The Philippines proudly boasts as the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic and Sundays are usually a day to be in church and hear mass. While in the region, I vowed to visit The Basilica of Our Lady of Piat located an hour away from Tuguegarao, in the outskirts of the town of Piat in the Cagayan province.
Our Lady of Piat has a special meaning in my life. On August 19, 2010, my son Jude- who was 5 years old then- was diagnosed with leukemia. My mom made the pilgrimage to Piat and prayed for his survival. With so much pain and suffering (and perhaps this will be another post later), Jude survived albeit the doctor’s prognosis of zero to 30% survival. Two days before Christmas (exactly 4 years ago today, December 23) our other son, Joshua, donated his blood for a bone marrow transplant. A Christmas miracle indeed.
Back to my “holy” journey, we first visited the Calvary Hills, where each of the Stations of the Cross is depicted in life sized images. About 27 acres of rolling hills in Iguig, the Calvary Hills also provide a beautiful view of the Cagayan River, the longest river in the Philippines. During the Lenten season, this place gets very crowded with visitors.
After circling the Calvary Hills, we proceeded to Piat, about an hour drive from Iguig.
Our Lady of Piat is a black image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus on her left arm. The image was brought from Macau by the Dominican friars to the city of Manila and later to the town of Piat, where she is now housed permanently. She has been attributed to many miracles, making Piat as the “Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley”. Each year, the basilica gets thousands of devotees (including tourists) who pay homage to the Virgin praying to be blessed. In our case, a miracle.
Before you reach the church grounds, there are several stalls lined up selling different images of Our Lady of Piat, rosaries, candles, etc. There are also ladies selling souvenirs by carrying a basket tied around their body.
The people who bought religious articles either from the stalls, the ladies, or from the church’s gift shop line them up in one area and wait for the priest to finish the mass service. Then the priest comes over to bless the articles with holy water.
Outside the church, we spotted a kakanin called Pawa (rice cake found in this region) and other delicacies. We ended our “holy” trip with these delicious rice cakes.