Deeply devoted-A A +A
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
AS CATHOLICS and devotees flocked to churches and shrines to celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary last Sept.8, in Bien Unido, a town in the northern tip of Bohol island, close to 50 people decided to celebrate it in a whole new manner—underwater.
No, they weren’t people with a death wish, but rather groups of divers who wanted to make the celebration more meaningful as they joined the first Underwater Pilgrimage--the first ever in the country--at the Bien Unido Double Barrier Reef Marine Park.
They may not have been holding on to rosaries, flowers and candles, but they were there just like all the others in churches on that day, to pray--complete with their wetsuits, tanks, BCDs, regulators and all. They weren’t merely praying, but communing with the divine through the appreciation of underwater resources.
“If you are underwater, you commune with nature. There is complete silence and it is very peaceful underwater. We become fascinated with underwater nature, which is very incomparable. When there is peace, you commune with nature and with that, you commune with the divine. It is a sign that you are communicating with God,” said Fr. Charlie Orobia of the Sea Knights, which was one of the stakeholders of the event.
The idea was hatched by the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF) in cooperation with the municipality of Bien Unido. CCEF has pinpointed the Danajon Double Barrier Reef as one of the project areas for CCEF’s marine protection drive.
Also helping out at the event was the Lapu-Lapu Marine Sports and Dive Operators Association.
Bien Unido has proven to be a perfect place not just for a vacation, but also for a religious pilgrimage.
The marine park is home to two religious icons, which were lowered into the depths about two years ago, in the municipality’s efforts to curb rampant illegal fishing activities there.
The image of the Virgin Mary is strategically placed in a hole that resembles a grotto in a cliff about 90 feet underwater. A few kilometers away from this is another dive site, where the image of the Sto. Niño is situated amongst a bed of corals just 30 feet below. The divers made their first dive at the grotto, diving in groups. Each diver was given a laminated prayer, which was read underwater. Later, the group moved on to the Sto. Niño.
These are just two of the more than 10 dive sites that were identified by dive master Alfie Fernandez in Bien Unido, with these two holding definite potential for tourism as they are the only sites in the entire country that have religious icons.
The concept of an underwater pilgrimage bode well for the participants, especially those from Sea Knights, a group responsible for placing the religious icons in the seas off Bien Unido.
“This is a very good step for the NGO and the municipality to recognize spirituality and religiosity of the people, to have this unusual kind of pilgrimage. It makes the divers recognize and be educated in ecology, in line with the evangelization of the church. Ecological evangelization is after all, the theme of the Philippine church,” said Orobia.
In 2010, municipality mayor Niño Rey Boniel, was alarmed at the incessant illegal fishing activities in the seas off Bien Unido. To address this, he along with the Sea Knights, came up with the idea to place the religious icons underwater.
“Basically, we want the reefs protected. The people are devotees so they would not want to blow up these icons with their dynamite. So we are helping protect our marine resources at the Danajon Double Barrier Reef. The second reason is for tourism purposes. These two go hand in hand.
Once more tourists come, it will provide an alternative livelihood for illegal fishers,” said Boniel, who announced that although not entirely gone, the number of dynamite fishing incidents has decreased in the area.
Slowly, tourists have started pouring into Bien Unido. Tagged as the Seaweed Capital of the Visayas, it offers more than just diving for visitors. It also offers the Lakbay Aral package, where visitors get to learn how seaweed is planted, harvested and processed in Bien Unido’s 2,500-hectare seaweed farm. Because of the crystal clear waters, non-divers can still be part of the Sto.Niño experience as it is visible from the surface.
Snorkelers can simply swim above and still see the image. Visitors can also opt to just enjoy the beaches as they hop from island to island, visiting several stretches of sand bars, then end their day with ice cold drinks at Bohol Yacht Club’s cozy mini-hotel, or with a dip in its infinity pool.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 25, 2012.