Church Pilgrimage in the pandemic...
The pandemic halted almost all the world's activities and plans. Many planned travels were canceled, and destinations not reached.
The Church also experienced the same. Actually, when the Philippine government issued the lockdown on March 15, 2020, my ministry was about to go to Baguio for our retreat. Only last July 2022 we resume our supposed to be a retreat, and mind you, we experienced the Baguio earthquake at that time (maybe I will write another article about it).
So now, let me share with you our church pilgrimage yesterday as part of the 69th parish anniversary activity after 3 years.
Just as we were about to leave Quezon City, I was suddenly assigned as the bus 2 leader because the supposed leader was sick and was not able to come. Our church pilgrimage was in Bataan, a province in the central Luzon. We were four buses.
Let me share with you some pictures I took from my cellphone and tell you some little things about the churches we visited.
First. what is a Visita Iglesia?
A Visita Iglesia, Spanish words for Church Visit, is actually a common practice done during the Holy Week, especially on the night of Maundy Thursday. It is to visit the Altar of Repose (or the Blessed Sacrament in each church). The tradition of 7 churches comes from the ancient practice of early Christian pilgrims who visit the 7 churches of Rome as a form of penance. It was started by St. Philip Neri and his friends. Accordingly, 7 churches is to remind us of the 7 last words of Jesus on the Cross.
In the Philippines, the Visita Iglesia was one of the practices that the Spaniards shared to the Filipinos. It is introduced to us by the Augustinian friars in 1566. They were the first missionaries to the Philippines.
Okay. Let's start now with the 7 churches in Bataan that we visited. Bataan, according to its former bishop, Archbishop Soc is the land of heroes and saints. And he was right.
St. Michael the Archangel Church
As a church, it was founded in 1667 in the place called Odion (came from Uod yon, later on was called Orion).
The retablo was one of the original structure of the church. The side retablos present the 7 traditional archangels of the Church. St. Michael the Archangel, is their patron. In the Bible, he is a the chief of God's angels who overthrown Lucifer to hell.
Sts. Peter and Paul Parish,
To all the churches that we visited, this one is rather new compared to others. You can see this in its modern structure and interior designs. The church's patrons are the 2 pillars of the Catholic Church: Sts. Peter ana Paul.
Bonus: Our Lady of the Pillar
We just passed by by this old church. We were originally scheduled to go here instead of the Sts. Peter and Paul but there was a wedding scheduled during our visit.
The image of the Our Lady of Pilar is Mama Mary standing atop of the pillar, believed to be one of the pillars in their Nazareth house when she appeared to St. James.
St. Joseph Cathedral
Balanga is famous for its pottery. This church was just a small chapel under the church in Abucay (it will be the next church we will visit). The original structure was a small nipa hut made of bamboo but later on was constructed using corals stones and bricks. Most of the original stone structure is seen around the church. Later on, it was established as the ecclesiastical seat of the Diocese. You can see the cathedra or the Bishop's seat in the left side. That's why it's called a cathedral. Its patron is St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus.
St. Dominic Church
This is the oldest church in Bataan and outside Manila established by the Dominican order in 1587. It was dedicated under the patronage of St. Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Dominican order. You will notice that many old churches in Luzon were established by the Dominicans. From this church, many churches were erected, like the church in Balanga. 80% of the original structure of stone and brick was still there. This was spared by the Dutch invasion. This church also became the place of the first printing press in the Philippines by Tomas Pinpin and Fr. Blanca where the Doctrina Christiana, the first book in the country was imprinted. On this church too, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and his companions visited and prayed. St. Lorenzo Ruiz was martyred in Japan and was the first Filipino saint and martyr. During the 2nd World War, the church became the American headquarters.
St. Catherine of Siena
This is the 2nd oldest church in Bataan. There was a beautiful story on how the patron of the church became St. Catherine of Siena. First, St. Catherine of Sienna is the youngest of the 25 children of her parents though half of them died at young age. She was a member of the Tertiary of the Dominican order. She was a mystic and declared as the youngest and 3rd woman doctor of the church considering she was not learned. She was highly attributed to the return of the papacy to Rome. In her time, there was 2 popes, the legitimate was residing in Avignon and the other in Rome. She said that there must only be one head of the church. She wrote letters to them and was heeded. She died at 33 years old.
So now, the story of the church. Its original patronnes was the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary. But the image was always lost to the church and found in the church in another town. later on, it was decided to change the patroness of the church to St. Catherine of Siena, the patroness of the other church, and the Our Lady of Rosary be transferred to it.
Minor Basilica of the Most Holy Rosary
It was before pandemic that the church was elevated to the status of a minor basilica. Note that there were only 4 major basilicas in the world: St. Peter basilica, St. Paul outside the wall Basilica, St. John Lateran Basilica, and St. Mary Major Basilica. These are all under the pope's authority. Other churches put under the pope's are called minor basilicas.
Its patroness is the miraculous image of the Our Lady of the Rosary Orani. Many miracles were attributed to her intercession. Such as this, that before the pandemic, the church celebrated mass as early as 3AM and finished at 10pm to accommodate the devotees who flocked to the church. It was believed that the Virgin appeared to the native Aetas atop the camachili tree. The said camachili tree was now the main altar place.
St. Peter of Verona Church
Our last church is the St. Peter Verona. It is actually undergoing renovation. The old church was destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1999 but the parish community was established in the late 1890s. The saint was chosen to be the patron saint when a statue of his image was found afloat a river in Almacen.
Who is St. Peter of Verona. He was a known Dominican preacher who was stabbed to his head. He survived the attack that's why he was repeatedly stabbed to his chest and died. His canonization to sainthood was deemed the fastest in history, only 11 months after his death.
This ends my sharing with you about our pilgrimage. The journey was long yet memorable. I was not only filled with beautiful memories of the churches but enriched by its histories.
I hope it will inspire you too to go on a pilgrimage or have you already did? Can you share it on the comment?