DEATH ON THE CROSS: Residents of Barangay San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando City, Pampanga re-enact the crucifixion of Christ in this photo taken on Good Friday last year. – VAL RODRIGUEZ

Residents of Barangay San Pedro Cutud
in San Fernando City, Pampanga re-enact the crucifixion of Christ |
in this photo taken on Good Friday last year. – VAL RODRIGUEZ

Manila, April 18, 2003 by Butch Francisco (Philippine Star, StarBYtes) The visita iglesia tradition on Maundy Thursday always brings back memories of my family’s favorite churches when I was a kid. Back then, we lived in a district in Manila that didn’t have its own parish church. Well, it did have one, but it was only a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. It stood several blocks away from our house and was not exactly walking distance – especially for us kids who could only manage teeny-tiny steps.

Here are seven of my family’s favorite churches.

San Miguel Pro-Cathedral.
Located in the San Miguel district right next door to the old brewery and just a few steps from Malacańang, this must be the one church that holds a lot of meaning for my family because that was where we would hear our Misa de Aguinaldo every Christmas Eve.

Since the church would get really full, we would get there as early as 11 p.m. and wait for the High Mass at 12 midnight which would finish at way past 1 a.m. I remember that I would get a kick out of watching the sleepy heads around me – adults and kids – dozing off in the middle of the very long Homily. Me? Even if I was only three years old, I would still be wide awake maybe because, looking back, I probably was born an insomniac.

One Christmas Eve, my Dad threw a tantrum (yes, it was mostly him throwing tantrums and not us kids) because my Mom allowed us to stay behind for a while after the High Mass to kiss the feet of Baby Jesus. You see, like most other drivers, my Dad always wanted to leave ahead of the rest so he wouldn’t get stuck in the parking area with other cars also rushing to get out of the church. Well, since we kids decided to play good Catholics, he mumbled and stewed behind the wheel in the mad rush toward the exit – probably blaming my Mom (adults have their own language not often coherent to children) for giving her permission for us to pay homage to the Nińo. (When I started driving, I began to have a better understanding of my Dad every time I would recall that Christmas Eve scenario.)

For New Year’s Day Masses, we also went to the San Miguel Pro-Cathedral a couple of times. I still remember seeing the Roxas clan gathered there (with the men in crisp barong Tagalog) for the Mass celebrated in honor of the birth anniversary of the late President Manuel Roxas.

The San Miguel Pro-Cathedral may have been my family’s favorite church for Sunday/Christmas/New Year’s Day Masses, but it didn’t necessarily get my vote for the simple reason that it didn’t have balloon vendors in the churchyard. The only time they sold balloons there was during one fiesta and my Dad got me a big yellow balloon that had a happy face on it and a crepe paper hat. I instantly fell in love with that balloon – until I got inside the car and it brushed against a sharp object and burst. That really broke my tiny heart.

Sta. Mesa Church.
No, Sta. Mesa doesn’t mean St. Table. Now, I’m not very sure about its etymology, but I think it’s short for Sta. Misericordia, which means Holy Compassion or Mercy in English.

Anyway, the Sta. Mesa Church, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was quite small, but could somehow accommodate a lot of people because it had covered areas on both sides where people were allowed to hear Mass standing up.

According to my Mom, the Marcoses used to hear Mass there when Ferdinand was still a senator. Yes, Imelda would also come along and she was said to have awed other churchgoers with her radiance. I tend to believe my Mom’s story because the Marcoses were residents of San Juan and that’s very near Sta. Mesa Church.

The Sta. Mesa Church was also memorable to me because it had very nice processions during the Sacred Heart’s feast day on the last Sunday of June. It was very simple, but solemn – with only the lovely images of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Sacred Heart of Jesus brought down from their niches in procession.

The Sta. Mesa Church always got my vote then not necessarily because of the procession or the Sunday services, but because it sold very nice popcorn outside of two varieties: the white one which was salty and the pinkish one which was sweet in flavor.

Popcorn and balloons were always the two gauges for my selection of my family’s favorite churches back then. Now, don’t whack me on the head with your prayer book. I was only a kid then.

San Sebastian Church – For many years, my family and I would often hear New Year’s Day Mass in this gothic all-steel church at the far end of R. Hidalgo. Although it is called San Sebastian Church, I believe that the church is really dedicated to La Virgen del Carmen.

My family liked hearing Mass there on New Year’s Day or even on a regular Sunday because parking was not a problem there (when you have children with you, this is always a consideration). But I do remember it was always dark in there and I kept myself from getting bored (I was a kid and was restless) by admiring the colorful stained glass windows on both sides of the church.

Today, the San Sebastian Church is a favorite not only for society weddings, but also for movie weddings because of its lovely interiors.

The Manila Cathedral – After years of hearing the Misa de Aguinaldo at the San Miguel Pro-Cathedral, I initiated a move to hear Mass at the Manila Cathedral, My siblings already had their own lives and I was the only little one whom my parents were still able to drag to church with them. But this Christmas Eve tradition of hearing Mass at the Cathedral didn’t last very long because even I grew up soon after and didn’t want to be seen still hanging around with my parents (it’s a phase in a teenager’s life).

Years before we moved the Christmas Eve tradition to the Manila Cathedral, however, we had been hearing mass there some Sundays. From what I recall, there was always endless renovation going on at the Cathedral. (It was destroyed at the end of the war and had to be rebuilt, but it had already been decades since then.)

If the Manila Cathedral was filled with churchgoers – and this was often – my family and I moved to nearby San Agustin church just a block away.

Loreto/VOT Churches – I still recall my surprise and amazement when my Dad first drove us to the Sampaloc district (along a street called Bustillos) to hear Mass and I saw twin churches. To the left was this bluish structure which I found out was the church dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto (who is supposed to protect us from fires) and to the right was another church painted in yellow which had San Antonio de Padua (you pray to him for lost things) as patron saint.

The Loreto Church is the real parish church of Sampaloc. The Franciscan church of San Antonio de Padua, on the other hand, was erected there – I understand – only after the war and is officially called VOT Church (short for Venerable Orden Tercera). On Tuesdays, you see female devotees there sporting the brown habito of San Antonio.

The one nice thing about going to church there is that, if VOT is full, you move to Loreto and vice versa. And yes, you don’t have to change parking.

Mt. Carmel Church – This church always looked so huge to me – especially when I was small – and we often heard Mass there on Sundays and sometimes condoled with the bereaved on departed family friends there because of the mortuary chapels below.

It is still one of my favorite churches (although I think something is wrong with its sound system) because after the Mass, you can pray to your favorite saints since one side of this structure has a gallery of icons of the various holy men and women canonized by the Vatican.

Quiapo Church – We didn’t hear Mass here on Sundays, but I frequented it just the same because both my parents were Black Nazarene devotees and they would bring me with them on novena days every Friday. In fact, my Mom always had her knees scorched from walking along the aisle on her knees from the last pew at the back all the way to the front altar. I don’t know why she did that or why she had to do that, but she did – and I believe it was for the Lord (although most born-again Christians would frown on that).

Even my Dad had his own Good Friday penitence. He would walk from our house (then in an area practically at the border of Manila and Mandaluyong) all the way to Quiapo Church. Initially, it was my eldest brother who accompanied him. Then, came the turn of another older brother. Well, lucky me. When it was my time to walk with him, we had moved to La Vista in Loyola Heights and that was quite a distance and therefore the penitence stopped. For the longest time, incidentally, people had this mistaken notion that the patron saint of Quiapo Church was the Black Nazarene. Actually, the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, whose image is enshrined in one of the side altars. Today, however, I think the Black Nazarene has been officially declared as the church’s official patron saint.

For a while, I also had a special devotion to the Black Nazarene, but I would only drop by the Quiapo church every time I was in the area. In fact, on the eve of every Urian Awards presentation, I would always see to it that I dropped by the Quiapo Church to ask this favor from the Seńor Nazareno to make the awards ceremony successful and orderly.

Although I don’t get to go there anymore, this church has special meaning for me because my parents (and myself) had received so many special heavenly favors from there. I’m also quite sure that with my parents every visit there, they would pray for us kids. Looking back, maybe that’s what my Mom got her knees scorched for.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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