Comedy Queen Ai-Ai delas Alas has officially joined the ranks of former Ambassador to the Holy See Henrietta de Villa, socialite Cristina Ponce Enrile, and the matriarch of the family-owned SM Investments Felicidad Sy.
While she may seem like the odd woman out from showbiz in the list above, what delas Alas has in common with this elite grouping is perhaps what these noted women treasure the most among their life’s achievements—a Papal Award known as the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice or the Cross of Honor from the Holy Father.
The Latin phrase for “For Church and Pope,” the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, whose history dates back to 1888, is the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the Pope for an individual’s distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church. The award therefore signifies that just like de Villa, Ponce Enrile and Sy, Philippine showbiz’ favorite comedienne has contributed in strengthening the Church within and beyond her parish in an exemplary capacity.
On Monday, delas Alas, surrounded by her closest friends from the clergy, shared the news of her Papal Award, following a thanksgiving Mass, led by Bishop Antonio Tobias, in Quezon City.
Sat beside Fr. Erick Santos of the Diocese of Novaliches, delas Alas humbly kept her head low as the priest explained the process by which the Holy Father Pope Francis, chose her as one of the year’s Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice awardees.
“Hindi pa niya alam yung Papal Award, gusto na niya yon! [Even before she knew what this Papal Award entailed, she already wanted it],” joked Fr. Santos in keeping with the gathering’s lighthearted mood. “She was nominated by the Diocese of Novaliches for her countless charitable works for the Church—among them helping to build Kristong Hari Church along Commonwealth Ave. and Anawim Lay Missions Foundation, Inc. in Montalban, Rizal, as well as sending so many seminarians to school to become priests—without any media coverage, mind you.
“From there, a long process of investigation followed, not just of what she had donated to the Church, but of her entire life. So ang buhay niya, binulatlat na sa Roma [her life was scrutinized in Rome]. They know everything about her—that she never pretended to be holy, that she had made mistakes in the past…
“But in the end, what shone through was her love for the Church, and of her self-giving. The award therefore shows that despite a person’s weakness and wrongdoings, the Church looks at the goodness of a person’s heart, and Ai-Ai is the perfect example of that.”
To further show how difficult it is to be chosen for the Cross of Honor following a nomination, Fr. Santos mentioned the names of two prominent women—one from high society and another formerly from government—who had hoped to receive the Papal Award but never did.
“You see, receiving this medal officially makes a person part of the Papal Family,” said inspirational speaker and lay servant Michael Angelo Lobrin, another good friend of delas Alas’. “Ai-Ai is now part of the Papal Family, meaning she will always be invited at important events or gatherings in Rome, and, as we have also learned, the Vatican Guards will even give her some sort of salute or recognition when they see her wearing the medal, like they do the others.
In local showbiz, delas Alas is only the second Papal awardee, after Maestro Ryan Cayabyab who was recognized for his religious compositions.
Asked for her reaction when she learned about her award, delas Alas said in Filipino, “I knew I was nominated by the diocese, but I never talked about it. Akala ko chika lang yon [I didn’t really think much of it]. About two weeks ago, I was home sick, and these priests called me and said they were coming to see me. I told them I was sick and they said what they’re about to tell me will make me feel better right away—so they said my Papal Award had been granted.”
In disbelief, delas Alas stood from her bed and knelt in front of her altar at home. “I prayed and said, ‘I’m not worthy to receive this but I know You have a plan for me,’ and I promised the Lord I will do everything I can to do His will.”
The Manila Times then asked delas Alas how exactly a Papal Award will impact her career and her personal life, given her “naughty” persona for the camera, and her somewhat liberal attitude in her personal life.
“Alam ko mayroon akong mga limitations ngayon, pero tulad ng sabi ni Bishop kanina, hindi ko naman kailangan magdamit-madre at magbago nang tuluyan! [I know there will have to be limitations but like the Bishop said, I don’t have to put on a nun’s habit and undergo a complete change],” laughed the popular lady joker. “Seriously, in terms of costumes, maybe I’ll wear shorts rather than something skimpy [tangga], and maybe there will be [certain comedic]themes I have to refuse; and in my personal life, like Fr. Erick told me, I have to practice celibacy until I’m ready to get married,” delas Alas added openly.
The comedienne is currently in a May-December affair with boyfriend Gerald Sibayan. She has been in two marriages, first to actor Miguel Vera with whom she has two children, besides a son from a previous relationship; and years later to a 28-year-old American businessman named Jed Salang, which only lasted for a month.
“Gerald’s very supportive of what I have to do,” delas Alas added. “But while I used to say we’ll get married in four to six years, he’s saying, we should get married in two!”
Besides continuing her work for her parish and surrounding communities, delas Alas is also embarking on a project with Lobrin to gather the active Roman Catholic members of show business and enjoin them in spreading the Word of God and strengthening the Church.
“We plan to gather the likes of Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera, Nova Villa, and many others like Ai-Ai who are devout Catholics to give catechesis on film to be shown in Churches to start with,” Lobrin related. “We’ll also make sure that these Roman Catholic celebrities are seen in important Church events so they can inspire others to keep their faith.”
In parting, delas Alas said, “I’ve been a Marian devotee all my life and I grew up a Catholic, and all I’ve been doing is just giving back the many blessings the Lord has given me. With this Papal Award I will continue to do what I can to serve Him.”
The solemn investiture of the Papal Award on Ai-Ai delas Alas will be held on her birthday on November 11.