Pilgrimage to the Holy Doors in the Philippines

Just finished last week our pilgrimage to the Holy Doors in 5 churches within Metro Manila. It was a pilgrimage that started on Good Friday this year and completed almost a week ago. It was a promise our family made, to complete the 5 churches as identified in the Pilgrimage Passport we got.

The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy 

Pope Francis declared 2015-2016 as the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a call to all Catholics to experience “a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective” (Letter of Pope Francis to Archbishop Rino Fischella, 1 September 2015). The jubilee year would run from December 8 last year until November 20 this year. On a jubilee year, the pope opens the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica that would allow pilgrims to extraordinary graces.

What makes this this year special is that instead of confining pilgrims to the Holy Door in Rome, Pope Francis made the “Door of Mercy” accessible to selected churches around the world. This makes it available for pilgrims who do not have the time or means to come to Rome to enjoy the indulgences attached to it. It is mercy in action!

The Holy Doors in the Philippines

In the country, Filipino Catholic Bishops have designated the Holy Doors for several churches in the country. A list of these churches can be found through this link. For my family, we made our way to the Manila Cathedral where we would soon find out that a pilgrim passport was available for those wishing to complete the pilgrimage seriously.

The Pilgrimage Passport

The Pilgrimage Passport is a small, purple passport that pilgrims use to accompany them to their pilgrimage. It explains the purpose of the passport and the conduct that should be performed by the faithful to each of the 5 churches. For this particular passport (I am not sure if the other dioceses in the provinces have their own passport), it has identified 5 churches (Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Kamagong, Makati City; Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong; and the Santuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan).

Pilgrim passport

Each church has its own procedure, so you have to read the instructions well. After the pilgrim recites the required prayers and completes the process, he goes to the church parish office to have his passport stamped.

The passport is available at any of the 5 churches mentioned. After completion of all the churches, you may request for your certificate at the last church. They will issue a very nice certificate stamped with a picture of Pope Francis.

As part of our Lenten sacrifice, we made our way to Manila Cathedral, but was dismayed to learn that they ran out of passports then. We went to the next church in Mandaluyong, where we were able to get our passports and the first stamp.

Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City

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Since it was a Holy Week, you can imagine how the church was swamped with people. We finished the first church after more than 2 hours.

Second Church: Manila Cathedral

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Holy Door at the Manila Cathedral

By the time we continued with the remaining churches last week, the pilgrims were already a lot less. But still, it was a Sunday and we were pleased to find company in all of the Holy Doors we went to. God is so good, our trip was blessed with sunny weather after almost a whole week of rain.

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Our passport stamp

Third Church: Santuario de Santo Cristo, San Juan City

Among the churches we went to, this was the one that was most difficult to go to. First is because San Juan was practically unchartered for us. Second, not a lot of available directions going to this church is available. You can read the map but doesn’t mean it’ll be any easy. We took the Sta. Mesa route and turned right to the corner of SM Sta. Mesa. This road led us to San Juan. When you find Puregold to your right, that’s where F. Blumentritt is. You turn right and drive straight ahead until you find the church.

We did expect to find a beautiful old church within the heart of this city! The church was built by Dominican friars in 1602.

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Our stamp and some of the prayer guides we recited at the church

By the time we finished Santuario de Santo Cristo, it was already high noon. We took our lunch at the tapsi resto nearby.

Fourth Church: National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati City

 

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The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart, dwarfed by tall buildings

By the time we arrived in Makati, it almost 1pm. The church was still full of people as they had mass at 12 noon. It was not my first time to get inside this church, but I was surprised to find it was air-conditioned. We spotted former Mayor Junjun Binay among the attendees.

Last Church: Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Pasay City

Our last stop was in this church along FB Harrison in Pasay. If you’re coming from Coastal, you turn right at FB Harrison going to Pasay. Not far away from the corner is the church. In this church was were we said our rosaries and had certificates done. We were so happy and blessed to have finished it! It was a happy day for us.

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This church was constructed by the Society of St. Paul

Some helpful tips:

  • The jubilee year of mercy is only until 20 November 2016. There is still time to complete it, but expect pilgrims will be many as the period comes to a close.
  • Plan your visits well. It would be best to prioritize Manila Cathedral, since their parish office is only available in the morning. Check the schedules of each church.
  • Wear comfortable and decent clothing. Remember that this is not like going to the mall. Wear clothing that shows reverence for our Lord. Bring extra clothing.
  • Bring water. It can get humid.
  • Bring rosaries. In the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, you have the option to either pray the rosary or the 7 Sorrows of Mary. We chose to recite the former.
  • Follow the instructions carefully. Do not shortcut. Remember that our good Lord sees us in all our undertakings.
  • Make it more meaningful by offering each visit to an intention, for example, one church for the souls in Purgatory, another church for good health of one’s family, etc.

Have a blessed weekend.

 

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Entering the Holy Doors: What Else You Need to Know

So I started my pilgrimage to the Holy Doors (Porta Sancta) this Maundy Thursday, with family in tow.  Thinking it was the perfect time to do it, we made our first stop at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros.

First Church:  Manila Cathedral

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The grand archway at the Manila Cathedral

Not knowing what to expect, we went to the cathedral and was surprised to find a large throng of people outside the church walls.  There was a chrism mass going on which was officiated by Cardinal Luis Tagle and attended by several priests all over Metro Manila.  This mass is especially celebrated for priests after all, in commemoration of the institution of the holy priesthood established by Jesus Christ.

After the mass, we went our way through the parish office, to be informed that the Pilgrim’s Passport would be distributed at the front of the church.  By the time it was our turn, we passport ran out and we would have to wait for the next batch of distribution in the afternoon.  Rather than be disheartened, we made our way to the next church.

Second Church: Shrine of the Divine Mercy

We reached the shrine around 1pm, when it was hot and humid.  The church was overflowing with people, but in a smaller scale that was manageable.  There was enough passports to distribute to pilgrims.  Except for my son, all 4 of us were given passports.

Pilgrim passport

After completing the steps required, we had our passports stamped at the parish office.  Because it was Holy Week and there were many people in the churches, it took us more than 2 hours to complete everything.  We decided to complete the other four churches (including Manila Cathedral) on a later date.

Important Things You Need to Know

There are a few things that you should know before going on a pilgrimage:

  1. The Pilgrim’s Passport is free, however you may make a donation of any amount.  The pilgrimage is not advisable for children below 15 years old.
  2. Each of the five churches indicated in the passport has it’s own set of steps.  Read the instructions in the passport as this will be your guide in completing it.  No shortcuts please.  You may try to do this, but our Lord will know it.
  3. The Jubilee Year of Mercy runs until November 20, 2016, so anybody wanting to complete it can spread out and plan their pilgrimage carefully.
  4. The most important part of the pilgrimage is not just going there, but what you get in return.  Please have the purity of intention.  It is not a field trip.  In visiting the Holy Doors, you get a plenary indulgence for your sins.  For a complete understanding on this, you may want to read more on how a plenary indulgence is obtained.  Visit the Divine Mercy website for details.
  5. The passport only lists 5 churches, but there are other churches that have been identified by other dioceses.  I am posting the list of churches from the Diocese of Cubao and Pasig City.  Every diocese in the country has the authority to designate a Holy Door within their area.  I would suggest that you check your local diocese for information.
  6. For those who are sick or incarcerated, Pope Francis has also given special attention to them.  These are special instances and the details are discussed in the Vatican’s Misericordiae Vultus.
Posted at the Diocese of Cubao's website

Posted at the Diocese of Cubao’s website

 

From the Diocese of Pasig website

From the Diocese of Pasig website

 

Opening the Holy Door in the Jubilee Year of Mercy

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When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I must admit I had a lot of questions about it.  But I was curious at best–I wanted to know its special significance and the benefits attached to it.

Declared last December 8, 2015 (coinciding with the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and to run until November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King), it has been called an extraordinary jubilee simply because it is something that is not scheduled or predetermined ahead.  What makes it more significant is its purpose:  the jubilee is seen as a special period for remission of sins and obtaining universal pardon and mercy from God.

Opening of the Holy Door

In every jubilee, the pope celebrates this by opening the Holy Doors in Rome.  People who pass through these doors gain a plenary indulgence among other blessings.  On this jubilee year, Pope Francis has decided to make the Holy Doors accessible to the faithful by allowing every diocese all over the world to designate a Holy Door in their area.

Remission of Sins and Gaining Indulgences

To Catholics, we are taught to understand that there are two kinds of sins: mortal and venial sins.  In any case, any kind of sin ought to be confessed to a priest with the recitation of certain prayers (the Act of Contrition and the absolution given by the priest-confessor).  We are absolved from these sins, but the effects (or scars) of our sins are not completely erased.  That is when the idea of gaining good works and indulgences come in.

And this is one big benefit of entering the Holy Door, it gains one plenary indulgence of one’s sins.  I will not go into detail about indulgences, but there are plenty of good links available about it.

The Holy Doors in Metro Manila

There are several Holy Doors designated in the country, but I am only familiar with the 6 churches within Metro Manila area:  the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Sanctuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan; and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit one of the Holy Doors.  The picture above is the Holy Door from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Maysilo, Mandaluyong City.  You’d notice it right away from the notice on the side which says Portia Sancta (“Holy Door” in Latin).

What You Have To Do

When entering the Holy Door, you have to make the sign of the cross with reverence and contrition.  Pilgrims follow a certain procedure, recite certain prayers, and this varies from church to church.  Those who are really keen on completing the pilgrimage may also opt to buy a passport at any of the designated churches.  After reciting the prayers and going through the steps, those who opt to buy a passport should go to the parish office and have their “passports” stamped.  It is pretty much like the passport stamping done on pilgrimage to the Buen Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”) in Spain.  It makes the pilgrimage interesting and memorable.

Try to visit any of these Holy Doors, especially during Holy Week.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will enrich you spiritually.

Second Sunday of Advent: Time for Preparing Amidst Chaos

It is a season of utter chaos: dreadful traffic, dried up wallets, stressful year-end reports.  When children come knocking at your door singing cheesy, out-of-tune Christmas carols you wish the holidays would soon be over and all this hysteria gone.

And yet we wait, we wait for Him who is to come.  Again.  It’s not like He didn’t come last year, but we wait again for Him this year–with the same anticipation as with the previous years.  When we lose sight of this, then we lose the real essence of celebrating Christmas.

It is the second Sunday of Advent, a time when we are still waiting for Christ.  As we wait, let us keep our hearts and minds focused on His arrival.  Let us get past the trimmings and merriment this season brings.  This is not what Christmas is just about.

Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes

Contemplate on the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem as they eagerly await for Jesus.  They didn’t have a lot of material things (probably just a few clothes and the mule as their prized possession!), didn’t have a lot of money or food to eat, but they were genuinely happy.  Or sublimely ecstatic as I would like to say it, because they KNEW what they had or were having was far more precious than all the world has to offer in this life.  So they got past the cold, long distance, isolation, and fatigue to do the will of God and have the Christ Child born in Bethlehem.  Even when they had to stay in a manger where the animals were kept.  They never complained!  So why should we when we have all the conveniences of this life?

And Wait We Shall….

Two more Sundays to go to await for Jesus’ coming.  Let’s never get tired of waiting and spiritually preparing ourselves for this event.  Even if the traffic wears us down forever.  Graces are always in store for those who wait in patience.

God bless!

The Advent Season and the Wreath: Preparing for Christ

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(Source: St. George Anglican website)

We are in the last week of ordinary time based on the Catholic liturgical calendar. In fact, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King today, a fitting tribute  to end the liturgical ordinary time.  Advent season kicks in next week. But even before that, we’ve been getting festive everywhere as the days go by. Christmas in the Philippines is practically celebrated just right after All Souls’ Day, when families start bringing out the decorations for the coming holidays which is still weeks away.

In our family, we prepare for Christmas by observing the time-old Catholic tradition of lighting the Advent wreath. This practice is still done in Catholic schools, where children light up a candle each week. Now there are four candles in the wreath representing the four weeks preparation prior to Christmas. There are three purple candles (signifying penance and sacrifice) which are lit first, and then a rose pink candle signifying joy.  In some wreaths, there is a fifth candle—a white one—which is lit on Christmas Day representing our Lord Jesus Christ. Accompanying prayers are recited each week.   Each time on a Sunday, my family and I converge and pray before our Nativity scene where the image of the Holy Family–Jesus, Mary and Joseph–are found. We have been doing this for more than five years already that it has become a family tradition to us. Our Christmas celebration is never complete without doing this and the Simbang Gabi (Christmas novena). But that is a different story altogether.

How to Recite the Prayers for Advent

There are plenty of available sources in the Internet to choose from. I used to get prayers from the Internet (Ignatian Spirituality offers great meditations and prayers for Advent). Since two years ago, we’ve started using The Advent Wreath Prayer Guide that I’ve purchased from the St. Paul Publications. Copies are still available there.

 

 

 

Cafeteria Catholics: The Crown of A Lukewarm Faith

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Today’s Gospel talks about children and their eminence in the kingdom of God.  “… unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…. (Matthew 18:2-6).  What is so special about children that Jesus gives special mention to the little ones?

You fully guessed it!  It’s their child-like faith that makes the difference.  Their absolute reliance on an elder, their innocence and love, it can truly warm the heart.  It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or a brother, mentor or friend to a child.  Their love and admiration is great, almost to a fault.  And this is the kind of trust that our Lord looks in us.

But where are we now?  We live in a period where information is readily available.  Because we KNOW more, we QUESTION more.  And that is the danger there.  We doubt, we refute, we DISTRUST.

Not that questioning is bad.  In fact, seeking the truth should be second nature to us as thinking creatures.  But what if, in so seeking, you find something that you thought is true and begin to believe it as an authority, or something that works well for you?

Let’s talk about faith, our Catholic faith. More and more of us these days are what sociologists call “Cafeteria Catholics”, the kind of Catholic who chooses only the beliefs he wants to believe in and rejects the rest.  For example, you believe in the sacrament of marriage but do not believe in confession.  You pray regularly but do not go to mass.  You believe in the sanctity of family life but also believe that divorce is the way to go if a relationship tours sour.  And the list goes on.

This is one of the reasons why some Catholics leave and those who do stay become lukewarm.  And there is more danger in a person with lukewarm faith than one without any at all.  In a recent homily, Pope Francis warned that: “Lukewarm Christians, without courage … that hurts the Church so much because this tepid atmosphere draws you inside….”

We question and look for direction, but the direction we point to is sometimes skewered.  And what may be right to you may not always be the right thing to do.  How to beat the darkness of tepidness?

Ask for proper guidance.  Look for somebody who is knowledgeable and virtuous to give you advice.  Go to a priest or a religious who can give you guidance over questions bothering your head.

Pray unceasingly.  We are all guilty of this sometimes (or all of the time?).  But guess what?  Prayer truly helps even before you even say what you need.  In periods of confusion, I always pray the Rosary or some devotion that would lift my heart and mind to God.  Mother Mary and Jesus do it, the saints have done it.  We should also make the effort to imitate them.

Read to find answers.  Read the Bible or any pious book.  These are books to put you in the right direction.              

I’ve been a staunch Cafeteria Catholic in the past that almost led me to another religion.  Were it not for the prayers of my mother, I would have been lost to the faith.  I can very well say I am still in some way a Cafeteria Catholic, but I am resolved to know more about my faith and sticking fast to it.  The key to discovering the truth is not just to ask questions, but to discover the reason, the TRUTH, behind it.  I’ve been doing this for more than five years now, and though I am no closer to the truth than I did before, I can very well say I am deepening my roots in the faith. 

And by deepening my faith, I am becoming a child again in the eyes of Jesus. 

 

   

 

Getting Lost in the Season

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It will be the third week of Advent this week, and pretty soon it’s Christmas.  And it’s the time of the year when traffic is chaotic and unpredictable, in Metro Manila at least. Malls are filled with sales and goodies offering great deals. 

I try not to be harried by the Christmas rush, but there is no stopping Christmas, and buying little tokens to family and friends are a way of showing they are highly appreciated for all that they are and do for us.  And with the parties and other indulgence, it is  so easy to be lost in all of this seeming hoopla.

Remember Yolanda and what it did to families in the Visayas and I am back to my senses.  We’ve seen nothing but destruction and death the past few weeks, with families either displaced or separated from each other.  It’s been truly comforting to see the outpouring of support extended by other people.  The world has become a smaller place, not only because of technology but because of the kindness of strangers to give.  Nevermind the looting and politicking that we hear in the news.  Let’s focus on the positives. 

In all of these excesses, we must give.  Give what we can to people who need it most, to people who have lost a lot.  The beauty of this season is not in the taking but in the giving of what we have, whatever that may be.

It is so easy to just have fun with all the merry-making, losing the reason and cause of our celebrating.  

Slow down and savor the moment.  Reflect.  Beyond the twinkling lights and berriboned boxes, there is a child who was born to save us. He is, was, and always will be.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas in our lives.