Saturday, February 5, 2011

Discovering the Divine in El Salvador City

Donning a clergyman’s frock used to be an obsession during my teens. But something happened on the way to heaven which kept me from wearing one. Still my fascination for priesthood manifests itself every now and then. So, whenever it hits me, I head for some secluded place to seek and commune with the divine. 

Recently, I went on a soul-enriching trip that led me up north where I learned what draws pilgrims from far and wide to gravitate to El Salvador, a little known city in Northern Mindanao. My discovery: the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Divine Mercy whose most prominent feature is a 50-foot statue of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sitting on a 9-hectare lot, the Divine Mercy Shrine, which is about an hour’s drive from Cagayan de Oro City, also doubles as a tourist attraction in that part of Mindanao, attracting hundreds, sometimes thousands of visitors year in, year out. Facing Macalajar Bay, it has become a pilgrimage site for the devout, the diseased and the desperate who flock there, especially during weekends and holidays, to seek God’s unending mercy.

Completed in 2008 out of donations from devout Divine Mercy followers, the Divine Mercy Shrine was inaugurated by no less than Most Reverend Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro City. The event, which also coincided with the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was attended by over 20,000 devotees, pilgrims and visitors, not only from the Philippines but also from other parts of the world. 

Standing tall on a sprawling expanse overlooking the bay, the statue of the Divine Mercy is said to be the tallest DM structure in the Philippines and the country’s mini version of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer.

It was a UP Fine Arts graduate from Angeles, Pampanga, Nick Reyes, who sculpted the awe-inspiring statue. A "halo" made out of stained glass serves as the figure's crowning glory. The rays, which symbolize the "blood" and "water" which flowed out from Jesus' heart, is made out of an alternate of stained glass and tiles. These rays are actually staircases leading up to the “heart” of Jesus.

At the heart is a hidden niche with a life-size statue of St. Sister Faustina, the Polish nun who had a vision which described what is now called the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Carved at the base of the statue are the words, “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU”. There's a healing chapel found at the base of the statue. On one side is a smaller statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now, here’s a caveat for those who are fond of wearing revealing clothing, e.g. sleeveless blouses, shorts, mini-skirts, sandos, tube tops, etc., anywhere they go. If you’re planning to visit the shrine, better don something more appropriate as the staff or the guards there will really call your attention and tell you the holy place isn’t a picnic ground. Worst, they’d compel you to wear a blue or red cloth either as a shawl or a skirt just to cover your “nakedness”. Guys, you wouldn’t want to be forced to wear a skirt against your will, eh? LOL!