CAFOD’s Maggie Mairura is in the Philippines visiting partners and offering her expertise. Read the latest instalment of her experiences overseas below…
We were ready and waiting at 10am for Gen, however it was our faithful friend, Elmer, who arrived to take us to the airport, collecting Gen on the way. Our flight was at 12.55. We sailed through check-in and into the departure lounge of the Domestic Flights terminal. At the Krispy Kreme stall, Gen was getting a box of donuts for Father Eric, our host, as they are his favourite. We persuaded her to let us pay for them as our gift to him.
Our gate number was called and we proceeded out of the building, being slam-dunked by the heat! As we followed directions to our plane we had to wait a while as a disabled passenger was physically lifted, in her wheelchair, up the narrow staircase by 3 staff. It was a small aircraft, two seats on either side of the aisle. As we took off it was amazing to see Manila from the sky, looking down into Laguna Bay and all the fish farms, so many islands and so much water!! The flight lasted 50 minutes and as we approached Naga City the views were of patchwork rice fields, mountains in the distance and beyond that water – like I said, lots of it!
We landed and walked in to the small, single storey building that is Naga City Airport and we stood around in the heat with our fellow passengers waiting for our luggage – we could see it being loaded onto the tractor/ trailer and then being transported the couple of hundred yards to the baggage area – a large alcove in the right hand corner of the building. No passports needed to be shown so we stumbled out into the heat and humidity again to be met by a smiling young man in jeans and a light coloured traditional Filipino shirt. This was Father Eric, secretary to the Archbishop of Caceres. He looked about 20! Quickly deposited in the van along with our luggage we travelled into Naga City to our hotel. My first impression of Naga was no skyscrapers! It was lovely to see so much sky. The second thing was the tricycle taxis are slightly different in design, far more coverage for the driver, as well as the passengers. They filled the road in both directions all with their unique decorations and signs.
We arrived at the hotel, The Carmen, not a year old yet and were soon settled in our rooms with Gen and Father Eric coming to pick us up at 5pm so we could attend 5.30pm mass at the Cathedral. David was celebrating his 9th Anniversary of ordination to the deaconate so it was fitting that we celebrated with Mass. The hotel was very comfortable, with two double beds in the room, the usual aircon and lovely ensuite. It was quite swish, and we found out later that we were given a very good discount as it had been booked through the Archbishop’s office!
So, Naga City. It has 13 churches in an area the size of 32 square miles (about the same size as London borough of Barnet – yes I have tried to give you a reference point!) and has 13 Catholic churches. St Francis’ church, just a short walk from the hotel, has 13 masses on a Sunday, the first one at 5am! In all the churches we have been either in Manila, San Jose and now in Naga I have been amazed at the number of people attending and also the vast number of young people who also attend.
In September, Naga holds the annual festival of Our Lady of Penafrancia and is considered to be one of the largest Marian Pilgrimages in Asia and tens of thousands of pilgrims descend on the city for this 9 day celebration. The following day we were very privileged to be taken by Father Eric to see the original image which is displayed in a small room in the one of the seminary buildings. Ina (mother) is very ornately dressed in an elaborately embroidered mantle. This statue is nearly 300 years old. Father Eric explained that people can present the church with a new mantle and ‘borrow’ a mantle to take and place on the torso of a terminally ill relative. It is known to bring consolation and healing to those especially ill with cancer.
Another trip organised by Father Eric was to the Panicuason Hot Spring Resort located in Mount Isarog National Park just a few miles outside Naga City. It was lovely with pools built in the rocks of varying temperatures between 25 – 39 degrees. And a cold pool! The best bit was when it started seriously lashing it down and feeling the warm refreshing rain whilst sitting in a hot pool. (I know, what can you do when it’s been arranged by the Archbishop’s Secretary? It would have been rude to say no!). We also had a tour of the centuries old seminary which is now a high school / minor seminary next to the Cathedral. We met the rector who told us his sister was currently in Llangollen with her choir, having travelled from Naga to take part in the Eisteddfod!