Whenever I go back home to Iloilo, I always touch base with my Catholic faith. There’s no way out of it especially when my aunt is also at home for vacation. She secretly dislikes my going to a Christian church in Seoul but there’s no way she can do anything about it either:-).
I learned from her that this is the Jubilee Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 – November 25, 2016) and the Vatican opens its Holy Door every 25 years. The long-time tradition was started in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII and is celebrated every 25 years, thus the name “Jubilee Year”. The Holy Door in the Vatican is the northernmost entrance of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It is opened only for… you got it, Jubilee Years. Pope Francis broke tradition last year when he designated Roman Catholic diocese throughout the world as “Holy Doors” to be more accessible to all the Catholic faithful. Rightly so, right? I mean, just because you’re poor and can’t afford a plane ticket to the Vatican you can never step foot at the Holy Door in your lifetime and get to experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.
In Iloilo, the Vatican designated the following churches as Holy Doors of Mercy:
- National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles (Jaro Cathedral)
- Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (Alta Tierra, Iloilo City)
- Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Vincent Ferrer (Leganes, lloilo)
- Parish Church of St. Anne (Molo, Iloilo City)
As for us, we crossed the Guimaras Strait to go to the designated Holy Door of Mercy in the Island of Guimaras. It is a less than 20-minute ferry ride from the Parola Port in Iloilo up to the port of Buenavista known as the McArthur’s Wharf.
As a background, Guimaras used to be part of Iloilo until it successfully ended its campaign to be declared as a province on May 22,1992.
The St. Isidore the Worker Parish Church (commonly known as the Navalas Church) in Navalas, Buenavista, Guimaras is the designated one. You pass through the watch tower before you can see the actual church.
On its entrance hangs the tarpaulins welcoming visitors and the proud notice that it is a pilgrimage site it being declared as one of the Holy doors of Mercy for this Jubilee Year. The belfry used to have a bigger bell but it was said that the Moros stole it because it was made of gold and silver. Unfortunately for them, their boat capsized and the original bell was dumped into the sea near what is now known as the Isla del Siete Pecados.
The Navalas Church is rich in history. You can see that it is a very old church. How old is it?
It was built in 1880 and is the oldest Roman Catholic church and the only existing heritage church in the island. Though the interior had been renovated, the facade is still in its original form. It has survived more than a century of island life challenges,
The interior is a picture of contrast of its facade. As partly seen in our group photo, the interior had been renovated to its very contemporary look.
My 90-year old grandmother was blessed by the parish priest, Fr. Nonito C. Pelobello, who himself has just recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination into priesthood. This was a big thing for my family.
Despite my grandmother’s memory loss, she religiously goes to church so to be blessed by the parish priest of the church we intentionally crossed waters for became the obvious highlight of the trip.
As for my sons and I, it was a trip to let my sons discover my own family’s practices and for them to hopefully be able to absorb and eventually appreciate the richness of our history and geography. After all, we are a country of more than 7,000 islands with an interesting mix of culture having been colonized by the superpowers of past and present.