Every year during the semester break, which usually is from the last week of October to the first week of November, the seminarians especially foreigners who stay back to guard the seminary go out for a short cultural trip for a week to different parts of the Philippines.
These cultural trips are principally meant to better acquaint the seminarians with the cultural heritage of the land they live in, and thus to help us value culture and its influence on man. This is essential for a member of the IVE, whose specific end is to inculturize the Gospel, removing all things in the culture that are foreign to the Gospel, thus elevating the culture and making it divine. This is exactly what our Lord did by taking on human flesh; He assumed all things human except sin and gave man the opportunity of becoming a god.
It also helps foster community life, as you have around ten seminarians all huddled up in one car travelling for many many miles, going to distant places, visiting many old churches, clicking a lot of photographs, eating local food, and doing much more all together as one small family.
After weeks of calling, texting and brainstorming, we narrowed down our destination to the province of Camarines Sur in the southern part of Luzon. Camarines Sur is endowed with very old but beautiful baroque style churches built during the Spanish era, which attract a large number of devotees who come to pray or just curious tourists who come to admire these architectural masterpieces. Philippines once being a Spanish colony, has imbibed many Spanish and consequently catholic elements in her culture, so much so that Philippines could be called “another Spain”. Our journey from our seminary in Lipa to the last city we would visit in Camarines Sur – Legazpi would be around 466 km and would take us 11 hours by road.
On October 30, after the first group of seminarians returned from their cultural trip to the north of the Island nation, our group of nine seminarians and one priest set out down south. All excited for our road trip, luggage packed and itenary and map in hand we set out in the morning intending to reach the capital of Camarines Norte, Daet our final stop for the day, by evening where some friends had generously agreed to provided us with dinner and accommodation for the night.
Our first stop was the diocesan shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in Sariaya, Province of Quezon. This church was completed in 1748. Although St. Francis is its principal patron, it is more popular for the miraculous image of the Sto. Cristo de Burgos, an 18th century replica of the original gifted by King Felipe V. According to tradition, in 1743 after the church was destroyed by natural disasters and Muslim invasions, the town’s folk wrapped the miraculously unscathed image in white cloth and carried it to a more suitable place to start a new community when the image suddenly became so heavy that the men carrying it couldn’t lift it any more. The people took this as another miracle and decided to build a church on that very site.
We then headed to the St. Louis of Toulouse, commonly known as Lucban church built in 1738. After Lucban, we visited the minor basilica of St. Michael the Archangel, a baroque style church built in 1894 in the shape of a key. This church has the longest nave among all the catholic churches in Asia and is the largest in the province. Our Quezon trip ended with the cathedral of Gumaca, after which we headed straight to Camarines norte to visit the famous church of Our Lady of Candelaria in Paracale, built in 1611. The parish priest was very kind to show us the original image of the Blessed virgin and related the story of her intervention in warding off an attempted invasion by Muslims in 1809. Paracale was a small town but well known for its large gold deposits, and it’s not surprising that on august 28, 1089 a large fleet of 37 muslims vintas (a traditional Pilipino boat) attempted to invade this town and plunder its wealth. The virgin herself came to the aid of her children and descending from the altar went to face the entire fleet and single handedly managed to drive them away. In the course of the bloodbath the virgin lost a finger and several attempts were made to graft a new finger, but miraculously each attempt proved to be a failure. This was interpreted as the virgins desire to forever remind the people of Paracale of that memorable event of August 29.
The next day we visited St. Peter the Apostle church in vinzons, Daet Cathedral and St. John the Baptist church in Daet. Along with Our Lady of Candelaria, St. Peters and St. John the Baptist church were built in the same year and are the oldest churches in Camarines Norte. After visiting these churches, we stopped by for a well-deserved rest at Bagasbas beach, a surfers delight and well known for its big waves.
After visiting Quezon and Camarines Norte, we finally headed to Camarines Sur. We visited the church of St. Joseph the Worker in Milaor, The Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia a famous marian pilgrimage site, where hundreds of devotee’s flock to venerate the miraculous image of their queen and mother. St. Anne church in Magarao, Our lady of the Immaculate Conception in Calabanga, Our lady of the Holy Rosary in Bombon and Sts. Philip and James in Lagonoy, before we ended the day with a scrumptious dinner prepared by the family members of one of our seminarians.
After strengthening our souls with the many prayers we recited at the churches we visited, it was now time to strengthen our belly’s with the many dishes laid out for us to devour, and devour we did.
After five days of pilgrimage, we headed back home carrying with us many cherished memories. This trip truly helped us gain a better understanding of the work of the Church and of Spain in these places. The Spanish missionaries didn’t just build magnificent churches of stone, but transmitted the catholic and Spanish culture to the Filipino people, making the Philippines not just Spanish but most importantly Catholic. Philippines now, is the third largest catholic country in the world thanks to the zealous and tireless efforts of a handful of missionaries that evangelized these islands 500 years ago.