A Journey of Faith and Heritage: A Marian Pilgrimage in the Mountains

October 11, 2023 Travel

Confession Reveal: There were so many times I was unable to attend Sunday Mass. Most of those times were spent in the mountains, and a lot of those with kids for an outreach with Trails to Empower Kids.

One of the reasons I go to church is to find peace. However, I also find that in the mountains. So, I also consider the mountains my church. 


That is why when my friend Edwin Galvez of Green Faith Travels invited me to a pilgrimage in the mountains of Cordillera Administrative Region, or CAR, I said yes. How could I pass on a journey in the mountains visiting churches?


Green Faith Travels is a nonprofit Catholic pilgrimage apostolate composed of lay servants and life pilgrims. 


Over three days, together with other pilgrims, we traversed the mountains of Benguet, Mountain Province, and Ifugao to pray, reflect, and seek a connection to God. 

Mama Mary and the view from Holy Family Mission Parish in Mountain Province

Our spiritual journey started by paying homage to Apo Baket in the lowlands of Pangasinan.


At 5:00 a.m., with barely enough sleep due to an overnight bus ride, we joined other devotees of Our Lady of Manaoag in a Holy Mass at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag.  


Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag

The pilgrimage celebrates two things: The Feast of the Holy Rosary, and the Indigenous People Sunday.


From Pangasinan, we began our way to the mountains via Baguio City, where we dropped by the Carmelite Monastery Chapel in Tuba, Benguet, for Eucharistic Adoration. 

Carmelite Monastery Chapel in Tuba, Benguet


We also visited Good Shepherd Convent to buy some delicacies. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have been funding the schooling of thousands of poor Cordillera youth through these pasalubongs.


On our second day, we visited the Holy Family Mission Parish Mission Church in Bauko, Mountain Province. 


The drive took five hours because of numerous road repairs, restroom stops, and a coffee break. But it was a very scenic one along the Halsema Highway or the Benguet-Mountain Province Road, so time flew. I opened the bus window to enjoy the cool breeze and a good view of the mountains. 

Another reason I love the mountains is the feeling that you are so close to the heavens when you stand at the top of them. The Holy Family Mission Parish Church is the closest I have ever gotten to that feeling.


The church is very simple but features expansive grounds and views of the mountains.

The Holy Family Mission Parish Church in Bauko, Mountain Province


I felt an incredible lightness as I went around, the same feeling I have when I reach a mountain peak. It felt like all heavy loads were gone. 


There are life-sized images of the Holy Family and the Virgin Mary with the mountains as its backdrop. Magnificent.


We attended Mass there, celebrating the chaplain of our pilgrimage, Fr. Michael Tokoyen Jr. His beautiful and solemn mass was accompanied by an amazing choir that sang songs in the local language. The people of the Cordilleras really have angelic voices. 


Fr. Michael talked about the Holy Rosary and emphasized its role as a remedy against evil. He asked us to imagine what the world would be like if we stopped praying the rosary when we can see evil prospering, as if it happened then, even with people reciting it. 


From here on out, Fr. Michael gave us points of reflection at every stop of our pilgrimage.


After Bauko, we traveled to Bontoc, the provincial capital of Mountain Province, where we met with Fr. Marcs Castaneda, who talked to us about Christianization in the North. We met him at the Teng-ab Retreat House, located in the upper part of Bontoc. It was already dark when we arrived, but I can imagine the view during the day. 

Fr. Marcs Castaneda


Fr. Marcs talked about Bishop Francisco Claver, the first Igorot bishop, who we must thank for the inculturation of the indigenous belief system to the Catholic faith. Thanks to him, now, we see churches adorned with indigenous designs.


During our pilgrimage, we visited four of these churches – the Sta. Rita de Cascia Cathedral Parish in Bontoc, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Hingyon, St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Lagawe, and St. Joseph Mission Church in Kiangan.

One of the many paintings displayed at Sta. Rita de Cascia Cathedral

The altar of Sta. Rita de Cascia Cathedral

St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Lagawe's altar


For Bishop Claver, if the belief is good, we must embrace it, and if it is in contrast with the Catholic faith, we must remove it. An example of this is the reciprocal justice system. The region is known for retaliation from warring groups or tribes.


Fr. Marcs also talked about the patron saint of Bontoc, Santa Rita de Cascia, who is venerated as a peacemaker and known for her non-violence and forgiveness. She prayed that the Lord would remove vengeance from her sons’ hearts. She was heard, and before her sons were able to commit any harm to the people who killed their father, they died. 


Bishop Claver also fought against the Chico Dam. He was not against progress, but he argued that the land was more important for the Igorots than development. He said, “If you remove us from our land, we lose our identity.”


Fr. Marcs, by the way, is the composer of the local version of the mass song “Glory to God,” which was also sung during our mass at the Holy Family Mission Parish. We all fell in love with that version, and Fr. Marcs gladly serenaded us with it before we left Teng-ab with two of his recent compositions – “Moving Forward Together” and “Arise! Season of Creation.”


The third day of our pilgrimage consisted of the observance of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) Sunday. 


We started our day with a mass at the St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Hingyon, Ifugao, celebrated by Fr. Emilio Adawe. He said the IP Sunday is a reminder of where we came from and how well we recognize God in each one of us and in His creations.

Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Hingyon


After mass, we joined the IP Day celebration of Hingyon. Ifugao and Bontoc dances were performed. Some of the pilgrims also participated. Hudhud, the narrative chants traditionally performed by the Ifugao community, were also sung. There were also Liwliwa chanting, which is about courtship. 

Ifugao Dance

 Hingyon's culture bearer leading the Hudhud

Liwliwa performance with a culture bearer

Bishop Valentic Dimoc of the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe also shared a few words.


The festivities were capped with an outreach program where Green Faith Travels handed over umbrellas, slippers, coloring books, and crayons to the kids of Hingyon. Ria Nalula, another volunteer of Green Faith Travels and a native of Hingyon, oversaw the program. 


After Hingyon, we went to Lagawe to listen to Fr. John Habawel of the St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church. This church is one of the very few in the country dedicated to Mary Magdalene. He wished for us to “encounter the Lord like Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus.”


At exactly 3:00 p.m., we started our pilgrim prayer at the Divine Mercy Chapel in Lagawe. Our prayers had several stations – the white cross, the chapel entrance, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – before we recited the chaplet of the Divine Mercy. 

Pilgrims at Divine Mercy Shrine


Our last stop was St. Joseph Mission Church in Kiangan. 

St. Joseph Mission Church in Kiangan


With Fr. Michael, our pilgrimage chaplain. Maraming salamat po! 

Fr. Michael noted the blessing of starting our pilgrimage in the mountains of CAR in the Holy Family Mission Parish and ending at the St. Joseph Mission Church. “A grace that throughout our journey, the Holy Family has been with us and will remain until we get home.”


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