If you’re up for a road trip this Holy Week season (and if you’re one of those who don’t fancy Boracay or Puerto Galera this season), this historical church in the Northern part of the Metro might be an option for you.
Built during the 1750’s, the San Pascual de Baylon Parish Church or most popularly known to many as the Church of Obando Bulacan, is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. The construction of the church during the Spanish occupation was commissioned by the Franciscan Order, led by Rev. P. Manuel de Olivencia, who was also the first parish priest of the church.
While the church was destroyed during the Second World War (in the 1940s), when it was greatly affected by the clashes between the Japanese and the American-Filipino joint troops, later on, through the efforts of the Obandeno parishioners and Rev. Fr. Marcos Punzal, it was rebuilt again (in two years).
The structure of San Pascual de Baylon Parish Church was altered a bit over the years from its original form – from what used to be a fully abode wall, now the facade and most of its exterior were painted, which gives it a more “modern” feel instead of an old rustic impression. The octagon shaped bell tower was also polished with paint, compared to other bell towers of other old churches; its five-story structure has a more “modern” feel to it.
The church’s interior, though, still manifests the Spanish structure concept, e.g. having minimal designs, a detailed painting on its arc and an antique chandelier with Capiz lights to give the main altar a more dramatic illumination.
On its main altar, the icon of San Pascual de Baylon stands. San Pascual, a Spanish friar and a Franciscan, is the foremost patron of Obando Church.
“San Pascual de Baylon is one of our patrons here in Obando Church. It is believed during the early times, that San Pascual was the patron who helped the early Filipinos fulfill their wishes. And the college here in Obando, Bulacan was also named after San Pascual de Baylon, to honor the blessing he has bestowed upon. Our parish also manages the school,” said Rev. Fr. Avelino Sampana, priest of Obando Church.
And in the middle of the main altar stands the statue of Nuestra Senora de Salamabao. The Blessed Virgin Mary is shown with her hands clasped together in a prayerful manner while standing on a net, while a fisherman on the side is shown holding a small net. She is the patron of fishermen; it is believed that the image was found when a group of fishermen thought they caught a big fish, though when they retrieved it, they saw the image of the Virgin Mary standing upright in the net.
“Our Lady of Salambao, on the other hand, is believed to be a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was found by a group of fishermen. It was also during that time, when the harvesting fishes was close to scarcity – but then they retrieved the image of Our Lady of Salambao. The fishermen tried to bring back the image to Navotas, but they experienced several hardships, so then they eventually decided to bring it to Obando instead,” Rev. Fr. Sampana said.
Salambaw is a fishing net with bamboo frames that support the catching tool.
On the right side of the main altar is the image of Santa Clara.
San Pascual de Baylon Parish Church is most famously known for its fertility rites or the Obando dance. The church’s parishioners and other Catholics strongly believe that if a couple or a family is encountering difficulties in conceiving a child, all they need do is go to this church of Obando during its feast day in May or every Sunday to join the Bulakenyos in the famous dance ritual.
Contrary to what most people know, the Obando dance is not only for couples who want to have a healthy conception of children, however, as it is also for people who have other personal petitions, like abundance in their farms, improvement in the careers, or betterment in their school ranking.
“People always mistaken the Obando dance as purely for people who are experiencing fertility problems, but it is not. A lot of people, especially the locals, joins and mastered the dance – they go to this church every weekend to participate in our celebration. Especially during the feast of our church, when we parade our patrons around Obando, our parishioners would gather around the patrons and dance,” Rev. Fr. Sampana said.
Like some of the churches in the Philippines, San Pascual de Baylon Parish Church also has several activities during the Holy Week, when its parishioners and other Catholics can go to and attend the celebration.
“I encourage everyone to visit San Pascual de Baylon Parish Church or most commonly known as the Obando Church, so you can see and experience how miraculous Our Lady of Salambao is and join us in celebration of our faith through the dance of Obando,” Rev. Fr. Sampana said.
As the way to celebrate Holy Week continues to evolve, this may not have the flashy lights and the wide selection of boys to be met in the party beaches, or the magnificent views that the “piso fare” flights can offer, but, hey, for those up for it, this is a perfect chance for those interested to reflect on their religious well-being.