MANAOAG, PANGASINAN, Philippines — Believing that Easter symbolizes hope, faith and renewal, thousands of people from all walks of life and from nearly all corners of Luzon flocked to the centuries-old Basilica Minore of Our Miraculous Lady of Manaoag on Easter Sunday to rekindle their faith on the Virgin Mary whose graven image perched atop an altar is the center of devotion for ages.
Some devotees came in groups on board rented passenger buses and jeepneys, panel trucks and their own cars with hardly no more space for incoming vehicles to park except on private vacant lots instantly converted as pay parking lots.
It seemed that some smart aleck vendors took some parts of the sidewalks as if these were owned by them and charged Php50 from each parking vehicle.
Boy Vinuya, 40, of Poblacion, Manaoag, who sells candles and doubles as parking fee attendant, confessed he guards one spot of the sidewalk where he guides motorists to park and make a side income on parking fees.
Spotted on an alley on the left side of the church was a jeep load of devotees from San Jose City in Nueva Ecija leaving after the early morning Easter Mass, one sign that the Miraculous Lady of Manaoag is really being mobbed by people even coming from distant places
The basilica minore was not enough for the devotees who came for the Easter Mass, that was why several television screens were set up outside for the crowd to be able to hear the Mass even without going inside the church.
Vendors selling candles, delicacies, bottled water and all sorts are no longer allowed inside the church perimeter and those who would like to light candles would have to line up and buy from a shop owned by the parish,
The roads to Manaoag from San Jacinto, Pozorrubio, Urdaneta City and Mapandan were as usual on a bumper-to-bumper situation with vehicles on snail-pace traffic for hours due to the big number of devotees pouring into Manaoag during Easter.
This was compounded by the endless convoy of vehicles of people coming down from the Holy Week retreat in Baguio who made a point to hear Easter Mass in Manaoag before heading to Urdaneta City, the entry point of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway towards Manila.
Rough estimate showed up to two million devotees might have come to Manaoag during the entire Holy Week, many of them just staying in the Church for few hours and a few minutes for shopping for religious souvenirs and delicacies before heading to their respective destinations.
It is only during the Holy Week that Manaoag is hosting such multitude of devotees, a reconfirmation that Filipino Christendom recognizes Manaoag’s prestige as the center of Catholic faith all over Northern Luzon. Leonardo Micua/PNA/northboundasia.com