A Holy Week of faith and adventure

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

TO THE country’s Catholic majority, Holy Week is a time to nurture the spirit through contemplating on the passion of Christ, however, times a changing as commemoration has been confronted with much distraction.

Despite the distraction, others have maintained and continued aged old traditions and rituals during Lent.

Every year, thousands of Catholics reconnect with their faith with the Holy Week, yet it doesn’t come without festivity and even adventure.
Cagayan de Oro is home to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Malasag gardens, retreat houses, churches and the Divine Mercy shrine in nearby El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental.


Over the past few years, the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe located in the Igbalalay Hills in barangay Balubal has been a major destination for pilgrims and adventure trekkers.

To reach the shrine, devotees or visitors traverse about 4.5 kilometers from Barangay Tablon to Umalag river and ends at Barangay Balubal where the shrine sit, but the real challenge lies at navigating through nine the water crossings of the Umalag river and the muddy and slipper trails and the strong current that would push and pull people from their direction.

These pilgrims didn’t mind the long queues, frequent checking of bags, the tightened security, and the endless cries of babies tagged along by their parents.

Officials manning the area expected the visitors’ count to run up to more than 12,000 people. As the second day of the Holy Week starts, it went up 10,290 of devotees and visitors who flocked to the shrine.

Some came with their boyfriends, families, friends, neighbors; others came alone, bringing their staffs, candles and rosaries.

They were geared up – all set for the Agusan river trek that was gushing every hour due to the heavy rains previously on that day.
“This is my third time to be here, and the experience is very tiring and challenging especially when you try to cross the river. In some parts, it is easy but there are areas where the flow of water is faster, with water level as high as the hips. But in the long end the struggle is worth it,” said Nona Visade who comes from Balingasag town in Misamis Oriental who went there to meditate and ask for a petition to Our Lady.

Nona trekked the shrine together with her friend.

“Coming here is like reconnecting with God; here I find peace especially with the element of nature. When you are in the shrine; it feels so good to pray and meditate since you disconnect from the world as mobile phone signal is unavailable,” shared Celeste Felicilda who came with a large group of friends from other parts of Cagayan de Oro.

Most of those who trekked said the hardest part to navigate and get across was the fourth river crossing; with water level reaching the hips. Other parts of the river have rapids that would tip off an adult if he or she is not carrying a cane.

While most of the pilgrims walked back, others paid for a ride on a large rubber inflatable on the water rapids as they made their way back home patronizing the enterprise for local residents while enjoying a fun ending of a trek meant for prayer and meditation.

“Many of the people who felt tired to walk back home took the water rapids by riding on a small rubber inflatables known as tubes. The ride cost at least 200 which can accommodate four people depending on their body built,” said Miguel Galinao who has been a tubing guide and navigator in the area for the past three years.

But the experience on the water rapids on the Umalag River can also be a cause of danger especially when the rubber inflatable gets damaged or capsizes on the shallow rocky riverbed.

“We went overboard twice in our ride, we kept on telling the guy who was navigating the inflatable that there was a leak but he kept on insisting that it was alright, in the end we all got wet,” said Charlaine Ilagan, a Butuan City resident who visited the area for the first time.

Among the tubers is an 11-year-old boy named Emilio Daganlag, who said that those who get their passengers overboard and wet are not regular tubers from the area.

“We try to be very careful of our passengers here since we have a reputation to uphold, those who gets into accidents are not that familiar of the river and the dangerous turns. At my age, I can certainly navigate them properly and without any harm,” assured Daganlag, which claim was validated by Galinao.


“It is an accomplishment,” said Susan, who was panting and whose bright yellow wear was soaked wet as she got off the river.

Susan is 43. She trekked with her husband. They both live in El Salvador City and they have three sons. All of the sons are now successful. She runs a beauty salon that's doing well. She has a beautiful and healthy family which she considers a success in life.

“I don’t just pray because I am in a deep trouble. I pray because I am thankful to Him.”

Many times they had gone to the Divine Mercy shrine El Salvador City. This time, Susan wanted something new and found one.

“Crossing even one river is very difficult as the rapids will make you slip. It was like penitence. I felt the kind of sacrifice Jesus did for our sins.”

“My arms and legs hurt, but I think that is the point of what this is all about. Sacrifice,” Susan added.


Noel together with his wife, a construction worker in Iligan City, traveled to CDO for his “Panaad.” It was his first time to join the Guadalupe trek in the city since most of the time he did his Holy Week vows at the Divine Mercy shrine in El Salvador City.

He prays for good health since his work is perilous as it can be.

He tells Sun*Star Cagayan de Oro that he also prays for a child.

“I heard this place gives people a lot of hope and miracles, I hurriedly came here with my wife and together we trek. We have always wanted to have a child.”

They camped under a mango tree prior to the influx of people by the next day.

“We made friends and we enjoyed talking with those we met. We also hiked for kilometers and didn’t mind it because we enjoyed the company. It was like an outing activity, but a meaningful one,” Noel said.

Officials manning the Guadalupe trek say this year’s got the highest headcount compared to the previous years.

Most of those who came were new to the place. Others were new devotees even. But not Kenneth who came alone and was never new to the place or to this kind of devotion. He is a tall man, but he is only 16.

He has been devotee for four years now. And he’s more used to being alone in his pilgrimage.

“This is my penitence so I travel all the way to Guadalupe Church alone. I do this to repent.”

People who crossed the river held unto the ropes with their staffs. People who accomplished the nine river crossings came smiling. There were children, mothers with children, father carrying his child, couples, old ones in wheel chair among others.

The trek to Our Lady of Guadalupe give devotees as well as those who just want to experience the walk a chance to commune and reconnect with nature and reflect on the essential part on the commemoration of the Holy Week, to test faith and for others creating an atmosphere of what they call a Holy Week adventure.


Unmindful of his safety to earn money, Jimboy (not his real name) braved the perilous trek of Umalag river’s rough curves and rapids to provide the pilgrims smooth and effortless exit through the tubing ride from the shrine’s chapel.

“Sugod pagmata, problema na akong gahuna-hunaon, problema sa pamilya,” he said as he plunged into the river to turn the tube away from the pebbly and rocky path. A tube is a lightweight rubber inflatable which can carry three to six people. The one who controls the tubes are called ‘tubers.’

The 16-year-old Jimboy will be a 4th year high school student at Balubal National High School. He has been a ‘tuber’ since he was 12. He would go to Guadalupe on Sundays to be a ‘tuber’ to earn.

Being a tuber demands strength and quick reflexes. They do not undergo any training. They do not have any safety gear such as lifejackets and goggles. Wearing a pair of slippers is enough to stand the slippery riverbed and the roughness of the riverbank. Instead of a paddle, they use wooden sticks to direct the float to a much safer course.

The ‘tubers’ transport the devotees and visitors with their rubber inflatable from the hill down to where the trek begins. After the ride down, they will carry their tubes weighing 5-10 kilos back to the hills several times until the day ends.

“Gakalingaw ra pud ko pero lisud gyud gihapon,” Jimboy admitted. The river’s current is strong; sometimes he would get bruises and injuries.

On ordinary days, the ‘tubers’ are only available on Sundays. That is why, “ganahan ko pag Holy Week ug Fiesta kay daghan mi’g kita (earnings)” because on Sundays, Jimboy could only have one or two chances to get picked to ferry pilgrims and visitors.

During the Lenten season, he would earn 500-600 pesos while 100-200 pesos on regular days. “Ginatigum nako para pampalit gamit pang-iskwela,” he said.

Jimboy is one of the youngest tubers in Guadalupe. His father who is a farmer that tills his own land also is a tuber. He wants to earn extra income.

“Pag-uli namo sa balay, mananum dayun, mang-uma pa mi. Mga alas 10 p.m. pa mi makapahuway, mu mata napud dayun mi’g sayo pagka-ugma.” After doing the tube work in Guadalupe, Jimboy together with his father would go home and till their land.

“Naako’y auntie, napusilan, tapos wala na-priso ang nagpusil busa gusto ko magpulis para sa hustisya,” Jimboy shared saying he dreams to study Criminology and become a policeman to help bring justice to her aunt's death and those who deserve it.

Just like how Jimboy directs the tube, every turn is a struggle. There will always be raging rapids wherever people go. With a strong conviction, a faith within and with God; one will be able to pass through the muddy slippery trails of life.

Malasag trek

Malasag is one of the hottest spots in the city where thousands of Roman Catholics from different parts of Mindanao visit. They come from different walks of life.

The pilgrims believe that walking the thirteen Stations of the Cross signifies repentance and to remember the suffering of the son of God.

On Maundy Thursday, around 2,000 visitors flocked the area. Aside from that, there were also 250 police who stationed there to secure the area. Medical support such as the City Health Office, Emergency Response Team and REACT team in affiliation with Red Cross were on standby.

Before climbing, medics encouraged devotees to visit them to check if they could make the climb or not.

There is no age limit. Young or old do the hike. Many devotees brought along their children and the experience doubles as a family outing. When asked how old they were when they first walked up Malasag, a handful share that they started as toddlers with their families tagging them along.

One devotee shared that he had been walking up Malasag for around twenty years. In his younger years, he started visiting Malasag with his grandfather and it became a part of him that he continued it until adulthood. However, this time he was bringing with him his wife and child. They plan to continue the tradition to their “apos” (grandchildren).

Other families share that they find the experience rewarding, “Tsada man sad sa taas. Hangin na siya pag abot sa taas.”

They also admired the beauty of the Macajalar Bay which people see in full view once they get to the top. Of course, people can be seen taking pictures with the view behind them.

However, one couple shared that their journey to the top wasn’t for sacrifice. “Para sa amo, pasalamat ni na naabot ning tuiga.” It wasn’t that they wanted to duplicate the suffering Jesus experienced, but they wanted to show how grateful they are for the years God has given them.

So despite the heat and the pain in their legs, they planned to continue this tradition with their daughter every year as what they have already been doing for the past seven years. (Erwin M. Mascariñas, Lynyrd Alexsei N. Corrales, Alyssa Rikka Clenuar, Michelle Dumlao)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 20, 2014.


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