Religion has played a strong role in the development of the Philippines. And like any other country where Catholicism is deeply rooted, cultural heritage is reflected in the numerous churches and religious institutions that Spaniards left in the country. According to some data, the Philippines have some 60,000 churches, including 5,000 historical ones. Among the 5,000 historical churches, two dozens can be considered as true architectural jewels.
Due to the abundance of churches and religious monuments, Philippines Department of Tourism is creating a Faith Tourism section. According to DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, the department wants to focus more on the promotion of Faith-based tourism products in the different regions of the country, which is considered the true bastion of Catholicism in Asia.
“The DOT is poised to go full swing on piloting emerging faith tourism destinations this year, highlighting festivals and various Filipino traditions that will encompass a holistic pilgrimage experience,” she said to local newspapers.
One of the highlight in the capital city is Intramuros, the original walled city created in 1571 by the Spanish conquistadors and the seat of the government of the colony of Las Islas Philippinas.
Despite heavy destruction in World War II, Intramuros has a high number of churches, as it was also the centre of religious and spiritual life.
Manila Cathedral is the largest of the half-dozen churches still to be seen today in Intramuros. San Augustin is the oldest church as it was started in 1571 and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The other Roman Catholic churches built by different religious orders were the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church by the Recollects, San Francisco Church by the Franciscans, Third Venerable Order Church by the Third Order of St. Francis, Santo Domingo Church by the Dominicans, Lourdes Church by the Capuchins, and the San Ignacio Church by the Jesuits.
To capitalize on religious tourism, the Department of Tourism along with the Intramuros Administration launched last March its first major project of the newly created Faith Sector. It focuses on the treasure of religious cultural history of the Philippines in time for to observe the tradition of “Visita Iglesia” during the Holy Week.
By tradition, devout Catholics visit at least seven different churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. In Intramuros, they can now visit seven churches during newly established pilgrimage tours. Intramuros seven chapels in Intramuros are the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, San Ignacio Church, the Guadalupe Shrine in Fort Santiago, Knights of Columbus Fr. Willman Chapel, Lyceum of the Philippines University Chapel and the Mapua University Chapel.
This was the first time since World War II that such a religious pilgrimage tour was organised again in Intramuros. complete Visita Iglesia in Intramuros is possible. “We will revive this Intramuros tradition during Holy Week and make it once more the centre of the Visita Iglesia,” said Wanda Theo.
Other notable faith tourism destinations include the shrines of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan in Region 1. Most remarkable among these structures is the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 1993 as part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.