The recent Lenten holidays gave me an opportunity to see another face of my home province because my siblings and I decided to do our Holy Thursday Visita Iglesia in seven different churches spread all over a few municipalities north of Cebu City. I haven’t been to these churches even when I was still a young boy, residing and growing up in Cebu, so I was looking forward to this unique whole-day “swingaround.”
We started our religious sojourn at the 453-year-old Basilica Menor del Santo Niño de Cebu, the oldest Catholic Church in the country, located in the capital city’s downtown area. It houses the statue of the Child Jesus, believed to be miraculous, the same statue presented by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon when the latter was baptized.
A curious attraction of this church is the original “sinulog” performed by some women who sell candles to the faithful outside the church. When one buys from them, they face the altar and dance in prayer, asking for the intercession of the Child Jesus for the buyer’s petitions. This practice gave rise to the present-day Sinulog Festival.
Of course, a visit to the Sto. Niño Basilica is not complete without going to the adjacent Magellan’s Cross. This is “Ground Zero” for Christianity in the Philippines. When Magellan planted this cross on the shores of Cebu, it signified the beginning of Christianity in the country. The original cross is preserved inside the tindalo wood casing, which is now what visitors see when they visit this landmark.
Mandaue City’s Diocesan Shrine of St. Joseph was our next stop. This city prides itself with having 40 percent of the province’s export companies, and is home to some industry giants, like San Miguel Corporation, Coca-Cola Bottling Corp., and Shemberg, the biggest exporter of carrageenan. The city is also known as the “furniture capital of the country” because it handles 75 percent of the country’s total furniture exports. This is also where you find the two bridges linking the main province to Mactan Island, where the International Airport is found.
The very popular Virgen de la Regla National Shrine is in historic Mactan Island where, in the 16th century, its local chieftain, Lapu-lapu, subdued the invading colonizers led by Magellan. This church’s patroness is known in English as “The Lady of the Rule,” and has been venerated since the time the island was still called Opon. Enshrined in the altar is a copy of the original statue in Spain which was venerated by St. Augustine himself. The local icon is widely known to be miraculous, the reason why thousands of devotees from all over the country troop to this church on its feast day on Nov. 21.
We passed by another church in Mactan on our way to the next town, Liloan, to visit the San Fernando del Rey Parish Chruch. As a young man residing in Cebu City, I knew that the town got its name from the giant whirlpool, called “lilo” in Cebuano, along its coastline. This marine phenomenon is created by the ebb of waters from the bay, making it very dangerous for swimming. This negative tag to the town was eventually offset when a dear friend of mine, Pilar Pilapil, who comes from there, made it to the headlines as Binibining Pilipinas and, eventually, as a popular movie and TV star.
Our next stop was the St. James the Apostle or Sr. Santiago de Apostol Church in the town of Compostela. This church is the oldest structure in the town which the Spanish friar, who was assigned there in the early days, named after his own hometown, Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. This Spanish destination is where the Camino de Santiago de Compostela continues to be the main tourist attraction. Aside from being a tourist route for fitness enthusiasts, it is also a very popular pilgrimage site.
Our last stop was in Consolacion’s San Narciso Parish Church. This town has a very interesting history. In the early 19th century, it was just a barrio of Mandaue. Years later, it became independent as a separate town, but several decades later, it could not sustain its existence as an independent municipality, so it became part of Mandaue again. With commercial progress pervading Cebu province these past decades, Consolacion eventually became a separate municipality again, and is so, until now.
Thus, we completed our Lenten devotion. Aside from the satisfaction of having fulfilled our religious obligation, we gained a deeper knowledge and appreciated the history of the neighboring towns of our home city. I guess this is why the Department of Tourism is now pushing for Faith Tourism as another vehicle for foreigners to know more of our country.
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