Visita Iglesia (A Religious Expedition in Batangas)

Of all the many churches here in Batangas, have you visited the most prominent ones during Visita Iglesia? Or how do you decide on the itinerary of Visita Iglesia each year? This article will dissect this religious expedition we Catholics do on Holy Week, specifically on Maundy Thursday.

Contributed by: Alison Jane P. de Silva, De La Salle Lipa

“Ligtas pa rin ang bayan natin sa mga bagyo dahil madasalin ang mga Lipeño.” (“Our city remains safe from calamities because Lipeños have a habit of prayer.”)

I remember the celebrating priest saying that in a Wednesday afternoon mass at the Divino Amor Chapel as the country silently trudged through the disaster that typhoon “Pepeng” left. I remember this very vividly because that’s what my mother had then told us over and over again whenever Lipa City emerges safe from a calamity that hit one of the other cities or provinces in the country.

And I thought, ‘With the number of churches here in Lipa, not to mention even in the whole of Batangas, it’s no wonder people pray a lot. They’ll be missing the point of so many grand-looking churches.’

Just to name a few, there’s the Lipa City Cathedral, Mt. Carmel Church, Divino Amor Chapel and the Shrine of San Vicente Ferrer in Lipa alone, the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours and the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay in Taal and the Parish of Immaculate Concepcion in Bauan. This comes with all the other architectural and ecclesiastical beauties in Calatagan, Calaca, Balayan, Tanauan, San Jose, Nasugbu and Batangas City itself, still not naming all of them. Even the Marian Orchard in Balete, Batangas would provide religious solace with its stunning features and offers.

Granted, other places in the Philippines may also be brimming with churches, but the province of Batangas differed with them in a way that you can compare its array of churches to the churches of Rome: grand enough to attract tourists and enthusiasts, but solemn enough to beget respect for spirituality.

As an art/architecture junkie, I’d have no trouble saying that I’m in for a visita iglesia throughout Batangas so that I can sight-see. We all know how intricate the details on these churches can be, and how impressive their form and structure to the naked eye is. Photographs had proved this often enough. However, I have to say that this would be disrupting what this array of churches really has to offer, especially in this Holy Week.

Visita Iglesia is a common practice every Lenten Season. It is a chance for you to take your family or friends or special someone on a trip to these churches. Maybe you could do a round of the traditional “Stations of the Cross” or two, or you could just kneel in silence to think, reflect and pray about things you never had and will probably never have the time to linger on as the Holy Week ends and you find that you have no time for silent recollection for the rest of the year.

Our family practices this unfailingly every year. Even last year, as busy as we all are despite the supposed holidays, we managed to go out late at Maundy Thursday night to drop by at least three churches within the city. Late at night, we still had the time to go to the San Sebastian Cathedral and pray the rosary together, sitting side-by-side on a single pew as a family. Then, we dropped by Mt. Carmel Church to pray before the figure of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. Another few minutes were spent as we joined an ongoing prayer session in the Shrine of San Vicente Ferrer, and finally we stopped at the Divino Amor Chapel to render our traditional Stations of the Cross. We weren’t able to see the splendor of these churches in daylight, but we were able to pray and reflect in the silence of that Thursday night.

On past years, we would have gone as far as Calatagan, but things have changed and we had schedules to maintain and time to keep. Even with this, we still try to keep the habit of visiting a church or two on one day of the Holy Week to grab the chance to express our beliefs as a whole and complete family.

So, saying that these wonderful churches of Batangas are simply eye candy will be diminishing their worth as religious spectacles. In the point of view of someone who has made visita iglesia a tradition every Lenten Season, I would say that the emergence of these beautiful churches did not result the Batangueño habit of prayer. Instead, it’s actually the other way around: maybe more churches have been built simply to accommodate the number of people coming in to express their devotion to Christ and the Church.

There are people who tend to see this Holy Week as a “swimming-and-outing” or even a “stay-at-home” season, but here’s my tip: be a tourist and do a visita iglesia this Holy Week.

It’s the perfect opportunity to grab your loved ones, go on a road trip, sight-see beautiful churches, and spend some quiet time thinking about your life, decisions, faith and beliefs.