In Pangasinan, Lenten walk to Manaoag Church revived
DAGUPAN CITY, Pangasinan, Philippines — A group of young women from Calasiao town in Pangasinan province is renewing their “panata” (religious devotion) by walking to the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag, also called Manaoag Church, on Maundy Thursday.
Restrictions due to COVID-19 halted the annual trek to Manaoag Church in the last two years, but Marian devotees in Pangasinan are again holding the traditional walk, which would take them hours to complete.
Before the pandemic struck in 2020, thousands of Pangasinenses from different towns, including Bolinao in the province’s western section, were joining the walk, and would arrive at the church around midnight on Maundy Thursday or early morning on Good Friday.
May Ann Maningding, 36, a government worker from Calasiao town, said it would take them three to four hours to reach Manaoag Church, about 16 kilometers away.
“We would start walking at 4 p.m. on Maundy Thursday and arrive at the church at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. It depends on how many stops we make along the way,” Maningding said.
The quick pit stops would usually be in front of houses where villagers would offer drinks or snacks to pilgrims.
“Some have readied ‘pancit,’ ‘arroz caldo,’ soup and other food that they give away to devotees,” Maningding said.
Fr. Rojohn Ramirez, a Catholic priest based in Dagupan City, said the annual walk was not started by the church, but he remembered the years when just a few people would arrive from different towns at midnight on Maundy Thursday, tired but visibly happy.
“It is sort of a panata among a few people. They have a petition, a specific request to God, which they hope will be fulfilled by walking to Manaoag. Then many Pangasinenses caught on and joined the [group] in the following years,” Ramirez said.
“The youth comprise a large part of the crowd. During those years, there wasn’t much to do during the Holy Week, and nothing to watch on television. That could be one reason for them to walk with their friends,” he said.
According to Ramirez, people could hardly drive along major roads leading to Manaoag during Holy Week before the pandemic struck.
“It has become nothing short of a phenomenon,” he said, adding that there was nothing wrong with the practice “as long as they are fulfilling their faith, a sacrifice and their means to get closer to God.”
“But it should not be just walking or sacrificing and then going back to their old self, or the sacrifice would go to waste,” Ramirez said.
Devotees are still barred from touching the image of Our Lady of Manaoag, which has been enclosed since the pandemic, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Melissa Munar, a staff member of the church’s social action office.
Pilgrims are also prohibited from touching the “Santo Bangkay,” or the image of the dead Jesus Christ.
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