CHIA-HAO is a Buddhist, but that didn’t stop him from standing in front of a Roman Catholic Church last Thursday night, posing before a camera carrying two lit white candles.

Each candle had a carton holder with a printed logo of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC).

Chia-Hao and his fellow Taiwanese were among those who joined the Visita Iglesia, or the Seven Church Visitation, an annual Lenten practice of visiting seven churches that was one of the activities of the IEC.

Some women in thick makeup and skimpy dresses went out of a few adult entertainment bars on Pelaez St. to watch the passing crowd of praying delegates, local parishioners, tourists and prelates.

Ubiquitous on the same stretch were street dwellers sleeping on the pavement, with only a few folds of carton separating them from the cold cement.

“It has been, what, 10 years since I last visited churches? I’m a Buddhist, but I love the atmosphere here,” Chia-Hao told Sun.Star Cebu.

Chia-Hao and his companions were on their way to the Sto. Rosario Church after visiting the Basilica del Sto. Niño and the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral around 7 p.m.

Not so common

Last Thursday night, the main altar in the basilica was wrapped in purple cloth with the Blessed Sacrament on the table, like it is during Lent.

The Philippines is one of few Catholic countries that continue to practice the Visita Iglesia.

Edmond Gee, a 48-year-old pharmacy technician in Vancouver, Canada, said it was the first time he witnessed a procession of the Visita Iglesia in the four times he joined the IEC.

The foreign delegate said only a few people know about the Catholic tradition that takes place on Maundy Thursday.

“Thank you to the Filipinos for preserving this wonderful tradition of the church,” he said.

Also from Canada, Filipino caregiver Lourdes Axalan, a 56-year-old Laguna native, flew to Cebu for the first time so she could witness foreigners find out how Filipinos practice Catholicism.

“Our friends warned us when they knew where we were heading. They said that in Cebu, there are many pickpockets, but I realized a lot of Cebuanos are helpful, very friendly and trustworthy,” Axalan said.

The delegates and other participants of the Visita Iglesia were divided into two sectors: one started at the Cathedral and ended at the Sacred Heart Church, while the other started at the Asilo de la Medalla Milagrosa Church and ended at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Capitol Site.

Their paths were lined with speakers playing Eucharistic songs in different languages. Rosary guides were distributed.

Those who didn’t want to walk rode on their bicycles.