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Bicolandia offers a variety of history-rich churches for Visita Iglesia

It’s the ­­­time of year once more when motorists drive back to their hometowns to fulfill religious obligations and reunite with family members in the provinces. While the pandemic disrupted last year’s observance with the nationwide lockdown, this year might be a bit better in some areas where a protocol-compliant Visita Iglesia can be done.

With a relatively low Covid-19 cases and the rich historical and religious heritage of its churches, the Bicol region is ideal for the pilgrimage on wheels. For your safety, it is best to plan the route and travel exclusively with household members. 

One vehicle which can take you to the max to the Bicolandia’s countryside safely and in style is Maxus G50, a 7-seater multi-purpose vehicle which will runs excellently on rugged terrain and paved roads. which can take you to the max around the region. 

Here’s a curated Visita Iglesia route, whether across the region or within provincial confines, which blends the old world allure of Baroque churches and the modern charm of the Maxus G50.

Pit Stop 1: Peñafrancia Shrine. A riverine church on the edge of Naga City proper, it is the traditional home of the Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia, the patron saint of the Bicol region. The Iberian-themed church also hosts the Peñafrancia Festival every September, the biggest and oldest Marian devotion which dates back to more than three centuries, and lures close to a million pilgrims and guests. 

Pit Stop 2: Basilica Minore de Peñafrancia. Opened in 1985, this has become the permanent home of the Peñafrancia image to accommodate the increasing number of religious devotees from all over the country. It houses a replica of the centuries-old image after several attempts to steal the original. Built at a vast open area, this humongous modern-designed church has lots of parking spaces to handle huge volumes vehicles and pilgrims.

Pit Stop 3: Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. Officially the Church of St. John the Evangelist, it is seat of the 400-year old Archdiocese of Caceres, which is among the first to be established by the Spaniards in the archipelago. Devotees flock here when the Peñafrancia image is transferred here for the traslacion and novena during the September pilgrimage.  

Attached to the cathedral is the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary, the regional center of ecclesiastical education, and the Museo Conciliar de Caceres, a museum containing artifacts, religious statues and vestments, art, and memorabilia of the first Filipino bishop, Jorge Barlin. 

If you wish to confine your Visita Iglesia within the city, you can opt for the St. Francis of Assisi Church, plus the neighboring Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Canaman, Quipayo Church in Camaligan, and the St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Milaor.  

Pit Stop 4: Our Lady of the Gate Church. Down in Albay is this hilltop church in Daraga town Built by the Franciscans in 1772. Declared by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure, it boasts of ornate stone sculptures in its façade. With an unobstructed view of Mayon Volcano, it has become a postcard-perfect spot for pictorials of auto companies who launch their new car models for a long drive in the Bicolandia. 

Pit Stop 5: Cathedral of St. Gregory the Great. Popularly known as Albay Cathedral, this modern-looking church has an arched gate with portico, flanked by niches and pedestaled columns supporting the triangular pediments. Damaged during World War 2, it was elevated to a cathedral when the Diocese of Legazpi was created in 1951. Its claim to fame in contemporary history is being the site of an open-air papal mass in 1981 officiated by Pope John Paul II.

Pit Stop 6: St. Dominic Guzman Church. Built in 1785 with light materials, this twin-domed church in Sto. Domingo (see main photo) is a witness to the musical genius of its parishioner, Potenciano Gregorio, a military bandmaster and composer of the regional folk song “Sarung Banggi”. With the perfect-coned Mayon peering over the shoulder of the church, it is the physical and spiritual refuge of townsfolk when the volcano is in tantrums. 

Alternatively, you can drive to the churches of Camalig and Tabaco City, which are both under the patronage of St. John the Baptist, and were declared by the National Museum as Important Cultural Property and National Cultural Treasure, respectively. You can also add the Spanish-period churches of Malilipot, Bacacay and Tiwi to round up your list.

Pit Stop 7: Gibalon Shrine. Tucked at an interior village in Magallanes, Sorsogon, this galleon-shaped spot is regarded as the site of the first Mass in Luzon in 1569 by Fray Alonzo Jimenez. Along with Captain Luiz Enriquez de Guzman, the duo sailed to southern Bicol to explore, pacify and evangelize the area upon orders of Spanish authorities. 

While it is not a parish, it lures devotees and history buffs to mark a momentous event which led to the spread of Catholicism in the biggest island in the archipelago.

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