SEVEN. That’s the number of churches that you have to visit within the day, according to Visita Iglesia traditions. That’s exactly what my husband Raff and I did yesterday, Holy Thursday, March 24, 2016.
Believe it or not, it was only the second time that I did complete a Visita Iglesia journey, and it felt so fulfilling. When I was young, it was not a tradition for my family to observe the Visita Iglesia tradition. I grew up in a Catholic home but, being of Chinese descent, it was dotted with nuances of Buddhism such as popi (lighting incense for the dead and offering food and drinks) and visits to the temple. But, owing to my being the youngest, I was the one most detached from fulfilling Buddhist duties. I went to a Catholic school for elementary, and the Protestant school where I finished high school respected the faith of its Catholic students. My college education was in a Catholic school, De La Salle University, so I guess my Catholic faith had always prevailed within me.
I was already married when I embarked on a Visita Iglesia journey for the very first time. It was with Raff, too, and it turned out well. We took the Eastern trail, going around Cainta, Antipolo, Marikina and Pasig, to visit the required seven churches. We played it by ear, allowing prevailing conditions and circumstances to decide which churches to visit. This time around, we more or less planned out our Visita Iglesia trail, and I would say it turned out to be an awesome spiritual journey that not only warmed the heart but strengthened my faith in God and in God’s people.
CHURCH NO. 1: HOLY TRINITY PARISH
First stop yesterday was the Holy Trinity Parish in our neighborhood in Cainta, Rizal. This is where Raff and I hear Mass most of the time during Sundays, and it played an important role in our relationship as a married couple. During the first years after we bought a piece of residential land in the subdivision, when we were not married yet, the community church was just a small one. Visits to the place, especially when we were already having our house built, gave us a clear picture of how the community was growing. Soon after, the church became too small for the growing community of believers, and construction began for a bigger church beside it. Much of the effort came from the then parish priest, Father Noel Rabonza III, who, being young, driven, committed and passionate about the church project, continuously urged every parishioner to contribute his share in the building of the church. It turned out to be a concerted effort, therefore, among the parishioners and sponsors Father Noel managed to convince to take up the cause as well. Construction work took years, as funds trickled in, but finally, on March 24, 2012, Most Reverend Gabriel Reyes, bishop of Antipolo, dedicated the church.
Now, we, parishioners, are able to enjoy the fruits of our and Father Noel and the church sponsors’ labor. Holy Trinity Parish is a beautiful modern church, all white, with blue-tinted glass windows and stained glass accents near the ceiling, and we love it. Even the maya birds that fly by feel comfortable and at home inside the church. It is a beautiful place of worship, with a spacious park outside highlighted by a globe-shaped fountain. When you drive by during late afternoons, you’ll see people just sitting around, looking at the calming globe fountain, smiling, talking and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
So timely that Raff and I visited Holy Trinity Parish as the first church on our Visita Iglesia trail yesterday, March 24, 2016, the fourth anniversary of the church’s dedication.
CHURCH NO. 2: OUR LADY OF LIGHT PARISH
Being residents of Cainta, Rizal, we deemed it only right to visit the Cainta Church in the town proper as the second church on our Visita Iglesia Holy Thursday trail. We had gone here, too, during our very first Visita Iglesia experience.
Our Lady of Light Parish is the proper name of the Cainta Church, and it’s a stone church built from 1707 to 1716. A typical old heritage church with a commanding façade, it was burned during the Filipino-American War in 1899. No less than Fernando Amorsolo painted a replica of the Patron Saint in 1950, and the church was rebuilt in 1966.
Despite being in the midst of a crowded community, Our Lady of Light Parish sits on a spacious property with lots of courtyard space. Just the way heritage churches should continue to be. It also fronts the Cainta Catholic School, so it’s convenient for students to visit the church regularly and strengthen their Christian faith.
CHURCH NO. 3: ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH
Since we were already in the town proper of Cainta, it was most practical for us to aim for the Taytay Church next. We asked around for directions, and easily saw it from the distance, but because repairs were being undertaken on some roads leading to the church, we had to take a circuitous route to reach it. And when we finally reached it, Taytay Church turned out to be such a pleasant surprise.
St. John the Baptist Parish, better known as simply Taytay Church, is yet another heritage church perched on a hilly ground, so it towered over everything else. It had ample parking space and, as soon as we drove up its driveway and took one of the parking slots, Raff and I already felt comfort and peace, as the place was very welcoming.
It’s a beautiful heritage church with a beautiful architecture that allows it to take full advantage of its elevation. Both sides of the church are lined with tall windows, making it airy and comfortable for devotees to spend time inside the church. Piped-in piano music can be heard by devotees the whole day of Holy Thursday, and it soothes the spirit and warms the soul.
First built by Franciscan missionaries in its original place by Laguna de Bay in 1579, St. John the Baptist Parish transferred to its present location in Barangay San Juan, Taytay, Rizal, in 1591. The first stone church outside Manila, the church was destroyed by the devastating effects of a typhoon in 1632 and was reconstructed in 1768, but it burned down during the Filipino-American War in 1899 before it was rebuilt and made bigger in the 1970s.
This was where we took a quick lunch break in a Mang Inasal store nearby. Walking back to the church after feeding our hungry tummies, we passed the Taytay Municipal Hall and the Gym on the left and the Taytay Municipal Police Station and the Taytay Fire Station on the right. Everything in one area, with the church at the center of it all!
CHURCH NO. 4: OUR LADY OF PEACE AND GOOD VOYAGE
Doing the Eastern church trail first, we would certainly not miss going up to Antipolo, Rizal, to visit the Antipolo Church—the National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage—for the fourth stop on our Visita Iglesia journey.
Here, in Antipolo, is where we pay our Property Tax every year, so we regularly go up the mountainous city. Whenever we do, we would park in the government-run parking lot between the church and the Antipolo City Hall and stop by the Antipolo Church to pray after paying. We would, like other visitors, also stop by the stalls selling suman, kalamay and kasuy, and buy some to take back home.
The last time we went up to Antipolo, we parked at the mall in front of the church, which offers free parking to guests. So that’s what we did yesterday when we arrived in Antipolo. A lot of other devotees were doing the same, so the line to the mall was long. I could not help but marvel at how the owner of the mall continued to offer free parking although he (or she) obviously knew that some of those who park there were going to church and not exactly to the mall. But he (or she) was blessed, for the mall is consistently full of people, stopping by for drinks and food and buying stuff sold by its tenants. It’s a wonder, too, how the parking area, despite having limited slots, never ran out of parking slots. The cars just kept coming and going at a well-balanced pace. Perhaps it was the hand of God at work there.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage was full of devotees who just had to come for their Visita Iglesia. This fourth stop was the most crowded, maybe because it’s also one of the most well-known pilgrimage church.
The first missionaries of Antipolo were Franciscans, but it was the Jesuits who administered the church from 1591 to 1768. It was greatly damaged during the Chinese uprising of 1632, followed by the earthquakes of 1645, 1824 and 1863. For three centuries, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage had been the object of religious pilgrimages all over the Philippines. No wonder devotees crowded the church on Holy Thursday.
After visiting the church, we walked back to the mall, where we parked our car, but I just could not resist buying a small lei of everlasting flowers. I had not seen everlasting flowers for a long time, even when I last visited Baguio, and they happened to be part of my childhood memories of summer vacations in Baguio. It was also the very first time I saw them in Antipolo.
CHURCH NO. 5: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHEDRAL
From Antipolo, Raff took Sumulong Highway to go down to Quezon City. It was a route we had not taken for a long time, and, upon a left turn towards the descending terrain of Sumulong Highway, the road opened up wide to reveal the result of a road widening effort. What used to be a narrow path that led down to Marcos Highway is now a wide road that made travel a lot faster and easier. Passing by the new Robinsons Place Antipolo, the Seven Suites community by a picturesque curve in the road where one can view the landscape of Metro Manila, we hit Marcos Highway in no time at all and headed straight for Lantana corner Vancouver in Cubao to visit The Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, Quezon City, for our fifth Visita Iglesia stop.
Yes, this Jubilee church was where Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera got married. The celebrity wedding was one of the reasons why the church had achieved celebrity status. But closer to home, this was also where Raff’s nephew, Jeff Piñon, and Jacq got married several years ago and Raff served as godfather in a wedding for the very first time.
We came back to The Immaculate Conception Cathedral yesterday to a huge crowd of devotees who came and went and serenely made the rounds of the Stations of the Cross. Traffic was difficult, especially since there was just a small space in front of the church for parking, so we parked on the side street just like a lot of others. After visiting the church, we had drinks in a small eatery in front of the church called Lasap Sarap, where I saw the signage that once made me laugh out loud when we were passing Congressional Ave. in Quezon City on our way to Bulacan to visit Raff’s sister and her family.
The signage, bearing the image of the cartoon character Daffy Duck, says: “Pekeng Duck (Special Fried Itik)—Hot and Crispy on the outside, Tender and Juicy on the inside.”
Yes, the owner of the eatery said, they also owned the place along Congressional Ave. I felt amused because I had, on several occasions, attempted to take a photo of the funny signage along Congressional Ave., but, unfortunately, it had become so faded that it wasn’t going to register well on pictures anymore. So I gave up. Now I find an entirely clear and new version of the signage that amused me no end, and, of course, I took pictures of it.
CHURCH NO. 6: NATIONAL SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL
From Cubao, it was a short drive to the sixth church on our Visita Iglesia itinerary—the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel along Broadway St. (formerly known as Doña Juana Rodriguez St.) IN Quezon City. Short drive, yes, but long queue. Traffic was bad. It became worse the closer we got to the church because it was full of people. Since construction was going on in one part of the parking area and was cordoned off, the parking area became smaller, and parked vehicles were crowding it. Broadway St. had parked cars on both sides, and so were the side streets. We parked in the first available slot along the side streets and walked over to the church.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is one of the churches that’s closest to my heart because at the Crypt found under the church is where the ashes of my late dad and mom lie. So Raff and I are there almost every Sunday to bring them flowers. The staff at the crypt—from the guards to the maintenance personnel—have already become friends through the years.
As for the church itself, Raff and I sometimes hear Mass there before or after visiting my parents’ crypt. We had also, on several occasions, visited the church to make special requests and prayers to God, and He has never failed me. Not once, not ever. My God is a merciful and loving God.
CHURCH NO. 7: SANTUARIO DEL STO. CRISTO
Dusk was falling when we got to the seventh and final stop of our Visita Iglesia yesterday—Santuario Del Sto. Cristo, better known as Aquinas Church, along F. Blumentritt St. in San Juan. Referred to before as the Church of San Juan Del Monte, the church and convent were built in 1602 to 1604 by the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Rosary on a site donated by Capt. Julian de Cuenca. I also read on the marker that both the church and the convent were burned during the Chinese uprising of 1639. They were reconstructed in 1641 but were once again set on fire in 1763 during the British occupation of Manila. The present church and convent, built in 1774, were used by the insurgent forces of the revolution of 1898, so the historical value of the place is unquestionable.
But Raff and I did not go there yesterday just because of this. We chose to visit the church because it happened to be where we got married so it’s a memorable place for us, as our marriage was sanctified there by Father Jesus Prol.
We caught sight of Father Prol at the church yesterday, but the place was so crowded that it was impossible to get anywhere near the altar. Raff and I squeezed our way in just to dip our hands in Holy Water, but I could not stay too long inside because it was so hot and the air was still because of the crowd that had gathered inside the church. So we made our way out of the church, just beyond the door and, there, heard the 6:00 p.m. Mass that had begun. What a way to end a Visita Iglesia journey!
It was dark by the time we got back to where we had parked the car. Still with a long line of cars inching their way to Aquinas Church, we decided to turn around and take a longer, more circuitous but traffic-free route back home to Cainta.
Raff and I shared bites of Toasted Siopao on our drive back home, feeling happy and fulfilled for being able to successfully complete our Visita Iglesia journey. Quite a few times between churches, Raff had told me that he was sweating all over, but he felt very good despite the heat. We both also enjoyed our trip, a spiritual journey, together. We also marveled at the strong faith that the Filipino people showed by fulfilling a Holy Thursday tradition despite the traffic and the heat. Despite our deficiencies as persons, we Filipinos are very resilient when it comes to our faith. We fulfill it to the best of our abilities and never forget to have fun doing it, as well.
On our drive back home, we chanced upon crowds of people who had set off on an Alay Lakad mission to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo, Rizal, and hear early morning Good Friday Mass there as part of the Holy Week tradition. On foot. They were going up to Antipolo on foot. From the Shrine at Robinsons Galleria at the corner of EDSA, the whole stretch of Ortigas Ave. all the way to Cainta Junction was filled with small groups of people, a lot of whom had backpacks on and were obviously on their way to Antipolo. Imagine the distance and the ascending terrain! But the cities and municipalities covered by Ortigas Ave. were ready with support services—ambulance cars, police assistance, etc.—to make the journey more pleasant and, yes, enjoyable, for everyone.
Faith, indeed, can move mountains. I believe.