Fine Sunday morning started inside a jam-packed ordinary mini-bus from Cebu City. The bus continued to load passengers as it moved toward the South Cebu road. It was my first time to wander and visit a destination since I started to work in Cebu.
Our destination that day was the Marian Hill or famously called as the Simala Church in the municipality of Sibonga. We alighted at the Sibonga Church and the next part was a very risky yet exciting first-time experience.
I found myself back-riding on a habal-habal, and the thrilling part was we were 3 on the vehicle, excluding the driver. I completely gripped the handle on the rear part of the motorcycle’s seat to ensure my safety. The trip even brought a bit of scare when I found out that the road has numerous curves while going up the hill.
A feeling of relief was felt when I finally saw the grand structure of Simala Church. As if I was transported somewhere in Europe as I stared at the architecture of the pilgrimage site found atop of a hill. An image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is located on the uppermost part of the church’s façade and is evident upon entry.
We climbed the flight of stairs going to the chapel and went directly on the line of faithful queuing to get closer to the miraculous image of Virgin Mary. We were required to take off our footwear as a sign of respect to the pilgrimage site. Large frames installed on the walls of the hall store all petitions and prayer requests in the past that are believed to be granted by the miraculous image.
But what really got my attention was the wheel chairs and crutches with Thank You letters of the faithful. On their letters, they detailed out the miracles that have happened to them.
After the veneration, we proceeded on the gallery where several versions of the Our Lady are being housed such as Our Lady of Snow, Our Lady in Turzovka, Our Lady of Perpetual, and Our Lady of Sorrows. You can also found a frame of the original vestments that the image used from 1999 to 2009. Aside from the vests, different rosaries used to adorn the religious image were also archived in the gallery.
Stations of the Cross are also available on the left part of the church traversing the castle-like hallways. This part of the pilgrimage site gives a panoramic view of the hill. A mini-forest park is also available near the main entry point.
We were fortunate to visit Simala Church on a Sunday so we also waited for the 12 noon mass. It was my first time to attend and finish a mass that utilized a language out of my known languages. Mass was celebrated in Bisaya language.
Simala Church is considerably far from Cebu City but the destination deserves a visit. The architecture is really exemplary but we should stick with the main goal of the pilgrimage site, to reflect and strengthen our faith.
HOW TO GET TO SIMALA CHURCH
Make your way to South Cebu Bus Terminal located at N Bacalso Avenue, Cebu City. You can take Ceres buses bound to Sibonga, fare is at Php 65 and travel time is 1.5 hours. An alternative is via the ordinary buses bound to Simala/Sibonga, fare at Php 50. You can drop off at Sibonga Church where habal-habal are available that can take you directly to Simala Church. Php 50 per head for roundtrip fare.