Sunday, December 28, 2014

Johannine Pilgrimage 2014: TAAL, BATANGAS

As a way of giving thanks for the year that was, I always set out on a Christmas Journey every December 27, Feast of St. John the Apostle, because of whom I coined the term Johannine Pilgrimage. It started in 2005 out of a random trip to somewhere in Manila, and ever since, became one of my yearend activities. This year's Johannine is the tenth, so to make it more memorable, I decided to go out of town.

And so, I, together with my close friend Angelo Mangahas - himself a fervent devotee of Our Lady, went for Taal, Batangas, one of the famous centers of devotion to Our Lady, aside from their delicious Tapang Taal and Balisong. Our pilgrimage this year centered on two well-known churches, the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours at the Town Center, and the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay with its nearby well.

Our Lady of Caysasay is not a new thing to me, having learned of the image's story in a novena booklet given to me roughly ten years ago. In its history, the image was caught by Juan Maningcad while fishing in the Pansipit River. Called as the Wandering Virgin o Birheng Gala, the image was said to have miraculous attributes. People flock to her little shrine in Taal, and to the well of spring water nearby, to ask her intercession for many needs. Cures were given to the faithful who pray to Our Lady, and the affection of the townsfolk is really remarkable, that's why she is known as one of the celebrated images in the Philippines.


Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, Taal
We arrived at Taal minutes past 12 noon, bringing with us our own images of Our Lady of Caysasay. From the first moment we set foot on the nearby market to eat lunch, people started coming near us, and praying before the images we brought. Among all the pilgrimages I had been into, never did I see such love of the people for Our Lady. I was amazed by their devotion to Mama Mary, much the same as I fell in love with the place.

Taal Basilica, known as the biggest church in the Philippines and Asia, has been the center of devotion of the TaaleƱos for centuries. From its big bells, wonderful interior, to the magnificent view of Taal from the belfry, Taal Church has become a strong symbol of the Catholic faith in this side of the country.

I may have fear of heights, but then it did not spoil the happy moments spent from the belfry. It's like breathing fresh air after days and months spent in hard work and stressful duties.

Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay

After spending time in prayer, we went on to our real destination, the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, a few minutes' walk from the Basilica. Angelo served as my tour guide, since it was my first time to be here. We first went down the St. Lorenzo Ruiz steps, which led us to the side of the church. The church may be small, but it is nevertheless beautiful that I can't help but shed some tears. 

As we prayed the Rosary, we just observed the silent stream people who were also there to visit Our Lady. There were individuals, and families (including Fr. Fernando Suarez, known as the Healing Priest. He blessed us on our pilgrimage). There were good vendors selling candles and making the story of Our Lady alive. This is indeed a simple community, made alive by their love and affection for Our Lady of Caysasay.

Bas-relief of the Arch marking the Well of the Apparitions
Another must-see is the Well of the Apparitions (Balon ni Santa Lucia), dating to the same period as the Virgin. The well water is also known for its miraculous powers, and it is here that Our Lady had shown her grace to me for a special grace I asked of her. 

I asked Our Lady for a stock of sampaguita, but I did not find any upon reaching the wells. Saddened, I just rested at the fact that a sign would never be necessary for a person with deep faith.
After taking a bath, we returned to the Shrine to sing the despedida. I was mesmerized by the setting sun over the facade of the church, so I decided to take a photo of it. While setting things up, wonder of wonders! I saw a branch of Sampaguita with buds of beautiful flowers! I rose up and sighed a little prayer of gratitude to Our Lady. 


Going up the belfry of Taal Basilica and visiting Our Lady's Shrine give me goosebumps. The pictures I see on my small novena booklet of Our Lady of Caysasay became real. True enough, Our Lady has made this year's Johannine Pilgrimage super blessed!

Others may see my Dec. 27 journey as a simple lakwartsa, but for me it's far beyond that, it's an ultimate show of love and devotion to Jesus, Our Lady and to St. John the beloved for the marvelous graces they have given me and everyone else. 

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