By Mark Saludes
PHILIPPINES — He could not explain the feeling that overwhelmed him when he learned that he would be attending the World Youth Day in 2016.
Mark Carlo Herrera Cruz had about a year to prepare for what he called “a pilgrimage of a lifetime” in Krakow, Poland.
It was already mid-2015 and he was not sure where to get the money for his trip. He needed at least US$2,500 to cover all his expenses.
One evening, Cruz prayed the Holy Rosary and asked God to give him the “strength and resources” needed “to fulfill this mission.”
The next morning, the then-22-year-old native of Batangas province realized that his prayers had already been answered even before he asked for it.
“The answer to my prayers was already in the palm of my hand, the rosary beads,” he said.
Cruz said he usually spends at least 45 minutes to craft a rosary with a simple design and at least six hours to finish a rosary with intricate and elaborate patterns.
“I can only craft them during weekends and in the evening before going to bed because I have a day job,” he said, adding that it is not a money-making venture.
“Crafting rosaries is a passion,” he told LiCAS.news. “Every detail and every bead comes from how I interpret the personality of the person who would use the rosary.”
Cruz said some of his clients are priests, nuns, and members of church organizations, “but a lot of them are individuals, common people, or the lay faithful.”
In 2018, Cruz was again chosen to participate in an international gathering in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way, also known as the Neocatechumenate, an itinerary of Christian formation within the Catholic Church.
He was “a little bit confident” that he could fund his next international pilgrimage by crafting and selling rosaries.
“The Holy Rosary again answered my prayer,” he said. He was able to go to Rome.
In recent months, Cruz made more than a dozen hand-crafted habit rosaries for the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila.
The rosaries were placed on images of Dominican Saints and on the image of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval during its feast in October 2019.
He also crafted rosaries that were used for more than 200 religious images in dioceses across the country, including one that was used for the Our Lady of Lourdes of Punta Princesa in the Archdiocese of Cebu.
“I don’t consider rosary-making a business but a charism that is given to me to help spread the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he said.
“As a sinner, I used to say that it is my privilege and great joy to be an instrument of someone’s devotion,” he said.
While a simple hand-crafted rosary costs US$7, the price gets higher depending on the design and the materials.
The most expensive piece of the rosary that he crafted sold for about US$300.
In March, Cruz thought orders for handcrafted rosaries would decline because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the demand continued to grow.
“It only shows that the devotion to the Holy Rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary is growing amidst the challenges that we are facing because of the pandemic,” he said.
Cruz still crafts beads into beautiful rosaries, now with his wife, in his small apartment, using the same tools he’s been using since 2015.
He got married in August to a lady he met through the Neocatechumenal Way.
Cruz said his marriage was also an answered prayer from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“I asked the Virgin Mary to help me convince the woman I love to marry me and that my intentions are pure,” he said.
In 2018, Cruz started saving for the wedding. He saved more than US$10,000 from crafting and selling rosaries.
“I cannot explain my feelings now. I am very thankful for the unending grace from God and the intercession of the Virgin Mary,” he said.