Each year, bikers across this Catholic country brave the scorching heat of summer to ride their bikes in a pilgrimage of sorts to at least seven churches. This practice has come to be called Bisikleta Iglesia.
Last time I did this was several years ago with a few biker friends from my hometown Binangonan, Rizal. We went to seven churches in Rizal starting from Cardona, to Morong, Baras, Teresa, Antipolo, Tayuman (Binangonan) and concluded in the Sta. Ursula Parish church of our town. It was a fun ride with friends that was in keeping with the observance of the Lenten season.
This year though, I got an invitation from Lima Park Hotel to try the Bisikleta Iglesia they were organizing in Batangas. Heading the event was no less than legendary ‘running priest’ Fr. Robert Reyes. How could I say no to a chance to bike with Fr. Robert?
The early 90s were a crazy time in UP Diliman. The Eraserheads were still playing campus gigs for pennies and perfecting “Pare Ko,” the UP Mountaineers were playing Spiderman by drilling a climbing wall into the Library building, and a certain priest was lacing up his shoes and clocking in the miles to become a fixture in the academic oval running scene. This was how Fr. Robert got the moniker ‘running priest.’ It was not everyday that you bumped into a man of the cloth who could literally give you a run for your holy communion.
Last Saturday though, Fr. Robert was grinding gears on a bike instead of pounding the pavement. Around a hundred cyclists, including me and Travel Up, had turned up for the Bisikleta Iglesia and Fr. Robert was more than happy to accompany us to this pilgrimage.
Throughout the 14 stations of the cross, Fr. Robert peppered his reflections on the passion and death of Christ with biker-related metaphors. Uphill was ‘kalbaryo’, downhill was ‘langit’, the flat sections of the route were ‘ordinaryong buhay’. Sin was ‘semplang’, and getting back on your bike after a nasty crash was ‘muling pagbangon.’
He also admitted that he had not been on a bike for over a year, and so the Bisikleta Iglesia, especially the uphill ride from the Marian Orchard in Balete, was a ‘pagsubok’.
Interestingly, he also said that sins don’t stop with offense against fellow human beings, but extended to offenses against ‘Inang Kalikasan’ which he reflected on during the fourth station of the cross, ‘Jesus meets Mary’.
Batangas has a lot of historic churches, and its local culture is rich with the pageantry of Catholicism. As we pedaled from one church to another, we met other groups of people who were doing a similar pilgrimage, and church staff and volunteers getting ready for Palm Sunday, which was the next day.
It was cool to visit these houses of worship, marvel at the architecture, and reflect on the hundreds of years that people found meaning in their faith. I would have wanted to go to the much farther churches in Batangas, but the schedule was tight.
Seven churches and 52 kilometers later, we were back at Lima Park Hotel for a well-deserved buffet lunch and a chance to cool off. Fr. Robert suggested that Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg be invited next time. Apparently, if there’s a ‘running priest’, there’s also a ‘biking bishop.’
“We’re slowly attracting more people from different age groups and with different interests to this religious adventure,” Lima Park Hotel’s Resident Manager Bong Evangelista said.
Later in the afternoon, a series of earthquakes struck Batangas. Thankfully, no one got hurt in the series of tremors. Some may consider it a miracle that no one was hurt in these tremors.