2015: A Memorable Year of Travel

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Traveler”. Numerous folks these days call themselves by the said label. With beautiful (filtered or “no filter”) photos that showcase the different wonders of our planet, people these days share on social media their love for visiting new places, tasting new cuisines and most of the time, the new friendships they have fostered on their trips. These posts are encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes, however, they can go overboard and border as boastful acclamation on their wealth and influence.

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

For myself though, I cannot swallow calling myself a traveller. Why? Because I’m a self-confessed (and happy!) tourist! Plus, I am an employee. Reality is, my travels are funded by my salary savings or are business trips in nature. I’d like to believe I have a healthy sense of reality for me to know that traveling to new places for me is not my job but a perk of being able to save (or of living with my parents haha!). I know how some of these seasoned (or not) travelers look down on individuals who act like tourists, but for me, I do insist on seeing tourist spots and taking photos at the most touristy of places (such as MTRs, which unfortunately, in 21st century Manila is practically dysfunctional and depressing).

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

But do not be mistaken! My personal views on travel do not entail of purely shopping, fastfood (eating McDonald’s in Bangkok for example and not trying pad thai) and “picture-picture”. I look forward seeing non-touristy trails, trying the local food and absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. Although I admit that I occasionally indulge in shopping at stores that are already available in Manila (perfect example: H&M), I also make it a point to buy goods uniquely from the countries/provinces I visit even if I’ve been to that country before.

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

What I love about being a tourist is that everything I see seems new and interesting. Everything is worth a photograph and almost everything is worth trying. I think the only thing I won’t queue for hours for are amusement parks. This year, I tried Universal Studios in Japan and said “no” to Disneyland in Hong Kong. One amusement park last year was okay for me.

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the "Angel of the Katipunan".

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the “Angel of the Katipunan”.

2015 was a wonderful year for me in terms of travel because I was able to enjoy and see new sights and at the same time, revisit old favorites. Traveling is not only about wishy-washy things. It’s about a multi-billion dollar industry that requires heavy investment in infrastructure, telecommunications, heritage preservation, food production, ecological maintenance, training, etc. It generates incomes for tour guides, bed-and-breakfast establishments, national parks, etc. Being a tourist makes a you a player in a life-changing game for countless others. Thus, it is also imperative that we become responsible tourists, travelers or visitors.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An  ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

Last year, these were the places I remember visiting:
Bangkok, Nasugbu, Taal, Tagaytay, Sombrero Island, Japan, Magalawa Island, Boracay, Bantayan (Cebu), Singapore, India and Hong Kong.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

Last year, I also facilitated tours in Intramuros, San Miguel and Binondo.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Marjo's pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

Marjo’s pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

In all these trips, I was able to learn of the many things local tourism still lacks. However, I also realized that despite our many disadvantages (i.e. our airport is terribly disconnected!), our people make visiting the Philippines an enjoyable experience. People always smile and serve visitors with grace (unlike in other places I visited abroad where you couldn’t distinguish brashness to being “padabog”). Almost everyone too has a working knowledge of English.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Among the most memorable experiences for me in my trips were: seeing His Holiness, the Pope, pass by Terminal 3 before I flew to Bangkok, shopping at Chatuchak Market and partying in Silom with friends, waking up at sunrise in Magalawa (Zambales) and Bantayan (Cebu), chilling with my friends on the rocky shore of Sombrero Island, traveling for the first time to Japan with my cousins, eating at Tsukiji Fish Market the freshest and tastiest chirashi bowl I’ve ever had, jumping off at Ariel’s Point in Boracay, eating a hearty lunch with my best friend in the office at Bantayan’s Virgin Island, eating pochero and lechon in one night in Cebu with my two funny and close office mates, traveling to India for a 2-week business trip with my team mate and seeing the Taj Mahal, and finally, spending 8 memorable, uneventful days in Hong Kong with my whole family, my grandmother and my Mama’s other siblings.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

In all of those trips, no unfortunate occurrence ever happened. All successfully ended with no injuries, stolen handbags or lost passports. Even our trip to Hong Kong was smooth despite the fact that my Papa is bound to a wheelchair. Why, we even got to travel from Kennedy Town (end of the Island line) all the way to Mongkok by taking the MTR! It was no sweat.

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Unfortunately, for many Filipinos, coming back to Manila can always be a bittersweet experience. We are so near many advanced, well-maintained urban centers and yet, ours is a seemingly hopeless case. Our MRT and LRT are not PWD-friendly, they are inadequately staffed by inefficient personnel, and our roads are always jam-packed with pedestrians being the last priority. For a metropolis that has a heavy security presence, you ironically feel unsafe in Metro Manila as compared to Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Traveling is a way for us to open our minds to better ways of doing things. We need to cease extolling practices or “virtues” that highlight our “patience” and “kindness” because really, we need to attack things decisively already. Our “resilience” is being taken advantaged by lazy policy makers. We cannot let everything to fate (“okay na ýan”), and start taking things seriously. I hope and pray that 2016 brings new leaders to our government who will orchestrate an integrated effort to fix our country to really make visiting the Philippines more fun.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let's do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let’s do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Cliff diving at Ariel's point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Cliff diving at Ariel’s point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

There is beauty in our world but we shouldn’t romanticize or rationalize ugliness to give off a contrived, superficial impression. We need to make beauty present and felt in our cities, provinces and our establishments because that’s the appeal of traveling: the possibility of experiencing beauty. And why is there that insatiable search or attraction to beauty in our lives? Because we were created in the image and likeness of the creator of sublime beauty. Life, through traveling, seems to be a pilgrimage in search of that Divine Beauty that will fulfill what ours hearts long for.

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

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Why Museums Matter (Even When The Entrance is Not for Free)

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns' leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership.

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns’ leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership (Photo taken by Joseph Angan.

These past few weeks, I’ve been seeing wonderful photos of people visiting the National Museum. Posting their shots of precious Lunas, Hidalgos, Amorsolos and whatnots, these people took advantage of the free entrance to the National Museum’s galleries and exhibits because the fee was waived in celebration of the Museums and Galleries Month of the Philippines.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Signed into law by the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino as Proclamation No. 798 s. 1991, I presume it was meant to bolster awareness, appreciation and support for our country’s museums and galleries. But since 1991, I think it was only fairly recent when going to museums and art galleries became in vogue especially among the country’s middleclass.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

With more and more people being able to travel abroad, where they are exposed to a barrage of museums and galleries, they come back to the country with some hunger for reconnecting with their own history and culture. I can be wrong but I think foreign travel has indeed shaped today’s generation of Filipinos into individuals in search for their own identity amidst a highly-globalized world.

Posing in front of the imposing

Posing in front of the imposing “Spoliarium” of Juan Luna, perhaps the most iconic piece in the National Art Gallery. It won the first gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid.

“La Bulaqueña”, painted by Juan Luna y Novicio in 1895, is one of the most beautiful gems of the National Museum. I call it the “Mona Lisa” of the National Art Gallery. Viewers are drawn to the innocent sensuality of the lady dressed in a Maria Clara, her face exuding a sombering, mysterious depth that pulls one into her soul and mind.

On the flip side, I’ve developed some melancholy with the impression that despite the affordability of these museums, the influx of visitors only occurs when the modest entrance fee is waived. At 150 Pesos, one can already access the Natural Sciences and Fine Arts museums of the National Museum, both housed in two period neo-classical buildings.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that's part of Manila's Neo-classical Corridor.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that’s part of Manila’s Neo-classical Corridor.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

Why visit a museum when it’s free when the entrance fee is your means of helping in the upkeep of our National Museum? We shouldn’t go cheap on government agencies like the National Museum precisely because of the intrinsically important assets they preserve and showcase: our national identity and local history. I know this is a good means to bring in people to be at least acquainted with our National Museum, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I just hope people go beyond this “free trip”, and truly make trips to our museums and galleries a normal part of their lives.

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo's Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

A museum is not only a building. An art gallery is not only a room. Museums, in this case, the National Museum, is a repository of things that have witnessed important chapters of our story as a people. The things you see hung on the walls or kept in shelves are not just “old” things; they are tangible bearers of our country’s soul. They communicate our past, and what is the past but the wisdom of time? The past is like a cave that conceals stories, problems, scandals, triumphs, embarrassments and other human follies, which current and future generations should discover in order for them to live more meaningful lives and plan for a better, informed future.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain's only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain’s only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region's heritage and history.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region’s heritage and history.

The museum is the torch you use to enter that cave, which is the past. Holding high the light of museum commentaries, research, exhibits and even events such as talks, symposia and launches, the flame which emanates from a museum – typically perceived as a temple for the archaic – is the beacon that will help us navigate through our current problems and future endeavors. The dynamics of museum operations such as research, conservation, audience engagement and marketing all add to that flame. They need to continue feeding the flame or else your museum ends up but nothing more than a stockroom or warehouse of dusty items.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the “Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila” event organized by the Lopez Foundation and the Chilean Embassy at the Met Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The reason why I feel uneasy with this periodic descent of people to the National Museum is precisely because they are motivated by the most shallow of things: it’s a free trip. Because they won’t spend a single centavo, people go to the museum. My hastiest and perhaps most flawed impression is that the free entrance motivates them to have a “selfie” at a beautiful place. Instead of going there because they’ve had a fatigue with horrendous malls and mall parking complexes, they go there with the same consumerist mindset, seeing the “free entrance” as if it’s a store sale. I hope I am completely mistaken.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre's most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre’s most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais' rich weaving heritage.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais’ rich weaving heritage.

Museums matter even if the entrance is not free because it is home to a people’s soul. Its halls are hallowed not because of visitors but because they are filled with items which reflect the struggle of humanity to settle some of the most basic questions it has always tried to resolve. An appreciation for museums, for art pieces, for relics, for artifacts is a sign of deep love for human life! If one finds himself thirsty to touch base with these beautiful things, it means one is searching for proof of what is true, good and beautiful.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

By gazing at a painting or by reading through the descriptions on a particular artifact, you are connecting with the story of the past, and by doing so, you are uniting yourself – mind and heart – to the story of our race.

The beauty of museums is that so many emotional and intellectual stirrings happen within it. Curiosity is piqued, interest is generated and a hunger for knowledge is sparked just by strategically displaying pieces and curating a menu of relics for people to view.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

Museum management is hard-work and is an enterprise both of artistic vision and tactical planning. Kaya, please, huwag mo ng ipagdamot ‘yang 150 mo na pinang fafafastfood mo naman araw araw. Spend your money where it matters and help our museums and galleries continue enflaming our hearts to love our people, our story and our identities.

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L'Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L’Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

Continue visiting museums and galleries to nourish your mind, heart and even, spirit and fill it with things that are lasting, true, good and beautiful. Ditch the materialism of malls every now and then and troop to your local gallery and splurge on things that make you smarter, more cultured and more appreciative of things that are really free.

As a related article, read my experience as an Ayala Museum volunteer here: https://hechoayer.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/museum-musings-work-at-the-ayala-museum/

Remember! No flash photography!

Remember! No flash photography!

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Bangkok Must-Do: Chao Phraya River Tour

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

Almost all of the major cities in the world trace their beginnings to settlements located along riverbanks or near bodies of water. The water served as means for transportation and a conduit for commerce. Water was and remains to be an important resource which is used for hygienic purposes, nourishment and also commercial ends. Parisians have the Seine, Londoners have the Thames, the Romans have the Tiber.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

As such, a truly memorable visit to a historic city like Bangkok demands for time spent either traversing or at least seeing the Chao Phraya, the river that served as the lifeblood of the Siamese kingdom of centuries. Today, it continues to draw tourists and locals as a major thoroughfare that services commuter boats, tourist junks and commercial ships.

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Last January (yes, this blog entry is way too delayed), I got the chance to insert a Chao Phraya river cruise into a packed itinerary. I went to Bangkok on the same weekend when the Pope came to the Philippines, and fortunately, I was able to see him as he drove past NAIA terminal 3. I, along with the other passengers waiting for the airport operations to reconvene, waited for him on the airport driveway, which had a good view of Andrews Avenue.

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

On my first day, I rode a commuter ferry from Sathorn Pier, which is underneath a highway bridge, going to the Grand Palace. The fare was only 20 Thai Baht, and it was a breezy, picturesque ride. There were locals and tourists alike on the same boat, which is different from the tourist barge (there is a different tourist barge, which gives you “unlimited” rides to and fro the different cultural/historic stops that line the Chao Phraya).

Different stately buildings line the river

Different stately buildings line the river

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

To get to the Grand Palace, I alighted at the Tha Chang stop (Pier N9). From the pier, I walked along a strip of retailers and hawkers. After my tour of the Grand Palace, I ate a delicious plate of pad thai in one of the stalls in that area.

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking...with elan!

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking…with elan!

Look at that pad thai! You can't get as legit as that!

Look at that pad thai! You can’t get as legit as that!

What was so noticeable with that pad thai kiosk was that the full made-up girl was the cook, the waitress and the cashier! Amazing! And take note, she was even wearing stilettos! According to the description of her stall, her family had been serving pad thai since 1965!

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

The following day, my tuktuk driver encouraged me to visit a small floating market, the name of which, sadly, I now forget. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and I wasn’t able to see the myriad of vendors and goods I was hoping to see. The trip, nonetheless, was a memorable trip. I was able to see old houses, temples and even noveau-riche looking mansions.

Temples dot the riverbanks

Temples dot the riverbanks

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

A view of a school beside the estuary

A view of a school beside the estuary

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Wat Arum

Wat Arum

Going back to the pier, we passed by Wat Arum, which was being renovated that time. From the pier, I made my way to Chinatown, where I feasted on stir-fried noodles.

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

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Ave Maria! Happy fiesta, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!

Our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel standing proudly in her retablo at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, New Manila

Our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel standing proudly in her retablo at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, New Manila

 

Last 16 July, I, along with countless others, celebrated the feast of our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel. The strongest and most tangible association we devotees have with our Blessed Mother under this title is the Brown Scapular, which was revealed to St. Simon Stock more than 700 years ago.

The sanctuary and main altar all spruced up for the 2015 fiesta

The sanctuary and main altar all spruced up for the 2015 fiesta

The main altar from last year's Mass, which was celebrated in pitch black darkness due to Typhoon Glenda.

The main altar from last year’s Mass, which was celebrated in pitch black darkness due to Typhoon Glenda.

For more than 13 years now, I’ve been reciting the novena to our Blessed Queen of Mt. Carmel but it has only been roughly 8 years since I began to religiously attend a fiesta/feast day Mass in her honor at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the mother church of the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Our Lady mounted on her silver-plated carroza

Our Lady mounted on her silver-plated carroza

Like before when I first attended one, I heard the feast day Mass at the National Shrine of Mt. Carmel, a cavernous church found in Broadway, New Manila, a good 10-minute-ride away from my house. It used to have a very stern facade but since it was renovated two years ago, it now sports a friendlier ambiance. Unlike in the past 8 years, I attended a morning fiesta Mass and not the High Mass fiesta Mass celebrated at 6:00 PM. The latter rite is usually followed by a procession and fireworks display.

San Juan dela Cruz, unos de los fundadores de los carmelos descalzos.

San Juan dela Cruz, unos de los fundadores de los carmelos descalzos.

Sta. Teresa de Jesus y Ahumada, fundadora de los carmelos descalzados.

Sta. Teresa de Jesus y Ahumada, fundadora de los carmelos descalzados.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a world-famous and most beloved Carmelite saint.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a world-famous and most beloved Carmelite saint.

Carmelite brothers and friars during the procession last year.

Carmelite brothers and friars during the procession last year.

Similar to last year (when the church was pitchblack due to Typhoon Glenda that hit Metro Manila that day), the image of Our Lady was placed on top of the squat retablo in the middle of the sanctuary. Festooned with flowers and illuminated by candles, the new set-up showcased our Blessed Mother’s statue atop the main retablo. Unfortunately, no crucifix was visible except the free-standing one, placed on the side of the altar.

Fireworks illuminate the procession on the fiesta

Fireworks illuminate the procession on the fiesta

A Carmelite brother gives away brown scapulars after the Fiesta Mass

A Carmelite brother gives away brown scapulars after the Fiesta Mass

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful Liturgy capped off with the singing of the Salve Regina and the blessing and imposition of Brown Scapulars.

 

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The Importance of Beauty and Dignity at Mass: Corpus Christi Sunday 2015

A traditional Misa de Gallo in the pre-Vatican II format.

A traditional Misa de Gallo in the pre-Vatican II format.

There is no other major world religion on the planet that finds its source and inspiration in a rite that enables its God to become united with His people under the species of bread and wine. Today, Catholicism celebrates the feast of Corpus et Sanguis Domini Nostri Christi or more commonly known as Corpus Christi. It is a day when the Catholic faithful commemorate the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which are made present always in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

In the Mass, God, through His Son, unites Himself with us. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his excellent Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, the Mass is “‘the mystery of Faith’ par excellence.” Right after the Consecration, we are reminded of this when the priest proclaims “Mysterium Fidei” – “The Mystery of Faith”. During Consecration, we believe that the bread and wine have become the real body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

At the Pink Sisters' convent, much reverence is accorded to the Blessed Sacrament by the nuns. Their celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice are very solemn and moving.

At the Pink Sisters’ convent, much reverence is accorded to the Blessed Sacrament by the nuns. Their celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice are very solemn and moving.

Thus, this sacrament of Divine Love, must merit our utmost attention and reverence. Why? Because it is Christ Himself Who becomes present before and among us. In the Mass, we firmly believe that the Savior of the Lord, along with the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and all the angels and saints, are present. The Mass is a gateway to Heaven! Do we even realize the overwhelming glory that unfolds before our eyes?

Unfortunately, since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this appreciation and deep love and knowledge for the Mass have been watered down or even, dispensed. The same Council stated that the Mass is the “font and summit of all Christian life”. Ironically, the effects of the same Council have made the Mass vulnerable to all kinds of threats: from the most discrete and subtle revisions to the most overwhelmingly despicable abuses committed against the Blessed Sacrament. The new form of the Masses have given innumerable priests the “chance” to inappropriate innovate and change the way it’s celebrated, making the rites self-serving and turning the priest into a celebrity. Thus, the applause after Masses, which have been used by some despicable priests as seeming TV shows.

It can be said and concluded that the crises the Church is experiencing today – exodus of members, dying vocations, lack of discipline among the clergy and the religious, etc. – can be traced to the liturgical crises that have plagued the Church since Vatican II.

If before, Catholics automatically kneel or genuflect at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, today, they don’t even know that the Consecrated Host is Jesus Himself! There has been poor catechesis on the Eucharist since Vatican II! Just compare at Eucharistic or Corpus Christi processions from before Vatican II to the ones today. They are very telling.

A Mass in honor of St. Francis Xavier is celebrated in Nagasaki. Amidst the ravages of the atomic bomb, look how they celebrated the Mass!

A Mass in honor of St. Francis Xavier is celebrated in Nagasaki. Amidst the ravages of the atomic bomb, look how they celebrated the Mass!

One thing that was very apparent from before was a deep and conscious sense of beauty and reverence in the celebration of Mass in the pre-Vatican Church. Effort –great effort – was exerted to truly give glory to the Real Presence, and to properly orient the congregation to the Sacred Rites. Even during the height of World War II, photos attest of Masses being celebrated with much dignity and beauty amidst the rubble of destroyed cathedrals and burnt churches. Priests would be dressed appropriately for Mass even if they said those Masses in battlefields. Today, even within the comforts of an airconditioned chapel, the priests produced by Vatican II do not have – in general – that overt and conscious effort to preserve beauty in the Holy Sacrifice.

As Raymond Cardinal Burke said in the recent Sacra Liturgia conference in New York, “The beauty of the Sacred Liturgy is given concrete expression by means of the objects and the gestures of which the person – a unity of soul and body – has need in order to be raised to the realities of faith which transcend the visible world. This means that sacred architecture and sacred art, including the sacred appointments, the vestments, the vessels and linens, must be of such a quality that they can express and communicate the beauty and the majesty of the liturgy as the action of Christ among us, uniting heaven and earth.”

Church architecture and design from before truly expressed the glorious mysteries of the Holy Mass. They inspire the congregation to feel the heavenly presence of Jesus on the altar.

Church architecture and design from before truly expressed the glorious mysteries of the Holy Mass. They inspire the congregation to feel the heavenly presence of Jesus on the altar.

The current experience do not discredit the Council or the reformed Mass entirely. Absolutely not. I myself have attended simple but moving Eucharistic Liturgies making use of the Vatican II Mass. The said Masses were celebrated with much dignity and solemnity and with an amount of cadence that showcase the discipline and care by which the Sacred Species are treated.

The Mass of Pope Paul VI or the Mass of Vatican II, although it is valid, has unfortunately, many touch points which are susceptible to abuse. First and foremost, by allowing the language to be changed from the Latin to the vernacular, what used to be a Mass that united Catholics from pole to pole has now been appropriated for cultures. Before, a man from the United Kingdom can hear Mass in Japan and he will still understand the Mass since it follows the same rubrics and is said in the same language. Today, that is almost impossible.

The view of San Agustin Church from the former coro or choir loft, which had witnessed for centuries the singing of Gregorian hymns in this oldest stone church in the Philippines.

The view of San Agustin Church from the former coro or choir loft, which had witnessed for centuries the singing of Gregorian hymns in this oldest stone church in the Philippines.

Secondly, the sacred hymns used for the Mass before – musical pieces that formed a treasure trove for the world of music – have been dispensed and replaced by songs that are bordering on secular in terms of lyrics and melodies. Modern music used for Mass has greatly sentimentalized the Mass. Some Masses today feature musical instruments that are totally incongruent to the requirement that the Mass be celebrated in solemnity. Drums, (electric) guitars and beat boxes disrupt and destroy the great dignity of the heavenly sacrament, and yet, priests and “liturgists” employ these.

Stained glass windows through the centuries were charming illustrations that helped teach the Catechism to the faithful.

Stained glass windows through the centuries were charming illustrations that helped teach the Catechism to the faithful.

Then, there is Sacred Architecture and Art, both of which have seemingly disappeared in the post-Vatican II era. One perfect example of such despicable changes is the Church of the Gesu in the Jesuit-owned Ateneo de Manila University, my alma mater. A cold, imposing structure, it does not properly orient the ordinary person to a full appreciation of the Sacrament of the Altar. The tabernacle does not communicate the reverence the Holy Eucharist requires while the sparseness and banality of the whole space allows the mind to wander away, and to be distracted. The place does not inspire.

In places administered by the priests of Opus Dei, no doubt, a sense of the sacred pervades in their places of worship. Their liturgies are carefully celebrated and their oratories are appropriately appointed.

In places administered by the priests of Opus Dei, no doubt, a sense of the sacred pervades in their places of worship. Their liturgies are carefully celebrated and their oratories are appropriately appointed.

This “simplification” of church art “in the spirit of Vatican II” reveal our post-modernist realities which limits and stunts our praise of God with the use of mediocre designs and almost self-centered, individualistic designs. The “zen” movement has turned our churches into boring spaces that do not communicate the profundity of our Church’s history and mission to bring souls to Christ.

No doubt, a church so poorly designed leads to liturgies that are so poorly celebrated.

There are many, many other facets of the post-concilliar celebration and approach to the Eucharist that harm both the Blessed Sacrament and the Church in general. Through this watering down of the Liturgy, so too have been the faithful’s appreciation and depth of love for the Eucharist. Many of the people I continue to interact who “love the Church” actually see it more as an “agent of good”, a seeming NGO. All they talk about is how the Church helps the poor. This isn’t bad at all but it undermines the grandeur and breadth of the Church’s mission, which is to save souls and bring people to Christ!

Many of the said people I know are not very liturgical and understandably so. For many Catholics today, feast days, devotions, gestures, prayers, hymns, etc. almost no longer matter. Everything for them is about other persons, about “doing” when actually, what is more important is “being”.

Again, we can point that out to the horizontal celebration of our Liturgies. With priests facing people today in the modern Mass and with no altars or retablos that are designed in a way that orient the priest and people to Christ, Liturgy today now focuses on people, and this is problematic. Why? Because our faith is not in people! Our faith must be anchored on Christ!

And who is Christ? Where is Christ? He is in the Blessed Sacrament! He is truly present there.

In today’s world, a certain hypocrisy and double-standard exist with regard to the appreciation of beauty. Like Judas who reacted negatively when the jar of expensive oil was broken to anoint Christ’s feet, people today forget to prioritize when to go “all-out” and when to be more modest. People even in the Church think that exquisite furniture, vestments, vessels and appointments are frivolities. They would rather use such funds “for the poor”. They have forgotten that we need to give our best and the world’s most premium products in rendering homage to the King of Kings.

In the context of the Liturgy, all facets of the Eucharistic celebration must be opportunities for catechesis, and the foremost of which is the emphasis on Christ’s Real Presence in the Mass.

In Filipino, bakit mo titipirin ang handaan kung ang nasa piling mo ay ang iyong pag-ibig?

I am one with so many experts and dedicated persons that the crises in the Church can be addressed first and foremost, if we address the crises in the Liturgy. We need to re-instate “beauty” in the celebration of the Mass because losing beauty is also losing goodness and truth. When we salvage the way we celebrate Mass, we will also help save the Church. And when we save the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – we will also have the sound preparation to save the world.

The mission of the Church, we should never forget, is to bring souls to Heaven. Thus, the “font and summit of all Christian life” – the Holy Mass – should also be a heavenly and not a worldly experience.

Enough of the phrase “in the spirit of VaticanII”! The history, mission and existence of the Church is not based on any council. It is based on Christ, and His abiding Spirit, which has been with the Church since its conception.

Pope Benedict's legacy to the universal church is Summorum Pontificium that finally clarified the status of the Traditional Latin Mass. His other works on the Liturgy shed light on the true spirit of the Liturgy.

Pope Benedict’s legacy to the universal church is Summorum Pontificium that finally clarified the status of the Traditional Latin Mass. His other works on the Liturgy shed light on the true spirit of the Liturgy.

There is hope though. Through the example, writings and life of His Holiness Pope Benedict, priests, religious, liturgists and lay people have been inspired to recover again the sense of the sacred. With the Church shedding numbers rapidly, it finds in Her young priests and active lay persons a group of persons ardently searching for the true, good and beautiful, things that this current, secularized world have forsaken in exchange for the commercial, banal and shallow.

The Holy Mass will soon be the bastion of all that is beautiful for it promises what the world of relativism can no longer give: truth and genuine goodness.

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Madrid Fusión Manila: Embracing Cultural, Culinary Heritage

It was thanks to Team Asia that I was able to attend the congress. Thanks Ms. Monette and team!

It was thanks to Team Asia that I was able to attend the congress. Thanks Ms. Monette and team!

Exactly one week ago, the much talked-about Madrid Fusión Manila finally concluded and many believe it successfully accomplished what it was supposed to do, and that was to bring Philippine culinary heritage and innovation to the global stage. Madrid Fusión Manila was a gathering of passionate individuals who are committed to promote cuisines which are rooted in tradition and fuelled by an innovative spirit.

With some of the most influential chefs in Spain and in the whole culinary world: Francis Paniego, Elena Arzak and Andoni Aduriz

Indeed, we still have a very LONG way to go in making our cuisine world-renowned. Several government agencies and departments have to work hand-in-hand, and we saw the fruits of such collaboration during the said event. From the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Tourism, to the Tourism Promotions Board – groups and individuals have to make a rigorous campaign or process of being able to cultivate, sell, export and display our local ingredients and flavor profiles (borrowing Myrna Segismundo’s term) in order to make these highly sought after. Madrid Fusión Manila was an event that proved that with everyone focused and committed, we CAN sell “The Flavors of the Philippines” to an international market.

The other part of Madrid Fusión Manila was a trade exhibit on Philippine and Spanish products. This was the Spanish pork meat tasting class.

The other part of Madrid Fusión Manila was a trade exhibit on Philippine and Spanish products. This was the Spanish pork meat tasting class.

There was a wide variety of wines and cava for trade hall visitors to sample and/or purchase.

There was a wide variety of wines and cava for trade hall visitors to sample and/or purchase.

Kalamancello by Ginnie Lim and her team. She says it's 100% homegrown pure Filipino product.

Kalamancello by Ginnie Lim and her team. She says it’s 100% homegrown pure Filipino product.

The regional lunches were meals everyone looked forward to (except the relative disorder/discomfort when getting food)

From the Mindanao Regional Lunch on the last day

From the Mindanao Regional Lunch on the last day

Fresh tuna sashimi

Fresh tuna sashimi

We have so much to offer, and one is the unique Hispanic heritage of the Philippines, which is its most unique asset in the region.

Destileria LimtuNicely packaged Philippine liquors elevate our local liquor industry, which is one of the oldest in South East Asia. These are products of Destileria Limtuaco.

CMBV Chocolates were also displayed at the Trade Expo, and these locally hand-crafted chocolates are premium Philippine products.

CMBV Chocolates were also displayed at the Trade Expo, and these locally hand-crafted chocolates are premium Philippine products.

As the farthest outpost of the former Spanish Empire (to which the “sun would never set”), the Philippines’ dishes, cooking procedures, means of entertaining diners/guests, and ingredients speak of its history as a cultural melting pot during the 250-year old Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. As the major trading post in the Far East, goods from China, Indochina and even India ended up in Manila, then were shipped to Mexico, and eventually to Europe. Similarly, occasional goods from Europe, and many raw ingredients from Latin America, ended up in the Philippines.

When the Suez Canal was opened and when the Galleon Trade ceased, European traders chiefly the French, Swiss, German, Dutch and British merchants also brought goods to Manila and other major Philippine ports.

Cuisine was a conduit for all these exchanges. Even during the American occupation, the Philippines’ cosmopolitan populace (those residing in Manila, Cebu and Iloilo) adopted and adapted culinary facets that showcased Filipinos’ ease in integrating foreign ingredients and practices into local cuisines.

Madrid Fusión Manila supports the proposition of the Philippines re-enforcing its importance in the region. Through Mother Spain’s intervention and support, her only child in Asia, the Philippines has once more proven its rich cultural heritage’s potential for attracting growth.

A happy witness to an historic gastronomy event =)

For more on my experiences and thoughts on Madrid Fusión Manila, check out my entries at Cuchara Tenedor:

Madrid Fusión Manila Quotable Quotes

Madrid Fusión Manila: Embracing Cultural Identities, Renewing Historic Links

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Visita Iglesia 2015: Ars et Fides

A view of the belfry of San Agustin from the clausura

A view of the belfry of San Agustin from the clausura

Visita Iglesia, an ancient Roman practice of visiting 7 or 14 devotional churches as a form of penitence, is traditionally done on Maundy Thursday after the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper. Pious activities during the Visita Iglesia may include reciting the 14 Stations of the Cross (1 or 2 stations per church) or reciting the Holy Rosary. Traditionally too, those who do the Visita Iglesa pause at the churches’ respective Altars of the Repose, a make-shift altar that temporarily keeps the excess consecrated Hosts to be distributed during the Good Friday Liturgy. An altar of the repose represents Jesus Christ’s agony and solitude in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Until 70 years ago, Manileños completed the Visita Iglesia within the historic ciudad murada (walled city) of Intramuros, which hosted the mother churches and “headquarters” of the pioneer Spanish religious orders, and these were namely:

PRE WAR SAN AGUSTIN

the Iglesia de San Agustín (Augustinians),

The pre-war San Francisco. Located on the same plaza perpendicular to this church was the Venerable Orden Tercera's chapel

The pre-war San Francisco. Located on the same plaza perpendicular to this church was the Venerable Orden Tercera’s chapel


Iglesia de San Francisco (Franciscans),

Pre-war San Ignacio Church

Pre-war San Ignacio Church

Iglesia de San Ignacio (Jesuits),

The neo-gothic pre-war Sto. Domingo Church, one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines

The neo-gothic pre-war Sto. Domingo Church, one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines

Iglesia de Sto. Domingo (Dominicans),

San Nicolas de Tolentino, the mother church of the Recoletos, was the biggest church in Intramuros before

San Nicolas de Tolentino, the mother church of the Recoletos, was the biggest church in Intramuros before

Iglesia de San Nicolas de Tolentino (Recollects),

the chapel of the Monasterio de Sta. Clara (Poor Clare nuns),

Pre-war Lourdes church, the last church to be built in Intramuros
the Iglesia de Nstra. Sra. de Lourdes (Capuchins) and the

Manila Cathedral, the mother church of the Philippines and the seat of the Archbishop of Manila. These were located practically next to each other. After the Liberation of Manila, however, all but the San Agustín were mercilessly destroyed.

Nowadays, Metro Manila citizens have more choices for the Visita Iglesia. Both pious devotees and non-practicing individuals do the Visita Iglesia for a myriad of reasons. Some do it out of tradition, some simply to have something to do on a holiday with their loved ones. At any rate, here are 7 suggested Metro Manila churches one might find interesting to visit on a day that seems to become more and more an opportunity to travel and reconnect with our capital’s cultural heritage.

These churches represent different kinds of religious charisms and art styles. Some are historic shrines of devotions while others are associated with mysterious folk practices.

The Manila Cathedral's facade as seen from Plaza Roma

The Manila Cathedral’s facade as seen from Plaza Roma

Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción de María (aka the Manila Cathedral)
Address: Cabildo corner Beaterio, Intramuros, Manila

Destroyed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945, the current building was rebuilt in 1958 through the efforts of the first Filipino Cardinal, Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos. The 8th cathedral building to stand on the same spot, it was designed in the neo-romanesque style by a team of Filipino and Italian artists under the supervision of notable Filipino architect Fernando Ocampo. Technically, the Manila Cathedral as an establishment has been around for 430+ years.

Three Popes have celebrated Mass here: Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and most recently, Pope Francis. Beneath the cathedral is the crypt where past archbishops of Manila are buried. The reason why this church is important is because all the other archdioceses and dioceses in the country were technically established by the Archdiocese of Manila. The church also houses the biggest pipe organ in Asia.

San Agustin Church

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de María de San Agustín (aka San Agustín Church)
Address: Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila

The sole structure within ancient Intramuros to have survived the bombings during the battle of Manila, San Agustín is also the oldest stone church in the Philippines (founded in 1571). Any visitor will be captivated by the church’s splendid trompe l’oeil (literally play on the eye in French) paintings, which were done by Italian opera background painters Giovanni Alberoni and Cesare Dibella. The paintings give the impression that the ceilings and walls are carved when in fact, they are painted.

The interiors of San Agustin as seen from the coro

The church and adjacent monastery (which is now an impressive ecclesiastical museum) are important witnesses of history. In a side chapel at the altar, the remains of the founder of Manila, el adelantado Miguel López de Legaspi as well as other Spanish conquistadores are kept in a tomb. Near the entrance, at the Chapel of the Assumption, are the remains of the pioneer members of the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala-Soriano clan, a revered family in the world of Philippine business. In 1898, Governor General Fermín de Jaudenes signed the surrender of Manila to the Americans in one of the rooms in the convent.

In 1993, San Agustin Church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Quiapo Church

Basílica Menor del Nazareno Negro (aka Quiapo Church)
Address: Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo, Manila

Home of the famous Black Nazarene, Quiapo church is a devotional church that attracts millions of pilgrims during the fiesta of the said image of the suffering Christ every January 9. It is also at the very center of Quiapo, a pulsating district in Manila filled with vendors and different kinds of establishments.

The current structure was designed by the celebrated Manileño architect Júan Nakpil after a fire partially destroyed the church in 1928. In the 80s, the aristocratic architect José Ma. Zaragoza was tasked to expand the shrine. Both Nakpil and Zaragoza hail from buenas familias closely related to Quiapo.

The devotion to its most famous icon – the Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno – began in the 1700s when it was brought to Manila via the Galleon Trade. Although some believe its dark complexion is due to a fire in the galleon, many have said that it is dark simply because it was carved from a type of dark wood commonly used in Mexico. Millions of Filipinos relate to the image of the suffering Lord, and have attributed miracles to the image for centuries.

The dome of the all-steel San Sebastian church. Notice how rust has eroded the paintings on the dome.

The dome of the all-steel San Sebastian church. Notice how rust has eroded the paintings on the dome.


Basílica Menor de San Sebastián (aka San Sebastián Church)
Address: Plaza del Carmén, Quiapo, Manila

The San Sebastián Church is one of the most interesting structures in the Philippine capital as it is the only all-steel and first pre-fabricated church in the country, and in Asia. Maintained by the Recollect friars, the current San Sebastián was designed by Don Genaro Palacios, head of city works, and was completed in 1891.

The steel parts were bought from the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels, Belgium and were shipped to Manila in 8 steamships. Upon arrival in Manila, Belgian architects and engineers supervised its assembly. On the other hand, the original, not to mention, intact stained glass windows were purchased from the German Henri Oidtmann Company. The interiors were painted to resemble jasper and marble by members of the Escuela de Dibujo, Pintura y Grabado. Some of the notable artists who helped decorate the church were Lorenzo Rocha, Isabelo Tampingco and Félix Martínez.

The interiors of San Sebastian

The interiors of San Sebastian

The San Sebastián Church is the oldest seat of devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Brown Scapular. Currently, the church is being threatened by its most fearsome enemy: rust.

Abbey Church of Our Lady of Montserrat (aka San Beda Abbey)
Address: Mendiola Street, San Miguel, Manila

The glorious painting on the apse of San Beda Abbey

The abbey church of the Benedictine monks was completed in 1925 by the Swedish architect George Asp. Located along a street that has witnessed countless rallies, the monks’ abbey church is an oasis of beauty and peace that is not known to many. The neo-gothic structure is beautified by paintings on its ceilings and sanctuary by two Spanish monks, Dom Lesmes Lopez, OSB and Dom Salvador Alberich, OSB.

The church’s apse is decorated with a glorious illustration of the Apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus while at the center of the retablo made of cider wood is an image of the Santo Niño de Praga. It is also good to note that the church’s marble furnishings are made of Carrara marble, a bespoke Italian type of marble.

San Beda Abbey is a majestic sight when it is illuminated

San Beda Abbey is a majestic sight when it is illuminated

Dedicated to the Black Madonna of Montserrat (la morenata), the abbey church hosts solemn liturgies celebrated by Benedictine monks. Not many know too that St. Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr killed in one of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, actually said Mass in this church during his stopover in Manila.

La Naval Procession at Sto. Domingo Church

La Naval Procession at Sto. Domingo Church

National Shrine of Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario de la Naval de Manila (aka Sto. Domingo Church)
Address: Quezon Avenue, Quezon City

In pre-war Manila, the fiesta of the revered ivory image of Nuestra Señora de la Naval de Manila – la procesion de procesiones – was a big holiday in the city, and was the start of the countdown to the Christmas season. Sadly, the beautiful gothic church of Sto. Domingo in Intramuros was the first casualty of war when it was bombed by the Japanese in December 1941. The miraculous image of La Naval was fortunately spared during the bombing because it was kept in a vault. From 1941 – 1954, the image of La Naval was temporarily housed in the Santísimo Rosario Church within the University of Santo Tomás.

In 1954, the new Sto. Domingo church was completed in Quezon City under the supervision of Arch. José Ma. Zaragoza. The new church is a cavernous structure designed in the Spanish California mission style and is currently the biggest church in Metro Manila.

The imposing Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City

The imposing Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City

At the entrance of the church are bas reliefs of the story of the Battle of La Naval and of Sto. Domingo all done by Italian UST professor Franceso Monti. Eight colourful murals retelling the life of Sto. Domingo are located in the nave of the church and these were painted by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Above Francisco’s murals are images of the Four Evangelists painted Antonio Llamas García, a popular portraitist among Philippine high society and a professor of art at UST. The church is beautifully illuminated through exquisite stained glass windows by Galo Ocampo.

Sto. Domingo is the biggest church in Metro Manila; it can get very warm inside on some days.

Sto. Domingo is the biggest church in Metro Manila; it can get very warm inside on some days.

In 2011, the National Museum declared Sto. Domingo as a National Cultural Treasure.

The cloistered monjas of the Royal Monastery of Sta. Clara

The cloistered monjas of the Royal Monastery of Sta. Clara

Real Monasterio de la Inmaculada Concepción de la Madre de Dios de las Monjas de Sta. Clara (aka Monasterio de Sta. Clara)
Address: Katipunan Ave., Quezon City

Immortalized in Dr. José Rizal’s Noli me tangere, the Monasterio de Sta. Clara is the oldest convent of nuns in the Philippines, and in the Far East. It was established by the Servant of God Jerónima de la Asunción, who at 14 years old, met the great Carmelite saint and reformer Teresa de Ávila. At 64 years old, she vouched to establish the first convent for women in Spain’s farthest colony, the Philippines. On a stop-over in Seville, her portrait was painted by the famous court painter Diego Velásquez. The said painting currently hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Sor Jerónima de la Asunción and the pioneer Poor Clare nuns finally arrived in the Philippines from Toledo, Spain after more than one year.

According to Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, the Monasterio de Sta. Clara in Intramuros was considered “living death” because when a woman entered the enclosure to become a nun, she was separated from the rest of the world with a 30-foot high windowless wall. The only sign that there were women inside Sta. Clara would be the occasional hymns heard along the street as one walked by their monastery.

Monasterio de Sta. Clara

For centuries, it has been the practice of groups and individuals to offer eggs to the nuns of Sta. Clara to ask for prayers especially for good weather. Some say that the origins of this practice was the fact that the Spanish description for egg white is “clara”; thus petitions for clear weather was accompanied by offerings of eggs.

Like many religious orders, the Poor Clare nuns decided to leave Intramuros after the traumatic violence of World War 2 destroyed their 300-year-old convent. The nuns rebuilt their monastery in 1950 in Cubao, Aurora Boulevard cor. Katipunan. Until today, throngs of pilgrims go to Sta. Clara to offer eggs and ask the prayers of the enclosed nuns for various reasons.

If you are feeling extra pious or energized to do 14 station churches, you may also add to your list: Santuario del Sto. Cristo (San Juan), Carmel of St. Therese (Gilmore, New Manila, Quezon City), the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Broadway, New Manila, Quezon City), St. Joseph’s Chapel of Perpetual Adoration aka Pink Sisters (Hemady, New Manila, Quezon City), Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Lantana St., Cubao, Quezon City), Oratory of Sancta Maria Stella de Orientis (Pearl Drive, UA&P, Pasig City) and Santuario de San Antonio (McKinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati City).

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