By Dom Galeon and Leslie Aquino
It has been said that this Holy Week is of a kind the world hasn’t seen in decades. Not since the years of the Second World War has it become impossible for most people to observe the usual ceremonies that come with the observance of Christianity’s most sacred week, which starts on April 5, Palm Sunday, and ends on April 12, Easter Sunday.
Since the start of quarantines and lockdowns the world over, religious practices—holy mass and Sunday services—have found an ally in live video streaming.
Yesterday, Maundy Thursday, many Catholics found a way to practice Visita Iglesia, one of Holy Week’s most ancient traditions, live over the internet.
Thanks to Google Maps, a project that started in 2005, the faithful virtually visited seven churches from all over the country in the comfort of their homes—with family over a smart TV, or by themselves on their desktops, laptops, or smartphones.
In the Philippines, some of the classical churches Catholics that were virtually visited on the evening of Maundy Thursday, were San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Daraga Church in Albay, The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion in Manila, St. James The Apostle Parish in Pampanga, Basílica Menor del Santo Niño in Cebu, and San Pedro Cathedral in Davao.
That’s seven churches! The online Visita Iglesia of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also gave the faithful the opportunity to virtually visit seven or more churches without leaving their homes yesterday.
The site, https://cbcpnews.net/visitaiglesia/ visita-iglesia-in-360/, allowed them to experience a 360-degree tour of different Catholic churches in the country such as the Sto. Nino Church in Anda, Bohol; Church of St. James the Apostle in Betis, Pampanga; St. Joseph Cathedral in Butuan City, Butuan; and the Palo Metropolitan Cathedral in Palo, Leyte. Other features of the online Visita Iglesia website are the ‘Pasyon’, Stations of the Cross, an online retreat as well as livestreaming of masses. It also includes catechesis and reflections for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter preached by bishops and priests.
But many devotees can virtually visit more churches. Google Maps’ feature called Street View, which provides a 360-degree view of destinations all over the world, made it possible for them to visit many other churches outside the country.
For those who would like to do the virtual Visita Iglesia even after Holy Week, open Google Maps on destination you want to visit. You can even check out churches outside the Philippines. Why not drop by St. Peter’s Basilica, while you’re at it?
The Catholic tradition of visiting churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday has a long history that dates back to the early years of Christianity.
It was in 1553, however, that St. Philip Neri started the custom of visiting seven churches, when he would invite his friends to go on a “Seven Churches Walk.” The quarantine cannot the devotion to Lenten traditions.
Thanks to technology, you can now stay at home and still be one with the rest of the world in the observance of Holy Week. And don’t forget to offer a prayer for all those affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
There is still a way for Filipino Catholics to observe the traditional “Visita Iglesia” (church visit) this Holy Week even if they are under home quarantine due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Do it online. Through the online Visita Iglesia of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the faithful will have the opportunity to virtually visit seven or more churches without leaving their homes.
“Since 2011, Visita Iglesia has been serving Filipinos in foreign countries where going to physical church or parish was difficult or impossible,” Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III, CBCP Media Office Director, said in an interview.
“It also helped Filipino seafarers, the sick and those, for one reason or another, could not make it to churches during Lent, Holy Week and Easter,” he added.
READ MORE: Let’s go on a virtual Visita Iglesia