strong to their devotion to our patron Santo Tomas, especially during the time when COVID-19 cases were on the rise.)

Whether in taking care of his family or working for the parish, Sanico said faith is central to what he does.

“Magpabilin akong pagsalig sa Ginoo ug pag-alagad kaniya pinaagi sa akong maayo nga buluhaton diri sa simbahan sa Pardo,” he said. (My faith in God remains strong and I offer to him my service to our church in Pardo.)

Max Limpag is a journalist, blogger, and developer based in Cebu. He started as a reporter covering Cebu City Hall in 1996. He has written on technology for various print and digital publications since...