The Department of Tourism is looking to promote “Faith Tourism” as part of its newest promotional campaign dubbed “Colors of Mindanao” which seeks to showcase to showcase various inter- and intra-regional travel circuits in the six regions of Mindanao.
“We are looking to see how we can package Faith Tourism as a holistic experience for our guests,” said DOT Undersecretary for Mindanao Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar.
“When they visit a specific destination, they may be on a pilgrimage to historic churches, shrines and places with religious significance. But they could also experience other attractions along their route such as eco-parks, adventure tours and others that would give them the definitive experience of a particular place.”
In predominantly Catholic Philippines, Faith Tourism often means a pilgrimage for religious reasons or for the purpose of worship. However, Valderossa-Abubakar said there are also mosques, and other historic and culturally significant destinations of other faiths like those of the lumads which can also be included in their itinerary.
For the Misamis Oriental-Cagayan de Oro area, prominent faith tourism destinations include the Divine Mercy Shrine in El Salvador City, Christ the King shrine in Bgy. Samay along the Villanueva-Claveria-Gingoog City Road, and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Barangay Tablon, Cagayan de Oro City.
However, oldest among these is the St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral which dates back to the early history of the Catholic Church in Cagayan de Oro, and its Birhen sa Kota.
Cagayan’s Birhen sa Kota
The Orden de Agustinos Recoletos priests introduced the Virgin of the Holy Rosary (Birhen sa Santo Rosaryo) to the early Kagay-anons when the city was but a settlement where now stands Gaston Park.
In 1622, Christianity was first introduced in the first Kagay-anon settlement in Himolugan, located in a promontory along the Cagayan River (present day Taguanao) next to where now stands the Pelaez bridge.
Through the initiative of Fray Agustin de San Pedro, this early mission was moved to the site of the present St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral. In 1626, a wooden palisade or kota was erected on the eastern side beneath the church and the convent as a protection against the constant depredations of raiders from distant Sultanates who used to raid the village of Cagaiang.
The people used to shelter here whenever the village was under attack and pray to the image of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary which was enshrined in its walls to protect them from danger.
The Legend of the Birhen sa Kota is detailed in the book The Local Historical Sources of Northern Mindanao by the late Fr. Francisco R. Demetrio, S.J. as related to him by Lawyer Juan Regalado.
Regalado tells how one day the villagers were thrown into an uproar as boat loads of raiders were espied coming in from downriver. However, just as quickly, the people saw the boats turn around and beat a hasty retreat.
Later, the villagers learned from one of the attackers how they saw a vision of a woman atop the kota calling on the raiders to turn back while the people were praying for her intercession. Thus, the statue came to be known as “Ang Birhen sa Kota” (Our Lady of the Walls).
Since there are no documented accounts of the miracle, it has remained a legend.
During the time of the American occupation, the image was placed in the right wing of the Cathedral on an altar on the wall parallel to the river and venerated every Saturday, a practice which came to be known as “Sabadohan”.
“The title Birhen sa Bungbong is not because of the apparition, but rather because the image was attached or fixed to the wall,” Fr. Jose Alan P. Pulgo, official historian of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (ACDO). “I would rather use a story that was handed down, rather than a legend.”
The St. Agustin Cathedral has been destroyed four times, including the Second World War when it was bombed during the Liberation by the Americans because it was used by the Japanese Army.
However, the image of the Birhen sa Kota, the icon of St. Agustin, and the Mission Cross dating back to the first village were unscathed.
At the end of the Second World War, Archbishop Santiago Hayes, SJ, DD, had the image brought for safekeeping to the San Jose de Mindanao Seminary in Barangay Camaman-an.
Besides these incidents, many miracles have been attributed to the Birhen sa Kota.
Kagay-anons believed that the statue was miraculous because sick people have been cured whenever they pray to the statue for healing. The icon would be placed on the head of the patients while they were being prayed over (usually during the Sabadohan), and many miraculous cures were reported to have followed.
In August 1967, the image was brought to the Museo de Oro of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, for restoration. In 2008, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, DD and the Museo de Oro agreed to return the image to a secure place in the St. Augustin Metropolitan Cathedral.
“It was returned at the cathedral on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Cagayan de Oro as a Diocese in 2008, and was restored to its rightful place at the Cathedral on August 28, 2008, when it was declared as the second patron of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro by Most Rev. Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines,” Fr. Pulgo noted.
On October 7, 2013, the Feast Day of the Birhen sa Kota of Cagayan de Oro was restored, along with the Sabadohan Debosyon (Saturday Devotion) on October 19, 2013.