A ‘Visita Iglesia’ worth the drive, walk, bike, and the meatless meals

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Binondo Church

How many times has the Catholic Church reminded us: The Holy Week break is meant for things related to the observance of Lent. Yes, fellow Catholics, this week-long holiday is like Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters.

They both mean sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t nailed to the cross on a sandy beach, or in a posh resort. Holy Week is meant to be spent reflecting on our Savior’s suffering and resurrection, and by His ultimate act of self-sacrifice, we were all saved—to frolic in the beach, or to enjoy that ski resort somewhere in Europe, for another day.

The least we can do to honor our Savior’s act is to go on a “Visita Iglesia.” The “Visita Iglesia” is also called “The Seven Churches Visitation,” a Roman Catholic Lenten tradition (most likely started when the early pilgrims from Rome started visiting basilicas as a form of penance) to visit seven churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday. During the Seven Churches Visitation, the faithful visit several churches—sometimes seven, sometimes 14, sometimes no set number depending upon the particular practice—to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church.

Nowadays, given the traffic situation, transport mode, and the location, families get to visit less than seven churches. Well, it’s the thought (or prayer) that counts.

For those who opt to drive cross country to visit churches, be sure to stop and rest, or stretch at regular intervals. A good benchmark is to take a 10-minute break after every two hours of driving.

For others who plan to visit churches in just one city or in close proximity to each other, they can just walk or ride bicycles. But do estimate the ideal time to embark on your trip, plan your rest stops, stay well-hydrated (especially now with the scorching heat of April sun), and estimate your travel time. This way, you’ll have an idea when you’ll be at certain points on your trip. This will also determine your ideal meal stops.

Speaking of meals, since this Holy Week is all about compassion and salvation, we might do well to consider giving our beloved farm animals a reprieve, by foregoing all forms of meat altogether during the Lenten break. And yes, foregoing all meat includes not eating even chicken and fish. In short, go 100-percent plant-based with your diet.

Going plant-based also helps in addressing runaway climate change, as climate scientists and experts have concluded that the global livestock populations of cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry and their processing, are the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with marine resources now being exhausted, as well.

Experts have pointed out that the overproduction of meat and animal products, and the depletion of marine life (since the early 1990s, global fish catch has leveled out at about 90 million metric tons annually, and that hasn’t increased), are
affecting public health and
accelerating climate change.

Thus, going vegan (the Western term for a plant-based diet) doesn’t just support the essence of the Lenten Season, it is also scientifically and nutritionally sound.

There are plenty of online guides to help you plan your vegan and vegetarian restaurant stops on your way to completing your Visita Iglesia anywhere in the Philippines. Do check the complete list of vegan restaurants in the Philippines as shown at RG Enriquez’s Astigvegan.com site (the list was created by Jaq Aberqas of Vegans of Manila), and message these vegan restaurants near you to confirm their operating hours this Lenten season. You can also check the list at the Pinoyvegs Facebook Page
(created by its administrator Kons Koh).

As for the churches, the Philippines is certainly not lacking in this aspect. Unesco’s World Heritage Convention website makes special mention of four of the more magnificent ones, built during the European Baroque period between the 16th and 18th centuries.

1) Paoay Church. This pyramid-like structure is the Church of the Saint Augustine in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Construction started in 1694, and incorporates many architectural features in South America, which was also a colony of Spain.

2) The Church of the Immaculate Conception in San Agustin (Manila) is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. Most of the buildings in the town were destroyed during World War II, and the church suffered a direct bomb blast, though the building itself survived. It is located inside the historic walled city of
Intramuros. The San Agustin Church, in General Luna Street, is the only Unesco World Heritage church in Manila, and was also named as a National Historical Landmark in 1976. Built in 1907, the church has a detailed trompe l’oeil murals on its walls and ceilings, a two-dimensional art which amazingly gives the illusion of a three-dimensional space.

3) The Santa Maria Church, commonly known as the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, is located in the municipality of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur.

4) The Miagao Church, also known as the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, stands on the highest point in the town of Miagao in Iloilo. The church’s towers served as lookouts against Muslim raids, and it is said to be the finest surviving example of “Fortress Baroque.” This breathtaking structure is located 40 km. west of Iloilo City.

Adding more destinations to make the Pinoy family Lenten tradition of the “Visita Iglesia” more meaningful, Ford Philippines also mentioned six more places of worship in Metro Manila worth driving the family vehicle such as the Ford Everest to:
5) Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church, at 7440 Bernardino Street, Guadalupe Viejo, Makati City. In the middle of Makati’s skyscrapers stands this authentic Renaissance-Baroque church founded by the Augustinians in 1599. The Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church is one of the most popular churches in Manila with a simple yet striking vibe because of its features, furnishings and iconography that gives off an Old World feel.

Manila Cathedral

6) Malate Church at 2000 M.H. Del Pilar Street, Malate, Manila. First built in 1588, the Malate Church is considered as one of Manila’s most iconic churches as it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout the years. Overlooking Plaza
Rajah Sulaman and the Manila Bay, this church has an interplay of Muslim design and Mexican baroque that most churchgoers adore.

7) Binondo Church at Plaza L. Ruiz, Binondo 1006, Manila. Considered as one of the oldest Catholic churches in Metro Manila, the Binondo Church is known for its octagonal bell tower, reflecting the Chinese culture of its parishioners. It was founded by Dominican priests in 1596 with a façade comparable to those of Italian High Renaissance churches.

8) Sta. Ana Church at New Panaderos, corner Pedro Gil Street, Santa Ana, Manila. Constructed in 1725 under the Franciscans, the Sta. Ana Church has been designated as a Historic Building in 1936. It houses two National Cultural Treasures declared by a presidential decree—the Santa Ana Site Museum and the Camarin de la Virgen (The Dressing Room of the Virgin), a chapel room. It also has a small chapel, the Capillita de la Virgin del Pozo.

9) San Sebastian Church at Pasaje del Carmen, Plaza Miranda, Quiapo, Manila. Considered as a National Historical Landmark and a National Cultural Treasure, the San Sebastian Church is a Gothic-style Roman Catholic minor basilica located in Quiapo, Manila. It was completed in 1891 and is the only all-steel church in the Philippines. Its 52 tonnes of prefabricated steel sections were imported from Belgium.

10) The Manila Cathedral at Beaterio Street, Cabildo Street, Intramuros, Manila. The Manila Cathedral is a 444-year-old historical site with an area of
almost 3,000 sqm. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines, decked with black marble flooring, brickwork, and a vaulted ceiling encapsulating classic Spanish architecture elements.



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