ANTIPOLO CITY — After three years, Ashley Mendoza finally has returned to Antipolo Cathedral, the place she had visited annually to find comfort, hope, and repentance since she was 12.
“Masaya. Masarap sa pakiramdam mag-balik dito. Ilang taong nakasanayan mo kasi, nawala," she enthused. "Ang sarap ng feeling noong natatanaw ko na ang simbahan. Ibang klase pag papalapit ka na."
(I'm happy. It feels good to be back. I haven't been here in 3 years. It felt so good seeing the church. It's a different feeling.)
Mendoza walked to the church from her home in San Juan. While the 4-hour journey pales to the suffering Jesus Christ endured more than 2,000 years ago, when he died on the cross, Mendoza said the arduous trek gives her faith renewed focus.
Each step, the devotee said, is a time for reflection and repentance.
“Para kay Jesus itong Alay Lakad. Sacrifice din 'yung mga ginawa niya para sa atin. Kahit saglit na oras naman," she explained.
(This is for Jesus. He sacrificed for us, so it is but fitting that I give Him the gift of my time.)
Mendoza hopes she will return home with yet another chance to be a better child of God.
A string of families, including young children and senior citizens, flocked to the Antipolo Cathedral for the Alay Lakad, where devotees trek to the International Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage starting Holy Thursday afternoon.
Chen Falco shared she brought along her children, hoping they would grow up religiously practicing the penitentiary walk like Mendoza.
“Habang bata pa sila alam nila feeling ng Alay Lakad. Gusto ko mapalapit sila sa Diyos,” she said. “Mas maganda kasi pag kompleto kami maglakad. Mas marami kang matanggap na biyaya.”
(We want them to know the feeling of taking part in the Alay Lakad at a young age. It's better if we walk as a whole family, we feel more blessed.)
Apart from her kids, her 64-year old father also joined the throng of faithfuls heading to Antipolo Cathedral by foot.
“Ngayong matanda na ako, gusto ko subukan. Taon-taon sila maliban noong pandemic,” he explained.
(Now that I am old, I want to try it. They are here every year except during the pandemic.)
According to the Falco patriarch, he observed the tradition to ask for forgiveness.
“Syempre, Siya, nagpahirap. Gusto ko din gampanan kung ano [ang] sinakripisyo Niya para sa tao. Gusto ko sa pag Alay Lakad may ginagawa tayo sa Kanya,” he added.
Along with Manuel, the family’s fur babies Twinkle and Cass also participated in the Alay Lakad for the first time. The Falcos said they brought along their dogs, which they consider family members, as joining the walk of faith is more meaningful if done as a family.
“Bonding na din as a family. Feeling mo blessed ka na nagagawa niyo ito nang complete kayo,” Chen said. “Sa Alay Lakad, kahit malayo wala kami maramdaman na pagod.”
(This is our family bonding. You feel blessed if you do this as a whole family. Even if we had to walk far, we don't feel tired.)
Ardin Topacio, on the other hand, trekked the kilometers-long path with his chosen family — his childhood friends.
Most of them had been taking part in the Alay Lakad since 2011. “Nakakagaan ng loob manghingi ng kapatawaran,” he stated.
(It feels like a burden is lifted when we ask for forgiveness.)
Father Reynante Tolentino, the rector of Antipolo Cathedral, said they were expecting some 6 million devotees to head to the church.
Antipolo Chief of Police Lt. Col. June Paolo Abrazad said more than 300 cops and around 350 force multipliers were deployed in the area to ensure the security of the devotees.
There were also volunteers from the local government and various groups that assisted.