Note: This photo essay appeared in the 21-27 March 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly newspaper published in San Francisco, CA 'for Filipinos in mainstream America.' This blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the paper.
The Holy Week is a month away. It’s time to prepare for the long vacation, which, my hometown experiences tell me, is capped by family and class reunions on Black Saturday after the religious rites of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
The folk rituals of Holy Week among Roman Catholics, local or Pinoys living in foreign soils, include visiting seven churches, a tradition called Visita Iglesia, on Maundy Thursday. Many faithful go on excursions to neighboring towns in the provinces, so it’s not surprising to see jeeploads of city folks visiting churches in Laguna and Rizal, or Bulacan and Pampanga.
I have not gone on a Visita Iglesia in all my life although I have visited many churches for their historical and cultural heritage values at other times of the year. I can in fact help balikbayan friends and relatives choose seven churches in Metro Manila for their visita on Maundy Thursday. My mind tells me that there should be certain colorful enrichments along the pilgrimage route from the first to the seventh church. After doing the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and the fourteen Stations of the Cross, an enriching break between churches may do wonders both to body and soul of the local and balikbayan pilgrim.
In my list are three churches built during the last century: the UP Church of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines in the Diliman campus, and the Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, both in Quezon City, and the Redemptorist Church in Paranaque City, more popular as the Baclaran Church.
The UP Church of the Holy Sacrifice, a round chapel with a thin shell concrete dome, still astounds me even if I still see it often after graduating from the university many years ago. The altar is at the center, a double-sided crucifix hangs above it, and all around are wall panels painted with murals depicting the passion of Jesus Christ. The creative geniuses who put all these together in 1955 later became National Artists: Leandro Locsin, Arturo Luz, Napoleon Abueva, Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok. The church was recognized as a national historical landmark and a cultural treasure in 2005 by the National Historical Institute and the National Museum.
The pilgrim may not be able to escape the lure of the standard food fare of UP Diliman: banana cue or turon, available any time at the university shopping center a short walk across the church. A leisurely stroll under the canopy of giant acacia trees on the academic oval up to the Oblation monument can be conducive for meditations before proceeding to the next church in the visita route.
The Santo Domingo Church is the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila. According to historical accounts, the most magnificent of several Santo Domingo churches rose in Intramuros after the severe earthquake of 1863, but this was levelled to the ground by the Japanese bombs of December 1941. The present structure built in Quezon City and inaugurated in 1954 is the sixth church. This is where the image of Our Lady of the La Naval that survived the Second World War is enshrined.
When he recites the visita prayers, the pilgrim is surrounded by Stained-glass windows depicting the original 15 mysteries of the holy rosary by Galo Ocampo, and the colorful murals on the life of St. Dominic painted on the overhead cupolas by National Artist Botong Francisco.
From there is a short distance to Banawe St., teeming with restaurants for a quick snack or simple meal. The Ma Mon Luk is still around for the mami and siopao of the good old days before moving on to the next church.
The pilgrim may want to have the Baclaran Church last in the visita. This church was consecrated in December 1958; earlier in January, it was declared the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help. Devotees come here on Wednesdays to pray the novena before the picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help not the typical sculptured Marian image.
Baclaran’s other popularity comes from the stalls of garments that can match those of Divisioria in terms of variety and prices. Thus, a pilgrim’s journey to the next church may be broken by a quick trip to the clothes market.
Our next set comprises historical and popular places of worship: San Sebastian, Quiapo and Sta. Cruz churches. Depending on one’s capacity to walk, the pilgrim may want to traverse Ongpin St. of Chinatown to get to the Binondo Church and further on through Divisoria to the Tondo Church.
This group already makes up five. The pilgrim may however opt to divert from Sta. Cruz to Intramuros for the San Agustin Church and the Manila Cathedral. Or, the pilgrim may consider another alternative for the visita: the Marian churches of Ermita and Malate.
The gothic architecture of the San Sebastian Church or the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian continues to stun visitors. It is the only pre-fabricated all-steel church in the country; the steel sections came all the way from Belgium and were assembled on site. Historical accounts say that the church was declared a minor basilica in 1890, and it was inaugurated the following year.
The Quiapo Church is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, center of worship on Fridays of the devotees of the antique life-sized image of the Poong Nazareno, and the hub of intense veneration every 9th of January during the long procession of the image around the Quiapo district.
The main door of the basilica opens into Plaza Miranda, site of miting de avances of political parties until the last election of 1971, and of protest rallies and demonstrations until the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Pilgrims to and from Quiapo church can be distracted by the commerce on Carriedo St.: Nazareno t-shirts and towels, colorful praying candles, flower garlands, native delicacies, medicinal herbs and anting-antings. They may also get detoured to Quinta Market on Echague St. for mangoes and other fruits of the season, or to Excellente store for a large chunk of ham to feast on after the meatless Holy Week.
The Sta. Cruz Church, recently renovated, was completed in 1957. Like most of the churches of old Manila, the original stone church one sees in history books was totally destroyed during the Second World War.
Today, there is just the rotunda with a running old fountain between it and the entry gate to Chinatown. The pilgrim may find plenty of distractions on Ongpin St. on the way to Binondo Church: lucky charm bracelets, jewelry, varieties of hopia, and carts of fresh fruits and vegetables.
To me, Binondo Church and the Plaza San Lorenzo nearby comprise the focal point of Chinatown. The church is formally Marian being the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish Church, but because the Filipino saint was born here, it was declared the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. The present church was rebuilt from the old structures that survived the American bombs of 1944.
The pilgrim may opt to walk the distance from Plaza San Lorenzo to the Tondo Church past the tempting distractions of the new mall on Reina Regente and the Divisoria stalls on Claro M. Recto.
The Manila Cathedral had been under structural reinforcements for some time, and may open in time for Holy Week. The cathedral was declared the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1981. Since the Spanish times, it has been the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The first cathedral was built in 1581. The fifth, built after the earthquake of 1880, was reduced to rubble during the liberation of Manila from the Japanese. It was rebuilt in 1954 to 1958.
San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the country, survived the bombs that razed Intramuros to the ground during the battle of Manila. UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1993.
A pilgrim can take a stroll on top of the walls around Intramuros, or tour the walled city on board a horse-drawn cart or calesa. There is Casa Manila across the San Agustin Church where a museum, souvenir stores and restaurants are located for the refreshment of tired minds and bodies.
The Ermita Church is the Parish Church of Nuestra Senora de Guia, the oldest Marian image in the country. The story goes that one of the men of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi found the local people worshipping the image on a trunk surrounded by pandan leaves.
Roxas Boulevard is the scenic connection between the Ermita Church and the Malate Church, where another Marian image is enshrined: the image of the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, brought from Spain in 1624.
The Malate Church is also a short walk from the light railway station on Quirino Avenue and the fruit stalls on San Andres St. can be an inviting distraction for the hungry soul.
Jeepneys plying the Mabini and MH Del Pilar routes may take the pilgrim from one church to the other passing through the entertainment and commercial areas of Ermita and Malate.
Thus, the pilgrim may actually find some reinvigorating distractions when he goes through the spiritual experiences of Visita Iglesia of Maundy Thursday: local histories, cultural views, and food tripping.