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Pilgrims embark on journey of faith through Eastern Visayas

As the sun slowly rose over the horizon, it casts a warm glow across the landscape, illuminating the path of 24 pilgrims who had gathered with a common purpose. They were on a journey toward the seven churches of the Diocese of Maasin, embarking on a physical and spiritual experience that promised to unite them in faith, self-discovery, and spiritual rejuvenation. 

The pilgrimage journey covered the churches of the Maasin Cathedral Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption in Maasin City, St. Joseph Church of Matalom Leyte, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Hilongos, Leyte, and Sto. Niño de Malitbog Church in Malitbog, Leyte. They also visited the 18th-century Immaculate Conception Church, the Diocesan Shrine of St. Anthony de Padua, and the 16th-century St. Isidore the Laborer Chapel in the historic Baybay City of Leyte. It's worth noting that most of these churches are part of the over 500 Jubilee Churches designated by Pope Francis to commemorate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. 

Josefina K. Granada-Gutierrez, the Tourism and Investment Promotion Officer of Baybay, explained that seven stone churches of the Diocese of Maasin were selected due to their historical significance and association with miraculous events related to various regional devotions. These churches are situated in different parts of Leyte and Southern Leyte, and they have played a significant role in the history and religious beliefs of the area. 

IM Travel Corporation, a travel agency based in Tacloban City, shared the story behind their pilgrimage tours, according to the agency's president, Ma. Rochelle A. Diaz initially thought offering such tours was not feasible due to the high cost. However, she still supported the Department of Tourism's efforts, and the first pilgrimage tour package took place in 2022, accommodating 37 pilgrims from North California. During the tour, a priest mentioned that Diaz would be blessed for offering this kind of tour, which inspired her to continue offering them. Since then, the agency has been offering such tours.

The sacred stones

The Immaculate Conception Church, built in the 18th century, was constructed using baked bricks and coral rocks. The celebration of the patron saint is held every December 18. This church is a Philippine version of the Baroque style of architecture, which combines European church design with local materials and decorative motifs. This resulted in a new church-building tradition in the country at that time. 

The Diocesan Shrine of St. Anthony de Padua is a church built in the 20th century. The celebration of the patron saint is held every June 13. Its front wall is covered with tiled stone and supported by pillars topped with winged angels blowing trumpets. Near the entrance are overhang and walls adorned with images of holy figures in rectangular and arched windows. On the epistle side, there is a quadrangular steeple with arched openings, and its belfry is topped with a dome and a cross. This church is renowned for attracting pilgrims from all over the province because of the belief in the miraculous belt of the saint. 

Inside the Diocesan Shrine of St. Anthony de Padua in Baybay City. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)
The historic St. Isidore the Laborer Chapel in Punta, Baybay City, Leyte. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)

The St. Isidore the Laborer Chapel is a historic church in Punta, Baybay City, Leyte. It dates back to 1634, making it one of the oldest and smallest churches in the Diocese of Maasin. Interestingly, the chapel is even older than the Immaculate Conception Church, located in downtown Baybay, by 236 years. The feast day of the chapel's titular patron, St. Isidore, is celebrated every May 15. Unfortunately, the original image of St. Isidore, made of ivory, was stolen in 2003 and has yet to be recovered. The altar of St. Isidore is supported by four pillars made from the original wood of the chapel's structure, adding to its historical significance. Moreover, the chapel houses the relic of Santo Entierro, which is believed to be even older than the church itself. 

The entrance to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Hilongos, Leyte, is through a rectilinear door. Before the door, a space is covered by an unsupported, multi-gabled roof that functions as its entrance. Above this is a foregrounded panel that reaches the roof's edge. The panel contains a recessed arch section where the huge image of the Blessed Mother can be found. She is seen stamping a serpent with her feet and floating in the clouds. The bell tower is stout and built separately from the church on the gospel side. It has an octagonal floor and is made up of three levels, each smaller than the one before. The tower is crowned with a dome, cupola, and cross. The celebration of the patron saint is held every December 28th.

Facade of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Hilongos, Leyte. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)
Inside the St. Joseph Church in Matalom, Leyte. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)

St. Joseph Church is a 19th-century Roman Catholic church in Matalom, Leyte. The church's façade has four engaged columns with plinths bearing cartouches. The outer columns have finials, while the two inner columns have capitals by the molding. There is a concrete portico with a barrel vault beside the entrance door, and above it is the patron's niche. Glass fenestration that depicts holy figures flanks the patron's niche. On the uppermost level of the façade, twin engaged columns flank an arch window and are bounded by curvilinear walls. The pediment displays a papal tiara above the keys of St. Peter. The octagonal bell tower is located on the epistle side. The celebration of the patron saint is held every May 27th.

The St. Niño Church is a Baroque-style Roman Catholic church in Barangay Talisay of Malitbog, Southern Leyte. The church was built in the 19th century using quarried coral stones. Its facade is simple and lacks intricate details. The main entrance is arched, and the cornice of the pediment contains a glass window showcasing the image of the Holy Child with pairs of pilasters on either side. The walls end with pillars that have a finial at the top. The bell tower has four bodies and is located on the gospel side. Its upper levels are supported by ionic columns and decorated with gables. Each gable roof has a chalice-like finial at its peak. The roof is pyramid-shaped, consisting of a lantern, a small pyramidal roof, and a spire. The church celebrates its patron saint on January 15 every year.

One of the pilgrims prayed at St. Niño Church in Barangay Talisay, Malitbog, Southern Leyte. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Maasin City, Southern Leyte. (Photo by PIA Eastern Visayas)

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is situated in Maasin City, Southern Leyte, and serves as the headquarters of the Diocese of Maasin. The cathedral is also known as the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption and Maasin Cathedral. It is a Baroque-style church from the colonial era with an asymmetrical facade. On the gospel side is a quadrangular building containing the baptistery, an arch window, and the cathedral's heritage marker. The main facade features four pilasters with composite capitals on the ground level. To enter the interior, one must pass through an archway adorned with the Ave Maria emblem and a high-relief crown. Holy figures are depicted on two sunken rectangular panels that flank the entrance. Some of their religious services are in  Latin. The feast of Our Lady of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15.

The pilgrims' view

Rodd Ian Lobrigo, a young architecture enthusiast, embarked on this pilgrimage tour to explore some of the most awe-inspiring churches renowned for their unique architectural designs. Despite not following the Catholic faith, he was keen on delving into the history of these sacred places and appreciating their rich architectural heritage. From a distance, the grandeur of these churches had always caught his attention, and now was his chance to explore them up close and learn about their historical significance. This was his first time visiting these churches, and he was eager to explore every nook and corner of these magnificent structures.

Elsie Schfer expressed her heartfelt desire for the well-being of everyone around her, and she also shared her feelings of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the pilgrimage tour. It was her maiden voyage to these sacred churches, and she felt fortunate to experience the beauty and serenity of these holy places for the first time. 

“I can confidently say that this tour was one of the most satisfactory experiences we've ever had. More importantly, I gained insights into the historical background of each place we visited. This has emphasized the significance of giving importance to our historical heritage and preserving it for both present and future generations. Our history is integral to our identity, and we should take pride in it. As a national pageant candidate, I am eager to share these experiences with my fellow candidates, showcasing the richness that Eastern Visayas has to offer. I would love for you to visit Eastern Visayas too,” expressed Jamby Belegorio, Miss Philippines-Leyte.

The pilgrims visited the Maasin Cathedral Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption in Maasin City on January 7, 2024.. (Photo: PIA Eastern Visayas)
The pilgrims concluded their pilgrimage tour by visiting the Sto. Niño de Malitbog Church in Malitbog, Leyte. This is the last church on their itinerary. (Photo: PIA Eastern Visayas)

The group of devoted pilgrims humbly received the blessings bestowed upon them by the wise and revered priests at the holy site. The pilgrims also offered prayers and lit candles to symbolize their faith and reverence. 

The state’s support

Granada-Gutierrez has stated that certain churches, such as the Diocesan Shrine of St. Anthony de Padua, have undergone improvements with the assistance of the Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation Program. This program has partnered with the Department of Tourism in Baybay City to fund the renovation of the churches' facades and pathways for pilgrims. 

Moreover, Granada-Gutierrez mentioned that the Diocese of Maasin partnered with the City Government of Baybay and invited an institutional entity to study these churches. After the study, the city decided to remove the small gym in St. Isidore the Laborer Chapel in Punta and relocate it to another site. This move provided pilgrims with a more solemn space for celebrations. 

IM Travel Corporation offers a pilgrimage tour every Saturday. The pilgrimage tour package includes a pilgrimage ID, transfers to all sites, a prayer booklet, an itinerary guide, and lunch. Interested pilgrims or tourists can contact the agency through their Facebook page or by calling their cellphone numbers: 0917-686-0599 or 0917-687-0588, or by emailing them at

As the pilgrims walked back, they felt the sacred stones had left an indelible mark on their hearts. These churches were not just a physical place they visited, but a shared experience of faith, unity, and collective respect. During their pilgrimage, they discovered that the beauty of the sacred stones goes beyond their worn-out exteriors and lies in the stories they hold and the shared footsteps that echo through the corridors of faith. (LDL/AAC/PIA Leyte)

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Aaron Cotejar

Information Officer

Region 8

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