Team Out of Town Blog Hub (Outoftownblog.com) – Last year, on April 4, Pope Francis named 537 Jubilee churches in the Philippines to mark the 5th centenary celebration of the Christian faith in the Philippines. Thirteen of these churches are located in Cebu, and I was fortunate to visit five of them, all located in Southern Cebu.
The pilgrimage tour was organized by the Department of Tourism Central Visayas (DOT7) and the Archdiocese of Cebu to mark its place as the pilgrimage hub in the country and in Asia.
The highlight of the two-day pilgrimage tour was passing through the Holy Doors in the Jubilee churches, which allowed us, pilgrims, to obtain plenary indulgences or complete remission of all temporal punishment due to our sins.
Though the year-long celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines came to a close on April 24, the Holy Doors will remain open until this year.
And now is the most opportune time to go as we are coming out of the pandemic since most of us are considering our path and are defining what the “new normal” will be in our lives.
The Holy Doors
Only those who have recently gone to confession received Holy Communion and prayed for the intercession of the Holy Father and the Church can receive the plenary indulgence. Our tour started with a confession with our tour chaplain, Rev. Fr. Brian Brigoli, who is also the Chair of the Archdiocese of Cebu Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. This was followed by a Holy Mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.
The Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño is the center of celebrating the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines. The church is the oldest in the country and the only basilica in the Visayas and Mindanao.
After confession and Holy Mass, we traveled to Carcar City for our first Holy Door, which is located at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Here, Fr. Brian explained to us the significance of the Holy Doors. He said, “Holy Doors are ritual expressions of conversion. In entering the Holy Door, we are also crossing over a threshold or leaving the past behind and entering into the newness of life – from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from being a sinner to someone who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lord.”
Catholics can receive only one plenary indulgence per day. For the rest of the Holy Doors we visited that day, we offered plenary indulgences for the souls of loved ones. These Holy Doors were at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Michael in Argao, the San Guillermo de Aquitania Church in Dalaguete, and Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Church in Boljoon.
On the second day of our tour, we went to St. Gregory the Great Parish Church in Ginatilan to hear our Holy Mass for that day. This town is where San Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino saint, is said to have his roots. The celebration of the mass was made more special with relatives of San Pedro Calungsod in attendance. This was followed by the laying of flowers at the shrine of the teenage saint amidst a fiesta atmosphere.
Our fifth and last Holy Door was at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Sta. Ana in Barili is the only parish in Cebu dedicated to the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Before entering through these Holy Doors, our group prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father, led by our tour chaplain.
Encountering God in Beauty
Aside from entering the Holy Doors, we were also given the chance to marvel at the beauty in and around the church. As Fr. Brian said, we aim not just to strengthen our spiritual lives but also to search and encounter God in the signs and symbols of our faith:
“Faith is also nourished by our senses – the things we see, the things we hear, the things we feel. That is why liturgical and sacred arts are included in evangelization because these capture our senses and lead us to beauty Himself. And that is also the reason that the churches we see are also churches of beauty.”
Southern Cebu churches have rich and elaborate ornamentation inside and imposing facades outside.
St. Catherine of Alexandria is one of the best-preserved heritage churches in the province. It stands out for its Byzantine-influenced architecture, with Moorish onion-shaped domes crowning twin bell towers.
The Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Michael, which is the most prominent structure inside Argao’s old cabecera, houses one of the few pipe organs still being played for Mass. It also has five altars or retablos. Its museum, the Museo de la Parroquia de San Miguel, houses priceless religious treasures, including some made of ivory and gold. At the church square, one will find the oldest via crucis in the country.
The San Guillermo de Aquitania Church in Dalaguete is another prized heritage site renowned for its distinct artistic quality and serene atmosphere. It also has a museum, which showcases rich ecclesiastical arts.
The resplendent Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Church in Boljoon is a National Cultural Treasure and National Historical Landmark. It is on the tentative list of sites for nomination as a World Heritage Site.
An expansive plaza, an old cemetery with an arch gateway made of coral stones, and a museum containing liturgical objects such as record books, old vestments, and other relics are in its vicinity. The museum also has on display some artifacts which were unearthed during an archeological excavation in front of the church and in the cemetery.
The Archdiocesan Shrine of Sta. Ana features a relic of its patroness and an antique image from Spain enshrined at the altar.
Not just Food for the Soul
Aside from the guided, faith-based activities, we also experienced some of the best offerings of Cebu’s southern towns.
A visit to Carcar is not complete without tasting its lechon, which our tour facilitator Zeth professes as the best lechon in Cebu. Our snacks, complete with Carcar’s chicharon, puso or hanging rice, and banana chips, were served in the beautiful Carcar Museum.
In Argao, aside from exploring the old cabecera, we enjoyed a seafood feast at Maayo Resort and tasted its famous torta, a sweet and spongy pastry, complete with a cooking demonstration at Jessie’s Homemade Torta.
We also tasted Southern Cebu’s most popular attraction for adventure-seekers. In Badian, we had a cold dip, marveled at the multi-tiered Kawasan Falls, and had an Instagrammable boodle lunch.
Before going back to Cebu City, our final stop was the picturesque Unchuan Farm. We explored natural springs and an aviary and enjoyed snacks of grilled saba, ice cream, siopao, hot sikwate mangoes, and rice cakes.
More about the Tour
The tour is supported by Philippine Airlines, the nation’s flag carrier. PAL has 10 daily flights 7 days a week between Cebu and Manila, providing pilgrims with a wealth of travel choices.
Pilgrims are advised to book flights through www.philippineairlines.com for Super Savers and 3-in-1 deals and to contact DOT-accredited tour operators for their pilgrimage tours.
During our time in Cebu City, our home is Quest Hotel, one of Cebu’s top hotels.