Vatican rites draw ‘biggest wave of travelers’ handled by Cebu tour agenciesBy Aileen Garcia-Yap
Cebu Daily News
Maria Lourdes Ordoñez, president and general manager of Delmar Travel and Tours, said this was the biggest wave of travelers she’s seen for a single event since the agency started operating in 1978.
Her agency, one of 11 accredited by the Cebu Archdiocese to arrange tours for the historic event, offered six packages with different itineraries that all include the Oct. 21 Rome milestone.
The packages range from $3,169 for the Pilgrimage to Padre Pio and Montecassino to $4,812.00 for the Grand Marian Pilgrimage which has side trips to Marian shrines in France, Spain and Portugal.
Other options are a tour in Rome only or a combination of Rome and the Holy Land, San Giovanni Rotondo, Montecassino and Lanciano.
“As early as October 8, a group already left for Rome” she said. The rest left on the 16th and 18th.
Visa applications started in July right after the Oct. 21 date of canonization was announced.
This is the “most difficult process in organizing tours” she said, especially with the large volume, since approval is made by embassies in Europe.
“We were really worried. Good thing we had 100 percent approval,” she said.
For the historic affair, guests who booked with Cebu tour agencies came from different parts of the Visayas.
The last visa application was released by the Embassy in Rome last October 12 according to Ordonez. The process was hastened by the personal endorsements of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma for all pilgrims.
One client almost lost hope until finally it was released last Friday, she said.
While many are regular clients who have booked pilgrimages with her since the 1980s like Odette Hereza, Ordonez said that they also have a number of first time travellers this time.
One of them, a young wife of a seaman was told to brace for the “worst” in expecting a visa.
“The risk of TNTs is high especially when you are young and the embassy is very keen on that especially that it was her first time to travel abroad. We told her to prepare for the worst. Her husband told her ‘it will not be the embassy who will decide if you could go but God’. I love that her husband had strong faith. We really helped her. Her visa was approved,” said Ordonez.
A pilgrimage is one of the “safest” ways to travel abroad especially for first timers, she said, because you go with a group, and are escorted by a tour representative throughout the trip.
“I advise them to stick with their travel assistant to avoid being left behind and getting lost,” said Ordonez. In every stop, groups would usually stay for at least three hours for sight seeing before going to the next destination.
“The advocacy has always been to strengthening faith. That’s why we decided from the start to focus on pilgrimage tours,” said Ordonez, whose son is a priest. The agency’s name is a combination of that of her husband, Del, and Marilou.
With Calungsod being the second Filipino saint, Ordonez said she hopes this honor will make Filipinos value their their religious beliefs and strengthen their faith.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, the overall coordinator for pilgrims and the 11 Cebu travel agencies accredited for the event, said they were overwhelmed with the interest of many Filipinos to attend the event.
“There are so many going. I can’t name them but I’m sure many are businessmen and private individuals,” said Dakay.
Among them is businesswoman Carmel de Pio Salvador, who is also part of the special events committee of the Cebu preparations for the Calungsod canonization.
“Most Filipinos are passive Catholics. This can help reawaken their faith. We should be proud of it. Calungsod is the second saint from the Philippines,” she said.
Other Cebu businessmen now in Europe for the Rome event are Mariquita Salimbangon Yeung, Marissa Fernan, Barbara Gothong Tan, Marilou Ngo Ang, Bob Gothong and Virgilio Espeleta.
An estimated 5,000 Filpinos from all over the world are attending the historic rites in St. Peter’s Square, according to the Cebu Archdiocese.