Until a couple of years ago, the bell tower of the Sto. Nino Parish Church in Lianga was the tallest man made structure in the area. From the town center, the white concrete structure topped by the massive cross towered over a hundred feet over the plaza and the marketplace and could be seen from many kilometers out to sea. Fishermen, for decades, have used it as a landmark and navigation aid as they traveled along the town's treacherous coastal waters.
When I was a child, however, it was not the bell tower that fascinated and intrigued me. It was the old church bell who, from its lofty mount high on the tower, held sway over the town and its people.
From my earliest memories, the bell was the majestic voice from the heavens calling the Catholic faithful to church for mass and religious festivals. It joyfully announced weddings, mourned at funerals, and by its very presence and tone marked the relentless passing of the seasons and the cycles of life in Lianga. And at dusk, when darkness was falling, the bell with low, measured and resonant tones would bring all activity to a screeching halt for the Angelus or the evening prayer. People would stop whatever they were doing, vehicles would park and a silence descend until the crescendo from the bell would signal the end of the prayer and life could resume again.
When the that old bell rang, the sound would travel great distances, crossing the the length and breadth of the town, then the tidal marshlands, the hills and beyond the coastal waters. There was comfort and reassurance in it, the fond memories of good things, the sense that all was right with the world.
Some years ago the old bell lost it majestic voice. It had cracked and was never the same again. Then they built the giant steel towers of the town's two cell phone sites which now dominate the local skyline. Change had come to the town.
In the bell tower nowadays, a bell still calls the people to the evening prayer. But its tone is harsh, dull, metallic and without character or authority. I listen to that bell and I mourn the passing of an old dear friend.
Like many before me, I still pause for the evening prayer but deep inside I always feel cheated.