MALVAR, Batangas -- Prayer and pedal power took the spotlight as Lima Park Hotel held its 5th annual Bisikleta Iglesia, an organized 48-km bicycle ride around Lipa, Batangas to visit seven churches.
A brainchild of Lima Park Hotel resident manager Bong Evangelista, the first Bisikleta Iglesia took off five years ago with him, Lima Park chef Paul Poblador, and 20 other participants from the local cycling community in the group. This year, it has grown to include around 200 participants with support vehicles for food, water, and first aid. They also shortened the route so that beginners can participate.
Bisikleta Iglesia is part of Lima Park Hotel's Bisita Batangas initiative, in which the hotel encourages weekend tourists from all over the Philippines by organizing special activities that highlight the province’s attractions.
“Batangas is known for sports tourism and faith-based tourism. Bisikleta Iglesia is the best of both,” said Lima Park Hotel marketing and communication director Rose Landicho.
This year, the ride leader carried a cross on his back, while 14 other riders volunteered to carry cardboard Stations of the Cross, which were used during each stop.
"Running priest" Fr. Robert Reyes returned this year as the ride’s chaplain. “I’ve always seen faith as not exclusively indoor. There’s a very serious need to bring faith out of the catacombs and out of the sacristy. It’s always been my church, the church of the outdoors,” he remarked.
Next year, the hotel is expecting more participants by promoting the event much earlier. Fr. Reyes even coined a new catchphrase this year: “Padyak na, dasal pa!” For next year’s ride, he will be writing specialized cycling meditations for each Station of the Cross.
Here are highlights from this year's ride:
Cyclists started arriving at the Lima Park Hotel at 5:30 a.m. A simple but hearty breakfast of arroz caldo all you can was provided by the organizers. A few words from Lima Park Hotel management and Rebecca Lapid, Department of Tourism’s director for faith-based tourism, preceded a blessing by Fr. Robert Reyes who led the riders in prayer and activity's new cheer: "Padyak na, Dasal Pa!" Photo by author
The peloton of riders departed the Lima Industrial Park and into J.P. Laurel Highway. It was a long gradual climb to the turnoff going to the STAR Tollway. It was off this road that the Sto. Nino Parish Church was located. This was the newest church on the list serving small subdivisions in the area. Photo by author
The cyclists then crossed the STAR Tollway and enjoyed a scenic descent past several honeybee farms into Balete. The Marian Orchard is decorated with Greek statues and has a small picturesque chapel built among a sea of greens. Photo by author
What goes down, must go up. If there was a “penitensya” section of Bisikleta Iglesia, this was it. The most challenging part of the ride was the almost 200-meter climb spread across 4 kms back up the STAR Tollway. Photo by author
There was a brief stopover for water and bananas before heading into downtown Lipa to visit the Redemptorist Divino Amor Chapel. This chapel was an oasis of green in the middle of the bustling city center. Photo by author
Fr. Robert Reyes would lead the peloton in prayer, meditating upon two stations per church. He would occasionally tie in his talks with cycling and make the stations relatable to his audience in lycra. Photo by author
The next three churches were clustered together but took some time to ride to because of the traffic. Cyclists went deeper into the city and down into Barangay Antipolo to find the relatively new Parish of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. With brick steps leading to the church, and a separate bell tower, this was one of the most scenic churches on the route. Photo by author
Going up P. Torres St. was frustrating because of the traffic and ongoing construction. Nevertheless, the group made it to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Monastery a short distance away. This monastery is famous for apparition of the Lady, Mediatrix of Grace in 1948 and the multiple occasions where rose petals fell from the sky. Photo by author
A short distance up P. Torres St. is the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Sebastian. Commonly known as the Lipa Cathedral, this is the seat of the Diocese of Lipa and one of the most imposing structures in the city. This is one of the first stops for pilgrims coming to Lipa to visit the churches and monasteries in the area. Photo by author
From the Cathedral, the route going to the next church, the Parish Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, took cyclists out of the urban sprawl into spectacular views of green fields with Mt. Malarayat in the background. By this time, the sun was high up in the sky and the heat was enough to add difficulty to the gradual climb up to this secluded church. Photo by author
From Mt. Malarayat, a lot of cyclists rode at an easy pace back to the main highway. More experienced riders took pleasure in sprinting back to the hotel enjoying the smooth road and light traffic. Lima Park Hotel prepared a hearty lunch with singing, raffles, and thanksgiving for a safe ride out into the churches of Batangas. Photo by author