If you are a Filipino Catholic, you probably heard the term or participated in Visita Iglesia during Holy Week. Visita Iglesia is the practice of visiting at least seven Catholic churches on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Some devotees of this tradition even go the extra mile to the point where they walk barefoot from church to church.
Other people take it further by carrying a cross with them. Just like fasting during Lent, people do these acts to commemorate the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Devotees of Visita Iglesia visit seven churches because it represents the seven last words of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, some devotees travel to 14 churches to represent the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Why do People Participate in Visita Iglesia?
People participate in Visita Iglesia to share the same experience Jesus had during the crucifixion or have their wishes granted. There is a belief that people who complete all stations during Visita Iglesia will be rewarded. On the other hand, people who visit churches during this period also see this as an opportunity for sightseeing.
Most families who participate visit churches away from their hometowns. Whatever your purpose is, you should remember that it is done to honor the Blessed Sacrament.
Are there Specific Prayers during Visita Iglesia?
You can pray however you like during Visita Iglesia because there is no specific prayer. Some devotees say the Rosary, while others offer personal prayers for themselves or their loved ones. As a form of almsgiving, most people give a small gift or donation to the poor at every church.
History of Visita Iglesia in Rome
The tradition of visiting seven churches during Maundy Thursday or Good Friday started in Rome. In 1553, Pope Julius III was permitted to celebrate the Spring Carnivale in Rome. This carnival brought noise and degrading behavior to the city. Saint Philip Neri decided to break this tradition with his friends.
Saint Philip Neri began to assemble his friends, families, neighbors, and even strangers for an informal walk following his afternoon prayer. As time went on, Neri realized that what he was doing was a counterpart to the noisy Carnivale. This act was later known as the “Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches.”
On the other hand, there is another theory behind the origin of Visita Iglesia. One of the most famous ones is that the Roman Empire practiced visiting seven churches to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ in seven parts. There were also seven basilicas in the Roman Empire which people visited.
These churches were believed to be the burial site of prominent figures in Catholicism. The martyrs buried in these churches are St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Mary Major, St. Paul, St. Lawrence, and St. Sebastian. The practice spread across the city and was associated with the Holy Week to honor the Blessed Sacrament.
People did not practice this tradition after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, this practice was then revived by Pope Boniface III. The term “Visita Iglesia” was coined from the Spanish term “ Visita al Santisimo Sacramento en el monumento de la Iglesia parroquial,” which means “Visit the Blessed Sacrament in the monument; of the parish church.”
History of Visita Iglesia in the Philippines
In the Philippines, Visita Iglesia became a tradition because of Spanish colonizers. Augustinian missionaries spread the practice in the 1560s. There were only a few Catholic churches in the Philippines, and a great distance separated these churches. Walking to these churches was a challenge during the Spanish colonial period.
Over time, settlements grew more extensive, which caused the widespread of Catholic churches. Transportation also significantly improved during this era, making traveling more manageable than before. During the Spanish colonial period, Manila was the center of pilgrimage because Intramuros alone had seven large churches.
In the 21st century, it is not just a religious practice. It is also a way for tourists to visit historic churches in the Philippines. In the account of historic churches, five of the seven baroque churches in Intramuros were destroyed during World War II. However, other landmark churches spread around the country for you to visit.
Since then, it has been a tradition in the Philippines alongside the waving of palaspas, fasting during Lent, sinakulo, and penitensya. There had been different variations of this tradition. In 2010, there was a Bisikleta Iglesia where the pilgrimage was made by bikes.
During the pandemic, there was a virtual Visita Iglesia in selected churches. Catholics who still wanted to visit churches were able to visit particular churches as Google Maps provided a 360-degree inside view of the churches. Some of the churches available for the virtual event were Saint Agustin Church in Intramuros and the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
What to do during Holy Week?
During Visita Iglesia, you should take this moment and pray with all your heart. This is the time of year when you can commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for salvation, so you should follow the tradition and reason behind it. Yes, it is breathtaking to see historic churches, but you should not just visit churches for the sake of just taking pictures.
If you have strong Catholic faith, you should use this opportunity to thank God and pray for the well-being of people important to you. Seeing different tourist spots in the Philippines is a great way to bond with your family. Still, you should also remember that the essence of Holy Week is commemorating Jesus Christ’s suffering.
Visita Iglesia is one of those Filipino traditions that will never fade. As was said earlier, the tradition of visiting churches had some innovations. You can assure that Filipinos can still see these beloved churches through different means. And it does not matter how many churches you visit, as long as you do your part as a Christian when you participate.