Visita Iglesia: Filipino Catholics vow to visit seven churches during Holy Week

  • Crowds outside the Quiapo church, Manila, for Visita Iglesia, Holy Thursday, 2015. The church is home to a famous image of the Black Nazarene, Jesus carrying the Cross. Photo by Arnulfo Valderama Fortunado.
  • Young people at the Quaipo church, home of the statue of the Black Nazarene. They chose this as one of the seven churches they visited for the Visita Iglesia devotion on Holy Thursday, 2015. Photo by Arnulfo Valderama Fortunado.
  • Devotees at Manila Cathedral for Visita Iglesia, the Holy Thursday devotion entailing visits and prayers at seven churches. Photo by Arnulfo Valderama Fortunado.
  • Participants in the Visita Iglesia devotion, Holy Thursday, 2015, taking a break on their walk to seven churches. Photo by Arnulfo Valderama Fortunado.
  • Devotees resting on a stop at the Visita Iglesia, during which they walked to seven churches and prayed in each. Holy Thursday, 2015. Photo by Arnulfo Valderama Fortunado.
  • Barasoain Church/Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Malolos, Bulacan on Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015.
  • Filipino Catholics participate in Visita Iglesia, a devotion to visit seven or 14 churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
  • Visita Iglesia at the Malolos Cathedral on Holy Thursday.

A Visita Iglesia — visiting at least seven different churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday — is one of the most popular Holy Week panatas, or sacred vows, that Filipino Catholics make. The tradition apparently derives back from a 16th-century Roman Tradition led by St. Philip Neri.

Some devotees walk barefoot from church to church. In a few cases they even carry a cross as a way to share of sufferings of Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Most do so by car, traveling with families and friends to visit churches further apart, even combining it, less penitentially, with sightseeing on the side, so long as that does not undermine the real intention of the trip. Even by car, the journey requires a great deal of planning, given the traffic, to be able visit seven churches before they close at midnight.

Visita Iglesia 2015, Bulacan, Philippines. Video by Maricel Eballo and Abigail Fernandes.

The choice of seven or 14 as the number of churches to visit was described by many devotees as a reference to the Seven Last Words of Jesus or the Seven Holy Wounds of Jesus. Some choose to visit 14 churches to match the 14 Station of the Cross, and a few try to cover even more churches. Many believe that their prayers will be granted after the stations are complete.

There is no fixed set of prayers for this devotion. Some devotees pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament or say the Rosary, while others offer personal prayers and meditation on the Passion, or pray in front of successive Stations of the Cross in each church. The goal in any case is to be alert — in contrast to the disciples at Gethsemane — during Jesus’ agony. Most people make a small gift for the poor at each church.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies also take place in the churches, accommodating as many worshippers as possible. The bishops’ conference strongly encourages believers not to make the Visita Iglesia a substitute for the liturgy. The conference has introduced a website, Visita Iglesia Online, to afford overseas Filipino and the infirm the opportunity to participate in the tradition and hear recordings of the Pasyon, the Passion.