Last Saturday, I did something I haven't done before. I joined the annual Visita Iglesia organized by our local parish. It's a Catholic tradition where in pilgrims visit 7 churches during Lenten season to ask for penance. In each church, we relive 2 stations of the cross. The priest gives homily relating each station to remind us how Christ suffered to save us. How we should follow his way for the salvation of our souls.
Let me tell you something. I have never been so eager to join these type of religious activities. The past decade my life, I got caught up in my own world - studies, friends, anime, Japan, work, ambition, etc., I barely have time for God. When I had the time to spare, I use it to bum out. But don't get me wrong. I was never an atheist nor agnostic. I have always been a believer. I just wasn't a devout Christian. I still am not, I always tell myself that I have to do it on my own pace and there are principles of the church that I contest. But last year's series of unfortunate events prompted me to pause and reflect. When I was young, my mom often told me that tragedies or unfortunate things happen not because God is punishing us, but He is testing us, our faith. Trials. They also serve as reminders because when we are drowning with blessings, we forget to thank Him, we forget to follow His ways, we forget to ask forgiveness. The recent tragedy in Japan, is again, a reminder that something is greater than us, that in this type of situation, we have no choice but to leave everything to Him.
I am thankful that I got to realize that early enough to go back to the right path before I get lost completely. I still have a long way to go, but with God's grace, I know I will make it in time.
So we visited 7 churches in the province of Pampanga. Most of them as old as our church here in Tanay and I couldn't help thinking that there must have been some kind of standard on building churches in 1600s, because they resemble one another. There's always relief sculptures of the 14 stations of the cross on both ends of the nave, there are portraits of the four evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas) on the dome ceiling, the choir loft sits just above the main entrance (which I doubt is being used by the choir nowadays). Not every church has pulpit though. As I look at these old buildings, I can't help wishing I paid more attention on Arts History. It's amazing how these buildings survived for centuries. They were built at a time when there was raw technology. A stark reminder that machines can never replace the workmanship of humans.
Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish in Sta. Rita, Pampanga
Interior of Sta. Rita Parish
St. Augustine Parish in Lubao Pampanga
Interior of St. Augustine Parish, it is currently undergoing restoration
Immaculate Concepcion Parish in Guagua, Pampanga
Interior of Immaculate Concepcion Parish
My favorite church would have to be the St. James parish in Betis, Pampanga. It has a simple facade outside but once you go inside, it has the most intricate interior of all the churches I've ever seen. It has a wooden floor too, which makes it really unique. The guard on duty (another special feature hahaha, you don't normally see a guard in a church) warned us at the onset of our arrival that we have to turn off the flash of our cameras when taking picture. The place is packed with mural paintings all over, the people there seems to be serious in maintaining the beauty of their church. Whether some people are hard headed or plain ignorant on how to change the settings of their cameras (most of the pilgrims are old people), the guard got really stressed out in reprimanding people who failed to turn off the flash and it was really amusing to watch him hehehe.
St. James Paris in Betis, Pampanga
the pulpit is the stand where friars used to conduct their sermon
awww the poor Manong Guard, his BP went up for sure
Kidd in front of the altar
I am mostly proud of the San Guillermo Parish in Bacolor, Pampanga. It stood still despite being situated in one of the most devastated area when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. The place got half buried by lahar, They apparently had to tore the orginal ceilings because the ground got elevated so high. I also learned that this is the church where a popular TV series was shoot. I didn't watch it but the main character's name is Santino, I kept hearing the people say his name while we were on this place.
San Guillermo Parish in Bacolor, Pampanga
Interior of San Guillermo Parish
what used to be the windows up above is now down below, just like life...
the interior of the church before the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo
The Adoration Chapel requires you to duck before you can enter because of the elevated ground
St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Apalit, Pampanga
Interior of St. Peter the Apostle Parish
Immaculate Concepcion Parish, San Fernando Pampanga
We ended our pilgrimage with a mass in Immaculate Concepcion Parish in San Fernando. Now here's a tradition that I do not know if it's widely practiced. A friend told me once, that if it's you're first time hearing mass on another church, you could make a wish, guaranteed to come true. There's also that common practice of lighting a candle for your petition. Now I think that prayers will work, even if I do it in my room, but lighting a candle for a good cause won't take anything from me, so I went and got me a set of 4 candles anyway. In this parish, they even make a color coding for wishes. I only knew white candles in Baclaran church *scratch head*.
I played along anyway and chose the colors according to my personal intentions.
This whole pilgrimage is a brand new, learning and healing experience. I just realized that we have a new parish director, I don't know his name but I think I like him. The way he discuss the 14 stations of the cross, relating it to our present lives, and how he led this whole activity, I feel that our parish is in good hands. My only complaint is the bus driver, but I'm not gonna talk about him. I would just like to forgive him and pray that he becomes a better person, leaving him to God hehehe.