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The way of the cross

The way of the cross

Bernard Supetran

The Filipino observance of the Holy Week is synonymous to a pilgrimage as we head back to our hometowns, and participate in the Visita Iglesia hopping around seven churches. But because of the “carmageddon” caused by the exodus to the countryside, many motorists opt to streamline their religious obligation by simply visiting religious theme parks to relive the passion of Christ through the Way of the Cross.

These prayer gardens offer the same solemnity of a church, but has more parking slots, spacious landscaped greenery, better amenities, and refreshing breeze, not to mention Instagrammable spots.

One vehicle which can make for leisurely driving is the Toyota Corolla Cross, a hybrid revolutionary crossover vehicle which marries the features of a well-loved sedan model and a compact SUV.

With advanced driver assist features and off-road capabilities than most rivals in its segment, it takes out the Calvary aspect of the road trip with its sleek interiors and head-turning design as you go about your journey of faith on wheels. It comes locally with a front-wheel drive layout which helps maximize cabin space and minimize weight for greater maneuverability and fuel efficiency.

Below are some exciting drives to the Way of the Cross on board the Corolla Cross.

Pit Stop 1: Marian Orchard

Reachable via the Balete exit of the STAR Tollway, this five-hectare pilgrimage site is like a slice of the Vatican because of the iconic massive dome of the Marian chapel and ruins of a Roman-style two-story building across.

Opened in 2015, it is dotted by flower gardens and vines which evokes the atmosphere of Gethsemane where Jesus Christ spent intense moments of prayer before his arrest and crucifixion.

It has a chapel under the patronate of the Divine Mercy, a Rosarium, a walkway punctuated by life-size statues of the 12 Disciples, and a Via Crucis Garden which is protected by the lush foliage from the searing heat of the sun. The 14-bell Chimes of Mary plays a mesmerizing tune every top of the hour which makes guests stop and stare at the tower chime.

Sticklers for the good old Visita Iglesia can swing by Lipa City which touts itself as the country’s “Little Rome” because of the many churches around it, most notably San Sebastian Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Batangas.

After fulfilling this spiritual pit stop, one can drive down to the placid Taal Lake situated just a few minutes away, and gaze at the volcano island which seems to be just an arm’s reach away while feasting on steaming hot bulalo or lomi at a lakeshore resto.

The Corolla Cross’s 16-Valve DOHC, four-cylinder in-line engine and 1.8L displacement can effortlessly negotiate the town’s steep undulating terrain. Pit

Corolla Cross at Montemaria in Batangas City

Stop 2: Montemaria

Perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde Island Passage in the remote coastal village of Pagkilatan in Batangas City, the centerpiece of this 130-hectare township is the 322-foot Statue of Mary, Mother of All Asia.

The tallest of its kind in the world, it is more than the usual monument as it is a 17-story building which you can ascend and be mesmerized by the panoramic sea view of Batangas Bay and outlying islands. It also has the Stations of the Cross and a chapel below where you can commune with the Divine.

At an altitude of 127 meters above sea level, it makes you feel closer to the heavens and the magnificent natural view is in itself a monumental handiwork of the Almighty God.

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In addition to being a pilgrimage center, Montemaria is also envisioned by its developer to be a world-class tourism and retirement village once fully completed.

Meanwhile, at the heart of Batangas City is the Immaculate Conception Church, one of the few minor basilicas in the country noted for its intricate baroque architecture and century-old religious images.

To test the Cross’s vaunted mechanical and safety features, we decided to “crucify” it and drive through the rough but scenic coastal road from the resort colony of Laiya, San Juan to Lobo, an emerging beach town on the other side of the mountain.

Driving through the scenic Laiya-Malabrigo coastal road

While still a long way from being completed, this frontier highway boasts one of Luzon’s most stunning drives with lots of picturesque spots for snapshots. The huge rocks and craters created by the blasting of the mountainside served as the scourge for light vehicles, but the Corolla Cross endured the punishing drive which seemed to last an eternity. Its advanced Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) features provided us comfort and peace of mind as we trekked the literally road less traveled as if we were on the way to Golgotha.

But beyond the Way of the Cross, the Toyota Corolla Cross is among the most exciting and stylish vehicles to cruise in crisscrossing the archipelago. Cross my heart.

MAIN PHOTO: Corolla Cross at Marian Orchard in Balete, Batangas