Tuesday, August 25, 2009

CATANDUANES: AN EMERGING TOURIST DESTINATION

One of only four radar stations in the country is found in Catanduanes. Hence when there are typhoons Virac is always made a reference point as if all typhoons would pass through the island. If just for this, it was already a reason to go and see for myself what this island could offer. For sometime already I had a standing invitation from the bishop of Virac Most Rev. Manolo de los Santos to visit the island. Bp. Manolo was a contemporary of mine when we were still doing our further studies in Rome. Being also a canon lawyer we always get to see each other during our annual conventions. I finally got the chance to make a side trip to Catanduanes when we had the meeting of the Executive Board of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines in Manila. Did invite the other members of the board but the date was not suitable for them so I took with me a former seminarian who is now stationed in Manila.

We were 20 minutes in advance when the plane landed in Virac at 7:20 a.m. I thought our host might not be there yet since I told him we will be arriving by 7:40. But Bishop Manolo de los Santos himself was there at the airport to meet us. We went to the Immaculate Conception Seminary where we were billeted. I was informed that the bishop himself is the rector of the seminary and the pastor of the cathedral. He just reopened the high school seminary two years ago after it was closed for 25 years. The pre-college seminary was what remained when it was closed. The seminary is unique in the sense that the high school seminarians go to the Catholic school in town for their studies with other students both boys and girls. They were given the permission by the DepEd to open 4 years of high school when they opened last year. Hence they had right away 58 graduating students at the end of the year. The school is just at the back of the cathedral which is 3 kilometers away from the seminary.

Just after a short rest after breakfast Bp. Manolo right away started to tour us around his diocese. We first went to the convent of the Baptistine Sisters whose house is at the back of the seminary. The sisters have 3 communities in the area: the Children’s Home where they take care of malnourished children from babies up to elementary years, the formation house of the sisters and the school where the recipients of the Children’s Home would go together with other pupils from outside. The children that the sisters take care are not orphans, but they come from poor families. The sisters would just take care of them for a time and would return them to their families once they get better. Others of course stay there for long since they would revert back to being malnourished once they return home. So the agreement with the parents is that they should visit their child every month. 

The Good Shepherd monastery was next to be visited. From there we went to the Chancery which is just beside the Cathedral. Took pictures of the cathedral and then the bishop toured around us the school.From the Chancery we went to the town of Bato which is just next to Virac. Bato is famous for its old stone church which is one of very few old structures found in the island. The parish priest Fr. Vega was there.
In the afternoon we passed by the Chapel for the Campus Ministry of the diocese. It is a semi circular church with a hall at the back. The office of the Commission on Family and Life Education and Youth Apostolate which is a combined office is also found here.

The next site we visited was the Diocesan Shrine of the Holy Cross in Batalay, Bato. The story of this shrine was that the place was supposed to be the burial ground of Fray Diego de Herrera, OSA, the first superior of the convent of the Sto. Nino in Cebu. He was on his way to Manila in 1576 as he was bringing the Papal bull making him the first bishop of Manila when the boat they were riding shipwrecked in Catanduanes during a storm. He took refuge in Batalay where he died. Years later the Agustinians tried to locate his burial ground in Batalay. The story was that the Agustinians would plant a cross in the place where Herrera was supposed to have been buried, if the cross would fall that means it was not the place. Several times they planted the cross but it would fall until at last they came to a place where they planted the cross and it did not fall. Then a short while fresh water sprung upon the place where the cross was planted. This spring remains to this day. Many say that the water is miraculous. The place has become a popular pilgrim site. The bishop said the custom in the diocese is that Ash Wednesday would always be celebrated by the bishop in this place. They started to enlarge the shrine but because of lack of funds only the posts were planted in front of the shrine until today. The bishop plans to make the place as a mission with its own priest there. 

One famous story of Batalay is the vocation story of one Msgr. Alfonso Molina. It is said that when he was still a seminarian Alfonso Molina asked for a sign if he would become a priest, since many from Batalay entered the seminary and were not able to make it to the priesthood. The sign that he asked was that if the candle he was holding would not be extinguished when he make the procession from the river to the shrine, that means he would become a priest. Indeed the candle was not extinguished and he took it as the sign that he was meant for the priesthood. It is said that while he was still a seminarian on vacation he made it his apostolate to ferry the pilgrims across the river by boat to the shrine since there was no bridge yet then.

From the Batalay shrine we went to another town of Baras. It is in Baras that the famous surfing capital of Catanduanes is found in Barangay Puraran. From the top of the hill where the village of Puraran was located, there was a cemented road which led down to the beach. The beach sand was light brown. It was a cove surrounded by a high mountain which perhaps is the reason why high waves good for surfing are created. At this time though, the sea was very calm with no waves at all. Surfing here is seasonal and the best time to surf is from October to January. Took a bath there. The bishop had also planned to take a bath only to find out that he was not able to bring along swimming shorts. It was already getting dark when we left Puraran. We passed by the convent of Baras to see the ongoing construction of the convent by Fr. Raul de los Santos, the parish priest. It was back to the seminary for supper after.

Bp Manolo said that the island is 100 kms long and 50 km wide. There is a circumferential road being constructed 205 kilometers long but only 92 kilometers have been cemented as yet. At present electricity is diesel generated and there is also a power barge helping. However, there are 5 mini hydro electric plants that are being constructed which the bishop said is enough to satisfy the electrical needs of the island. By next year they are supposed to operate already. There are 11 towns but with 19 parishes and 8 mission stations. There are 45 priests serving at present in the diocese. For the apostolate, the bishop said that only 3 faith communities are officially accepted in the diocese: the Neo Catechumenate, the New Evangelization Pastorale and Covenanted Charismatic communities. For his BEC program, they have what they call as the New Evangelization Pastorale. This is an adaptation of the evangelization process of the neo catechumenate wherein people from the barangay would attend 13 sessions and would end up with a convivence wherein they would now be asked if they would like to become members of a basic ecclesial community. From there, they would now have their weekly meetings for the word and the monthly Eucharist. The seminary has enough facilities where the convivence and the Youth Encounter programs which was started here in Virac are being regularly held.

August 21, 2009
From the driver of the bishop I was informed that the now famous beaches of Caramoan in Camarines Sur is just an hour away by boat from Catanduanes. Caramoan also happens to be the hometown of the bishop. So when I broach the idea of going there Bp. Manolo right away consented to bring us there on our second day. We first visited the Twin Rocks Beach Resort in Igang, Virac (052-811-3122). It was situated in a cove with a beautiful white sand. Then we passed by the parish church of Magnesia, Virac which had an old stone church. Afterwards, we went to the Galilee Retreat House in Palawig, San Andres. There was also a beachfront in the retreat house. We also took a look at the Amenia Beach Resort in Palawig. Then we passed by the church of the town San Andres. From there we went to barangay Bislig, about 5 km away from San Andres where we took the boat in going to Caramoan.

Arriving back in Catanduanes in the late afternoon from Caramoan we visited the shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Batong Paloway, San Andres. What is special in this shrine is the image of Our Lady painted on a stone which has been growing ever since it was found. It is said that it was just as big as a ten centavo coin when it was found. The story is told of a boy who got a stomach ache one night after playing “tatse”, a game using flat stones. On an inspiration he placed the flat stone he played on his stomach and was suddenly healed. The family then noticed that the stone had a faint image of a lady. The stone kept on growing throughout the years and the face of Our Lady has become very clear. The bishop was saying that before the finger of Our Lady could not be seen but now one finger could already be seen. Likewise before, the hair of the Lady could not be noticed but now the hair can already be seen just below her veil. Every Friday a mass is celebrated there and plenty of pilgrims would always be there.

Just as the bishop was touring me around, he also made it the opportunity to pay a visit to the mayors of the towns that we went. Bp. Manolo was trying to get the support of the mayors and their council of a RoRo port project in Codon, San Andres, Catanduanes and San Vicente in Caramoan. The bishop had already the backing of President GMA, DOTC and DBM. However, it was turned down by the PPA General Manager as not feasible at this time. If these two ports could be constructed it will cut the sea travel time from 3 hours from Catanduanes to Tabaco, Albay to just about 30 minutes to Caramoan. The bishop was asking if the mayors could make a resolution asking for a reconsideration of the project as he knew that the project would be very beneficial to everyone in the island province aside from the potential tourism revenues as this would make travel to Caramoan easier and faster. We were able to see the Mayor of Virac, Bato and the Vice Mayor of Baras and San Andres and provincial board member Shirley Abundo in the absence of the governor and vice governor.

When the roads around the island be cemented already which could be finished in a few years time, Catanduanes would be a very enticing place to tour around. The added attraction to the island is that it is very near to the beautiful beaches in the now famous Caramoan. A visit to Catanduanes should always include an island hopping trip to Caramoan.





The majestic Mayon Volcano is one of the sights that could be seen from the plane in going to Catanduanes.

A crater of another volcano. This is Mt. Asog or commonly known as Mt. Iriga.



The Immaculate Conception Seminary in Virac


Vincent posing with Bishop Manolo de los Santos of Virac

The Chapel of the seminary was in the form of a cave.





The Children's Home of the Baptistine Sisters


The Monastery of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Virac.


Virac Cathedral


The Altar of Virac Cathedral


Bp. Manolo plans to put up a dome in the Cathedral and change the simple altar to a Retablo.


A side altar near the front door.


Some of the stained glass windows have been broken by a typhoon. The stained glass windows on one side of the body of the church have also been destroyed.



Virac Cathedral



The Municipal Hall of Virac

Bp. De los Santos with the Mayor of Virac, Dr. Santos Zafe.

With Shirley Abundo, a young Provincial Board Member


With the Mayor of Bato, Leo Rodriguez.

Bato Church





Statue of the Sacred Heart on a niche in front of the church by the side.


The Immaculate Heart of Mary on the niche on the other side in front of the church

The Altar of the Bato Church



Just by the main entrance of the church in the middle is the baptismal font.




The baptismal font by the entrance of the church.





The bridge crossing to the poblacion of Bato.


The altar of the Chapel for the Campus Ministry in Virac.

The office of the Commission of Family and Life Education and the Youth Apostolate is found at the back of the Chapel of the Campus Ministry.

The Batalay Shrine.




Portrait of Fray Diego de Herrera, OSA whose remains was buried in Batalay. He was shipwrecked on the way to Manila to become the first Bishop of Manila. But he died before reaching Manila.




The altar of Batalay.



From the river, one goes up a number of steps to get to the Shrine.



A bridge now connects to the Shrine as it is found at the mouth of the river.



The spring with a constant supply of fresh water.



Puraran Beach.



The sand is almost white.




A resort for surfers is found by the beach.




Puraran beach.




The sea at this time was very calm, but by October the waves are so high and right handed that only seasoned surfers are allowed to ride on the waves.





The Municipal hall of Baras.


The bishop discusses with Vice Mayor Chito Chi of Baras (middle) and another town councilor.

Baras Church


Newly constructed convent of Baras.


Bp. Manolo with Fr. Raul de los Santos, the parish priest of Baras.


The patron saint of Baras, St. Lawrence, the deacon.


The altar of Baras church


Twin Rock Beach Resort in Igang, Virac.

One of the finest beaches in the island is found here in Igang.




The resort is named after these twin rocks found nearby.

The kiosks that line up by the beach at the Twin Rock Beach Resort.






The resort has beautifully manicured lawn.


The stone parish church of Magnesia, Virac.

The church is surrounded by a perimeter stone fence.






The altar of Magnesia church

Amenia Beach in Palawig, San Andres.





Amenia Beach






The waters was not that clear and clean at this time.



The sand here is light brown.





The retreat house of the diocese has also a beachfront




San Andres Church



Altar of San Andres Church





Just in front of the church by the street is this arch which is usually used during the "Salubong" during Easter.



The bishop with the Vice Mayor of San Andres.




There were some police men on stand by in Bislig where we took the boat in going to Caramoan.



Since the boat had no shade, we were given each an umbrella to keep us from the heat of the sun.



The front of the boat.





Sunset in San Andres.



Our Lady of Sorrows Shrine in Batong Paloway, San Andres.



The altar of Batong Paloway.



Enshrined inside a glass frame is the image of Our Lady of Sorrows on a stone which has been growing in the past several years.




A close-up picture of the image of Our Lady of Sorrows. They said that the stone was just the size of ten centavo coin before. Now it is about 2.5 by 3 inches size. As the stone grew in size, the picture has not been distorted. Instead some details of the lady had started to appear like the finger and the hair.