One of the greatest privations to many Filipinos that resulted from the long lockdowns during the pandemic was their inability to visit their favorite places of worship. Online Masses and other religious services were very poor substitutes to their physical presence in their respective parishes and in the leading shrines for pilgrimages. One other way to substantially promote domestic tourism is to assure that Roman Catholics, the majority of Filipinos, can resume their centuries-old practice of visiting religious shrines all over the Archipelago. As we can read in Wikipedia, the Philippines is the Catholic pilgrimage capital of Asia, possessing hundreds of olden churches, most of which were established between the 15th to 19tth centuries. Among the most popular pilgrimage sites for Roman Catholics (accounting for some 80 percent of the population) are the Paoay Church, Manila Cathedral, Maragondon Church, Manaoag Shrine, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Baclayon Church, Panay Church, Loboc Church, Daraga Church, Boljoon Church, Guian Church, Calasiao Church, Paete Church, Lucban Church, San Sebastian Church of Manila, Jimenez Church, Barasoain Church, Antipolo Church, Baclaran Church, Lipa Carmelite Monastery, Padre Pio Shrine in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, San Josemaria Escriva Shrine in Girona, Tarlac, among many others. To prepare for a surge in religious tourism among Filipino Catholics, the LGUs of the municipalities in which these pilgrimage destinations are located should do everything possible to transform their communities into bakuna bubbles. Catholics who have been starved of religious services for almost two years will have such a huge pent up demand for practicing their respective devotions, especially during the coming Christmas Season, Holy Week and the pilgrimage month of May. Visits to these many shrines can give a big boost to domestic tourism in the last quarter of 2021 and first semester of 2022.
In addition, Filipinos belonging to other major religions such as Islam and Buddhism or are animists also will start trooping to non-Christian shrines such as the Seng Guan Temple, Sheik Karimo Makhdum Mosque, Taluksangay Mosque, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid, Masjid Dimaukom, Mount Banahaw, Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves. Limestone tombs of Kamhantik, Bud Bongao, Mount Apo, Mount Bulusan, Mount Pulag, Caliao Cave, Mount Kalalungan, Mount Matutum, Mount Makiling, Mount Kanlaon, Mount Arayat, Mayon Volcano, Mount Pinatubo and Mount Kitanglad. The LGUs responsible for these sites should also aspire to make their respective localities qualify as bakuna bubbles to facilitate the freer movement of pilgrims to these famous places. More and more, there is a clamor from the airline and tourism-related industries asking LGU officials to allow lesser restrictions for the fully vaccinated and to simply entry requirements for passengers, including shorter quarantines. Cebu Pacific Vice President Alex Reyes, Air Asia CEO Ricky Isla, and Philippine Airlines President and COO Gilbert Sta. Maria brought forward a unified proposal of giving incentives for fully vaccinated travelers in domestic destinations without carrying the additional financial burden of an RT-PCR test.
There is enough time also to prepare for the annual religious and other festivals for the whole year of 2022. Among the most famous of these are the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Kadayawan Festival of Davao, the Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan, the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, the Panabenga Festival of Baguio, the Moriones Festival of Marinduque, the Pahiyas Festival of Quezon Province, the Obando Fertility Rites Festival of Bulacan, the Pintados Festival of Leyte, the Sandugo Festival of Bohol, the Ibalong Festival of Bicol, the Masskara Festival of Bacolod, and the Giant Lantern Festival of Pampanga. Add to these the ubiquitous religious processions during Holy Week and the Flores de Mayo processions and Santacruzan in the month of May. These are all potential attractions for domestic tourism within their respective circumscriptions. Again, LGU authorities have a key role in assuring that these festivals can be held safely by fulfilling the requirements of a bakuna bubble.
Another opportunity to develop religious tourism for at least the next two years, to coincide with the strong rebound of domestic tourism, is the promotion of the delayed celebration of the 500 years of Christianity which spanned the period November 18, 2019 to March 31, 2021, almost right smack at the height of all the strict lockdowns occasioned by the pandemic. There can be sufficient reason for Filipinos to want to still celebrate the quincentennial of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. What are two years delay in the celebration of a period spanning 500 years. What communities can possibility benefit from an influx of Filipino Catholics and other Christians in the Philippines still desirous of celebrating the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, a historical moment too precious to sacrifice to the harm done by the pandemic? Thanks to the Kalinangan Youth Foundation, Inc. we have access to a valuable listing of all the possible sites that can be visited by domestic travelers to celebrate the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. Let us briefly enumerate these locations.
1. Arrival of Magellan to the Philippine Islands. He sighted Samar Island on March 16, 1521 and landed the next day on Homonhon Island, now part of Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Ferdinand Magellan is considered the first circum-navigator of the world.
2. First Mass in Limawasa. Majority opinion of historians consider that that the first Mass was celebrated in Southern Leyte on March 11, 1521. It was celebrated by Father Pedro de Valderrama along the shores of what was referred to in the Journals of Antonio Pigafetta as “Mazaua.” (In a future article in this series, we shall discuss an alternative view that could actually expand the prospects for domestic tourism in the same way that there are alternative sites in the Holy Land for certain events in the life of Christ).
3. Rajah Humabon and his consort, Hara Humama, together with 800 of their subjects in Cebu, were baptized on April 14, 1521. They took on the Christian names, Carlos and Juana.
4. The Santo Nino de Cebu was brought by Ferdinand Magellan together with the “Ecce Homo” and the “Birhen sa Cota sa Sugbo” in 1521 as gifts to Rajah Humabon and Hara Humamay. The image of the Ecce Homo was found on August 20, 1571 at the burial site of Rajah Humabon while the image of the Virgin was found floating inside a well located in Fort San Pedro, Cebu around the years 1572-1575.
5. More than a week passed after the rediscovery of the image of Santo Nino on May 8, 1565 when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi initiated the founding of the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines naming it “Villa del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus” in Cebu.
6. The Manila diocese was established on February 6, 1579, dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Fray Domingo de Salazar who arrived in 1581, became the first bishop. The first Synod of Bishops was held in 1582 where the diocese was elevated to an Archdiocese.
7. The wooden Black Madonna at the Nuestra Senora de Guia Church (now the Ermita church) is considered the oldest extant Marian statue in the Philippines. On May 19, 1571, the local sovereigns Sulayman III and Rajah Matanda ceded the Kingdom of Tondo to the Spanish Empire. In 1578, Philip II of Spain issued a royal decree invoking Our Lady of Guidance to be “sworn patroness” of Manila.
8. The University of Santo Tomas is the oldest university in Asia, founded in 1611 (older by 25 years than Harvard University in the U.S.). It received university status in 1645.
9. The three oldest dioceses established outside Manila were the Diocese of Cebu, Diocese of Nueva Caceres (in Naga City) and Diocese of Nueva Segovia, all founded on August 14, 1595.
10. The statue of Our Lady of Manaoag is the oldest Marian pilgrimage site in the province of Pangasinan. It is a 17th-century ivory and silver image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus. Documents dating back to 1610 attest that a farmer walking home heard a mysterious female voice and saw on a cloud-veiled treetop an apparition of the Virgin Mary, holding a Rosary in her right hand and the child Jesus in her left arm. As instructed by the Blessed Virgin, a chapel was built on the hilltop site of the apparition.
11. The oldest Nipa and Bamboo church is that of the Santo Nino in Cebu, founded by Fray Andres de Urdaneta, O.S.A. on April 28, 1565, the day when the image of the Holy Child was found in a partially burnt hut.
12. After gaining a foothold in Cebu in 1565, the Spanish pushed northward, headed by Martin de Goiti, defeating Muslim chieftain Sulayman and taking over his fortress of Maynilad. In 1571, Legaspi built the Spanish walled city of Intramuros, establishing Manila as a capital of the Islands.
13. The Franciscans (1581), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587) and Recollects (1606) followed the arrival of the Augustinians in 1565. The Jesuits built the church in Antipolo with the image that arrived via the Galleon Trade from Mexico, which was given the title of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, owing to the successful voyages of the galleons.
14. The San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay was pioneered in the Philippines by the Order of Friars Minor in 1578.
15. The Taal Basilica, canonically known as Minor Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, is in the town of Taal, Batangas. It is considered to be the largest church in the Philippines and in Asia, standing 88.6 meters (291 ft) long and 48 meters (157 ft) wide.
16. The oldest stone churches are San Agustin (1607), Quiapo (1160, Majayjay (1649), Pillila (1673) and Baras (1686).
17. The Santo Domingo Church of the Dominicans in Quezon City houses the Statue of Our Lady of La Naval de Manila. The victories against the Dutch invaders were attributed by the Spanish and the Kapampangan troops to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary who was given the title of Our Lady of La Naval de Manila
18. The Monasterio Real de Sta. Clara, the first monastery of its kind in Asia, was founded by the Poor Clares in 1621. Its first superior was Madre Jeronima de la Asuncion. It was first established in Intramuros and has been relocated to Katipunan with the remains of the Foundress. Those who are interested in getting the original list of historical sites published by Kalinangan Youth Foundation, Inc. may contact email@example.com
It is hoped that Catholic parish organizations all over the country as well as travel agencies will take the initiative of organizing group pilgrimages that will cover at least some of the above historical sites in order to celebrate belatedly the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. As these group pilgrimages for Filipino tourists are perfected in terms of logistics and travel accommodations, the country should be ready by 2024 for international pilgrimages of Catholics and other Christians from all over the world. In Asia alone, there are an estimated 160 million Christians in Indo-Pacific countries outside of the Philippines. With the appropriate marketing efforts, these Christians can be motivated to visit the Philippines as the Cradle of Christianity in Asia. We can position ourselves as a center for Christian pilgrimages in this part of the world, in a way analogous to what the Holy Land is for religious pilgrims from all over the world. To be continued