Religious tourism thrives in Cebu

Ghio Ong - The Philippine Star
Religious tourism thrives in Cebu
Photo shows devotees waiting to approach the Our Lady of Simala in Sibonga, Cebu.

CEBU, Philippines — With historic churches where miracles are believed to have taken place, the province of Cebu has been drawing tourists and pilgrims wanting to affirm their faith in God.

The Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, better known as the Our Lady of the Simala Shrine in Barangay Lindogon, Sibonga, has been getting 2,000 to 3,000 visitors every day since a miracle of the Virgin Mary was reported in the area, according to Dane Hermosisima, municipal tourism officer.

The construction of the church on a hillside started in 2005 after a man called Ingko Niyong told the Marian Monks of Eucharistic Adoration that he dreamt of a “white woman becoming the center of many people on the mountain of sacrifice.”

The worship of the image of Our Lady of Fatima, now known as Our Lady of Simala, started when a majority of residents contracted dengue in 1998.

With no money to bring their sick members to hospitals, families turned to the image of the Blessed Virgin for a miracle.

“The image reportedly shed tears and released a flowery scent, which residents believed healed the sick,” Hermosisima said.

Plastered on the walls of the shrine are testimonies of devotees, who thanked the Lady of Sibonga for helping them finish their studies, find jobs or recover from illnesses.

Although the construction has yet to be completed, local and foreign visitors continue to flock to the shrine, boosting local tourism.

Shops have sprouted around the shrine, selling souvenirs and renting out shawls to visitors who do not comply with the strict dress code.

Visitors in sleeveless and above-the-knee clothing including short pants are not allowed entry into the shrine.

Police maintain not only order, but also “holiness” around the shrine.

The shrine was among churches in Cebu visited by 260 delegates in the 8th Winter Escapade tour program organized by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Tourism together with its attached agency, the Tourism Promotions Board as well as Rajah Tours Corp.

The visitors included Filipinos and their families as well as tourists from Canada, the United States and Germany. They also went to the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Miguel Arcangel in Argao town.

The church was built by Augustinian friars in 1788 and restored in 2016.

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