On meeting the creator of Hapag ng Pag-asa
By Mila Glodava
One of the highlights of my recent visit to the Philippines was meeting the now famous painter and author, Joey A. Velasco (39) of the Hapag ng Pag-asa fame.
Joey, an unassuming man who calls himself a "heartist," came to the office of the Socio Pastoral Institute (SPI), along with his friend and associate Nelson, to discuss a project for us involving his good friend, the late Jesuit Father Carlos Abesamis. Father Abe's assistant, Bert Catangcatang arranged our meeting, and I could not believe that he would easily agree. it was, indeed a thrill for me, not only because he readily agreed to do a special sculpture of the late biblical scholar and author (A Third Look at Jesus), but also because he offered to give me and everyone in the office, a number of signed copies of his now famous painting. He also invited us to his home in Fairview to view his other works of art, all inspired by a desire to uplift the heart.
In Hapag ng Pag-asa, though, Joey's depiction of the Last Supper is haunting to say the least. In this painting, Jesus is surrounded by "apostles" -- not the Jewish ones often depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci. Joey's "apostles" came from the ghettos and the cemeteries which the children have called their homes.
In Joey's home, which she shares with Queeny, his wife of thirteen years, and their four children, we saw many more inspiring works of art. Not only that, his home iS a work of art. Just take a look photo below. The dining room table was once a door panel, flanked by colorful carved chairs.
The 48x96" Hapag ng Pag-asa greets guests at the Velasco home, which is Morrocan-inspired and filled with Joey's own painting and sculptures and those of others who have inspired him..
Reflecting on Joey's painting and the book that resulted, "They have Jesus: The Children of Hapag," Father Abesamis was quoted as saying: "Through a painting on canvas, through 200 pages of script, you step into an extraordinary world. Take off your shoes. Hush. You are in sacred space. Let only your heart enter. Let only your heart see. You will see precious lotus blooming in mud. Let your heart listen. You will hear precious revelations from the lives of 12 extraordinary children and from the heart of an extraordinary author and painter. Only a hardened heart will leave this sacred space not wanting to walk with the author and the children...to change."
For a short description of the children depicted ini Joey's painting, please see an article by Father James B. Reuter click here.
"I painted this scene for my children," he told us at SPI. "I wanted them to count their blessings." Indeed the street children in his painting are a reminder of the stark reality of poverty and the homeless in the Philippines. Much more, he wanted the painting to remind his children of the values of charity and compassion.
Indeed, Joey's painting calls one to conversion of the heart, to feel compassion for the little ones, especially the poor. How can any one not feel any compassion on the girl under the table, eating the crumbs right next to a cat. Joey recalls that this particular character was inspired by a photograph of a child, dying of hunger. The photograph was taken by Kevin Carter, a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer. Unable to do anything about this situation, the photopher killed himself. Joey wanted a different ending.
At the encouragement of a friend, he shared his painting with the world, and it has become an inspiration, a life-giving faith experience. "It is a gospel within a frame – a visual medium with a deep spiritual effect," says Salesian Provincial Superior Father Anturo Sanchez. And the rest as they say is history.
The different ending Joey desired came to life via Gawad kalinga and Tony Meloto, the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, whose legendary work for the poor, has built thousands of homes for the homeless. With Tony's help, Joey found all his children models and each was given a home through Gawad Kalinga.
As a result, Joey painted another scene, a more glorious one called, "Hapag ng Pag-ibig," with all the children well-groomed and looking forward to a better and happier life.
Joey also was commissioned to do a sculpture of Father Patrick Peyton For Ireland, and he is working with Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Christ in, "The Passion." And as mentioned earlier, Joey will fashion a sculpture on the essence of Father Abe as a memorial to his lifetime work promoting his love for the bible, and his modeling of the life of Jesus.
For more details on Joey and his works of arts, just Google Joey Velasco and you will find all sorts of websites dedicated to him.