When I learned of a new pilgrimage site in Tanay, Rizal, I got easily interested not only because a huge statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary reportedly is installed there, but more so because I heard it offers a place to rest amid the noise and haste of the metropolis.
Regina Rica, the convent where the status is located, offers more than rest; it is also a place promising healing.
The place is about an hour and a half away from Manila. Going there, you can either take the Teresa route or the Marcos Highway route. The Teresa route offers a wider and clearer view of the lowland landscapes. Blue skies and open fields are eye candy for city dwellers.
Passing by Teresa opens a further discovery of what Tanay has to offer. This first-class municipality of Rizal province claims many tourist attractions. Aside from the views from the top and below the mountain ranges, there are some bodies of water like the famous Daranak Falls, and Pranjetto Hills.
Located near the boundary of Laguna de Bay, fishing is also a main source of living for the town, in addition to the obvious, which is agriculture.
The longer Marcos Highway route provides a breathtaking view of the Sierra Madre Mountain and Rizal highlands.
The warm welcome
Reaching the Regina Rica gate, one is welcomed by two iconic Dominican figures, St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Dominic, in giant statues.
The journey of silence had just started.
Regina Rica is a 13.5-ha land envisioned by the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii to be a place of pilgrimage, prayer, contemplation, ecological sanctuary and wellness environment.
Each area in Regina Rica is defined by names and identities of many origins, predominantly from the native tongue of the founders, which is Ilonggo. The play of words is explained through markers, which make every corner of the place interesting.
The first stop is the Pasilungan (Ilonggo for “shelter”). This serves as the place’s navel where families and groups gather to eat, share stories, and bring home souvenirs.
In this place, you will understand Regina Rica better, with its miniature models of chapels and aerial plans, written texts, press releases and history, and a TV monitor where its founder, Sr. Eppie Brasil, talks about Regina Rica’s history.
The Dominican sisters serve only vegetarian dishes and their mais con hielo is a big hit with visitors. It is a dessert to die for on top of a hill. With good food, good conversation and a good time, we became acquainted with Regina Rica.
The Kakahuyan could be described as the place’s main body. Kakahuyan is a Tagalog or Filipino term for “the woods,” but kakahuyan is apparently an Ilonggo/Hiligaynon word as well which means “forest.”
Going to the Kakahuyan, we needed to walk on a hanging bridge. Then we are taken to another part of Regina Rica, which resembles a forest.
Hundreds of mahogany trees are aligned, as if in eternity, providing an illusion of infinity, making you feel really close to nature. I was able to experience Holy Mass held under the trees.
Deep into the woods, we feel God’s presence in His creation, calling us all to be stewards of the earth, to be guardians of each other. The communal prayer and contemplation allow us as a community to feel closer to God while we gather on His land. There, I felt rest. I felt healing. Quite a fulfillment of the place’s promise.
Along with its ecological thrusts, Regina Rica subscribes to what Greg Garrard refers to as contemporary pastoral idea of nature as a stable, enduring counterpoint to the disruptive energy and change of human societies. Most parts of the place leave nature untouched.
Going to the heart of the place, where the big Marian statue is located, is not easy. The S-trail gets harder and steeper as we move through the last Station of the Cross. It is as if I felt what Jesus Christ went through. The feeling of sacrifice was there, as we had to do it under the heat of the sun.
The journey through this New Way of the Cross felt so much different from the Way of the Cross we have done in churches in the city.
If sacrifice is a desire, then Regina Rica invited me to experience such desire—to sacrifice happily.
Everyone who visits Regina Rica for the first time will look forward to coming really close to the huge Mother Mary structure on top of the hill. The figure rules the entire place.
If nature is said to be feminized by the Mother Earth concept-naming, Catholicism is also said to be feminized with Mary as the mother head of the church. She is a sacred figure immortalized in varied images and personas.
This time she is Queen holding the Child King/Prince. The divine statue is the very heart and soul of the place. It is postcard-perfect. But the image is much more than meets the eye. More than its iconicity, Regina Rica allows a rather different experience inside the icon. An experience so divine, a desire so pure.
“Sulod” is actually an acronym: It means Sanctuary of Universal Love and Devotion. In Ilonggo, sulod means enter.
The 71-ft statue of Our Lady, Regina Rosarii, on top of the hill is uniquely defined by her hand opening her mantle, as if inviting people to come inside. Sulod lang. Come in!
The labyrinth of prayer
Sulod is the heart and soul of the place. Beside it is a labyrinth that invites you to a journey deep down to the center of your soul.
While going through the maze, a silent prayer is necessary. Most visitors of the place would just think that the labyrinth is just a game. But the labyrinth at Regina Rica is an invitation to deeper meditation.
While journeying towards the center, I talked to God in prayer, and, likewise, I heard the place talk to me, and I think I heard God. He listened because I was also quiet and still, listening to what the place or He has to say.
Regina Rica features gazebos, kubos and duyans. I spent most of my visiting time swinging in the duyan (hammock). There’s something about the duyan that reminded me of my childhood. Cliché as it may seem, the duyan brought back memories about how I was nurtured as a child.
You feel God’s care under the tall mahogany trees. I felt a retreat to silence. It was an opportunity to think things through and most of all, an opportunity to just be there, to be still. Such is the seduction of this “touristed” landscape. Although it is not a park, it offers experiences of healing. The rabbits, birds, monkeys, sheep, chicken, ducks, geese, hamsters, horses and carabaos all contribute to making Regina Rica a place of oneness with the soil, oneness with nature. Regina Rica’s brand of ecology touches the soul and spirit.