14 churches

I woke up very late today. I've been feeling exhausted lately and for some strange reason my blood pressure has been erratic - on some days, my blood pressure would shoot up to 140/110 and then crash to 90/70 within hours. It must be the heat, or the fact that I've just broke my all-time weight record. Don't ask how much I weigh now, it's embarrassing.

While doing visita iglesia tonight, I bumped into a dear old friend, someone I was pretty close to about twelve years ago. I have no reason to think that this friend has something against me - in fact, I know this person to be one of the sweetest individuals on earth. We were at the Pope Pius Church and we actually shared a pew. When he stood up to leave, I gave way and I smiled at him. He looked at me, smiled, and moved on. He did not recognize me at all. That's how heavy I have become in the last couple of years, people I knew before don't recognize me anymore. Sigh.

Anyway. Doing the rounds of churches has been an annual tradition in my household. Some visit 7 churches, we visit 14.

This year, we started at the La Paz church in Makati. We were there quite early, around 4pm and the manangs were still setting up the vigil altar outside. La Paz Church, a few blocks behind the Inquirer offfice is one of those small churches that desperately needs help. There's an appeal at the door of the church for donations to finance the ongoing renovation. I hope that this church is able to collect enough money to make it more ideal as a place of worship, particularly since it is in a neighborhood that's teeming with Binay's squatters.

The second chuch we visited was the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart at San Antonio Village, a couple of blocks away from La Paz. The difference between this shrine and that of La Paz is painfully obvious. The shrine was setting up an altar at the parking area, presumably where the Holy Thursday religious celebration (washing of the Apostle's feet) would be held. Last year, we saw the Mayor of Makati and a number of local executives in the area, and I had the feeling they would also be commemoratng Holy Thursday in this Shrine given the fact that state-of-the-art sound and lights system was being set-up.

The vigil altar was set up inside the air-conditioned church and although the candles in the altar were still unlit, some technicians were already testing the lights. I took a picture of the altar with my cellphone.

It's a no-frills altar, and I liked the fact that they decided to use plants instead of really expensive flowers.

One of my favorite churches in the Metro is the Bel-air church. If I am not mistaken, it was designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin. What I like most about this church is that it is very airy and yet functional. The chandelier at the altar, which is a ring of halogen lamps, also doubles up as a halo for the giant crucifix. Unfortunately, the crucifix was haphazardly covered with a purple cloth - it looked like whoever was in charge run out of purple fabric.

But I liked the vigil altar that they set up outside. It was a simple altar, with the blessed sacrament simply adorned by two wooden angels. They also placed a red carpet leading to the altar, so the overall effect was understated elegance.

We traversed the whole length of Kalayaan Avenue in Makati towards the Makati red light district to get to the Saint Peter and Paul church, again one of the older churches in the Metro. The Holy Thursday religious celebration was just about to start, and the procession had just started when we entered the altar. I was able to take a picture. I noted that the apostles wore simple white Barong Tagalogs. When I was younger, I remembered that the apostles (my dad always got drafted as one of the twelve) wore white robes with colored shawls. A group was rushing to set up the vigil altar at the open court in front of the church. That altar looked a bit over the top with lots of red flowers. We didn't stay long enough until they were done.

From the Burgos district, we drove to the Sanctuario de San Antonio at Forbes Park. Visiting the Sanctuario has always been part of our itinerary because from there we usually proceeded to Greenbelt where we would do the station of the cross around the park surrounding the church. That's also were we usually have dinner - usually at Macdo or Itallianis, depending on which had fewer people.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find parking at the Sanctuario. Cars spilled over the whole stretch of Mackinley Road up to Ayala, so we decided to skip Sanctuario. The idea was to come back later in the night when the Holy Thursday ritual was done. The kids likewise suggested that Greenbelt should be our last stop, so we proceeded to Don Bosco at Pasay Road.

Entering the Don Bosco Church is always a major test of concentration for me. It's a long story, one that involves a lascivious description of the church's altar written by Hilarion Henares many years ago in his column at the Inquirer. So everytime I go there, I would struggle very hard not to be reminded of Henares' unholy description of the altar, which is always an exercise in futility. Henares' irreverence is forever stuck in my memory.

Since there was also a Holy Thursday ritual happening in the church, we decided to do the station of the cross at the grounds of the church.

Then it was off to San Ildefonso Church, also at Pasay Road, near the Bangkal area. The main attraction of the San Ildefonso Church is its huge stained glass altar depicting the risen Christ. That altar always takes my breath away. It was quite heartwarming as well that the church has set up giant electric fans near the ceiling that also produced mist. The effect was quite calming as the church would be enveloped by this white mist every now and then. It reminded me of a church at the slopes of Mount Makiling which would get enveloped with fog in the early morning.

From there, we went to the San Isidro church at Taft Avenue. This is another church that I like because of its unique altar - a transparent glass wall and behind it is a tableau of the crucifixion, located outside of the church with real full-grown trees providing added visual detail. Quite a marvelous idea, actually. Too bad, someone tampered with the overall look and decided to build what looks like a steel fences inside the church.

San Isidro's vigil altar was a simple affair of curtains, white flowers and candles. Lots and lots of candles, one can actually feel the heat from a good ten feet away. It looked like a giant conflagration.

Our next stop was the Malate Church, one of the few remaining churches in Manila with a facade that has surprisingly been left untouched. After saying our prayers, in front of a vigil altar decked with candles in red containers (which logically gave the altar a warm red glow), we decided to check out the park in front.

One of the kids suggested going to Aristocrat. It's been 15 years since I set foot in that restaurant so the idea appealed to me. Too bad, 20,000 other people had the same idea and there was a really long line outside. We decided to skip Aristocrat. I suggested going to Binondo and having dinner there. The kids welcomed the idea. So we were excited at the thought of having dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

Someone pointed out that the Shrine of the Nuestra Senora de Guia was along the way, so we decided to include the church in our itinerary. We were not disappointed. Finally, an altar that actually left me breathless. It was a sight to behold: giant candelabras with crystals that sparkled and flowers that were mostly white chrysanthemums. The overall effect was that one could actually feel inspired and awed while praying.

There was also soft piano music playing in the background.

And then I remembered that right in front of the Church was a Hap Chan branch. I like the food of Hap Chan. There was a time, many years ago, when its first outlet at the Dakota Mansion along Malvar Street at Adriatico was one of Manila's best kept secrets. It was a hole in the wall then and droves would come to the place that could only sit around 50. The walls of the restaurant were filled with calendars of politicians with handwritten messages from the politicians themselves. But people did not mind waiting. People brushed elbows with the high and mighty and no one minded the heat and the strong flavors that clung to one's clothes. Hap Chan has since then become a chain.

So we decided to drop our plans to go to Binondo and instead hopped over to Hap Chan where we had an enjoyable and sumptuous meal. We even had Lloyd Samartino and his mom, Carmen Soriano at the next table (hehehe). I noticed that we ordered almost the same food - steamed fish, brocolli with garlic, polonchay soup, etc.

Because of the heavy meal, two of little kids (a niece and a nephew) got very sleepy and wanted to go home already. So we changed our itinerary. We dropped off the kids and decided to just visit the nearby churches. We originally intended to visit the Manila Cathedral and nearby San Agustin Church, Binondo Church, Santa Cruz Church, Adamson Church, Paco, and then end up at the church a block away from our house, the San Martin de Porres Church on Leon Guinto.

Instead, we went to the community church at Estrada Street, which featured a makeshift vigil altar and had a very simple decoration of rose petals on the floor and some white roses around the exposed sacrament.

From there, we went to the Pope Pius Center, the Paco Park (which was surprisingly open, although the church was closed), the Paco Church, and finally, St. Anthony's Church at Singalong. The last picture I took was that of the vigil altar of St. Anthony's church which was located inside the audio visual hall of the St. Anthony's Catholic School.

And that ended our visita iglesia 2007. Tomorrow, I will write about the food stalls that sprouted in the vicinity of the churches and the enterprising parking attendants in practically all the churches.


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