0 Comments 27 March 2010


By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

They say we Pinoys have a funny way of observing the Passion & Death of Our Lord, most of us being practicing or nominal Catholics with a dash of paganism or hedonism. It’s vacation time come Holy Week, and it’s time to go to the beach and to frolic, even if it’s Holy Thursday or Good Friday.

In Baguio City at one time, the discos were going full blast during those solemn days. Some protested, but the dancers did not appear to feel any guilt. When a major earthquake struck Baguio later, the devout said it was God’s wrath. Well, I wouldn’t go that far…

Metro Manila is virtually empty during Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Only a few commercial vehicles ply their route, and car owners have a field day. The malls and the movie houses are closed, and the Light Rail Transit and the Metro Star Express (MRT) are silent.

The churches, however, come alive on Good Friday, especially at 3 p.m., as the faithful come to listen to Los Sietes Palabras (The Seven Last Words) of Jesus. And I take the time to pray to the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, carrying my decades-old Ateneo Retreat Manual.

I usually recall the time when my sister and I were children, and our mother would take us on a Visita Iglesia, visiting as many churches as we could. (I think the required number was seven.)

The Sabado de Gloria of my youth (when we were told to jump three times upon waking up so as to grow tall) is now Black Saturday, officially still a day of mourning. But it’s back to normal for most people in the city, as the malls reopen. As for me, it’s time to go to the provinces with friends (Baler, Aurora again this year) for that needed vacation, even as I recall the holy shrines I have visited during recent travels in the archipelago.

Far–off Cagayan in the Cagayan Valley (Region 2) is a nice place to visit during the Lenten season, having a rugged beauty of its own. That is, if you don’t mind a long trip by bus or car – about 12 hours.

Coming from Manila and passing through Central Luzon, then Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela northward, you will come upon Cagayan, the first town (now a city) being the capital of Tuguegarao. A 30-minute drive away is Peñablanca, with its Callao Caves National Park, which is also a resort with cottages, seminar facilities, and tennis courts along the river.

The provincial marker declares: “The Callao Caves, which bear the imprint of God, are Cagayan’s priceless heritage…”

We ascended 100 steps, this city slicker heaving and panting a bit, and came upon the first chamber, which is also the biggest and most impressive of the caves. It has been transformed into a catacomb – like church, with natural rock formations and cemented pews before a natural altar. Water drips down the walls, and during the day sunlight streams down from a big natural hole above.

There are more caves in the interior, the way becoming darker and more slippery, the guides said. So I was just content to stay in this big chamber. In a smaller cave, devotees placed images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Also near Tuguegarao is the centuries-old church of Iguig, which overlooks the Cagayan River and the surrounding countryside, a wide plateau, with low-lying mountain ranges in the background.

The parish church of Iguig is known for its Calvary Hill, stretching over 11 hectares of rolling terrain. There are colorful, life-size, man-made figures and symbols of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, starting with Jesus Being Condemned to Death, and culminating with the Crucifixion between two thieves, and Jesus Taken Down from the Cross.

The last Station is particularly poignant, showing Mother Mary attending to her son. It is the Pieta of Cagayan Valley.

Let us journey down South this time, specifically the scenic island province of Camiguin in Northern Mindanao, off the mainland, accessible by boat from Balingoan, northeast Misamis Oriental, and from Cagayan de Oro City.

Camiguin has five towns and seven volcanoes, among them Hibok – Hibok (which erupted in the 1950s) and Mt. Vulcan (Old Volcano), which blew its top in 1871, killing many people and destroying the old capital of the province, Cotta Bato, and its church.

The ruins of the old church still stand there, and a makeshift chapel has been constructed.

Mt. Vulcan is also the site of Camiguin’s version of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. The figures are also life-size but whitewashed this time, and are scattered along the mountain trails. You have to trek upward to reach each Station, the sea and coconut trees nearby.

The way upward becomes more difficult (you are, after all, expected to make sacrifices during Lent) and then you pass through a tunnel to reach the resurrected Christ. This shrine attracts many pilgrims and penitents come Holy Week.

Farther south in Mindanao, along the western peninsula, is the city of Zamboanga, famous for the song we sang as children: “No te vayas, no te vayas a Zamboanga… (Oh don’t you go, oh don’t go to Zamboanga…) In those days, Zamboanga seemed to be so far from Manila.

Standing by the sea is history-laden Fort Pilar, scene of battles with foreign invaders, from the Dutch in the 17th century to the Japanese during World War II. The fort is now, among other things, a museum and a church where open-air Masses are held, dramatically lighted by a throng of candles.

Looming over the city is Holy Hill, a project of the late (assassinated) Mayor Cesar Climaco, with its Stations of the Cross – mercifully accessible through paved roads – leading to the mountain peak. There, you will behold a giant Cross facing the bay and the sometimes troubled province of Basilan. Cross and countryside make for a striking sight.

PHOTO: Chapel inside Callao Cave in Cagayan


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