The rationale for this article is not to feature the grandeur of the churches we visited but sharing our experiences and the emotions we felt as we communed with the Lord in places we seldom visited or visited for the first time.
I drafted this last March in time for the Lenten season. I got back to it from time to time but with so many commitments and so little a time, I haven’t found the time to complete it or posting – TILL NOW.
Read on and may you find joy in reading as I had in writing this. Your comments are very much appreciated.
March – a season of Lent, a seemingly season of pilgrimages. March 5 marked the completion of our two-day pilgrimage to Tarlac and Bataan, together with my brethren in Couples for Christ, mostly from the music ministry. It was the fourth Lenten pilgrimage but not necessarily our fourth trip. We started out in 2012 with a trip to “Kamay ni Hesus” [the hand of Jesus] in Lucban, Quezon. It was the only pilgrim site we had visited but it sparked the desire to continue with what we had started.
Merriam-Webster simply defines pilgrimage as “a journey to a [holy] special or unusual place.” A pilgrimage especially done during the Lenten season should have a deeper meaning than just going to this special place.
So why do we go to pilgrimages? The ideal answer would be to have a deeper communion with the Lord especially during the Lenten season. Today however, it’s becoming a trend. Almost every parish organizes one, and even small groups such as ours also go out on such trips. During our pilgrimages we met lots of “pilgrims” going to the same churches we went; in fact busloads of pilgrims came and went. But looking at some of them made me think: “are they pilgrims or tourists?” I’m not being judgmental but when you see people in short shorts with matching spaghetti straps coming in to these churches, will you be thinking of pilgrims or tourists?
Personally though, I feel that the essence of the pilgrimage is visiting these churches to pray and meditate on the passion, death and victorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But with the advancement of technology and the influence of social media, it seems more time is spent in picture-taking than in praying and meditating, taking that “perfect selfie” to post as the most recent DP (display pict as my daughter informed me). Of course, we are not exempted from doing so as we also take our “remembrance shots” before leaving the pilgrimage site. Nonetheless, this made me reflect – if we have truly achieved our reason for going to the pilgrimage; or we just do this in order to gawk in awe of these churches’ beauty, and through social media boost our morale with our friends [LIKE].
With these questions in mind, I’m going back on our trips. Come, join me as I retrace our steps …
THE FIRST TRIP
(Kamay ni Hesus - Lucban, Quezon » 31 March – 1 April 2012)
The first trip was on March 31, 2012 to “Kamay ni Hesus” in Lucban, Quezon – a Lenten pilgrimage site. It gave our sister-wives the opportunity to receive God’s healing grace through the hands of Fr. Joey Faller. The healing session was done after we have partaken of the Holy Eucharist in the morning mass. As our sister-wives had shared during our monthly Chapter prayer assembly a week after – they seemingly felt like “molten candle” – all feelings had gone from their thighs down to their toes and just felt that they were falling to the waiting hands of Fr Joey’s “healing assistants”. For some, they did not even know that they have fallen down.
After the healing session, we followed “Jesus’ steps” in meditation and prayers as we trod the way to the first station till we reached the “Kamay ni Hesus” statue on top of the hill.
Anybody who had gone to the place surely had also paused to catch their breath past midway as we did.
Reaching the top, we can’t help but have the moment be captured behind the lens after we had finished offering the Holy Rosary.
Having offered our prayers, we went down to have our faces “pixelized” as foreground for the various statues that tell of the great story – from creation to the Great Flood.
Leaving the place, we felt the serenity of being in the presence of our great God and mighty Savior.
As we were already in Quezon and one of the sisters was from that province, we took the opportunity to go to their hometown, expecting that it was just an hour drive from Lucban. At least that was how our brother described it. It was too late that we realized the mountain folk’s story that “when a mountain folk points you to a direction using his lips, it is a place beyond the next mountain or more”, which our brother jokingly said – “dalawang liko lang, kanan at kaliwa” [just two turns, left and right]. Lisa, a Filipina blogger had a more informative say on Filipino’s lip-pointing.
So after four towns in between two to three mountains and “two turns — left and right”, we reached the town of Catanauan. It was a tiring four hours but we still felt thankful as we celebrated the “Lord’s Day”, which was adapted from the Jew’s celebration of the “Berakah”. As one family, we feasted on an array of various grilled seafood, and consumed what was left of the “dusty 4 years in the store shelf” Novellino Strawberry Passion, that we used in the Lord’s Day celebration. But more than the sumptuous food and the wine, we were given an opportunity to visit our brother’s home and bond with their family.
Palm Sunday, we came home to Cavite bone-weary but spirit-filled as we prepare for the week-long activities of the Holy week.
(Kamay ni Hesus from behind my lens)
(Lenten Pilgrimage: Pangasinan-La Union-Baguio » 12-13 Apr 2014)
Browsing through the various photos I have, I don’t know for what reason but we seem to have skipped 2013; the succeeding photo folder contains the trip in April 12-13, 2014.
On board two Nissan Urvans we travelled to the north this time with our 7 churches itinerary set: “Our Lady of Manaoag” in Pangasinan; the “Basilica Minore of our Lady of Charity” in Agoo, La Union; and then Baguio via Marcos Hi-way. By this time, the “Marcos bust” was already diminished to rubble. In Baguio, our itinerary included Casiaco Recoletos Seminary, our Lady of Lourdes grotto, Baguio Cathedral, St. Joseph the Worker in Pacdal, where Filipino celebrity couple Aga Mulach and Charlene Gonzales were wed; and finally the Pink sisters.
As with our previous pilgrimage, many of our brethren were “touched”, myself included – this time in Casiaco. Being a “formandus” within its walls for four years, it was like a coming-home to me. My brethren who were so used with the “noisy” mass in our parish were in awe of the very solemn celebration of the mass coupled with the angelic voices of the philosophers.
After the Palm Sunday mass, tears started falling while we were having our Intercessory Prayers at the seminary’s chapel. Truly, the singing of praise and worship was so powerful that we felt the Lord’s angels were singing with us as we gave glory to God. We were only on the third church of our itinerary and the Lord had already granted us solace.
Before leaving, of course we wanted to remember the day so we had our faces captured together with Father Rector – Fr. Joefel Trayvilla, OAR (4th from the left), and a classmate of mine Fr Gie – Ronel Gealon, OAR. (1st from the left).
(My family and extended families: the OAR and Couples for Christ community in CaReS)
Seemingly, our feeling of euphoria was not yet complete for as we went up the steps of the grotto and having offered our prayers, the administrator-priest who was involved in the construction of the chapel by the grotto, blessed us and gave us a pouch of blessed petals for us to bring home. Having learned that we are members of Couples for Christ from Cavite, he blessed us, our families and our mission of evangelization.
By mid-afternoon, we had finished our 7 churches. To close the day, we brought the weary but happy “pilgrims” to The Mansion, Mine’s view park, the Good Shepherd for the brittles and jams. Of course, the “palengke pasalubongs” and vegetables came after.
Due to a previous engagement, the other van went home ahead via the scenic Kennon Road, while we proceeded to the strawberry and lettuce fields of La Trinidad.
(some picts to remember the place)
Then with sunset, we left Baguio via the same route but with a big difference – “we came up with our troubles, we went home with the Lord’s peace.”
THE THIRD TRIP
(Post Mother’s Day trip: Calaruega, Batangas » 1 June 2014)
The sisters (our wives) attended the “Marian Echo conference” of the Handmaids of the Lord – a family ministry of the CFC. It was after the conference that the idea of the trip sprouted. It was foresight perhaps that some of our brethren were emigrating or perhaps they just longed for more “bonding time”. It was a “spur-of-the-moment” plan but the desire to go out-of-town was so intense that the idea sprouted into a full-bloom plan. So in honor of our wives another trip was scheduled, this time to Batangas, the destination — Calaruega in Batulao, Nasugbu.
(the lovely ladies – the 3 moms, 3 daughters, and the tita (in spirit) with the Calaruega church in the background)
The mass was almost finished when we arrived, but we were treated with the angelic voices of the Calaruega Children choir as they practiced their choreographed songs after the mass.
We just enjoyed the majestic ambiance of the compound, the beauty of nature, the “Kois” and the colorful flowers. It was just a day of relaxation and bonding of families.
But when we visited the chapel by the hill, something spectacular happened – at least for us it was something spectacular. For ears used to city noise, the silence of the place was deafening. Not even the mooing of the cow pastured on the other hill can be heard, though not entirely.
As 3 o’clock struck, the silence was intruded with the various cellphone alarms (it’s not only me whose cell’s alarm is set to 3 PM for the 3 o’clock habit).
As one family we knelt down and prayed the 3 o’ clock prayer, then continued on with praying the Holy Rosary. On the fifth decade, as our brother offered his petition of going to Canada and as we said our “Amens”, the clear and loud mooing of a cow was heard, as if the cow was also lifting our prayers to the Creator. After the prayers, we looked for the cow and were surprised to see that it was so far away on another hill and yet we heard the cow’s moo as if it was just behind us. Coincidental? Perhaps, but personally I believed that the Lord was telling us something and lo, three months after, our brother Yam flew to Canada with his family following a month after. Truly the Lord works in mysterious ways, He used our brother for our global evangelization.
As of this writing, Yam and Joyce are now serving as assistant Team Leaders in their CLP — Christian Life Program at Prince Albert. They will be heading the CLP in Saskatoon this coming November. Our prayers are with you.
The young ones and the young once.
(some shots of Calaruega)
While it was not a Lenten pilgrimage, we still felt that it was a trip offered to the Lord, and which He, in His graciousness had granted our wishes for peace and serenity of heart as we went home to face once again the chaos and noise of everyday city life.
THE FOURTH TRIP
(Third Lenten Pilgrimage: Batangas » 28 March 2015)
For our third Lenten Pilgrimage, we left Cavite for Batangas. First in our itinerary was the pilgrim site of St. Padre Pio Shrine in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.
Truly, the saint who is honored in the shrine touches people who visit the place. The mass was delayed because of the supposedly big contingent from Laguna, which never came. Nonetheless, it was a spirit-filled experience.
It was in Padre Pio shrine that my interest on the “orans” posture during the Our Father was piqued. The priest told the congregation that he “can easily distinguish the locals from the pilgrims – the locals’ hands are in their chests, while the pilgrims are holding hands.” So I decided to check the proper posture of the congregation according to the Canon law.
We opened our “Way to the Cross” by offering our prayers for the First and Second stations in front of the crucified Christ.
From Sto Tomas, we proceeded to the Marian Orchard in Balete passing through the back roads.
While it was not actually a church, but rather a family chapel, upon seeing the place, we felt it was the best place to have our Intercessory prayers, then our prayers for the Third and Fourth stations.
(photos taken at the Marian Orchard)
Having fed our spirits, we fed our bodies with what the brethren brought and shared.
Then we proceeded to San Sebastian Cathedral in Lipa City for the Fifth and Sixth stations. Unfortunately though the photographer we commissioned – my daughter was fast asleep in the van, hence no picture of the Cathedral was brought home.
For the Seventh and Eight stations we continued on to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church also in Lipa City. We were blessed to witness the solemn profession of 3 nuns – “their marriage to Christ.”
The fifth was the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Joseph in San Jose, with its beautiful Prayer Garden beside the church.
From San Jose, we proceeded to the Basilica Minore of the Infant Jesus and the Immaculate Conception in Batangas City for the Eleventh and Twelfth stations. Then we joined the praying of the 6PM Angelus. It was already dark when we left for the last church.
On our way to the seventh church, Shrine of our Lady of Caysasay in Taal, we were caught up in heavy traffic that we decided to cut short and decided to finish our pilgrimage at our chapel in honor of St. Augustine in Mabuhay City, Paliparan 3, Dasmariñas, Cavite.
As with all of our trips, the St. Augustine chapel was our starting point. It was only during this trip that we ended our pilgrimage in the same house of worship we started out.
THE FIFTH TRIP
(Fourth Lenten Pilgrimage: Tarlac and Bataan » 5-6 March 2016)
For our fourth Lenten pilgrimage, we decided a two-day trip to Central Luzon – Tarlac with a side trip to Bataan. While I googled “Monasterio de Tarlac”, MSBOLIN’s “a visita iglesia at pnoy’s hometown” leaped up to me. So for the church’s reference, I have MSBolin to thank for. But unlike their group who started out in Bamban, we planned of going first to the Monasterio going down to Bamban before proceeding to Bataan.
We opened our pilgrimage with a short worship at Mabuhay City’s St. Augustine’s chapel at 3:30AM. While it was still dark and the traffic was light, on board our brother’s reliable Nissan Urvan and with another brother’s Sentra, we convoyed to our first stop, Monasterio De Tarlac of the Servants of the Risen Christ with the intention of reaching the place for the 10:30AM mass.
Thanks to a “good Samaritan” who guided us part of the way, we reached the Monasterio with an hour to spare. Taking into consideration the Eucharistic fast, we shared our late breakfast at the monastery’s parking grounds.
The 10:30 mass started an hour late. I was a bit disappointed with the proceedings, perhaps because I had a preconception of the solemn atmosphere of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist being in a monastery. But seemingly, in deference probably to the many pilgrims who flocked to the monastery, the atmosphere of solitude was not maintained. Even the mass was not any different from the city masses we normally attended – the clapping of hands, the redundant greeting of “good morning” after the presidential greeting of “the Lord be with you”. I can’t help but compare it to our experience of solemnity in the celebration of the Holy Mass in Casiciaco (2014 Pilgrimage).
Towards the end, however, before the final blessing was given, there was period of healing – of offering the pilgrims’ pains, worries and unforgiving hearts to the Savior, I noticed my wife and some of the sisters sobbing. So while I was not personally moved, some in our group were – again on the first church that we went to. Indeed, we were to a good start. Our reason for going into the pilgrimage – that of having a deeper relationship with the Lord was granted.
As the queue for the veneration of the cross of Christ was still quite long, we decided to do our First station prayers by the first cross intended for the Stations of the Cross devotion with the intent of doing the Second station by the Risen Christ image. Considering the constraint in our schedule, we proceeded to the Risen Christ image. However, as it was yet under construction and there were people working at the site, we decided to do the Second Station at the second church in our itinerary instead.
(shots from the monastery)
With our photos taken for mementos and posterity (and for my blog too), we went down to Tarlac City – to San Sebastian cathedral.
In San Sebastian cathedral, there was a wedding entourage by the entrance waiting for the bride to arrive. So while the ceremony had not yet started we continued on with the stations, supposedly ending on the Fourth station as it was the second church of our pilgrimage. However, as we were closing the Third station, the organist played the wedding march, which made it difficult to hear even the person beside you. So we ended at the Third station and decided to go to the next church.
But my daughter who was our photographer was so captivated by the bride that she decided to take a snap shot of her from the sideline.
On my part, I offered my prayers in silence for the groom and bride that as they enter into marriage in front of the Lord, they may continue to be faithful to each other and to the vows that they will be entering into.
As it was already 3 o’ clock, we decided to skip the next church – the San Josemaria Escriva parish church in Gerona, Tarlac. A decision I regretted after seeing the church featured in KrisTV on March 7. Perhaps on the way to our next pilgrimage next year to Ilocos, we can make it our first stop.
Before proceeding to the next church, the group prayed the 3 o’ clock prayer. Due to lack of time we have not taken any photos aside from that of the bride. So you may want to check out Google’s images of San Sebastian cathedral for reference.
Then we went down to the Sanctuario dela Immaculada Concepcion in Concepcion, Tarlac. While sacrifice is part of the pilgrimage, and “even if our spirit is willing, our flesh is not” so we decided to take our packed food out for a very late lunch. But the Lord planned something for us – He was telling us to “feed the hungry” for we were given the opportunity to do a corporal act of mercy. We shared our food with the street children who watched us partaking of our “baons”.
I was not sure but I thought we passed through the “Jubilee doors of Mercy”, that would be indeed another blessing as that would have given us additional plenary indulgences as Pope Francis intended them to be. We did three stations to compensate for the one station we missed at the monastery.
Following the setting sun, we drove on to San Nicolas de Tolentino in Capas, Tarlac. That was another disappointment for me, since the “house” was not worthy of the Master. We were met with litters at the church’s portico; the font by the entrance became the “swimming pool” for the “kitikiti” and the smell of pigsty invaded the air – reminding me of the Lord Jesus’ anger when the Jews made the temple into a marketplace.
As we offered our prayers, I also asked the Lord for forgiveness for my ill thoughts. We were just travelers passing through and in the short time we spent at the place, I had already passed judgment on our brethren.
Finally darkness caught up with us as we traveled to the last church for the day’s itinerary. We arrived to a dark church in Bamban – the Sto Nino parish church. Going down our vehicles we found some youths in a meeting by the side entrance, perhaps the youth choir. We asked them if it’s okay if we made our prayers inside. Their coordinator opened some lights but as the rest of the church was in darkness, we just prayed the Ninth and Tenth stations facing the altar. Our photographer already succumbed to tiredness after the day-long trip.
After thanking them, we drove on to Dinalupihan, Bataan via the SCTEX to give honor to our sister’s mom on her 80th birthday.
All throughout our travel, even equipped with the map of Central Luzon, we still sought the wisdom of the locals in pointing us to the right direction.
We arrived at Bataan to the tune of “Delilah” and “Green, Green Grass of Home” coming out of the videoke. Hearing our sister’s relatives sang with gusto decided for us to do the honoring the following day. Clearly, we can not expect to have a restful night for in our neighborhood, the videoke singing usually continues on to the wee hours of night. It was a logistical failure – we have not planned for our night’s accommodations.
Some in our group, out of necessity was able to secure a place for the night at C.T. Tops but for a price – which was not considered in our budget. We still have a long day ahead of us so we had to take it even if it left a bad feeling in my gut that the inconvenience will bring down the spiritual morale of the group. This minor inconvenience I offered to the Lord as I lay down to sleep and prayed for the well-being of the whole group.
We started the day with a Holy sacrifice of the Mass in St. Joseph parish church in Dinalupihan, Bataan. Then, we proceeded with the 11th and 12th Stations of the Cross.
Having been fed spiritually, we went to our sister’s home a block away from the church to share breakfast with them.
As one of the reasons for going to Bataan was to give honor to our sister’s mom, we asked her mother “Nanay Pina” to join us in our morning worship, and also to pray for her – our way of honoring our sister’s mom, and by spiritual extension all our mothers as well.
We also offered prayers for the whole clan of Nanay Pina.
Nanay (Filipina) Pina’s clan
and the CFC Cavite-2C2 Music Ministry
Having said our “GOODBYEs” and “THANK YOUs” to the family, we took to the road again for our last station in Balanga, Bataan and some historical tour of Mt. Samat.
With the original itinerary, by this time we would have already finished with the 7 churches. But due to the time we spent at the monastery we still need to visit one more church. We decided to visit any church along the way on our way home. But on our way to Mt. Samat via the Roman expressway we noted the directional sign to the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Balayan City, which would be a good place to culminate our pilgrimage to Central Luzon after our trip to the “Dambana ng Kagitingan”.
(a jump for senior citizens is just raising the heels of the feet)
Before finally going down to Balanga, we decided to check out the “Dunsulan falls” at the foot of Mt. Samat.
It was a disappointment. It may had been a place to sit, pause and enjoy solitude for a moment or even to dip in its cool water. But during our short visit, food wrappers littered the place and the water’s not ideal for swimming if what you’re expecting is like Majayjay falls in Laguna.
[additional note in link References #44].
Going down to Balanga center, we had to stop by “Mang Inasal” for a very late lunch. After the long climb to Mt. Samat, our photographer developed an appetite.
Fortunately, it was a Sunday and we had already done our fasting and abstinence a day before our trip.
Nourished, we proceeded to the cathedral of St. Joseph in front of the plaza. But mass was about to start. Looking around the side, I noticed the Adoration Room. So in silence we finished the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Stations. It was in the Adoration Room that I felt the Spirit moving us and I felt in my heart that our pilgrimage had been a victory amid the mishaps and inconveniences – we received what we came for, a deeper communion with God.
Outside the Adoration Room, we once again gathered for the seventh church prayer and our closing prayers before going to our vehicles for our final way home to Cavite.
In retrospect, it has affirmed our reason for going to these pilgrimages. Every time we go back to our homes, though tired and weary, we are on fire and full of spiritual energy. Most of all amid life’s troubles and oppression, we found solace and the serenity of mind and heart.
One thing we’ve overlooked though. Visiting these churches, we have been touched. But aside from the first church, where we have offered at mass, for the rest of the churches we’ve visited, we haven’t done anything to touch God’s people as we’ve been touched in visiting them. We haven’t even bothered to pay respects to the parish priest and more so to leave a donation for the churches we’ve visited. Had we done so, we may have sought the parish priest’s blessings as well before we leave for our next destination. That would have made our pilgrimage more meaningful.
Well, we have a year to plan ahead for our next pilgrimage to consider all of the logistical details — perhaps in Ilocos region, we hope. But before that, we still have one more pilgrimage scheduled for the year – before the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy closes in November 20.
So for our past pilgrimages and for pilgrimage yet to come, we offer them all for the glory of God.