The Lenten Season has come and gone. It has made Christians from all over the world reflect on their life, practice traditions that usually go with the Season (especially Holy Week). For most, this means basically fasting and abstinence, “no meat Fridays”, and prayers and masses to reflect on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.
For others, it is paying a visit to purportedly miraculous Churches.
One such church is the San Vicente Ferrer Church, or mostly commonly known as Vito Church, one of the oldest in Negros Occidental. Vito Church is so-called by worshippers because of its location – it stands in the village of Vito, Sagay City.
The Church is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from provincial capital, Bacolod City, via a two-stop Ceres bus. It takes two hours to reach Sagay City proper. Add another 30 minutes to get to Vito itself.
The travel time has so far not dissuaded people from going on a pilgrimage to the Church widely-touted for its miracles.
The church was constructed in the 1930s and since then religious traditions such as Panaad and Palapak have been practiced by the faithful devotees of the patron saint.
Every Friday, especially the first Friday of the month, those devotees would come and attend mass to give thanks. But mostly, they pray for healing.
Belinda Quidong, a Filipino teacher at Vito National High School, was born and raised at Vito.
According to her, the name Vito came from a cave, as there are several in the village.
She shares the tale of a fisherman who went out fishing somewhere between Vito and Molocaboc, but his way was blocked by a hunk of driftwood as he tried to navigate the waters. No matter how much he tried to shake off the piece of wood, it keeps getting on his way, so he was forced to take it with him in his banca.
Back at his home, he tried to chop, turn it to firewood, even burn it, but no dice. It did not reduce to ashes – it merely turned black. It just turned black. He decided to carve it instead, and while carving, a face started to form.
When he was done, he realized that he had carved a statue that we now know as the statue of San Vicente Ferrer. Other stories say that he had already had dreams or visions of the saint even before he went out fishing and that was probably the reason why it was the face that he had carved.
During the Holy Week, the statue is driven to Molocaboc and back again to Vito in a procession. Belinda recalls in her childhood that the celebrant priest that first said mass in the Church was a Spaniard, which means that Spaniards have been taking care of the parish for decades before a Filipino took over.
Belinda also shares that she once witnessed a woman knee-walking her way into the church from the side of the road.
The women, it turned out, was fulfilling her panaad, her sacred vow, to the saint to do just that – walk on her knees into the church from the roadside – should she be healed.
The palapak, on the other hand, is when the statue is placed on top of someone’s body part that needs healing, sort of like a barefoot massage.
This is still being practiced to this day.
Francesca Mahilum is another devotee.
Years ago, she took her son, Romeo, to the church to pray for his healing. The child unfortunately collided with a heavy wooden chair that trampled on his chest, fracturing him and damaging his lungs. The statue was placed on him and he survived. He now captains a local cargo ship and is alive and well.
However, Belinda Quidong says that the locals don’t really practice Palapak and ironically are not the mainstay devotees. The ones that regularly visit are a mix of foreigners and people from different parts of the Philippines. They usually arrive on Thursday and spend the night in their cars or in a karinderya they frequent. When the pandemic happened, the visitors lessened but just this Friday (2 April 2021), which is Good Friday and the first Friday of the month, a lot of visitors came. I was one of them. While I didn’t witness a woman knee-walking, I did see a lot of people attending the mass, praying at the back, lighting candles and touching the statue. I also saw the statue while they were loading it to be taken to the procession. Vendors crowded the parking area selling candles, rosaries and other handmade products that had the image of San Vicente Ferrer.
It was quite an exhausting trip and I can’t imagine how some people are able to do that on a weekly basis. Then again, I’m not really a devotee. I am filled with awe and confusion at the same time. Awe at how some people are able to dedicate their lives to their faith to that extent and confused as to what it is that moves them to have that much faith. If you have plans on seeing the church, be prepared for a two and a half hour drive from Bacolod City North Terminal (one way). It’s near the seaport so put on some sunscreen or bring an umbrella. Bring your camera or make sure that your phone is fully charged and you have back backup because there are a lot of beautiful sceneries to capture. Lastly, bring some extra cash. You will find that scallops, dried fish and a variety of shellfish are abundant and affordable. Be careful, drive safe and enjoy!