The Ateneo de Naga’s University Church of Christ the King was built expressly to create sacred space celebrating the University’s Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit character. It is built in the baroque style associated with many Jesuit churches throughout the world, but it also celebrates the community ’s reception of the faith in Bicol, expressed in images and symbols of Bicolano life. Thus, the stained-glass windows and paintings by Jose Peñera are sacred in their Bicolano renderings; the baroque flourishing is replete with local images of Bicol’s pili and sili, and even the piñata of Camarines Norte.
Most important is that the church was to provide an appropriate home not only for the University’s celebrations of public worship, but also for the individual prayer that emerges from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (SpEx) and manifests and supports an Ignatian spirituality. At the heart of the Ateneo de Naga University is the SpEx.
Leading into this church are massive mahogany doors whose carvings recall the Eucharistic multiplication of the loaves; they are an invitation to the Lord’s nourishment in the church. Leading to the tabernacle are more preciously carved doors depicting the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, for our nourishment.
The center of the church is Christ the King, arguably the center of the SpEx. His representation is not an eschatological image of Christ the King in regal robes and precious crown, scepter and orb, but the more biblical image of Jesus on the Cross, the Father’s Word of Love, before whom the exercitant is invited to ask, “If you have done this for me in love, What have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?” These questions flow out of the experiences of love and forgiveness in the First Week of the SpEx, and prepare for the discipleship and missioning of the following Weeks.
The ten awesome stained-glass windows, rendered by Robert Kraut, in the nave of the church are designed to invite the members of the University community to the experience of the SpEx; they are also meant to help those who have experienced the SpEx recall some of the key phases or experiences of the SpEx.
The first is an image of peace and harmony in a Bicol landscape, representing the Principle and Foundation of the SpEx.
The second is of a key mediation of the First Week, where, as described above, the exercitant is awed by the Love of the Father manifested in the Crucified Christ and seeks to respond.
The third is a representation of sin from the viewpoint of the Father: the Prodigal Father represented in an image of the biblical Prodigal Son.
The fourth is a representation of Jesus calling us to work with him for the Kingdom, and how we respond, reasonably or with distinction.
The fifth is a representation of the Incarnation: the Trinitarian response in Love to sinful humanity: the Father’s Yes-Word incarnated in the world.
The sixth is a representation of the Public Life of Jesus. Here the image chosen is of Jesus teaching in the Synagogue proclaiming the fulfillment of the Isaian prophecy: the good news is preached to the poor, liberty is proclaimed to captives, sight is restored to the blind, freedom to the oppressed (cf Lk 4:18-19).
The seventh is a representation of the Crucified Lord.
The eighth is a representation of the Resurrected Lord meeting his Mother – the Salubong.
The ninth is a representation of Christ the King.
The tenth is a representation of the exercitant Finding God in All Things. Since in all things one is able to find God’s love, one is now able to respond in deed of love.
When the church was being built in its distinctive “Bicol-baroque” style, one of one of the workers exclaimed, “Atin talaga ito!” – This church is really ours!” Where teachers and supporting staff and administrators are invited to an Ignatian spirituality through the SpEx, the University Church of Christ the King is their sacred space, their home, their source of nourishment in affirming and reaffirming from the heart of the university: Primum Regnum Dei – First the Kingdom of God!