Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Visita Iglesia 2008

Since I graduated from college and started working, I realized that haven't observed the Holy Week traditions. For me, Holy Week signifies a very long break from the rigors of the workplace and its the perfect time to go to the beach. But this year - I longed to do something different or rather something traditional. Fortunately, a friend invited me to join their SFC chapter's Visita Iglesia. They intended to visit seven churches in Laguna and Rizal areas.
I was very excited about the whole activity since it would be my first time and I love visiting old churches. The whole group was composed of 45 pilgrims accommodated in 8 cars.

It took us almost 3 hours to get to the first church in Paete, Laguna - the home of talented sculptors. We visited the Church of St. James the Apostle. Like many of the churches in the province, the Paete Church was built during the early Spanish period. But the novelty of this church lies in the fact that all the religious images found here were carved and/or painted by the residents of Paete long ago. The intricate baroque altar is a monument to their woodcarving industry and the walls of the church boast of large murals done by Jose Dans (19th Century), a true son of Paete who used color pigments mixed with pulverized volcanic ash and brushes fashioned from cat’s hair. Although the church has been recently renovated, and the construction materials are not like the original, the designs remain mainly the same. The group took a few minutes to visit the First Station (Jesus leads the Holy Eucharist) and Second Station (Jesus prays in Gethsemane). After that, it was time to move on to the second church.

The Church of San Pedro de Alcantara in Pakil, Laguna was the second destination. Completed in 1667 after 35 years of construction, the architectural design of the Pedro de Alcantara Parish Church is reminiscent of the Corinthian and Ionic styles. In 1788, the Virgin of Turumba was enshrined in this church. Through the years, the church has survived great calamities. Along with the rectory, it was burned in 1851 but was repaired the same year; it survived two earthquakes, one in 1881 and the other in 1937. Now, the church is a major attraction of the area. 14 icons grace its main altar with the Archangel Michael towering above the others. Each icon is housed in an elaborately carved niche. This old Franciscan church also houses an authentic painting of Jose Dans (19th Century), a painter from Paete. Although the interior of the church has been renovated recently, the design of the church remains basically the same. It has a belfry with four small bells and one huge bell, which are rung daily at 12:00 noon and 6:00 p.m. After admiring the intricate carvings in the church, the group visited the Third Station (Jesus before the Sanhedrin) and Fourth Station (Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns).

Third stop was in Pangil, Laguna at the Church of Nuestra Sra. dela Natividad. A small church was built in 1587 but later destroyed by storms and earthquakes, which paved the way to construct a bigger church supervised by Fray Gonzalo del Kobi,OFM, and finished in 1611, when the first priest, Fray Jose Linares,OFM, was assigned. Prince Carlos of Spain donated to the church the images of Nstra. Sra. de LaO, depicting her pregnancy of Jesus, and the Sto. Nino de LaO. The church suffered destruction during the WW II and from its ruins the citizenry reconstructed a new one; further modernized when the Maryknoll Fathers took over in 1950 to 1958. This is where we prayed before the Fifth Station (Jesus carries the cross to Calvary) and Sixth Station (Jesus falls under the weight of the cross). We also encountered several people who were beating themselves. I can't help but wonder why they have to do that. Did they commit a heinous crime which they deeply regret? I wouldn't know. But all I know is that Jesus Christ already died for our sins and its up to us to recognize that and live like forgiven Christians. Since it was already past noontime, the group decided to look for a shady place and settle down for lunch. It was an enjoyable experience of sharing and bonding with fellow SFC's.

The pilgrimage then proceeded to Mabitac, Laguna where we paid our respects to Our Lady of Candelaria. The Fanciscan Missionaries established this town in 1611 and the first chapel in 1618, under the supervision of Fray Miguel de Talavera,OFM. Due to flooding, the faithful constructed a bigger stone church on top of the hill called Calvario but partly damaged by an earthquake in 1880. From its vantage point commands a panoramic view of the whole municipality and Laguna Lake. The original 90 concrete stairways was renovated to 126 that leads up to the portals of the church. Its façade is definitely old Spanish style but the interior is quite modern. Like most old churches, it has a belfry connected to the main church. Here we prayed before the Seventh Station (Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene) and Eighth Station (Jesus meets the pious women of Jerusalem).

Crossing the Rizal-Laguna border, we moved on to the Church of San Ildefonso in Tanay, Rizal. There was a mixture of Philippine colonial design with elements of Baroque. The first Tanay Catholic Church made of nipa and bamboo was built in 1606. The current building made of locally quarried stone was completed in 1680. In 1783, it was reconstructed together with the convent. The church is an example of early Renaissance architecture. It has a four-storey octagonal tower, a façade of adobe blocks, relieved by columns and semicircular arched windows. Its podium is adorned by a niche with the statue of San Ildefonso de Toledo, the patron saint of the town. A convent and a courtyard connect the church to the Catholic school managed by the Archdiocese of Antipolo. Inside are ornate altars with statues of saints. Finely carved, 200 year-old Stations of the Cross add luster to the antiquity of the church. With deep appreciation for these antiques and its inspiration, we prayed the Ninth Station (Jesus is nailed on the cross) and Tenth Station (Jesus promises Heaven to the repentant thief).

Then, we proceeded to Baras Church in Rizal Baras which is one of the oldest in the area, having been completed in 1686. The first church in Baras was built by the Franciscans in 1595. The town of Baras was transferred to Ibayo in 1636 but the church was returned to the present site in 1682. It was the Jesuits who administered the parish from 1616 to 1679. The interior of the church was simply done. The altar and the lanterns are stone artifacts, unearthed beneath the church. Since the mass was about to begin, we visited the Eleventh Station (Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other) and Twelfth Station (Jesus suffers and dies on the cross) in the garden.

And the last and seventh church was located in Morong, Rizal - the Church of San Geronimo. Originally built in 1615 by Chinese craftsmen, the church survived natural disasters and the tumultuous Spanish regime, with its walls standing witness to the Katipuneros who were captured and executed there. Sitting majestically on a hill overlooking the river, the Morong Church is truly a cultural icon, an edifice of the Christian faith, and a cradle of our architectural heritage. Its new belfry was integrated with the old three-storey facade, thus, becoming one of the most well-composed architectures in colonial Philippines. The group visited the Thirteenth Station (Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb) and Fourteenth Station (Jesus rises from the dead).

Truly, I felt very blessed throughout the whole experience. I felt very awed at the majesty of these century-old structures. But on the other hand, I also realized the importance of building God's church within ourselves. The Scriptures have always reminded us that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We have no right to defile it - instead, we should strive hard to make our earthly lives a fitting sacrifice for our God. The God who loved us so much that He was willing to give us His only Son, who had to suffer and die and rise again in order to show us the way to eternal happiness in His Kingdom. Thus, the true essence of the Paschal mystery.
To God be the glory.

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