On a drive north last weekend, we decided to take a detour on the road leading to the Church of Our Lady of Manaoag. As it was a holiday, it wasn’t at all surprising to find a long convoy of cars making their way to the church as well.
As we reached the ap-proach, the scene turned a bit frenzied as dozens of peddlers ran alongside vehicles hurriedly while pointing to parking spaces. As soon as we disembarked, they also literally hounded us into buying candles and whatever religious items they had in hand.
Fortunately, when we walked up to the church’s open plaza, the atmosphere turned slightly more so–lemn with hushed voices, leaving the din outside the church’s gates.
At the plaza behind the church though, where candles were lit and prayers said, stood hordes of devout visitors from all ages and walks of life. The scene drove home the point that people still hold on to faith, de-votion and prayer, once they were done with the touristy things such as taking selfies and group photos with the statue of the Lady.
Yet, we certainly need not go far distances to find the pilgrim in us all. As children, we would eagerly wake up at dawn for early morning mass at Baclaran Church. Young and curious then, my sisters and I would watch old ladies walk on their knees in prayer along the long aisle from the church’s main door to the altar. I would often wonder about what those ladies must have been praying so earnestly for.
Then too, after mass, we would be met with a very baffling atmosphere outside the church, with its disarray of stalls and commuters walking by, and cars and jeepneys making crawling on the busy streets—scenes I remember most about Baclaran even until now.
Then, for more than a decade too, my family and I would take a short drive to Tagaytay to visit the Pink Sisters Convent before breakfast along the ridge. What used to be a secret shared among closest friends, the obscure convent with its chapel was a quiet place for reflection and prayer. Here, we would write our heartfelt petitions on small sheets of paper and then hand these to the sisters for prayer. Years later, when many had dis-covered the secret, the formerly quiet retreat be-came packed with day pilgrims every weekend.
It must be too that as you get tad older, you begin to search for these spiritual retreats, even for a day. These days, wherever we travel, my family and I would often go into Catholic churches found along quiet streets or in unexpected places.
Some people are truly fortunate to have taken a religious voyage either to Jerusalem, Lourdes, France or maybe even to Rome, Padua or Pietrelcina. In my bucket list, one day, I hope to trek part of the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela—a journey written so elo-quently by Paolo Coelho.
I think at least once in a lifetime, whatever religion we belong to, we all seek a journey of faith. For some of us, we find solace and affirmation in pilgrimages to distant holy places for prayer and solitude. Though stran-gers, pilgrims coming to-gether in prayer visibly attest to the binding strength of faith. And for this reason, venturing into a pilgrimage near or far away might just be the perfect voyage we need in our busy lives.