Summer is here! It’s really, extremely hot as everybody is intensely busy travelling and vacationing to have fun and kick-off the scorching heat waves of the summer sun. Adventure, excursion, discovering new places and meeting new friends, relaxations, attending art workshops, sports activities, grabbing some cool thirst quenchers and family reunions; these are the indicators that summer is really fun and memorable.
Summer is not all about fun; it is also a time of reflection and renewal of faith to our dear Creator. Each summer, the catholic universe takes a moment of silence to celebrate the greatest history ever told, the holy sacrifices of Jesus. As He is the father of Christianity; and He personally gave his life to save us and the whole world. As the Holy week comes earlier this year, many of us have different ways and ideas to celebrate His holy sufferings.
This summer, treat yourself to a couple of fun and reflection in the Garin Farm at San Joaquin, Iloilo. It is located in the southern part of Iloilo which offers an array of education, adventure and meditation. Indeed the Garin Farm is truly the best pilgrimage and paradise destination in the heart of Panay Island.
At the entrance of the farm the old kamunsil tree will warmly greet the arriving pilgrims. The century old kamunsil tree is the witness to toil needed to make this land of a promise to the Divine Christ as a center for worship and tourist attraction.
As we enter the main gate, the “quack-quack”, “moo-moo” and “mee-mee” of animals raised in the farm are sweet sounds of greeting and welcome. The way to our final destination, the pilgrimage site, is canopied by the vines of squash and bottle green gourd with huge fruits hanging.
A huge stone façade is the entrance to the pilgrimage site which is located at the heart of the farm. The stone frontage is a gate leading to the 456 steps to reach the Divine Holy Cross. The entrance is stumpy so that anyone who enters must bow down, as it symbolizes humility.
The portrayal of the beautiful Garden of Eden will warmly welcome you once you enter the pilgrimage area. The life size statue of Adam and Eve playing with the animals is the main attraction of this scene with a background of waterfalls and lotus pond. The scriptures says it is the representation of creation when God created man from the dust of the earth, gave him a soul, by breathing life into him, and placed him in a beautiful garden, made especially for him. In the garden are all sorts of fruit bearing trees that provide food for the man. God understood that the man should not be alone, and sets out to provide a companion for him. Out of the dust God created animals and all living creatures, but none was found to be a suitable partner for the man. God then caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, took one of his ribs and from it created a woman. Adam and Eve, as the man and woman are called, were not ashamed, though naked, and appeared to have no physical attraction for each other. Among the trees of the garden, is one known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the fruit or they will die. The Serpent, however, convinced Eve that they will not die, but simply become like God. Eve ate of the fruit and gave some to Adam, who did the same. Suddenly they realize that they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. They also tried to hide from God, who when he discovered their disobedience, and newly attained knowledge expel them from the Garden of Eden, and condemns them to a life of physical labor, pain, sorrow and finally death itself, when they will return to the dust from whence they came. The Garden Of Eden Story places Adam and Eve in a state of innocence, from which they apparently must escape, before they can grow in wisdom and knowledge, and begin the procreation of the human race.
Adjacent to Garden of Eden, is the representation of Noah’s Ark surrounded by pairs of every kind of animals reflected as what the biblical stories told during our childhood days and teaches us about setting a good example in our daily lives. As God said to Noah “I will send a great flood, not to destroy the people, but to destroy wickedness and sin”. In obedience to God, Noah built a huge ark for him, to the protection of his family and to all living animals in the preparation for a catastrophic flood that would destroy every living thing on earth.
After the flood, God established a covenant with Noah: “Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” As a sign of this everlasting covenant God set a rainbow in the clouds.
Before we do the first step going to Divine Holy Cross is the vast statue of Moses holding a stone of Ten Commandments. I must persuade you to review the commandments God has taught us and give yourself a moment of silence to reflect. The Ten Commandments were written in two tablets of stone. Moses stayed so long on the mountain of Sinai that the people waiting at the foot of the mountain grew angry. They decided to make another god for themselves. It was a golden calf.
When Moses returned he was shocked to see people dancing and worshipping the golden calf. God forgave his people for worshipping the statue and told Moses to cut two more tablets of stone. Moses took the stone tablets up the mountain and God gave him the Ten Commandments again. When he came down all the people listened to Moses as he told them what God had said. Moses promised God that Hebrews would keep all of the Commandments which symbolize obedience and being truthful to God.
As we climb the white stairs towards the Divine Holy Cross, take time to contemplate the life of Jesus. Our journey will start with the birth of Jesus Christ. As we reflect on what the angel told Mary “Therefore the Lord God gave himself a sign to you through the Holy Spirit, you Virgin will give birth to a son of God and you will call him Emmanuel”.
Next attraction is the Baptism of Jesus in the River of Jordan. Baptism is the holy sacrament when one enters the Christian world. It also signifies the birth, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and remission of sins. As the scriptures told John was reluctant to baptize Jesus, who said “I have needed to be baptized by you.” John knew that Jesus was the son of God. Jesus had no need to be forgiven of sins because he was sinless. Knowing John’s reluctance, Jesus told him, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” So John obeyed Jesus and baptized him in the Jordan River.
When Jesus came out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, and the voice of God spoke from Heaven, saying “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”.
Following his baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Then, Jesus began his ministry after these events.
Another important event in Jesus life is His Triumphant Entry in the Town of Jerusalem. Domingo de Ramos is a well-known Christian celebration to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We welcome it by raising and waving palm fronds over the mass or precession as a sign of victory. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who came in the name of the Lord”. 2 Kings 9:13
As we go up, we are awed by the beautiful sceneries of the town of San Joaquin. It is a very pleasurable experience when you reach halfway on the 456 steps of the pilgrimage. And we meditate to the Last Supper. As the Holy book told that on the first day of the Passover feast, Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead with very specific instructions on where to prepare the Passover meal. That evening Jesus sat down at the table with the 12 apostles to eat his final meal before going to the cross. As they dined together, he told the twelve that one of them would soon betray him. One by one they questioned, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?” Jesus explained that even though he knew he would die his betrayer’s fate would be terrible: “Far better for him if he had never been born”.
Then Jesus took the bread and the wine and asked his Father to bless it. He broke the bread into pieces, giving it to his disciples and said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”.
And then he took the cup of wine, sharing it with his disciples and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you, an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you. He told all of them, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it anew with you in my Father’s Kingdom”. Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mountain of Olives.
As we continue, here lies the Agony in the Garden Scene. As I read excerpts on my via crucis guide “And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and his disciples all followed him. And when he was at the place, he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but your will be done”.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an Agony, he prayed more earnestly. His sweat was as it were drops of blood falling down to the ground. When he rose up from prayer, and was came to his disciples, he found them sleeping. In sorrow he said unto them, “Why did you sleep? Rise and pray, It would not bring you enter into temptation”.
The next scene is the Scourging at the Pillar. It was indeed a sad story, but the scourging can be an effective motivation for a good examination of conscience as we imagine the strikes on his sacred back, each strike could heal anybody’s soul. As we reflect Isaiah 50:6 said “I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me”.
The next representation is the Crucifixion of Jesus. Before you enter the scene you will see people dressed as roman soldiers around and dramatization is presented of people coming to the crucified Christ. As known to everybody Jesus was led to Golgotha where he would be crucified. Before they nailed him to the cross, a mixture of vinegar, gall, and myrrh was offered. Stake-like nails were driven through his wrists and ankles, fastening him to the cross where he was crucified between two convicted criminals.
During that time, soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing, while people passed by shouting insults and scoffing. From the cross, Jesus spoke to his mother Mary and the disciple John. He also cried out to his father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that point, darkness covered the land; an earthquake shook the ground, ripping the Temple veil in two from top to bottom. And a moment of silence to say “oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need of your mercy”.
After all of the sufferings of Jesus, we go in the cave of Resurrection. Alleluia! As we go over the main points the bible story of Christ’s resurrection it says, after Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea had Christ’s body placed in his own tomb. A large stone covered the entrance and soldiers guarded the sealed tomb. On the third day, a Sunday, several women headed by Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, Mary Salome and Mary Joanna went to the tomb at dawn to anoint the body of Jesus. A violent earthquake took place as an angel from heaven rolled back the stone. The guards shook in fear as the angel, was dressed in bright luminous white, sat upon the stone. The angel announced to the women that Jesus who was crucified was no longer in the tomb, “Alleluia! Christ is risen, Alleluia!” just as he said. Then he instructed the women to inspect the tomb and see for themselves. Next he told them to go inform the disciples.
With a mixture of fear and joy they ran to obey the angel’s command, but suddenly Jesus met them on their way. They fell at his feet and worshiped him. Jesus then said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me”. They gathered in a house for a prayer and He also appeared at the Sea of Galilee while several of the disciples were fishing.
The next attraction is the Ascension of Jesus. In this representation you will be amazed at what you see, the suspended Christ’s statue. It really feels that you were in the actual event of Christ Ascension. As we contemplate a short ascension story it states that forty days after his resurrection, Jesus called his apostles together on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem. And Jesus said “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
Then Jesus was taken up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. As the disciples were watching him ascend, two angels dressed in white robes stood beside them and asked why they were looking into the sky. The angels said: “The same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
As we walk near the Holy Divine Cross, the life size statue of Divine mercy greets you. Then we give our final prayer to the Divine Creator, and we conclude with “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
After ascending the 456 steps of pilgrimage the feeling of being tired and exhausted will be healed upon reaching the foundation of the Holy Divine Cross. Aha! Make a wish. Make your petitions. Give thanks to God. It feels just like you reached heaven, a paradise perhaps as we feast our eyes on the lush beauty of God’s creation. At the top, you will see the verdant mountains, plains, the rivers of San Joaquin and the deep blue waters of Iloilo’s Southern Coast and China Sea horizons.
Right after the pilgrimage, treat yourself to the scrumptious Garin Farm’s produce. They offer delicious organic food ranging from pork, chicken, beef and fish dishes and grab their delicious ice cream on sticks in different flavors. Indeed, that is not the end, shout-out your fears to their superman ride and zip line. Enjoy boating and fishing in their beautiful lagoon, horseback riding and take a plunge to the cool waters of their infinity pool.
At the end of the pilgrimage and adventure, buy some organic stuffs such as poultry products, freshly harvest fruits and vegetables, coconut sugar and vinegar are a worth pasalubong for friends and loved ones.
We end our trip by offering a prayer at the historic Church of San Joaquin, 10 minutes away from the Garin Farm. The church has mossy coral façade depicting the celebrated victory of Spanish Calvary against moors in the Battle of Tetuan. The church was erected in 1859 by Fray Tomas Santaren and was completely finished in 1869.