Holy Week 2011 – Visita Iglesia…”Pray, hope and do not worry”.

For this year’s Holy Week, we decided to go slow, and even our usual Visita Iglesia (Spanish for “Church Visits”) went into “slow-mo”. Instead of the traditional 7 churches, we only went to 3. Last year, we headed northwards to Old Manila and Quezon City, but this time around we headed the opposite way, to the southern suburbs of the metropolis.

* In case you’re not familiar with the Catholic faith, the Holy Week is the commemoration of the passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It starts on Maundy Thursday (the start of Christ’s passion) and ends with Easter Sunday (the celebration of his resurrection).

Our first stop was the Fernbrook Gardens, somewhere in that part of the world where Alabang and Las Pinas meet. The place is more widely known as a venue for extravagant wedding receptions, filled with pomp and lavish decors. It’s hard to miss its dome-like structure while traversing the still barren expanse of Daang Hari and Daang Reyna, rising like wonderland in the middle of nowhere.

The dome of Fernbrook Gardens, under the high afternoon sun.

Notre Dame de Vie

So what in the world were we doing at a lavish reception venue, in the middle of the Holy Week? There is a chapel inside the grounds called the “Notre Dame de Vie”. While used mostly for weddings (or the Sacrament of Matrimony, to be religiously correct) more than anything else, they did open it to the general faithful on Maundy Thursday, and they even put up stations of the cross inside the venue’s grounds.

I would, of course, be dishonest if I would say that we only went there to pray. We were after all, already inside one the country’s most extravagant party venues. And so along with recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, also went a good deal of gawking at the wedding wonderland. Consistent with the venue’s theme as a fantasy world for soon to be newly weds, the chapel was also fancifully decorated. From the “tiffany” chairs, to the bright red carpet, to the ornate arches, hanging plants and chandeliers, you could almost hear “Ikaw” the moment you step inside.

* For those who don’t know, “Ikaw” is a Tagalog song that’s sang in almost every Filipino wedding nowadays. 

The whole Fernbrook Gardens itself is what you would (and should) expect for a place that hosts weddings costing up to seven digits (in Pesos). Tropical plants and manicured landscapes dominate the area, making you feel like you’re at the abode of the Elves of Rivendell. There’s also a nicely adorned fountain, plus a little canal and a gondola, to complete the scene.

*If you don’t know what the Elves of Rivendell are, read the Lord of the Rings. It’s a good, though a bit boring and excruciatingly long, book.

Saint Jerome Emiliani.

Our next stop was Saint Jerome Emiliani in Alabang, right beside the Alabang Town Centre. It was my first time to visit the church, but I’ve already seen it from afar countless times before. Though overshadowed in popularity by the bigger and more extravagant Saint James the Great inside the exclusive Ayala Alabang Village, I had always been attracted in some way by St. Jerome’s mission-like architecture. The design, if I’m not mistaken, was patterned after the Spanish catholic missions in North America, and the church probably won’t look out of place in Nueva España.

St. Pio Chapel

We visited our third church the following day, on Good Friday, before going on our way out of town. Located deep within the commercial district of Libis, and literally side-by-side with the tall buildings of Eastwood, is a quaint little chapel dedicated to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, more affectionately known as Padre Pio – the Capuchin priest made known for receiving the stigmata, or the wounds of Jesus from his crucifixion.

The chapel is quite unique among the churches that I have visited. They apply a very strict dress code, but they do not turn away people who come dressed less than appropriately. Instead they lend people “sarongs”, for free, with which churchgoers can cover themselves. I’ve seen this gesture in some Buddhist temples, but it’s a first, in my experience, for a Catholic church. Secondly, they lend real crosses, to carry on the shoulder, for people who want to go through the stations of the cross (though you don’t have to get nailed to it, you just carry it with you). I found it a wonderful reminder of Christ’s passion. Third, they have a strict adherence to silence, and it would almost feel like you’re visiting the convent of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, except that there are no nuns in pink.

"Carry your cross and follow me". The way of the cross at the St. Pio Chapel

One new thing I learned, as I researched a bit more on Padre Pio while writing this article, is a short phrase that he lived by. I was attracted to the utter simplicity of the statement, and the weight of the meaning that it carries. I also found it quite paradoxical, in that I didn’t expect such a simplistic phrase to come from a deeply devoted priest, much less a saint who had lifelong wounds, and dealt with the devil and temptation for a lifetime. The words were “Pray, hope and do not worry”. Short, simple and strikes right at the heart.

Happy Easter everyone (or belated happy easter by the time you read this).

* All photos taken with Olympus E-420, with Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 or Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6.

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