CEBU, Philippines - It was the first time for Most Reverend Giuseppe Sandri, D.D., bishop of Witbank, South Africa, to experience the Visita Iglesia but he described the three-hour walk from one church to another as a “very beautiful experience.”
“The experience was very moving, I must say… deep spiritual experience for me,” said Sandri, 69, one of the delegates of the ongoing International Eucharistic Summit in Cebu City.
The Visita Iglesia is a religious tradition for Filipino Catholics observed during Holy Week. Here, they usually visit seven churches and pray the Rosary there.
Last Thursday night, two groups of IEC delegates took part in the tradition in Cebu City – one group visited churches uptown while the other visited churches downtown.
Sandri was in the group that visited the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, Santo Rosario Parish, and Sacred Heart Parish.
In between deep breaths, he said the walk was no ordinary religious journey because it brought together Catholics from different parts of the world.
“We are in pilgrimage and we are walking towards God, isn’t it? We come from God and we are walking towards God together as a community. This walk gives you the idea that we are all walking together, hopefully, (we all go) to heaven,” he said.
For Reverend Father Meshack Maine Phenethi, also from South Africa, the experience was moving, especially each time he would enter a church. He said he could feel “the atmosphere of prayer” regardless of who he was with.
“It (Visita Iglesia) means a lot to me because even with different race but what is more uniting us is the fact that when we arrive in the Church, we adore the same Christ, who is being experienced by everybody. Despite our differences, we go on in different directions but at the end of the day, we are one (in our faith),” he said.
Also a first time participant, Rev. Annacletus Nzewuihe of Nigeria said the Visita Iglesia is something that all Catholics should experience.
“It’s a great experience seeing so many people despite many of them (are) tired but they still continue visiting the churches, they are still moving. That shows how our faith is… this Visita Iglesia is a way to show how we appreciate the Holy Eucharist and Christ in us,” the young priest said.
He said the walk, meant as penance in asking for forgiveness of sins, has united Roman Catholics despite cultural barriers.
“Despite the language, race, culture, and place you come from, what unites us is Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist as Catholics,” Nzewuihe said.
He likened the activity to the Pentecost when Jesus’ apostles prayed in different tongues but still understood each other. Last Thursday night, participants prayed in different languages.
“The language is not a barrier for our worship or for our Christian faith. This is a manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit and this Holy Spirit is given by Jesus Christ, who said I will go and I will send you an advocate. That advocate is the one who is giving us the strength to move. And that advocate is the one giving us the languages and (despite our difference in) languages, we understand each other. That is the miracle of the Holy Spirit and also the Holy Eucharist,” Nzewuihe said.
Concepcion Carolina Maningas, a member of the Theotokos Prayer Mission from Manila, agreed.
“Even if we pray in different dialect, we feel that we are in one body, one mission for the Lord. We have to spread with whatever we have learned from this convention,” she said.
She said she joined the walk not for personal prayers, but for the sanctification of the priest and the religious.
“We are in one way towards Christ being the center of our journey. We experience that with whatever obstacle, we are still with the Lord with no worry and no fear being with the Him,” she said.
Another participant, Avi Gabriel Lionel Israel Thomas, said he offered the walk as an act of sacrifice to follow Jesus Christ in his suffering for the people. Thomas, a member of the Knights of Saint John in Togo, West Africa said the walk is a very small act compared to Jesus’ crucifixion.
“I discovered it as this is my first time and I find it very wonderful…different people joined together and this is what we can see about the universality of the Roman Catholic Church,” he said.
The group in uptown Cebu City visited the Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish, Asilo de la Milagrosa, and the Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist). (FREEMAN)