MALASIQUI, Pangasinan – Local officials on Friday said "faith tourism" is once again expected to boom this Holy Week in Pangasinan, home not only of famous white sand beaches and scenic mountain views, but also century-old churches and pilgrimage sites, including one on top of an island mountain.
Tourism and cultural officer Malu Elduayan, in an interview, said the province's 44 towns and four cities are home to Catholic churches that are perfect for Visita Iglesia or the way of the cross this Holy Week.
Elduayan said these include the three most visited churches in the province --the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary of Manaoag; the Sanctuario de San Juan Evangelista in Dagupan City; and the St. Peter and Paul Church in Calasiao.
Manaoag Mayor Jeremy Agerico Rosario said they are in constant coordination with government agencies and local officials for the expected surge of pilgrims in the city, which currently sees 55,000 weekly tourist arrivals.
Recently, another church in the province was declared a minor basilica by the Vatican, the Minor Basilica of Saint Dominic De Guzman Parish Church in San Carlos City.
The church was already 250 years old, according to the parish’s management.
Among the oldest churches in the province is the St. James the Great Parish Church in Bolinao town that was built in 1609.
“This iconic church was built out of black coral stones in 1609 and is the only religious structure in the Philippines that bears the Holy Seal of Papacy in the Vatican, the Seal of the Governor General, and the Seal of Queen Isabela of Spain. Its bell tower, standing at 75 feet, is also known to be one of the tallest in the country,” read the description on the "See Pangasinan" website.
Another church popular among pilgrims is the Señor Divino Tesoro Shrine in Calasiao town, Pangasinan.
Señor Divino Tesoro Shrine is located beside Calasiao's municipal hall. It has stairs that lead to the shrine.
Popular among devotees, the statue of Jesus Christ located at the altar is said to grant wishes when touched.
Also in Calasiao town is the Saints Peter and Paul Parish, which is known for its beautiful architectural designs, some of which were preserved while others have been rehabilitated throughout centuries.
Aside from churches, the St. Vincent Prayer Park in Bayambang town, Pangasinan, is also a must-visit for devotees and tourists.
The 50.23-meter-tall Saint Vincent Ferrer statue in Barangay Bani, Bayambang town is a Guinness World Record holder as the tallest supported bamboo structure.
The St. Vincent Ferrer prayer park features a chapel, Jesus Way to Resurrection statues, and meditation gardens, among others.
Meanwhile, Elduayan said four pilgrimage sites are located in Alaminos City, Natividad and Bani towns.
She said Alaminos City has the Hundred Islands National Park (HINP), which features a 'Pilgrimage Island' that has religious statues including Jesus the Savior statue, resembling Brazil's Jesus the Redeemer statue.
Visitors will get to enjoy a boat ride from Lucap Wharf to the Pilgrimage Island which has the Stations of the Cross with life-sized statues, the Garden of Eden, and a 263-step staircase leading to the famous 55-foot-tall Christ the Savior statue, making it an attraction not only during Holy Week but all year round.
“We again advise tourists to please be in your decent clothes while visiting Pilgrimage Island. Decent means not too fleshy. If you are wearing swimwear that is revealing, at least cover it while on the island. Visitors should also observe silence since many are there to pray and meditate,” city tourism officer Miguel Sison said.
The Stations of the Cross perched on a hill by the white sand beach in Bani town is a popular destination during the Lenten season.
Situated in Barangay Centro Toma, some 15 kilometers away from the town proper of Bani, the Surip Beach derives its name from the local term for “peep”, as it overlooks the vastness of the West Philippine Sea.
Municipal tourism officer Rommel Dulay said the place has a chapel where a Holy Mass is celebrated before devotees climb the hill for the Stations of the Cross.
Dulay said the Stations feature statues that depict the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and on top is the Redeemer’s Cross.
Pangasinan also has the Natividad Sky Plaza which is located on a hill beside the Caraballo Mountain in Barangay Bachelor East Natividad.
It has a 287-step concrete stairway leading to a 30-foot cross at the top, according to Pangasinan Tours’ website.
The website further said Bani Calvary Hill has 1,000 steps leading to a gigantic cross overlooking the West Philippine Sea.
In addition, Bugallon also has Mt. Zion situated in Barangay Laguit Padilla, while Bolinao town also has the St. Claire Monastery.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has launched the Marian Pilgrimage Circuit, featuring the different Marian Shrines of canonically crowned images of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the four provinces of the Ilocos Region, including Pangasinan.
The Marian Pilgrimage Circuit includes the Minor Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Badoc, Ilocos Norte; St. Augustine Church in Bantay, Ilocos Sur; Basilica of Our Lady of Charity Agoo in Agoo, La Union; St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish Church in Luna, La Union; Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag in Manaoag, Pangasinan; Mary Help of Christians Theology Seminary or the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Dagupan City, Pangasinan; and Church of the Holy Guardian Angels in Sto. Tomas, La Union.
Apparitions or other miracles ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary are said to have taken place in these churches. (PNA)