The Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Philippine Lenten Season is marked with many rituals and sacrifices for the country’s 81% Catholic population. One of those rituals observed is the Visita Iglesia or Seven Churches Pilgrimage, where the faithful visit seven churches between Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, to recite the Via Crusis (Way of the Cross) that commemorates fourteen events of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. Although aspects of what would become the Visita Iglesia started with the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) in the early Christian Western Roman Empire or Byzantines, continued with the Via Francigena (Road from France) in the 800s, then practice was revived by Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and later Crusaders in the medieval ages, and formalized into its current form by Saint Philip Romulo Neri (1515-1595) in 1553 Venice.
In the New Manila district of Quezon City, it would be seem to be easy to conduct a Visita Iglesia, due to the many religious institutions within the area; such as the Episcopal Church’s St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary (Est. 1947), the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit’s (S.Sp.S., est. 1945) Convent of the Holy Spirit (est. 1945), the La Salette Missionaries’ Philippines Provincial House (est. 1948), the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae’s Maryhill School Of The Theology (Est. 1979), the Local Superior of The Society of Monfort Missionaries (Est. 1984), the Jubilee Evangelical Church (Est. 1982), the Foundation for Carmelite Scholastics (Est. 1987), the Provincialate House of the Congregation of The Blessed Sacrament (Societas Sanctissimi Sacramenti or SSS for short), the Calasanz Formation House, the Order of the Piarist Fathers Escolapios, the Damien Formation Center, the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres Novitiate and Provincial House (Est. 1931), and the Franciscan St. Joseph’s Academy and Convent(Est. 1932). The congregation many religious institutions started in the American occupation of the Philippines (1898-1946), when Doña Magdalena Hashim Ysmael-Hemady (1877-1955) opened here posh residential village to the groups in the 1930s. The area was still then a part of the Municipality of San Juan del Monte, with its cool hilly area proved a respite from the heat and overcrowding of Manila.
Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux, Barangay Valencia
The oldest of all religious institutions in New Manila is the Discalced Carmelites’s Convent of the Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux, located along Governor General Eugene Allen Gilmore Avenue. The convent was built in 1925, just three years after the first Carmelite nuns stepped foot in the Philippines. The current struct was completed in 1950, after the first convent was destroyed by the fleeing Japanese forces in World War II (1938-1945). The convent and its chapel is dedicated to the French Carmelite saint, mystic and Doctor of the Church; Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (born Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin, 1873-1897), who also known as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. This patronage of Saint Thérèse is greatly emphasize by a garden statue and altar relief in the convent, along with images of the Discalced Carmelite founders Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz; 1542-1591) and Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582).
Minor Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Broadway Avenue
Moving south towards Broadway Avenue is another Carmelite institution, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and Shrine, which began when the third wave of Carmelite missionaries set up a foundation in New Manila in 1954. The modernist church was designed by Arch. Maximo Vicente, Jr. and completed in 1964, while his father Máximo Vicente, Sr. (1885-1964) carved many of the religious icons. In 1975, the church was established as the first parish of New Manila, then declared as a National Shrine in 2015, and finally elevated to a Minor Basilica in 2019. Earlier renovations saw the installation of ornate Baroque altarpieces by Liturgical designer Antonio “Tony” Adriano (born 1951), then followed by expansions by Arch. Antonia M. Hubilla, the Apophatic Builders and the Vitreartus Liturgical Arts. However, the crowning glory of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is the 1937 sculpture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as the “Ina ng Mundo” (Mother of the World) by the renowned artists, Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974) and Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo (1907-1990).
National Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, Cathedral Heights
Moving northwest towards the Episcopal Church’s compound of Cathedral Heights is the Episcopal Mission of St. Mary the Virgin’s National Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John. The first Church of St. Mary and St. John was built in Manila in 1907, at the corner Engineer Isaac Caballero Peral Street (formerly Calle Cortafuegos, and now United Nations Avenue) and Calle Florida (formerly Calle San Antonio, and now Dr. María Ylagan Orosa Street), but was destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Manila. When the Episcopal Church was able to purchase the lot along the España Boulevard Extension (now the Senator Eulogio Adona Rodríguez Sr. Boulevard), they started with the construction of the St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in 1946. The construction of the new church was completed in 1962, and was designed by John Van Wei Bergamini (1888-1975), who was appointed as the official architect of the Episcopal Church in the Far East. The church was dedicated as a cathedral, as the seat of the Episcopal diocese in the Philippines, and the Episcopal compound was named as the Cathedral Heights from then on. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mary (the Blessed Virgin Mary to Catholics) and the apostle Saint John.
Diocesan Shrine of Jesus The Divine Word, Barangay Kristong Hari
Moving eastward along Eulogio Rodríguez Boulevard is the Divine Word Mission Seminary of the missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD, or Societas Verbi Divini). Established in 1935, the Divine Word compound features the Fr. Theodore Buttenbruch Seminary Hall, the Bishop Wilhelm Finnemann School Hall, the Villa Cristo Rey retirement hall, the columbary Garden of the Divine Word, and the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus: The Divine Word. The church was designed by Fr. Friedrich Linzenbach, SVD (1904-1981), in the late 1960s, with a fan shaped structure to resemble a fishing net cast to the sea. Inside the church are sculptures by the German artist, Ewald Wilhelm Hubert Mataré (1887-1965), as well as additional works by the Paete based sculptor, Felix “Kid” Baldemor. The chapel was declared a diocesan shrine in 2006, and a pilgrimage shrine in 2012. There are also many sculptures of the SVD founders, saints and martyrs by Julian C. Sta. Maria. The SVD missionaries of the Divine Word Mission Seminary have been influential in the establishment of many nearby churches; such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in the Kamuning area, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, and the Holy Family Parish of the Roxas District.
Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration, Pacific Avenue
Moving southeast towards Doña Hemady Avenue (formerly Pacific Avenue) is the Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration. The convent is administered by a sub-order of the SVD (Society of the Divine Word) of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (SSpSAp i.e. Congregatio Servarum Spiritus Sancti de Adoratione Perpetua), who are better known as the Pink Sisters, for their distinct color of habits. The nuns were tasked as a prayer support for the missionaries of the SVD and their female counterparts, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS for Servae Spiritus Sancti). At the Saint Joseph Convent, the Pink Sisters not just pray for the SVD missions and for the salvation of the whole world, but they can accept prayer intercessions from pilgrims who submit petitions for prayers. The convent and chapel was designed by the National Artist for Architecture, Arch. José María Velez Zaragoza (1912-1994), who completed the convent in 1965.
Our Lady of Victories Church, Barangay Mariana
Travelling southeast to the corner of Billie Mary “Betty” Go-Belmonte and Cannon streets is the Our Lady of Victories Church of the Society of Saint Pius X (Latin: Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X or SSPX). Although the SSPX consider themselves as part of the Catholic Church, the order was excommunicated by the Vatican due to holding of the mass in Latin, against the Vatican’s 1963 Second Vatican Council and the 1964 Inter Oecumenici that ordered of the conducting masses in the local languages (also known as the Novus Ordo Missae); as well as other actions done by its founder French Archbishop Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre (1905-1991) against the pope’s decisions. The SSPX was named after Pope Pius X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914), who was known to be a traditionalist against the modernism of the Catholic Church. The SSPX arrived in the Philippines in 1992, and saw the completion of the Our Lady of Victories Church and Priory in 1996. With the opening of Our Lady of Victories Priory Manila became the first seat of the SSPX District of Asia. Aside from the simple mission style architecture and ornate Baroque altarpieces, many of the Catholics attend masses at the Our Lady of Victories Church to listen to the church hymns sung in the Gregorian chant style.
Completing the Visita Iglesia on its eastward rout is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, on Lantana Street in the district of Cubao. Although the Barangay Immaculate Conception is territorially part of the Cubao District, it was once part of the vast Hacienda Magdalena of the Hemady family in the 1930s. And with the establishment of the nearby Christ the King Mission Seminary by the SVD missionaries, a small chapel was set up a small chapel dedicated to San Isidro Labrador (Saint Isidore the Laborer, 1070-1130), within the farming community in the area. As wealthier migrants started purchasing the land in the area, a middle class community began to grow, and the San Isidro Chapel was transferred to its present site at what is now Lantana Street, in 1940. In 1949, the chapel was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and it was declared as a parish in 1950, with its first parish priest Fr. Juan Simón SVD from Argentina. By the 1960s, the SVD commissioned Arch. Arturo M. Mañalac (1915-1990), who designed the church in its current Neo-Romanesque style. The SVD relinquished administration of the Immaculate Conception Parish to the Archdiocese of Manila, in 1990; and would become the seat of the newly formed Archdiocese of Cubao in 2003, and thus would be renamed as the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (ICCC). Later additions to the church were the 2003 stained glass windows by Kraut Glass Art, the 2004 Neoclassical styled painting of the Sypnotic Apostles at the dome’s ceiling by Rafael del Casal, and the Cathedral Grottos and Columbarium.
Despite the many Catholic institutions in New Manila, the 4.8 kilometer route of the Visita Iglesia of New Manila covers the Christian institutions that are readily open to the public. And to explore not just the Catholic churches and convents, but those of the Episcopal and SSPX churches allows the pilgrim to connect with fellow Christians, and contemplate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the salvation of mankind.