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From Jesus to Judas—6 Stars and The Religious Roles They Played

Local actors have also portrayed priests, nuns, and saints

The closest thing to being a saint, priest, or nun is playing one on the big screen. My Pope Philippines puts the spotlight on the stars that took on such iconic religious roles—some, as it turns out, more than once.

Mat Ranillo III: Jesus Christ

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Photos from Moviefit.me and IMDb

The charismatic actor didn’t just had a religious role, but he had THE role. He played the role of Jesus not once or twice, but several times—and apparently continues to do so. From 1994 to 1995, he starred as Jesus in Kristo, a production of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Tanghalang Pambansa. In 1996, he reprised his role in the movie version of the same title. Now based in the United States (since 2010), the veteran actor returned to his roots, playing Jesus Christ in stage versions as a dance-drama pantomime and senakulo. (Read: 8 Actresses Who Played Mama Mary – Where Are They Now?)

Bonus: Did you know he also portrayed Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz? The first time was in a 1988 film, the second in a musical play in California in 2016.

Rez Cortez: Judas Iscariot

from-jesus-to-judas-six-stars-and-the-religious-roles-they-played
Photos from Rez Cortez Instagram and Kristo/YouTube

If Mat was famous for playing Jesus, the role of Judas practically belonged to Rez Cortez. Filmdom’s perennial kontrabida assayed the role of the apostle who betrayed Christ in the stage and movie versions of Kristo.

In real life, this on-screen bad guy is a good guy. “He is a soft-spoken guy,” averred Sam Costanilla in an article about the members of Catholic renewal community Oasis of Love. “During the gathering, he also shared with us about his strong faith in Jesus Christ as well as the trials and tribulations that he had to face.” (Read: Five Local Celebrities Who Are Not Afraid to Declare Their Faith Online)

Gloria Romero: Blessed Virgin Mary

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Photos from Gloria Romero Facebook and The Philippine Star/PressReader

It’s no surprise that the actress was the unanimous choice to play the Mother of Christ in the 1954 Lenten pic Martir Sa Golgota

Besides her breathtaking beauty (“Parang santa!” swooned fellow actress Nena Perez Rubio in an article on the movie), Ms. Gloria had a wholesome reputation that was background-checked by no less than Archbishop Rufino Santos, the first Filipino cardinal.

John Arcilla: Fr. Fernando Suarez

from-jesus-to-judas-six-stars-and-the-religious-roles-they-played
Photos from Saranggola Media Productions and IMDb

Before On The Job: The Missing 8 (where he bagged the Best Actor Award in the 78th Venice International Film Festival), John starred as the controversial healing priest in a 2020 entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival. (Read: ICYMI: John Arcilla Wins Coveted Volpi Cup for Best Actor At The 78th Venice Film Festival)

According to the film’s director, Joven Tan, Fr. Suarez specifically wanted John to play him in the biopic. Sadly, the priest would not see the final product as he passed away from a heart attack on February 4, 2020, three days shy of his 53rd birthday.

Vilma Santos: Sister Stella L

from-jesus-to-judas-six-stars-and-the-religious-roles-they-played
Photo from Vilma Santos Recto Instagram and IMDb

When the Star for All Seasons portrayed her most critically acclaimed role to date—that of the nun who becomes sympathetic to the plight of the working class—she admitted that “wala naman po akong kinalaman sa bayan.”

That has since changed, of course. Vilma has been in public office since 1998, serving as mayor of Lipa, governor of Batangas, and currently representative of Batangas’s sixth district.  

Rocco Nacino: St. Pedro Calungsod

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Photo from Rocco Nacino Instagram and IMDb

To convincingly portray the saint from Cebu, Rocco learned to sing and speak in Visayan, Spanish, and Latin. But he credits the role for making him closer to God.

Ang characters ko every day, they were changing so it was really tiring. It came to the point na parang nawawala na ako, hindi ko na alam kung sino ako pag-uwi ko,” he said in an interview. “May times na kinakausap ko si God, asking for help, asking for Him to guide whatever actions, decisions I was doing.”

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