Visita Iglesia (Church Visit) is a seven-church visitation usually done on Maundy Thursday. The devotees pay respects to two Stations of the Cross in each church while reciting the prayers and meditation written on the Stations of the Cross book. The book might be in English, Filipino or Ilonggo (these are the ones I have used).
Growing up in Iloilo, Visita Iglesia was not a religious activity I did even once. We visited only one church and joined the Way of the Cross procession in the morning of Good Friday. After two or three hours, the procession ended up in a hill, which represented the calvary. All these changed when my friends and I decided to do Visita Iglesia in 2011. We went to seven churches in Metro Manila. While we were at it, we also took time to revisit the grounds where we spent our college days, a religious museum, a historical site, and a famous dampa (a place where one can order fresh seafood, have it cooked the way one wants it, and eat it with utensils or with one’s hands). We enjoyed it so much that we spent the following year’s Visita Iglesia in Rizal. Then, we went up north to Bulacan in 2013.
After a two-year absence, I decided to visit the churches that I usually attend, some more than most, and the ones that are close to my heart.
Here are some of the Metro Manila churches I have visited recently:
Manila Cathedral or the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica serves as the see of the Archbishop of Manila. It has a colorful history that includes being destroyed by a typhoon, by fire, by earthquake not once but thrice, and by bombardment in 1945, towards the end of World War II. The present cathedral reopened on April 9, 2014, after two years of extensive repairs and improvements.
San Agustin Church
The San Agustin Church was completed in 1607, and is considered the oldest building (in its original form) in Manila. In 1976, San Agustin Church was declared a National Historical Landmark by the local government and in 1993, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Unlike its neighbor, the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church did not cave in to the handful of earthquakes that destroyed most of Manila.
San Agustin Church is famous for its breathtaking interiors that employ trompe l’oeil, the technique that makes two-dimensional objects look three-dimensional. This is obvious on the ceiling of the church.
Binondo Church is a 419-year old structure. The current structure has been renovated several times due a range of reasons that include termite infestation and wars. The side of the church looks massive yet regal and reminds me of the church in my town. I have nothing to say about its façade, but the interior of the church is breathtaking. It is replete with religious art that include painting at the ceiling, painting inside the dome and the St. Peter’s Basilica-inspired altar. It has one of my favorite retablos.
Sta. Cruz Parish Church
Sta. Cruz Parish Church in Manila faces Sta. Cruz Plaza and Fuente Carriedo or Carriedo Fountain. Its interiors are simple, but the façade looks fresh and full of life (I know it is weird to use these adjectives to describe a concrete structure. Oh well).
National Shrine of our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish
National Shrine of our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is located in Broadway Avenue, New Manila, Quezon City. Most of the interior of the church is under construction until December 2016/January 2017, but there is plenty of room for the devotees.
Carmel of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Carmel of St. Thérèse of Lisieux or Sta. Teresa is along Gilmore Avenue, New Manila, Quezon City. This is a small church with a capacity of 200, so the place is solemn.
Church of the Gesù
The Church of the Gesù stands on the highest ground in Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. It has stations of the cross inside the church as well as along the perimeter of Bellarmine field. One of the best features of the Church of the Gesù is the infinite flooding of natural light into its interiors.
Saint John the Baptist Parish/Pinaglabanan Church
Parish Church of San Juan Del Monte/Saint John the Baptist Parish is in San Juan City. Through the years its interiors have changed, yet it has retained its old world vibe. It is one of the five pilgrim churches in Metro Manila.
Parish of the Holy Sacrifice
Parish of the Holy Sacrifice is a chapel inside University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. While I was living in Katipunan, I attended Sunday service here. The chapel showcases Filipino artistic talent that no other chapel does. It is replete with artworks of Vicente Manansala, Napoleon Abueva and Arturo Luz – masterpieces that can fit in well in the national museum. One of the more interesting pieces in the interior of the chapel is the sculpture of the Crucified and Risen Christ by Abueva.