The start of the tag-init (summer) season in the Philippines between mid-February to early March also heralds the start of the Christian Lenten Season, which begins with Ash Wednesday. The Lenten Season is marked by almost a month of fasting and abstinence by the faithful, which was not-so-popular to some individuals in the past. During Shrove Tuesday (Martedì Grasso or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, people would hold wild parties before the Lenten abstinence, such as the Carnival in Venice, Italy. Saint Philip Romulo Neri (1515-1595) was dismayed by the sinfulness of the people on Mardi Gras, and started the Seven Churches Pilgrimage (or Visita Iglesia) in 1553, to instill piety among the Venetian people.
The Visita Iglesia is traditionally held on either on Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, where pilgrims would recite the Stations of the Cross (or Via Crusis), detailing fourteen “stations” of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Normally, people would recite two stations at each church they visit, but some eagerly “pious” folk would visit fourteen churches reciting one station per church.
In the People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC) government residential Project 1, 2 and 3; the Visita Iglesia can be observed by starting in Project 1’s Roxas District and Barangay Laging Handa (the Boy Scout Motto” “Always Prepared”), and ends along Aurora Boulevard, in Barangay Quirino; covering an approximate of 10.4 kilometers (6.5 miles).
Several of these churches on this route were established by missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD, or Societas Verbi Divini) from the nearby Divine Word Mission Seminary, along Senator Eulogio Adona Rodríguez Sr. Boulevard, which was established in 1933, before the founding of Quezon City. Aside from the SVD priests, the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary sisters (RVM, La Cofradía de Hermanas de Religiosa de la Virgen María) and the Claretian priests (CMF or Cordis Mariae Filii in Latin, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) would later aid in the formation of the newer parishes, after each religious order established their respective seminary schools in the neighborhoods, in 1950 and 1967.
Holy Family Parish, Roxas District
The Holy Family Parish is located along the corner of Madre Silva and Lilac streets, and it is only church in the Roxas District of the Homesite Project 1. The then Barrio Roxas was developed during the administration of President Manuel Acuña Roxas (1892-1948) in 1947, and the houses were allotted to government employees. Not having a church, the residents of the Roxas District built a small chapel in 1949 that was serviced by the SVD priest, Fr. Tomas Pacano, from the nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, 2 kilometers away in the Kamuning District of Project 1. Fr. Pacano was transferred to the Municipality of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro; where he would found the Holy Family Academy (HFA). Replacing Fr. Pacano was Fr. Fernando de Pedro, SVD, who saw the construction of a larger chapel, after the old was destroyed by Typhoon Fran, in 1950. In January 1953, the new chapel was blessed with Fr. Anselmo Bustos, SVD as the parish priest; and it was established as a parish on October the same year. With the growing population of the Roxas District, a new church was needed, and its current modernist edifice was completed in 1966. Later developments in the church saw the installation of a highly ornate Baroque styled wooden retablo (altarpiece) with huge paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, instead of the typical santos.
Before the establishment of Barangay Laging Handa in 1964, the area was part of the Homesite Project 1’s Barrio Obrero (Worker’s Village) that was developed in 1939 during the administration of President Manuel Luis Molina Quezón (1878-1944) and continued in the late 1947 by Pres. Roxas. The residents of the area would then go to mass at the Holy Family Parish 1.6 kilometers away, or at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish 1.4 kilometers away. When the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary sisters (RVM, La Cofradía de Hermanas de Religiosa de la Virgen María) opened the Saint Mary’s College, 550 meters away on Cebu Avenue (now Mother Ignacia del Espíritu Santo Juco Avenue) and South C Street (now Senior Scout Pathfinder Filamér Santos Reyes Street), the residents would attend mass in the school’s auditorium, with the sacraments administered by the priests from Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC, Missionarii Sacratissimi Cordis) from the MSC Provincial Superior House (est. 1917), in New Manila. However, the residents knew that this imposition to the Saint Mary’s College could not last longer, and they built a small chapel along First Class Scout José Fermín Gonzales Magbanua Street in 1978. The chapel was declared a parish in 1980, and was dedicated to Roman Saint Paul (born Saul of Tarsus, died 67 AD). However, the chapel proved too small for the growing population, and a new church began construction in 1983 at the corner of Mother Ignacia Avenue and Star Scout Romeo Rafaél Rallos Street, and completed in 1986. This location was considered a “bad luck” site, as many business and entertainment establishments were erected and closed down through the years, and the building of a church would “dispel” that curse, leading to a thriving church community.
The first of the Homesiteresidential project was Barrio Obrero, which was established in 1939 along with the founding of Quezon City. On December 1940, the new barrio put up a small chapel along K-A Street (now Vice-Mayor Luis Sianghio Street), with the Fr. Koodring SVD from the nearby Divine Word Mission Seminary 1.7 kilometers away. In 1941, the Divine Word Mission Seminary’s founder Fr. Theodore Buttenbruch SVD (1886-1944) petitions the Manila Diocese to establish the Parroquia del Sagrado Corzaon de Jesus or Sacred Heart Parish, and builds a new church on the lot between South H Street (now First Class Scout Rogelio Celis Ybardolaza Street), South 8 Street (now Scoutmaster Librado L. S. Fernandez Street), and South 9 Street (now First Class Scout Felix Palma Fuentebella, Jr. Street). The modern-Baroque church was designed by Arch. Arturo M. Mañalac (1915-1990), who would work on another SVD church, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (ICCC).
The Holy Family Parish is located at the corners of K-7th, K-I, and K-8th streets, in the West Kamias District of Quezon City. Part of West Kamias started as the 1950’s Homesite’s Project 2 of President Elpidio Rivera Quirino (1890-1956), and was completed in 1954 as part of Homesite Project 5 of President Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay (1907-1957). In its early years, the residents would have mass at the covered athletic courts of the Quirino Elementary School (est. 1952), which would eventually become the Saint Joseph Archdiocesan Shrine along Aurora Boulevard. But as the population began to grow, the residents built their own chapel in the late 1970s, at the present site of the current church. When the chapel was established as a parish, the residents poured in more funds to build a new church, which was completed as a simple modernist edifice in 1989. Latter renovations saw the installation of a carved wooden Baroque retablo in 2001, which is called the “Ang Dambana ng Bagong Milenyo” (Shrine of the New Mellenium). Another addition are the stained glass windows of the lives of the Filipino saints San Lorenzo Ruiz (1594-1637) and Pedro Calúñgsod (1654-1672), which was installed in 2013.
Just like West Kamias, Sikatuna Village started as part of the 1950 Homesite Project 3 of President Quirino. However, the area was further built upon by private developers, and was named as the East Malaya Avenue Subdivision, in 1957; and it was eventually renamed as the Sikatuna Village in 1974. In the 1950s, the residents went to mass at the Saint Joseph Archdiocesan Shrine 1.3 kilometers away, then they started attending masses at the at the chapel of the Claret School for Boys, when it opened 1.8 kilometers away in 1967; and they transferred to the Claretian priests (CMF or Cordis Mariae Filii in Latin, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish(IHMP) in 1969. However, the population of the different residential areas began to grow, and the residents of Sikatuna Village built their own chapel in 1980, at the lot on Madasalin Street. The chapel was later rebuilt as the present church in 1990s, and was declared as the Parish of The Lord of Divine Mercy in 1993. The new parish was dedicated to the Divine Mercy (Polish: Miłosierdzie Boże) imaged, which is based on a vision of the Polish nun, Saint Maria Faustyna (Faustina) Kowalska (born Helena Kowalska; 1905–1938), in 1931, and whose relic is enshrined in the parish. The altar features a giant reproduction of the image of the 1934 Divine Mercy by Eugeniusz Marcin Kazimirowski (1873-1939), which is found at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius, Poland. The church was designed by the local resident and University of Santo Tomas graduate, Arch. Benjamin P. San Pedro of Filworks Konstruction & Development, with his partner Arch. Fe Romero.
Although the Teachers Village was built as a residential area for government employed educators in 1975 by the Homesite’s successor, the National Housing Authority; its earlier developments were still part of the 1950s Homesite Project 3. This led to the establishment of the CMF’s Claret School for Boys (now the Claret School of Quezon City) in 1967, and was followed by the establishment of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (IHMP) in 1969, at the corner of Mayumi and Mahinhin streets. As the population of Teachers Village began to grown, and new church was constructed in 1979, and it is designed by National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Valencia Locsin (1928-1994), to resemble the traditional salakot hat. This masterpiece of modern Philippine architecture is matched by the modernist sculptures of the Stations of the Cross by the National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018), and the images of the Immaculate Conception and the Crucified Christ by the Spanish Claretian priest, Fr. Segundo Gutiérrez y Domínguez (1932-2012).
The Homesite Project 3 is called the Quirino District, as it was completed in 1950 during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino. Residents of the area would first attend mass at the Franciscan Order of the Poor Clares’s Monasterio de Santa Clara, which was 1.1 kilometers away along Aurora Boulevard. This proved a bit too far for some residents to trek in their Sunday best, so they started conducting masses at a makeshift chapel in the covered athletic court of Elpidio Quirino Elementary School, at the corner of Durian and Anonas streets. When the chapel was declared as the Saint Joseph’s Parish in 1951, the first parish priest, Fr. Jose S. Sunga, went about to find a new location for the parish. Fr. Sunga saw the construction of the first church at its current location on Aurora Boulevard in 1952, but the current architecture of the church was completed in 1978, with stunning murals on the life of Saint Joseph and the history of the parish by Loreto T. Racuya (born 1940). In 1999, the Diocese of Manila declared the parish as the Saint Joseph Archdiocesan Shrine.
To follow the Visita Iglesia through the People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC) government residential Project 1, 2 and 3 is not just to observe the Lenten ritual of the Via Crusis, but to explore the development of Quezon City’s first official residential areas, that began with the 1939 establishment of Barrio Obrero to the post-World War II (1939-1945) exodus of Manila residents to Quezon City, and on to the continuing growth of these neighborhoods from the 1960s to the present. And in this pilgrimage, one not only contemplates on the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but on the millions of stories of the families who have made these places home.