Last year, I visited several churches near my house. That was a solo adventure. This year, I thought it a good idea to visit churches with one of my father's sisters, Tita Ising. It's been several years since I went with her and Tito Sibing around the city to visit churches. For this round, I thought that we'd mainly do a repeat of the churches we visited in 2006; I was wrong. Apparently, there are many more churches dotting Metro Manila than I'm aware of. Four of the churches we visited this year are in Pasay City and three are in Manila. I didn't bring a bulky camera with me on this trip in anticipation of jostling with lots of people. So the photos here were all taken using my mobile phone's camera.
San Isidro Labrador Church
This church is important to my family, it appears, because this was where many marriages were celebrated. The first one that I've attended here (my sister and I were flower girls) was my paternal grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. I couldn't remember it because I was three years old at the time; lucky for me, the event was documented. My brother was born only a few weeks before the anniversary so the only evidence that he was around was the baby basket he was in.
When Tita Ising said that this church was where Ninoy Aquino married Cory Cojuangco, I thought that it might have been a forewarning about the trials and the prominence their family would face in the near future.
Another church that's important to my family. According to Tita Ising, two of my cousins studied in the grade school run by this church. Not familiar with Saint Claire of Montefalco, I thought that this church was where people offer eggs with prayers for clear skies. I was wrong: there was a school right in front of, and a hospital beside, the church BUT there were no egg vendors. Saint Clare of Montefalco, instead, was known for having a crucifix and a scourge in her heart.
I have visited this church the last time I went with Tita Ising on a church pilgrimage. Since we went there as the sun as still up, I didn't find it difficult to find a parking space a few hundred meters from the facade of the church. However, the walking proved difficult because Tita Ising's right leg wasn't as strong as it used to be. She couldn't climb the stairs anymore so we walked along the incline made for people with disabilities and for bridal and funeral cars.
As the afternoon wore on, we decided to eat in one of the seaside restaurants. We ended up in Seafood Island. But because I am allergic to seafood, we ate chicken! This was a good place to stop, it turned out, because as evening came, it became more challenging to find parking space and the restaurants close by were full of fellow pilgrims.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios
After visiting the relatively newer churches, it was time to visit the older ones. Our first stop was the Malate Church, which I also visited with Tita Ising a few years back. In contrast to the cheery and happy feel I sensed then, I felt the interiors of the church to be quite gloomy. In contrast to the solemnity inside the church that I noted this year, outside there was chaos. Vehicles were parked in every available space and pedestrians were playing chicken with motorbikes, jeeps, and other vehicles attempting to traverse the street between the church and the Rajah Sulaiman Park.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guia
If I thought that the Malate Church was crowded, the Ermita Church proved to be even more jam-packed! We parked a block away from the church because the road towards the church was filled by vehicles. Despite the many vehicles, the Ermita Church was less chaotic than Malate Church. The interesting thing about this church is that it houses one of the oldest statues of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines.
Iglesia y Convento de San Pablo
The last stop in our Visita Iglesia for the year. It is the oldest structure among the churches we visited (the others were established either in the 20th century or were rebuilt on the same site as the original, Spanish-era, structures). And it has got to be the most crowded of the churches we visited on Maundy Thursday. Vehicles were not allowed to enter the General Luna Street so we had to park at the Plaza Roma. Then, it was a five-block walk to the church. Along General Luna Street, we could see a lot of vendors selling food, drink, and souvenirs. I felt like I was walking in a market place rather than towards a church with the lively scene unfolding before my eyes. The steady flow of people ended at the church's grounds; there it became more like a swirl of humanity. Despite the chaos, Tita Ising and I managed to enter the church (which was also full of people). The atmosphere inside the church was very solemn; Gregorian chants filled the air, people were all quiet and praying despite many of them moving in big groups. This was the only church during this Visita Iglesia where I noticed nuns walking about. For a few minutes, I forgot that there were a lot of hawkers beyond the church grounds.
Basilica Minore de Inmaculada Concepcion
I would've counted the Manila Cathedral as the eighth church that we visited. However, the church was closed for renovations at the time. The Stations of the Cross were spaced along the front steps of the church. Because of the crowd, and because Tita Ising wanted to take a rest after our long walk, I decided not to stop by this church anymore.
This year's Visita Iglesia was interesting because I was able to visit churches I haven't seen before. Where would I do this next year? We'll see.