BERN, Switzerland - Religious pilgrimages are becoming more popular among Filipinos in Switzerland, with the visits to religious sites in Europe being organized almost year-round.
The religious tours cater to the Filipino’s strong religiosity and to their desire to visit these religious sites.
The travelers from here also take advantage of the open borders since March 2009 in the 25-member Schengen states, with which Switzerland has a travel agreement. Schengen travel is visa-free and there are no more compulsory border checks.
A variety of groups also sponsor the religious pilgrimages. Among them are the Philippine Catholic Mission of Switzerland based in Zürich; the Journey of Hope Simbahang Pilipino (JOHSPO) based in Basel which sponsors trips for its members, women’s groups like the Samahang Pilipina Bern and various individual initiatives.
Among the most popular destinations are the Shroud of Turin in Torino, Italy; the Chapel of the Lady of Miraculous Medal in Paris; the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Portugal; and religious sites in Israel.
Marian devotees are also taking advantage of the offers. There are several major Marian shrines considered most significant for their apparitions and miracles located in Europe. Among them the Black Madonna of Cz?stochowa in Poland; Our Lady of Fatima in Fátima, Portugal; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France; and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, France.
Early this month, the Samahang Pilipina Bern sponsored a trip to the Chapel of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Paris where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared in an apparition to Catherine Laboure, who was later canonized as a saint.
“First time kong napuntahan ang place ng mga Sisters (Miraculous Medal chapel). Iba talaga ang feeling 'yung nasa loob. Ma-feel mo talaga yung espirito ni Jesus na ma-refresh ka uli,” said Sr. Felipa Nievas.
Anny Hefti-Misa, founder of the Samahang Pilipina Bern, said their organization’s aim in sponsoring the trip “is to bring Filipinas to the good sites in Europe. But it is not only the good sites. It is also the spiritual sites”.
Filipinos are taking advantage of sponsored trips because they are cheaper compared to the trips organized by the travel bureaus. In the 2-day Paris trip, participants only paid 120-130 euros each, including the hotel and tour bus.
In October 2009, the Philippine Catholic Mission of Switzerland hosted a 6-day pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal. The 1,100 Swiss francs for adults and 1,000 francs for children already included the airfare, hotel and meals.
The JOHSPO based in Basel, meanwhile, is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in April next year. The pilgrimage, exclusive to JOHSPO members, costs 160 euros for the flight.
Schengen travel benefits
Aside from tourists who want to travel through the European continent, Switzerland's inclusion into the Schengen territory has benefited non-European nationals residing in Switzerland who previously needed a separate visa to enter other Schengen nations.
Swiss officials said they joined the agreement to have access to Schengen security data and provide the country with more knowledge about terrorism, criminal threats and asylum seekers.