On Visita Iglesia, keeping the faith, and the great exodus that happens in Manila

One of my biggest complaints about living in Manila is dealing with the city’s insane traffic congestion. Everyday, without fail, commuters end up wasting away so much time in transit when they could be doing something more productive. On an average weekday, people spend around four to five hours in transit—such is life in a city whose daytime population exceeds its nighttime population.

There are, of course, some exceptions—a Manny Pacquiao boxing match, the mass exodus that happens after Christmas and before New Year’s Eve (almost weeped with joy while speeding through the city’s traffic-free main artery), and during Holy Week.

Like most city rats, I tend to escape somewhere during Holy Week. But last 2012, I ended up spending it in Manila. It was the most relaxed I’ve been in the city. :D

Because my entire family was in the south, I had to find something to occupy my time so I figured I might as well see what the big deal was about Visita Iglesia.

I was born a Catholic, but I’ve never liked the structured aspect of religion so I haven’t really gone to church in a while. I think the few times I went to church the past year was because I had to 1) attend a wedding, 2) a baptism, and 3) it was Christmas. I am in no way a non-believer—I do believe that there is a higher power out there, a God; I do believe in miracles; and every day I hold conversations with Him to express my gratitude for the many blessings He’s given me and to ask for forgiveness for wrongful acts I’ve committed.

However, it’s sort of hard to keep the faith when you see religious leaders dabbling into government affairs—something that’s as normal in the Philippines as ordering a steaming plate of Tapsilog for breakfast. Suffice to say, recent events have made me doubt what some of the country’s religious leaders were preaching.

In an effort to come to terms with my spirituality, I thought I would give Visita Iglesia a shot. It’s an age-old Holy Week tradition: visit seven churches on Holy Thursday as penance, with a prayer offered at every stop.

So that is exactly what I did. Check out my Visita Iglesia itinerary:

1. Church of the Holy Sacrifice {University of the Philippines Chapel}

UP Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice • a fine example of modern Philippine architecture • designed by Leandro Locsin

UP Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice • Around the chapel are 15 large murals painted by Vicente Manansala depicting the Stations of the Cross #iger #visitaiglesia #churches #philippinechurches #religion #instamatic #instaphoto #instagood #instahub #instaphotog

Visita Iglesia: UP Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice •

2.  Santisimo Rosario Parish Church {University of Santo Tomas}

Santisimo Rosario Parish Church #holyweek #visitaiglesia #churches #philippinechurches #instaphotography #instahub #instagood #instaphoto #instamatic #religion #iger #popular

Next stop in our Visita Iglesia: Santisimo Rosario Parish Church in the UST Campus (shown in photo) #holyweek #instaphotography #instahub #instagood #instaphoto #instamatic #religion #philippinechurches #churches #visitaiglesia #iger #popular

University of Santo Tomas #popular  #iger #religion #instamatic #instaphoto #instagood #instahub #instaphotography #holyweek

3. Abbey of the Lady of Montserrat {San Beda Church}

Church no. 3: Abbey of our Lady of Monserrat, a.k.a. San Beda Chapel

Inside the San Beda Chapel #visitaiglesia #holyweek #churches #popular #iger #instaphoto #instahub #instamatic #instagood #manila #philippines

4. San Sebastian Basilica {Plaza del Carmen, San Miguel, Manila}

Photo 28/365 - Church no. 4: San Sebastian Basilica #visitaiglesia

San Sebastian Basilica #holyweek #visitaiglesia

Interiors of the San Sebastian Basilica

San Sebastian Basilica #visitaiglesia #holyweek

5. San Agustin Church {Intramuros, Manila}

Church no. 5: San Agustin Church • Intramuros, Manila #visitaiglesia

Inside the San Sebastian Church in Intramuros, Manila #visitaiglesia

Loved the Chandeliers in the cathedral! {San Agustin Church} #visitaiglesia #manila #intramuros #philippines

6. St. Pancratius Chapel {Paco Park Church}

Church no. 6: Paco Church #visitaiglesia #manila #philippines

Paco Church #visitaiglesia #manila #philippines

7. The Shrine of Jesus, The Way, The Truth And The Life Parish {SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasig City}

Finally, church no. 7: the Archdiocesan Shrine of Jesus

I have to admit that what initially drove me to do Visita Iglesia was the aesthetic aspect of it all—I love everything to do with culture and heritage—but after visiting seven churches in less than seven hours, I realized how much Filipinos take their faith and devotion seriously.

Light my candle #visitaiglesia #intramuros #philippines #manila

More than offering the requisite single prayer, in every stop I would find groups of families, friends and religious groups, carrying with them their prayer books/leaflets, praying and reflecting upon the Stations of the Cross. Some spend at least an hour in every parish, doing the same thing over and over again, all because they want to honor God.

For somebody who rarely hears mass, Visita Iglesia is quite the amazing and meaningful experience because nothing short of a miracle is responsible for such a phenomenon. And it isn’t just catholicism because the same goes for other religions—we may have different rites and rituals and traditions, and we may call our “God” by different names, but the common thread that binds us all together is really FAITH.

Faith, some say, is what one needs to find salvation. During Visita Iglesia, I realized that it is your chosen religion that helps renew and grow that faith. Faith is our relationship with God, and religion is the structure that helps deepen that relationship. I guess I need to make the effort from time to time and do something like Visita Iglesia to remind me of that…

What are some of your country’s traditions around religion?

2 thoughts on “On Visita Iglesia, keeping the faith, and the great exodus that happens in Manila

  1. Drop dead gorgeous church pics!!!! You are quite a photographer! It makes me think it’s elsewhere and not in the Philippines. I guess it still nice to know that Filipinos have at least respect for religious and historical compounds. BTW, I also am a Catholic on paper, but not in my daily life.


    1. A heritage conservationist told me once that there are plenty of these “pockets of beauty” in Manila, and when I did Visita Iglesia, I realized he was right. There’s definitely a lot of must-see historical sights in the city. If they weren’t so hard to get to on a regular day, I’d visit more often. Sadly, there isn’t much government support for arts and culture so a lot of these sights are in different states of neglect..

      I think a lot of younger generation Filipinos are like that about Catholicism, at least most the ones I know. There are a lot who’ve converted as born-again Christians, but I don’t find myself relating to that so I am in limbo (for lack of a better term) about religion. :p


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