Lent is that season when Metro Manila comes to a complete halt. The streets of the Metropolis is near to empty (while the roads leading to fave vacation areas are horrible), and everywhere there is nothing but silence–almost. While more and more people leave town to head for the beach, majority of Catholic Filipinos observe the Lenten season with much reflection and prayer. One of the favorite practices done by Filipinos is going on a visit to a church while praying the Station of the Cross, commonly known as the Visita Iglesia.
Early Church Practices
Historically, Mother Mary is the first person to practice the Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross), in which she followed the steps where Jesus trudged during the last few hours of His life on Eath. The practice was continued by the early Christians where they would visit the churches to pray and reflect on the passion of Jesus as He went on His way to Calvary. The practice dates back to the period of the early Christians where they would visit the churches to pray and reflect on the passion of Jesus as He went on His way to Calvary. This custom spread to other Christian countries like Spain and later on, reached to other far-flung countries like the Philippines.
In my family, doing the Visita Iglesia during the week of Lent has been a cherished family tradition.
Embarking on a Pilgrimage
Deciding to do the visit differently this year, my husband and I chose to visit the old churches of Cavite this year. We knew from history that Cavite is an old province that was inhabited by the Spaniards during the 18-19th centuries, so it had a lot of cultural treasures to offer. For us, it would be the perfect way to spend the Holy Week.
Browsing the Internet for ideas, I came across Ivan Henares’ blog, Ivan About Town, which gave good pictures of the churches worth visiting. Consulting a map, we plotted our way and chose the churches. Unfortunately, hubby decided that we wouldn’t reach Maragondon because of the long distance from Bacoor. Ultimately, we agreed that we would visit any Catholic church that we will pass along the way.
Lugging along our packed lunch and snacks, jugs of water and ice, face towels, and extra shirts, we started on our road trip with a prayer on our lips.
First Stop: St. Michael Church
This little church (I say “little” because it’s comparatively small compared to the old churches I’ve seen in my entire life) packs a big punch. Located in Bacoor and just beside the Municipal Hall of the city, the St. Michael Church stands discreetly but proudly in this area. It has a beautiful altar that is reminiscent of the altars prior to Vatican II: intricate and impressive.
Like any old churches in the Philippines, the edifice was made of adobe bricks, making it very formidable and impressive. There is something about these churches that make me feel awed just by looking at them. The Zen-like facade of new churches these days just do not come close to bringing out the grandeur of the Catholic Faith.
As we finished reciting our prayers, we asked God to give us strength to complete our journey. It was a humid day yesterday, and the heat was enough to zap anyone’s energy.
Second Stop: St. Magdalene Church and A Side Trip
Next stop was the historical town of Kawit. It was near to lunch, and the heat was getting unbearable. So parked inside the Aguinaldo Shrine and took pictures of it as well. We promised my son to take him on a trip to Kawit to visit this shrine, and now was a good time to do it. It was a holiday, however, so we had to be content in viewing the facade of the edifice from a distance. We explained to kiddo that this was where the independence of the Philippine was first declared and that Emilio Aguinaldo was the first president of the Philippine Republic. Too bad the museum was closed; we would have wanted to view the first Philippine flag and old pictures from the revolution.
After a quick lunch and rest at the parking area, we proceeded to St. Magdalene Church. A stone’s throw away from the shrine, this church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene is just as impressive as the first stop.
The church was constructed by Jesuit priests in 1624 and has remained standing despite war and natural calamities. To put variety in our prayers, we said our rosaries this time around.
Like most old churches, St. Mary Magdalene Church had a beautiful retableau at the altar featuring the town patron saint and some other popular saints. Even from afar, one could clearly see that the design was intricate and beautiful. Even the chandeliers looked grand. Truly, the parish priest of this town put all the stops in constructing a masterpiece. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t view the images at the altar. As was the custom during Lent, the images were shrouded in cloth as a sign of reverence to Christ’s passion. I could not help but reflect on the sturdiness of the church.
And these were built painstakingly for several years before they were completed. How could you not admire churches like these?
Third Stop: The Most Holy Rosary Church
After completing our prayers and taking a short break, we continued our journey. It was about 2:00 pm when we reached the town of Rosario, a bustling little town unlike the quieter town of Kawit. Most establishments were open for business, so it didn’t feel like a sleepy town at all. After asking a few questions here and there, we finally found it hidden at the far corner of the town plaza.
While the exterior looks very old, it doesn’t have the feel of an old church inside. The interiors were painted in a very light color, giving the Zen-like feel of a new church. No matter, really. It is the intention of the visit that is important. For the second time, we recited the Station of the Cross.
One funny incident happened to me after we finished our prayer. I took a leak and entered the parish wash room which was labeled “She” at the door. Now there were two toilets and the other one was occupied when I came in. Actually, I thought the other cubicle wasn’t operational since I could hear water dripping from its faucet. The janitor must have sealed off the other cubicle. Our househelpers also followed me to the wash room and lined up to pee after I left the cubicle. They were quite surprised and told me later that the cubicle was in fact occupied and that it was in fact a guy who came out! And I was like: “What if this guy was a sicko voyeur (mamboboso)?” I tell you, the girls didn’t want to pee anymore after the guy left. We were all like: “Ngeeeee!!!”
Fourth Stop: The Holy Cross Church
The heat was becoming unbearable but we still decided to pursue EPZA to reach the towns of Naic and Tanza. We were advised by policemen not to take the trip to EPZA anymore, as the area is closed. We decided to take a detour and head back for Imus Cathedral.
On our way back to where we came from, we passed by a church and decided to stop momentarily to pay a short visit. It was the Holy Cross Church which was a stone’s throw from the Most Holy Rosary Church.
This church is not an old one and wasn’t in our itinerary, but we were impressed by the huge cross that was located at the altar. It was the church of the Holy Cross, after all, and its imposing size gave me the feeling that Jesus truly led us to this place. Why? Because it was the only church whose religious images were not covered in cloth yet. So I think that was a blessing for us.
What do I truly enjoy about seeing new churches I haven’t visited yet? It’s getting 3 wishes. According to old folk (I got it from my mom, actually), when visiting a new church one is entitled to 3 wishes. And I took that to heart eversince, even passing it on to my son, who was excited because he visited a lot of new churches yesterday. We visited 5 churches yesterday; that meant he had 15 wishes in store for him!
Final Stop: Imus Cathedral
It was already 3:00 pm, so we decided to back to homebase already. Imus Cathedral was to be the last stop. My tablet had already gone pfft, and without a road map we were practically left to our devices. We were back to just asking around for directions. To beat the heat, we cooled ourselves continually with fluids and ate snacks.
Hubby and I have been here a few years back and had already forgotten how to get there. We only knew that it was a large church. Finding it was apparently easy, since it is the center of attraction for the townspeople of Imus. What is just disappointing is that some devotees chose to dress up in short shorts and spaghetti straps than give reverence to the holiness and solemness of the place. Call me a prude anytime, but a church is hardly the place to strut your stuff in minimal clothing.
We decided to offer simple prayers instead of going through another round of the Stations of the Cross. Like most of the churches we went to, the stations were done outside. A small stage was set just near the entrance gate, possibly for a Cenakulo? We couldn’t say for sure. All we know is that we wouldn’t be there to see it.
This old church may not have had the fancy detailing of the others, but one feature that makes it a cut above the rest is its tall canopy at the altar, bearing the inscription Alpha and Omega. I don’t remember seeing this feature in any church I’ve seen in the country, and this is what makes Imus Cathedral unique.
Five different churches, all different with their unique features and designs, but only one faith. We thanked God for blessing us in our trip, and it has made our Lenten season very meaningful for us.