Let’s talk about Faith. Holy Week is about the time of year when we get to assess that F word we say in our dialect as ‘Pagtuo‘. It’s quite the only time most traditional Filipino homes would have the valid reason to keep family members grounded, specifically to meditate and to renounce our sins and watch TV all day. For a whole week we got no work, no school and (admit it, no exercise) practically living a life devoid of ‘lingaw’. Well I have that belief until I got assigned Boracay when suddenly people just flock the beach in as little stitch as possible. W T F.
But there’s something I noticed in my Faith during my time in the island: there’s a real connection between the Christian Faith and high places. Noah built his arc on top of mountain and crash landed on another 40 (watery) days after completion. Abraham almost roasted his son Isaac on top of a mountain before being stopped by an angel. Moses was even more of a hardcore mountaineer when he witnessed the burning bush and the creation of the 1st tablets ever called the 10 Commandments, Jesus Christ sent out on an incredible hunger strike with the devil on a mountainous desert, Jesus was crucified a few weeks later on top of a hill and just recently or exactly 494 years ago the 1st Mass in the Philippines was held on top of the highest peak of Limasawa island.
Before my current Leyte workstation, there was Cebu, there was Boracay, there was Ilo-ilo, there was Manila and there was even Puerto Galera but there’s no such place as Maasin City in Southern Leyte where the Faith during the Lenten season is practiced not on the beach or malls or having fun; Holy Week in Maasin means climbing three gruelling high places of worship within the city. It’s a pilgrimage like no other! So if you’re in Southern Leyte for the Holy Week you might want to check out this three exciting places of worship and here’s the catch I’m challenging you to climb these places in one sitting in a day!
- Hanginan – Arguably one the most popular pilgrimage sites on Eastern Visayas known for its tough uphill terrain and, yes, effective place of worhsip. Hanginan is a mountain barangay of Maasin City and can be reached by foot, after three three brutal uphell That’s three kilometers that really feels like a half marathon, as in. It’s one of my favourite spot in college, but I usually go there for exercise purposes and more than happy to accompany my classmates doing their 1st Friday of the month petition. I usually make the climb in less than 30-40 minutes to maximize the calories burned and just wait for them on the top. Most people go there to pray and wish for their heart’s desire. And on our personal account, most of our prayers did come true. So yes I’m a fan of the place.
Take note that I’m technically a Roman Catholic based on my birth and baptismal certificates because I was born on my mother’s hometown where her family’s a devout Catholic. But all four of us sibling grew up in a Protestant faith after we moved out to our dad’s place in 1990. Religion sometimes could be a matter of geographical location. Had I been born in Saudi, I’d be a Muslim for sure. I believe when it comes to Faith it does not matter which Church you go to every Sunday it’s how you practice your Belief the rest of the week and how much you respect each other’s way of praying. That is the most important lesson the place called Hanginan ever taught me. I love my friends regardless of their Faith.
- Jaleca Hill and the Mama Mary Shrine – after visiting Hanginan I want to walk down the same path you’ve been and hit the highway because the Jaleca Hill and the infamous statue of Southern Leyte is right there waiting for you. It’s only around 3 kilometers of concrete highway separating the two pilgrimage sites, so yes sisiw rana for runners like us.
The Shrine was constructed in the 1990’s and the statue stands around 50 feet tall overlooking the entire city. I like the view there and when I’m alone I scream my lungs out up there. I also used to go there on Saturday mornings to punish my legs screaming from climbing those stairs. I love it and I was not even a runner then. And here’s an interesting trivia, there’s no devastating storms and calamities that befell in Maasin ever since it was constructed. Even super typhoons Yolanda and Ruby hardly made impact in Maasin even though they were forecasted to directly hit the city. Storm seemed to develop an aversion to the city unlike in the 80’s and earlier decades (many Maasinhons remember Bising and Rosing).
- The Monte Cueva Shrine – another pilgrimage site in the heart of Maasin is this historical cave site that was turned in to a pretty kickass church. After you went downhill from the Jaleca Hill and said goodbye to Mama Mary you can practically sprint the distance going to to Monte Cueva. It’s just 2.5-3k, sisiw. But you might want to save your legs fresh for one epic battle with a common enemy: STAIRS. Maasin City is really a place that love stares and Monte Cueva is the glorious example.
(c) Gerry RuizThe cave in Monte Cueva was used as a stronghold for Filipino guerrillas during the second World War. Lots of fighting and stories of bravery took place in this hill and on that cave. I’m sure there’s more to it than what’s been told to our generation. What really happened there during the war? What were the legends spoke of and lost through time? It was not converted into a really unique and beautiful Church for no reason at all. Because personally Monte Cueva struck me as magical place. I came from a family of baw-onons and I always have a gut feeling when I go there as if something is overlooking our moves. Were there engkantada, tikbalang, and even wakwak who lived there? We will never know. But for now, let it be a fitting finale of our trifecta of pilgrimage sites in Maasin City.
So the next time you’re in Southern Leyte make sure to visity these places because its highly recommended to visit these site for once in your life. These places change me to a better person and made me more open and understanding to Faith beyond religion. There’s just something about higher places that attracts worshippers. Runners might say because of the joy of the destination’s trail. There’s pain and sacrifice in every climb, because some places needs to be earned. But a better explanation might just be what my favorite tambay philosopher says: becauseof the biyaheng langit thingy… the higher the place, the better the reception, the better the chances of prayers getting heard by the One above.
Have a blessed Holy Week everyone!