The island of Cebu remains close to my heart as it offers a surprising range of scenery, drawing me to come back every time an opportunity arises. Although it is home to a series of breathtaking mountains, distinctive waterfalls, panoramic beaches, and rich marine life, Cebu is also known for its strong Spanish influence marked by its marvelous ruins and the bits of history that come with it. After all, Cebu City is the oldest city in the country.
Given this, it never occurred to me to visit Cebu’s visually compelling architectural structures no matter how evident the beauty of it was. Churches were something I wouldn’t make an effort to see for I thought it wasn’t as magical as the wonders of nature. Well, I could be wrong.
September 11, 2017 – When I was invited by my good friend Tito Pete Dacuycuy to join a familiarization tour in Maribago, I just couldn’t hide the excitement. The itinerary looked promising but due to the sudden change of weather in Cebu, my group and I went on a historical tour instead.
To my surprise, I’ve acquired a fondness for heritage sites while the tour was ongoing. The intricate details show how much people value their culture and tradition during the old times. The devotion they had towards their belief was so deep, they had to translate it into something tangible.
One of the grand expressions of faith was the construction of Simala Shrine in Sibonga, Cebu. From afar, the Monk monastery looks like a kingdom sitting on a vast land in Lindogon-Simala. It was said that this church brought miracles in the area when the statue of Blessed Virgin Mary shed tears on several occasions. (There is even a board where many testimonies of devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary are displayed.)
Dress code is strictly observed on the premises of Simala Shrine. With me wearing my summer top and denim shorts (in other words, the most indecent attire when going to a church), I wasn’t clearly prepared for the holy visit. It was a good thing that there were vendors just standing outside the gates of Simala shrine and waiting for unknowing guests like myself to rent a cover-up for ₱ 20.
A thick crowd always seemed to greet us as we toured around Simala shrine. The flock of people, if not for worship, would go here for an opportunity to take a photo. The structure looked nothing short of simple. Every corner was screaming in grandiosity and at every corner stand sculptures of various saints.
Simala Shrine: The Church
Guests are required to take off their shoes especially when entering the Prayer Room. Although the room was packed with people, the queuing was very organized.
The aesthetics of the church was impressive. The altar was carefully outlined with flowers in perfect bloom. There were statues of angels blowing horns on the side and a couple of them kneeling down before the cross. At a higher elevation on the back of the altar for Christ was a larger-than-life statue of Virgin Mary.
The ceiling was masterfully painted as well, showcasing Virgin Mary in various occasions from the Bible. There is a mass held at Simala Shrine Church every day, with schedules varying from day to day.
Even though the church didn’t hold a mass during the time of our visit, I fell in line still. I only to see the foot of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the end. Upon observing the devotees, they would approach the statue so they may touch it and petition to it.
There were also other stations where one can kneel down and pray while facing a portrait of the Virgin Mary. I wasn’t sure why but these women were covering their heads while praying to Virgin Mary.
I toured around some more and found this room where different statues of Virgin Mary were on display. Each figure was wearing a dress unique for the rest.
By the exit was an area for lighting candles. Devotees would light up a colored candle to pray for a specific purpose. The price per colored candle is ₱35. I took this photo of a green candle for prosperity while the blue candle for perseverance.
Whose Kingdom Come?
My brief visit to Simala Church was an eye-opener. It reminded me that people are called to live for God’s glory alone. The church that God wants to expand and bless is the hearts of His people where only His name is praised. Lastly, my takeaway is this, that the grandest expression of our faith is in relying on what we hear from His Word rather than what we see in the world. After all, there is no miracle bigger than the resurrection of Jesus.
“For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.” Psalm 47:7-8
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