From one of the smallest countries in the world, to the Catholic capital of Asia. WOW! I thought I loved Jesus but my goodness, the Filipinos looove the Lord! Churches on every corner. “Jesus is Lord”, “In God We Trust” up in lights on skyscrapers and side streets. There’s even a giant flashing Rosary on a building near the the airport. Such a contrast to the subtle yet definitely Islamic architecture of Brunei.
I’m beginning to love taxi drivers world wide. Not just because my dad is a taxi driver but because the welcome to the city that often starts with your transfer is becoming my secret delight in this globetrotting adventure. This time was no different. Glen, a family man, picked me up and for anyone that knows Manila, we had plenty of time to chat. Traffic is an understatement, carpark springs to mind. I asked Glen, what are the must see churches were in his town. Eagerly, he rattled off 6/7 musts in Manila and if I had time a gorgeous historical church in Miag ao. Maybe? He then insisted on giving me the Rosary Beads that were hanging on his review mirror. I did protest saying that I did already have a set and he should keep them. He was having none of it, so I accepted his gift. I must give it to you ma’am. It’s Gods will. Ok, ok but enough with the ma’am thanks.
So Saturday I grabbed an uber and headed off on a church hopping extravaganza, after lots of warnings from the hotel to be careful on my own. Come on, do they know who there dealing with? Ofcourse, I advise people to be cautious in any city, in any country and yes there is petty crime here, but the people I encountered in my 3 days were nothing but kind , helpful albeit a little curious. Where are all the tourists? I can’t be the only foreigner in these places all the time.
I hit the The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quialpo Church to the locals) first off and the church of choice for thousands of faithful Manilans, especially on a Friday. This was spectacular. I think maybe 4-5000 people overflowing out into the streets. A constant stream of worshippers, services here run continuously all day. The organ playing the choir singing, and the harmonies of the crowd, simply amazing. It was like, its own little faith filled eco system existing within the concrete jungle of downtown Manila. I noticed a queue at the back of the church and saw people on their knees, heading down the long aisle. I asked the man next to me what they were doing and he said, they might have troubles in their lives, so they throw themselves at God’s mercy and humbly “crawl ” down the aisle in a sign of submission to the Lord to bless them. Wow. I thought about making the journey, but felt so blessed in my life, thought it better to stand and pray for those on their knees instead.
Next was the Manila Cathedral (Officially The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). Wow !!! This is a real indicator of the Spanish colony heritage of this country. The architecture took me back to my Europoean travels for sure. With gorgeous shrines lining the corridors either side and the grandeur of the artwork, I could have spent hours just enjoying the beauty that surrounded me. But in this city, too many great sites to see, so it was off to one of the most talked about churchs of Manila
Santa Augustine. This building was even more impressive, unfortunately I didn’t get many snaps. Why you ask ? Well I arrived and there was nearly 100 police officers in the carpark, I tentatively walked in after asking if I could as there was a wedding on. Ushered in with smiles, I took a seat and watched the I do’s and even got a sneaky shot of the happy couple and congratulated the groom (the least I could do having gatecrashed their special day). However, the most exciting part was when I stopped for a quick bite before going back in to get my snaps. Obviously, I got chatting to the rather handsome bunch of police officers at the restaurant. They explained the President’s son in laws brother (or something like that ) was getting married next (a wedding happens nearly every hour here at St Augustines and I can see why it’s magnificent). So President Duterte was on the way !!! Shut up! I’m not going anywhere. So I passed the hour long wait chatting to the Pulisi and enjoyed Chicken Adobo, a Filipino favourite and then it was on !! The boys were up, the sirens sounded and a convoy of SUV’s arrived. Even though I watched like a hawk, camera at the ready the President was whisked in and I didn’t get a snap but the fanfare was enough for me. The lads seemed happy with my sense of excitement of the “almost sighting” of their fearless leader.
During the rest of my visit I saw lots more church’s. St Sebastian, Manila’s only all steel church , The Edsa Shrine in Quezon City , where mother Mary watches over the people. Greenbelt Chapel in the middle of an open air shopping village, in what I can only describe as a dome similar to that of the planetarium in Brisbane. Santa Clara which is the place to go for fertility apparently and luckily I went via St Judes (the place to pray for a husband ) it wasn’t Thursday though, which is apparently the time to go to pray for a husband but we’ll see how that turns out. I googled St Clare and known as the Saint for hopeless causes. I wonder why Glen recommended I go there after finding out I wasn’t married at 32 (mmm, I’ll let that slide) . St Francis, an unassuming church near my hotel, yet still packed to the rafters with faithfuls. Lastly, on the way to the airport a locals church (the name escapes me) that was again overflowing this Sunday morning. They also had markets and food stalls all over the grounds. My kind of church! And that’s just to name a few !
After all that I thought I’d be church’d out, but instead was mapping in my mind when I can squeeze in another few days in the Philippines. If this is what the city has on show, imagine what stunning beauty the country areas have to offer.
Sometimes it is said, that a city is just a city no matter where you go. Personally, I think every city is its own reality and the people and places that you find are unique and well worth exploring .
Discover the Philippines and Manila you won’t be disappointed !
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim.