Putting a spin on a Holy Week tradition
With Filipinos keeping up with the day’s fast paced world, breaks are considered a rare treat throughout the year, so much so that Holy Week usually turns out to be the single longest opportunity for a holiday.
It is no wonder then that whereas Holy Week used to be spent by Filipino families at home—so they can actively participate in religious traditions such as Pabasa, Visita Iglesia, the Seven Last Words, and Salubong, among others—most now take trip out of town or abroad to make the most of the four-day time off.
While the Catholic Church generally sees nothing wrong with this new normal, Fr. Anton Pascual of the Archdiocese of Manila in a 2015 article published on cbcpnews.com, urged the faithful not to forget the week in between Lent and Easter Sunday as an opportunity for prayer and reflection.
“Basically, we are lucky here in the Philippines because we have this vacation but let us look at it as spiritual vacation. It is a very important time for us to reflect on ourselves and our relationship with God, our families and with other people, especially the poor,” Pascual, who is also the executive director of Caritas Manila explained.
In the same news article, Fr. Jerome Secillano, parish priest of Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro Parish in Sampaloc, admitted that the advent of social media and technology has lessened the participation of the faithful in church activities especially during Holy Week.
“Our appeal is to go out of your houses and still go to church. It’s different when you’re inside God’s house. The experience is more personal compared to merely watching it from television,” Secillano said.
So how can modern-day Filipino Catholics find a renewed vigor to participate in Holy Week activities again?
For Team Ganit, a local biking group in Lipa City, the answer is found in their innovative concept of “Bisikleta Iglesia.”
What started out as an idea in 2013 with only 20 participants has now become an annual biking event that not only grew in number but also enjoined people outside Lipa City.
“Bisikleta Iglesia started three years ago when our group and Lima Park Hotel (LPH), just out of the blue, thought of something that will be a little bit different to do from the common practice of Roman Catholics during Holy Week,” Andres Alisuag 3rd of the biking group told The Sunday Times Magazine.
“And because we didn’t want to add more vehicles on the road and aggravate the worsening traffic situation here in Lipa, we thought of using our bikes to visit churches for a change,” he added.
The fruitful partnership between Team Ganit—a team of 20 cyclists who have been pedaling around the city and the same time promoting local tourism in Lipa through several cycling events since 2009—and LPH planned a seven-church tour, namely Sto. Nino Parish Church (Marawoy), Marian Orchard (Balete), Divino Amor Chapel-Redemptorist, Parish of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Monastery, Metropolitan Cathedral of San Sebastian, and Parish Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
The group has been visiting the same seven churches for the past editions of Bisikleta Iglesia.
“Choosing the churches wasn’t hard because Lipa City is considered the ‘Little Rome’ for Catholic devotees,” Alisuag said when asked how they selected which parishes to include in Bisikleta Iglesia’s route.
“LPH identified the churches and we calculated the distance/terrain and the itinerary of our tour. Distance of course is a key factor in considering the church, because we can’t gauge everyone else’s capacity to bike 45 kms or more. We don’t want someone ending up in the hospital,” he explained. “We want participants to enjoy themselves and still have some energy left to go home and not be dead tired after the ride.”
Participants of the Bisikleta Iglesia by the way do more than just pass by the churches. Upon arrival, they “pray and repent for their sins” for two stations at each stop to complete the traditional Stations of the Cross.
The website Catholic.org defines the Stations of the Cross as “A 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man.”
It continues, “The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of Jesus’ last day, beginning with His condemnation. The stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station. At each station, the individual recalls and meditates on a specific event from Christ’s last day. Specific prayers are recited, then the individual moves to the next station until all 14 are complete.”
With Bisikleta Iglesia, Alisuag said, “We want people to join this not just to bike but ultimately experience a different way of expressing their devotion. Also we would like them to experience the beauty of Batangas while pedalling. We want them to feel blessed, energized and inspired after the ride.”
According to archlipa.org, the official website of Archdiocese of Lipa, the beginning of Catholicism in this so-called “Little Rome” can be dated as far back as 1570 when the Franciscan missionaries came to Taal—the first settlement of the Spaniards in Batangas and one of the earliest in the Philippines. The year 1572 saw the Augustinians preaching in Wawa, now San Nicolas, and then moving on to Balayan and around all the large settlements along the lake of Bombon (Taal).
The website further noted that the first missionaries in the diocese were the Augustinians until the end of the Spanish colonization, and listed eminent men like Alfonso de Albuquerque, Diego Espinas, and Juan de Montojo others among the first missionaries.
“During the first 10 years, the whole region around the lake of Bombon was completely Christianized. It was done through the preaching of men who had learned the first rudiments of the language of the people. At the same time they started writing manuals of devotion in Tagalog. What is more, they wrote the first Tagalog grammar that served other missionaries who came,” stated archlipa.org.
The first centers of faith were established in Taal followed by Balayan, Bauan, Lipa, Sala, Tanauan, and eventually, all around the lake of Bombon (Taal).
Today, The Sunday Times Magazine takes a closer look at the churches featured by Bisikleta Iglesia. The group, with the support of Lima Park Hotel, will undertake this modern-day devotion once more on Holy Thursday.