Our Simala experience

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

“BUT you’re in a castle,” put as a question-cum-statement by my friend Edinna. Yes, I am. But not in Le Mont-Saint-Michel in France nor the Heidelberger Schloss in Germany. I am in the Sanctuary Castle of Mother Mary in the Marian Hill in one of the southern barangays of Cebu.

Right after my good editor had made a clarificatory call about my previous article, I took the last evening flight from Bacolod to Cebu. This I made with only one purpose in mind - to make a pilgrimage to one Marian place in Barangay Lindogon, Simala, Sibonga, Cebu.

Why a pilgrimage? Well, with all our limitations and weaknesses, we all believe that we can only be strong if we are in the Lord. And if being with the Lord would mean knowing more of His wondrous and loving ways, then going to places, far and near, and having a greater experience of His love would mean a pilgrimage. Moreover, I believe that I should start right my Lenten preparation by visiting Simala.


I first heard of the place last year from friends Rio, Irene and Perla. Then Cesei, another friend, brought me three candles from there and shared how he made a return visit to the place to make his thanksgiving for answered prayers. So believing in my friends’ testimonies, I made my early booking October last year.

With all these intentions, I invited my friend Tess. And God is so good with us. We were billeted, for free, in an international hotel in Mabolo, Cebu, just a short 30-minute ride from Mactan International Airport. Tess’ brother was having training in Cebu for two weeks, and his hotel-place is just but comfy and spacious for the three of us.

After arriving a little late of our estimated time of arrival, we took the white cab to the hotel. With our vivacious and friendly driver who charged us fairly, we arrived in the hotel. With all the ambiance and comforts of the place, we took our much–needed rest to be ready with our trip the next day.

Waking up and getting ready early, we were at the bus terminal at around 7:30 in the morning. Taking the option of riding an air conditioned bus rather than taking the small shuttle van, our 2-hour bus trip was as comfortable as riding a private vehicle.

Going to Simala will cost one pilgrim just PhP70.00 in an aircon bus, a PhP20.00 difference from the ordinary PUV.

Our bus bound for Lilo-an Port left the terminal at 8 that morning.

We alighted at the “bangga” or the corner of Simala where the local tricycle and “habal-habal” (single motorcycle) are stationed. The Monastery of our Lady of Evangelization, another name of the place, is a five- kilometer up-hill ride that paying PhP20.00 should not matter to the rider. The circuitous climb is really taking much toll on both the driver and his motorized trike that I really admire the former’s expert maneuvering on the road.

Again I would say we’re blessed to have arrived right in time for the 10:30 morning mass. This we knew because of the loud speaker set all over the place.

But as we walked our way up the Sanctuary Castle of Mother Mary, I can’t help but be awed by the majesty and the sanctity of the place and the throng of pilgrims making their way up monastery.

Truly, the Sanctuary Castle is not only imposing but amazing and stunning as well. Who would ever thought that there is such a structure on top of a hill far from the outskirts of the metropolis?

On the entrance gate are the locals selling olive oil for PhP20.00 a bottle. Such is said to contain blessings and miracles from the miraculous icon of Our Lady. We bought some to be blessed during the mass. Truly the oil smells fragrantly and feels smooth on the skin.

With the structure’s great height, there’s a stair going up and another going down. We did not bother to count the steps but what we did was stop at every landing. Huh, huh, with every step we took, we did not only inhale the blessing of being there but also the fact that we can still make those steps. Coupled with railings, a lower ramp for the climb and the descent is provided for the old and the sick.

Despite the language barrier (the mass was said in the native Cebuano dialect), the Holy Sacrifice of the mass is always a chance to gather and conduct ourselves in the holy banquet of the Lord. And with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we faithful can always understand and participate in the celebration.

After the mass came the long queue of people, all patiently waiting for their turn to go up near the miraculous icon of Our Lady, or the “Birhen sa Simala”.

The icon is set on the topmost part of the church. With ecclesiastical permission by His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, the story of Our Lady’s shedding of tears can be told to all the faithful.

The sacred statue of our Blessed Mother had shed tears on the following dates: August 17, 1998, August 22, 1998, September 8, 1998 (Mama Mary’s birthday), October 13, 1998 (the anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima’s apparition), December 29, 1998, and September 8, 1999 (still Our Lady’s birthday).

In as much as the monastery is a holy place, we have to take off our footwear and minimize our voices.

There are plenty of candleholders for those who would like to light candles for their intentions. And colored candles costing PhP35.00 each can be bought and lighted by the pilgrim while praying for his/her intention.

Yes, friend, the colors of the candles have meaning. Gold is for healing, green for prosperity and success, blue for perseverance, violet for achievements, red for love, yellow for peace, white for purity, orange for reconciliation, pink for thanksgiving, black for the souls, brown for vocation, gray for deliverance and cream for conversion.

Also, on designated booths, the nuns and some lay women are issuing receipts for whatever donation the faithful would like to give for his/ her mass intention.

But another worth –telling thing are the cabinets on display. Yes, on our way up the icon of Our Lady, we passed by glass-covered cabinets filled with crutches, walkers, wheel chairs, badges, pins, photographs prayers and thank-you notes from people who have experienced the divine graces of answered prayers and healing.

Letters and notes of people who passed the board exams, got their visas, earned employment, got healed and more had returned to the place and had given their notes-of-thanks to the “mga monghe ni Maria” or monks of Mary.

There’s even one laminated letter of thanks with matching photo from Saranggani Representative Manny Pacquiao and his wife, Jinky.

This is the reason why devotees and pilgrims from near or even from other places have been increasing, and why improvements in the church have been made because of the donation from a lot of people all over the world.

Moreover, the monks have come to construct schools for the local children, homes for the abandoned and indigent families and convent for the nuns. I can say that God really prospers the works of His people.

At long last, we reached the back portion of the church, and we found the miraculous icon of Our Lady. We made our petitions and prayed earnestly. We cannot tarry long in front of the glass covering because of the so many who follow us. But we knelt on the pews provided and silently proffered our intentions. And with the presence of so many prayer petition boxes, we wrote and dropped our petitions.

Down below in the second landing is the gallery of Our Lady’s different personas.

From Fatima, to Carmel, or Penafrancia to Manaoag, or Prague to Guadalupe---say it and the gallery has it. With the icons are its labels, background history and feast days. Our viewing of the different statues was not only educational but also inspirational. The varied ways Our Lady had showed herself to us in different forms attest to her great love and concern for our salvation.

After having made a schedule for a mass intention and bought some candles, we trod our way out. It was near 2 in the afternoon and we haven’t eaten lunch yet. We made our way to the big statue of the Miraculous Mama Mary. We also went to the replica of the Well of Nazareth, where Mama Mary is said to have hauled water for Jesus and Joseph.

The presence of so many kiosks where pilgrims can have respite or can eat their “baon” provided us the dual purpose why they’re there. So we took our seat and opened our packed snacks - all bread but in three different forms. As we munched with gusto, the sight of the locals offering reflexology session for Php70.00 is so inviting to my tired limbs. But we have to take the 3pm van schedule to be able to reach Metro-Cebu by 5pm.

As we bid the place goodbye, we cannot ignore the deep feelings of love, serenity and sublimity. And much as we are told to “tell the world of His love”, we promised ourselves to share this experience with other faithful Marian devotees that they, too, may experience God’s great love for all of us through Our Lady.

Indeed, our pilgrimage is really worth-a-telling. And just like other pilgrims, we hope to come back and make our thanksgiving for answered prayers.

May our Lenten preparation be more meaningful. Here’s to a peaceful week ahead. God bless.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 25, 2012.


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