Thursday, September 18, 2014

Side tripping to Cebu’s Simala Shrine



“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase”, so goes a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. It is this faith in some unseen higher power that has prompted Noah to build the ark, saved Daniel from being devoured by lions, helped David defeat Goliath, and so on and so forth.



It is this same faith that’s probably the reason why thousands of devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary from all walks of life go to great lengths just to visit one of her most popular enclaves in the southern part of Cebu Province, which, in a way, has become a tourist magnet itself, attracting hordes of the faithful.

It is their faith in the Blessed Mother that has driven many of these pilgrims to go there to seek the cure to some serious ailment or have their prayers and petitions answered once they pay homage to the Virgin and ask for her intercession. I, too, had been wanting to go on a pilgrimage there but it was only recently that this came into fruition.
 
 
After concluding some official business in Cebu City, I decided to stay for one more day for a side trip to the southern part of the island province. Waking up to gloomy skies,  I initially had second thoughts about pursuing my plan that day given the inclement weather but something kept egging me to go on with it, come hell or high water.  

I’ve visited quite a number of Cebu’s southern towns—Argao, Boljoon, Carcar, Dalaguete and Oslob—but it’s my first time to make it to Sibonga where the village of Simala is found. I guess it’s this same faith that propelled me to explore an unfamiliar destination despite the downpour that accompanied Typhoon Luis. 

(For more about my pilgrimage to some of Cebu’s heritage towns, visit my posts at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2014/06/captivated-by-cebus-colonial-churches.html; http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2014/06/captivated-by-cebus-colonial-churches_23.html; http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2014/06/captivated-by-cebus-colonial-churches_28.html ; http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2014/07/captivated-by-cebus-colonial-churches_1.html; and http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2014/07/captivated-by-cebus-colonial-churches_5.html).

In the hilly part of Sibonga, the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist (MHE) attracts people from all over the country and even beyond who travel for almost two hours from downtown Cebu just to seek healing, guidance, and redemption in what has come to be known as the Simala Shrine.  
 

Built by the congregation of the Marian Monks of Eucharistic Adoration (MMEA) in 1998, the shrine draws numerous pilgrims following news of miracles attributed to the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The image is said to have showed these miracles during the height of an epidemic that killed many people in Simala. 


Rain was pouring in torrents by the time I reached Simala after traveling from Cebu City. A number of tricycles and vans were parked at the bus stop there, waiting to deliver commuters to the shrine. Mind you, many of the pilgrims—with umbrellas, raincoats and all—opted to walk up to the shrine despite the rains, perhaps as an act of penance and sacrifice.

After buying an umbrella from one of the itinerant vendors at the bus stop, I scouted for an available tricycle that would take me to the shrine. Fortunately, I struck a deal with a fellow named Cyrus who agreed to drive me up the hills and take my photos (of course for a fee which I found reasonable enough). 

Roughly thirty minutes later, we reached our destination. From a distance, the awe-inspiring structure, reminded me so much of the European castles I’ve seen in pictures. Standing prominently in the hills, it had pointed spires that seemed to reach upward into the sky and concrete walkways and staircases that lead pilgrims into it.


It was almost noon when I reached the church there. A mass was already in progress. I wanted to get inside but it was quite difficult to get through the thick crowds of churchgoers. A bit disappointed, I headed instead for one part of the complex where people lighted votive candles and prayed in silence.

  


Exploring the shrine later, I was amazed to see several crutches, wheelchairs, and school nameplates, along with letters and thank you notes from countless souls who have experienced the divine grace of the Blessed Mother. Those healed left messages proclaiming that miracles do happen and they happen to those who believe. 

To the unbelievers, these are nothing but figments of the wild imagination but for the many pilgrims who came, believed and experienced the numerous miracles attributed to the Blessed Virgin, it’s gospel truth! As St. Thomas Aquinas aptly put it, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”


Modesty in dressing is strictly observed when you’re inside the shrine’s premises. For those wanting to go to Simala, remember to wear formal or modest attire as pilgrims dressed in revealing clothing like sandos, short shorts, miniskirts, sleeveless shirts or low-cut blouses will not be allowed by guards to get inside.

Drenched by the heavy rains that pounded the province that day, I never regretted my decision to explore the shrine. Though it was curiosity that first prompted me to visit the place, it was faith in the unseen Higher Power that kept me going, sustaining me throughout my sojourn to the mystery known as Simala. :-D