Bisikleta Iglesia 2019: Pedal and pray in 7 Batangas churches

Jeeves de Veyra

Posted at Apr 18 2019 09:44 AM | Updated as of Apr 18 2019 04:16 PM

Lima Park Hotel’s annual Bisikleta Iglesia once again brought together pedal and prayer power for a unique Lenten pilgrimage.

One hundred twenty bikers cycled through a new route that brought them through 7 churches around two cities and two towns across the faith-tourism region of southeastern Batangas.

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Now on its sixth year, this ride brought cyclists to different churches they have never visited before. One of the major complaints last year was the heavy traffic after going to prayer spots in the Lipa suburbs.

“The ambulances and backup vehicles got left behind last year because of the traffic in Lipa,” said Lima Park Hotel resident manager Bong Evangelista. The churches in the city have been replaced by those out in the provincial roads, including the National Shrine of Padre Pio in Sto. Tomas Batangas.

Fr. Robert Reyes, the running priest, returned as Bisikleta Iglesia’s chaplain-on-the-move.

“When you bike, you don’t only bike because of your health. You bike because you want to become a good spouse, a good parent, and a good professional. You bike because you want to be a good Christian, a good son of God, a good disciple of Jesus, and offer the sacrifice for all the challenges and difficulties the country is facing right now,” he said.

The ride was generally better this year as it was more organized. Fr. Robert commended the organizers saying that cyclists had more time in the churches. The prayers and talks inside the churches were more intimate and structured.

Fr. Robert said there are plans to expand Bisikleta Iglesia to other provinces next year. In line with this, he is planning to publish a special prayer book with meditations especially for cyclists. 

Next year’s Lima Park Hotel Bisikleta Iglesia has already been announced and it will be held on its traditional date, the Saturday before Palm Sunday or on April 4, 2020.

View the slideshow below for a glimpse of this year’s event:

KM 0: Lima Park Hotel - Malvar, Batangas

Participants started streaming in to the Lima Park Batangas ballroom at 5 a.m. Cyclists were treated to a hearty breakfast of steaming hot lugaw and coffee. 

At around 6 a.m., the ride’s safety officers came to explain the route and safety procedures. Brother Michael Delos Reyes gave a short talk about the history of the Visita Iglesia tradition. 

Fr. Robert Reyes, the famed running priest, chose 14 cyclists to carry the Stations of the Cross that would be used as meditations for the seven churches. 

Cyclists got their bikes ready and congregated at the start arch. The riders took off at around 6:30 a.m.

KM 5.9: Sto Nino Parish – Marawoy, Lipa City, Batangas

Like last year’s Bisikleta Iglesia, the Sto. Nino Parish was the first stop on the tour. This year, though, the church was open for the cyclists to come in and pray.

At the first stop, Fr. Robert’s meditation was about the community of cycling. While it is perfectly okay to ride alone, it is another experience to ride as part of a group. 

KM 11: St. Therese of the Child Jesus – Talisay, Batangas

St. Therese of the Child Jesus is a spectacular church, especially with the backdrop of blue skies and the Malarayat Golf and Country Club.

This was the last stop in last year’s Bisikleta Iglesia where cyclists had to pedal the unshaded stretch of the Lipa-Alaminos road under the noonday sun. This year, the experience was much more comfortable at 8 in the morning.

Fr. Robert talked about long distance cycling and the importance of listening to our bodies. The roads are not always safe and cyclists have to keep awake. If one doesn’t sleep, one gets careless and reckless. Sleep and prayer are what Fr. Robert recommends to keep cyclists safe on the road.

KM 12.8: St. Francis of Paola, Minim Nuns – Mabini, Batangas

Further along the Lipa-Alaminos Road is the small chapel of St. Francis of Paola, a church run by the Minim Nuns. This year’s Bisikleta Iglesia had several of the churches’ takers coming out to meet the Fr. Robert and the cyclist pilgrims.

Sister Rosa Maria, the Mother Superior of the church, echoed Fr. Robert’s meditation on nature. Cyclists are some of the most environmentally aware people on the planet, though sometimes they are ashamed to admit it. 

Fr. Robert encourages cyclists to stand proud and say, “Yes, I am a cyclist! Yes, I am an advocate of the environment! Yes, I want to become a friend of mother earth! Yes, I oppose illegal mining, illegal logging, and illegal land grabbing!” He encouraged listeners to stand up for their convictions.

KM 26: National Shrine of Padre Pio – Sto. Tomas, Batangas

The 14-kilometer downhill from Mabini was a refreshing, virtually no-pedaling segment. There was occasional traffic because of buses carrying pilgrims doing their own Bisita Iglesia around Lipa. But trees and Batangas provincial roads were a breath of fresh air for urban riders.

Fr. Jojo Gonda, rector of Shrine of Padre Pio, welcomed the group into the St. John Vianney Chapel of Reconciliation, noting that the participants were the first pilgrim cyclists to hold an organized visit there. He talked about the shrine and the expected two million visitors he is expecting this year.

Fr. Robert continued his environmental piece, saying that cyclists should embrace their role as prophets of a clean and safe future, also acknowledging the dangers of global warming and dirty energy.

KM 32.3: St. John the Evangelist – Tanauan, Batangas

The road out of Padre Pio was a bottleneck because of a busy intersection. At this point, the sun was up and scorching hot. Nevertheless, cyclists rode out from Sto. Tomas into Tanauan. 

St. John the Evangelist makes the case for why Batangas, notably the Sto. Tomas-Lipa Area, is a center for faith-based tourism. The church is in a suburb of Tanauan, and yet is a breathtaking structure.

“Hindi ka siklista kung hindi ka sumemplang sa buhay mo,” said Fr. Robert. “The fall is part of the journey.” Cyclists just have to get back up. He likens this to when Jesus Christ fell on the road to Golgotha – he got up because he had Simon of Cyrene to help him. In the same way, when cyclists fall, they are not alone and will always have help to get back up.

KM 34.3: FAITH Colleges Stopover – Tanauan, Batangas

FAITH Colleges. Jeeves de Veyra

Cyclists were welcomed into the expansive Tanauan campus of the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities or FAITH, a sister organization of the Lima Park Hotel. 

Volunteers gave out bananas, hard boiled eggs, and water which would be needed to tackle the tortuous ascent from Tanauan to Lima.

KM 36: Nuestra Señora Dela Soledad – Tanauan, Batangas

Last year, the hardest part of Bisikleta Iglesia was the climb from the Marian Orchard back to the STAR Tollway. This year, it was the climb from Tanauan that was done under the noonday sun. The sixth church was a welcome intermission two kilometers from the start.

Fr. Robert recalled his own personal experience during the Marian Orchard climb, saying that he wanted to just stop. Fortunately for him, there were cyclists who laid their hands on his back and made the climb more manageable by pushing him. 

Fr. Robert talked about Jesus’ fall from Simon of Cyrene, citing situations where stronger cyclists help weaker cyclists in a similar fashion. He encouraged a culture of the strong helping the weak in this time of suspicion, jealousy, and factionalism to give way to friendship and reconciliation.

KM 38.5: Immaculate Conception Parish – Malvar, Batangas

This quaint church on J.P. Laurel Highway was the last stop of this year’s Bisikleta Iglesia.

Fr. Robert took some time to get feedback from selected participants of the ride. Some were new and didn’t know what to expect. Some were veterans who’ve been riding the Bisikleta Iglesia ever since the first iteration six years ago. There was an emotional speech from a Turkish long-distance rider who was an asylum seeker who rode all the way from Manila.

KM 44: Lima Park Hotel – Malvar, Batangas

Lima Park Hotel. Jeeves de Veyra

The last segment of the Bisikleta Iglesia gave new meaning to the word “penitensiya.” With 7 kilometers and a 100-meter vertical climb to go under the hellish noontime sun, cyclists had to dig deep to finish the ride. One could imagine the cheers participants made upon seeing the entrance to the Lima Technology Center. A left turn and a quick downhill through a tunnel led to the ride’s end.

Lima Park Hotel hosted a thanksgiving buffet lunch for a safe and well-organized ride. Prizes were raffled out and certificates of participation were given to the bikers. 

Most importantly, Bisikleta Iglesia 2020 was also announced to be held on April 4, 2020 to the cheering and applause of the riders in ballroom.