The statues of the Stations of the Cross and the stairs going up the Holy White Cross atop the Banal na Bundok in Balingkupang, San Miguel Bulacan. Photo by Anton Luis Catindig

SAN MIGUEL, Bulacan—More than three hours travel, eighty kilometers northeast of Metro Manila and an almost 2 hours-50 km distance from Bulacan’s capital City of Malolos, Holy Week pilgrims from all over the country flock to what officials and residents of the town call the “Banal na Bundok,” (Holy Mountain) in the uphill Biak-na-Bato here.

While local folks traditionally brace the heat of the morning and afternoon sun walking and climbing the stairs to where the miraculous “White Holy Cross” of the Banal na Bundok in Sitio, Balingkupang, Biak-na-Bato every Holy Monday, many groups from different provinces and areas pay visit as early as a week and days before the Lenten Season began.

On Wednesday, (March 29), about a hundred members of “Kapatirang Divine Mercy Missionary” from Paligui, Candaba, Pampanga and from other places in the country and the world—Manila, Ilocos region, United States and Japan paid homage  to the White Cross in the “Holy Land”.

The Holy White Cross beside the Black Nazarene Chapel on top of Banal na Bundok. Photo by Anton Luis Catindig

Constancia Arceo-Sanchez, 63, knowns as “Apo Conching” with her flock visited Banal na Bundok for the second time to continue to bring their faith closer to God as they fulfill their mission of helping the needy.

For Apo Conching, the mountain place is sacred just like when Jesus Christ performed miracles in the mountains and who was crucified in the Mountain of Golgotha.

“Christ went to the mountains where He performed miracles. He showed love, humility, as he followed the will of God. The blood of Christ saved mankind not only through sacrifices of offering animals but his own blood as the Son of God,” she said.  

“We come here for the second time to pray and strengthen our devotion. Coming here reminds us of Christ’s sacrifices which should be remembered by all the people,” she said.

For Apo Conching, all men are sinners and no one can equal to Christ the Son of God but through prayers and the Holy Spirit, one can be forgiven by God and follow His desires.

The 22 year old missionary group has been helping detainees inside the Baliwag Municipal Jail with their food and personal hygiene kits including the illegal drug residents in the town’s rehabilitation center. They also regularly bring food, clothes and personal hygiene kits to different orphanage in Bulacan and in Bicol. 

“We follow and obey God’s command to help our needy brothers and sisters. The Holy Mountain and the Holy Cross make all of us ready in fulfilling this mission of helping others,” Apo Conching told NEWS CORE.  

At the peak of the mountain after about 45 huge steps in a stair is the now concretized colored white Holy Cross located just beside the Black Nazarene chapel. At the lower ground of the Holy Cross is a marker of the devotion and prayer to Christ which reads, “Mahal na Panginoong Hesuskristo, ang iyong BANAL NA KRUS ang nagdudulot ng kapayapaan, kalayaan at kaluwalhatian dito sa mundong ibabaw. Iyo ring tinuran ang marapat naming dalhin, ang aming kani-kaniyang KRUS upang kaming iyong mga nilalang ay makasunod sa Iyong dakilang daan,” (Our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, your Holy Cross provides for peace, freedom and glory in the whole world. Please teach us to bear the crosses and trials of our own in order for us to follow and abide with You and the path that you took).

The devotee, according to the prayer guide, should ask for forgiveness of his sins and seek blessings from God in order for his wishes and desires to be granted.

The huge chapel was built today by San Miguel Mayor Rhoderick Tiongson beside the Banal na Bundok to  accommodate hundreds of pilgrims coming to the place particularly during the annual Lenten Season. Photo by Anton Luis Catindig

Lourdes Concon, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) from Japan who hails from Balagtas town in Bulacan and a member of the group came home to the country this Lenten Season to visit the Holy Mountain to thank God for the blessings she and her family receive all throughout her many years of working abroad.

Teresita Caparaz, 64, a caretaker in the holy place said miracles happen there every Holy Monday where prayerful devotees came down from the Holy Cross of the Holy Mountain healed of their ailments.

The story traced back to 1999 when a flock of eagles suddenly appeared on top of the Holy Mountain on a Holy Monday and a huge formation of white clouds sits on top of the colored white wooden-Holy Cross.

Joel Nolasco, 64, a local devotee in Balingkupang told Inquirer that the place is sacred because it was a former cultural and spiritual fortress of the indigenous Dumagat tribe. The Dumagat pray in the place and it was where they also buried their chieftains during the old times.

Biak-na-Bato is also a National Shrine. Its caves are famous due to its historic significance asFilipino revolutionaries led by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo used the caves as a hideout when fighting the Spanish military forces at the end of the 19th century. The group was called Katipunan, and they founded the Biak na Bato Republic on November 1, 1897.

Jaime Salvador-Corpuz, a heritage icon of Bulacan and a history and cultural book writer hails the Holy Cross and Holy Mountain of Biak-na-Bato because it showcases the uniqueness of the strong faith of the Filipino people.

He said being Christians, there are so many ways in keeping our faith stronger based on our tradition and such a place is just one of them. Also, the Holy Cross and the Holy Mountain attract tourists. “As long as it is not made to form a cult but for Christianity and Catholicism, it is good for the Filipino religious values particularly during this Lenten Season,” he said. 

Teresita Caparaz, a caretaker in the Holy Mountain shows off the t-shirt design with a large cloud formation atop the Holy Cross in Banal na Bundok that was believed to be one of the miracles in the place. Photo by Anton Luis Catindig

Eliseo Dela Cruz, Bulacan provincial tourism officer said although Banal na Bundok originally refers to Mt. Banahaw in Quezon Province, it is very inspiring to hear that pilgrims and tourists also come to San Miguel town for its own version of the Holy Mountain.

He said the Bulacan Provincial Government supports Bulacan’s own “Holy Mountain”.

San Miguel town Mayor Rhoderick Tongson caused the construction of a cemented-Holy Cross on top of the Holy Mountain in 2004 after he personally experienced healings and miracles when he kneel and pray before what he discovered then wooden-white Cross. The wooden white cross since then had disappeared.  

The mayor then developed the place into a Banal na Bundok, built chapels, a Holy White Cross as a prayer monument and the complete stations of the cross going up the mountain top.

He is now constructing a large chapel in the place where  huge number of annual Lenten Season and daily pilgrims can pray and meditate.