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A Cycling Pilgrimage for Peace Across the Philippines

Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

On March 26, 2000 I set out on a cycling pilgrimage across the country - from Davao to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. This journey covered more than two thousand kilometers along the highways of Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon. I've dreamed of doing this since I was a newly ordained priest. Since this was a jubilee year, I thought that this was the opportune time for making this pilgrimage. I planned to visit the various diocesan pilgrimage centers across the country - from the south to the north - and to sleep in the parish rectories along the way. I brought with me the prayer-intentions of my friends and parishioners. I also had my own special prayer intention - to pray for peace in our land. I was going as a pilgrim for peace in a land torn by poverty and armed conflict. I had some misgivings about my own fitness. I was 45 years old, 167 pounds (25 pounds overweight), with a waist line of 36 inches. My determination would compensate for my limitations.

So after celebrating the Eucharist and getting the blessing of my superior, I set out alone towards the north. The solitude and silence enabled me to spend my time in contemplation, reflection and prayer. I also resolved to pray the three mysteries of the rosary while cycling. On the first day I reached Trento, Agusan del Sur, having covered 141 km along steep and winding roads. I arrived in ButuanCity in the afternoon of the second day after cycling for ten hours. On the third day, I crossed from SurigaoCity to Liloan, Southern Leyte on a ferry boat. During the first three days, I cycled through heat and rain and I felt the onset of colds. I also felt a lot of muscle pains. I was surprised that on the fourth day, the pain and the colds were gone. After crossing the mountain ranges of southern Leyte, I reached Tacloban on March 29. So after being on the road for four days, I had a day of rest at the Redemptorist monastery in Tacloban.

On March 31, I continued my journey and crossed the San Juanico Bridge towards Samar. I reached Calbayog that afternoon after cycling 175 km in 11 hours. The following day, I took the ferry in San Isidro and crossed to Matnog, Sorsogon. 

Since travelling across Mindanao and the Eastern Visayas, I noticed the beauty of the countryside. I was also struck by the poverty and underdevelopment and the militarization. Almost everyday, I passed a lot of military detachments and met many military convoys of trucks and APCs (armed personnel carrier). These were grim reminders of the ongoing armed conflict in the countryside. As I cycled through the Bicol Region, I observed the same landscape of poverty and militarization. 

The ride to Sorsogon was very smooth along a flat highway. I focused on the present moment, savoring God's presence. I felt one with the bicycle and the road. Time and distance no longer mattered. It was an eternal now - Zen on a bicycle.

I reached LegaspiCity on April 2 - a week after I started my pilgrimage. I took a day off at the Redemptorist monastery. I continued my journey the following day feeling refreshed and stronger. It was a great feeling seeing Mayon volcano from a distance. I was fortunate that by this time the volcano looked peaceful compared to several weeks ago when it erupted. I reached NagaCity before noon and I visited the three pilgrimage centers: the basilica of our Lady of Penafrancia, the old shrine church of Our Lady of Penafrancia and the Cathedral of Naga. After a quick lunch I continued my journey and reached Sipocot, Camarines Sur by 5 pm

On April 5, I proceeded to Quezon province, taking the new Quirino highway. There were so many steep hills that I felt exhausted by the time I reached Calauag. The following day I was escorted to Gumaca cathedral by 22 cyclists of the Calauag Society of Cyclist. This was the first time that I was cycling with a pack. I got into conversation with some of the cyclists and before I knew it we were already in Gumaca after cycling for one hour and thirty minutes. After praying in the cathedral I said goodbye to the cyclists and proceeded to Lucena. Four of the cyclists decided to accompany me up to Lucena. The next day I pedaled towards Manila. I had my first flat tire in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. I finally reached Baclaran at 4 pm feeling tired yet contented. I had already cycled more than 1,500 km in a matter of 13 days. I spent a day off at the Redemptorist monastery in Baclaran. 

I had lunch with Fr. Robert Reyes, the "running priest." He had ran all over the country to draw attention to various causes: peace, environment, national sovereignty, etc. After sharing experiences, we agreed do a bike for peace together around Manila after I finish my cycling pilgrimage.

On April 9, I left for Tarlac. Since I could not take the express-way, I cycled along the McArthur highway. When I reached Bulacan, I took the road which would have brought me to CagayanValley in stead of Tarlac. Fortunately, I learned about my mistake when I stopped by a store and bought some refreshments. I had to back track another four kilometers before I found the correct route.

While passing Pampanga, I noticed the barren landscape brought about by the Mt.Pinatubo eruption. I crossed bridges with dry river beds. I met a convoy of five military trucks filled with soldiers in full battle-gear. I wasn't surprised. This area has always been the hotbed of insurgency. While eating bananas I crashed on the asphalt road. There was a car following me. Luckily, the driver braked quickly. I only got minor bruises, no broken bones or sprains.

I reached Tarlac at 4 pm after having covered 135 km. The following day I continued my journey towards San Fernando, La Union. I could smell the aroma of dried tobacco leaves along the way. When I reached San Fernando at 4 pm, a man in a car cheered me on: "Go, Father, go!" After praying in the cathedral, the man who introduced himself as a lawyer and cyclist welcomed me and gave me an ice-cold Gatorade drink. Small acts of kindness like this indeed lifted my spirits. The assistant parish priest of the cathedral warmly welcomed me and after concelebrating the afternoon mass with him, we went out for a drink in a nearby beach resort.

The next day, I set out for Vigan . As I approached Tagudin, I met several cyclists who asked me if I was the cycling priest. They introduced themselves as members of the Metro Candon Bikers' Association and welcomed me. They said that they had read on the papers that I was passing through and they decided to welcome me and accompany me to their town which was still 30 km away. I really appreciated their company and forgot abou the time and distance. When we reached Candon we had merienda and they gave me a special T-shirt with the logo of their association. After merienda I thanked them and continued alone towards Ilocos Sur. As I cycled on the highway which was along the sea coast, I noticed the beautiful blue sea on my left and the bare brown mountains on my right. Where have all the trees gone? Where are the forests? This was not the first time that I have seen bare brown mountains- I have seen a lot of them the last two weeks. But it was only that day that I was struck by the bareness of the mountains. Is this the effect of the greed of the logging companies?

When I reached Vigan at 3 pm, I was welcomed by Archbishop Abaya and Msgr. Venida who had just finished their meeting with the clergy. There was already a room prepared for me at the pastoral center, but the bishop insisted that I stay at the arzobispado, the 3-century old bishop's residence. Since the archbishop was attending a dinner party, the parish priest, Msgr. Venida invited me for supper in his rectory. We finished a bottle of red wine while talking about the situation of the archdiocese. I was amazed that there were a growing number of priests like him who are fired with zeal for renewal in the Church and society, priests who are trying to build Basic Ecclesial Communities and committed to the poor. This is something that one does not expect in old, traditional dioceses like Vigan. 

On April 12, I continued my journey to the tip of Luzon. It was a very smooth and easy ride. When I reached the boundary of Ilocos Norte, I was met by a cyclist who introduced himself as the parochial vicar of Badoc, the first parish near the boundary of Ilocos Norte. He invited me to drop by his parish church - a 16th century church which is the shrine of he Miraculous Virgin of Badoc. He accompanied me up to the boundary of the next town. I passed by Batac - the hometown of the late dictator - Marcos. I didn't bother to enter the town or visit his tomb. 

I reached Laoag at 10:15. After taking some refreshments at a roadside store, I continued my journey towards the north. By noontime, I was already in Pasuquin. I had lunch with the parish priest. After the long lunch-break, I continued my journey. The scorching heat became unbearable by 2 pm. I occasionally stopped at some waiting shed for rest and to escape the heat. The head-winds became stronger as I approached the town of Burgos. The road became more steep and winding. I groaned as I ascended the hills. It was really an agony cycling the last 30 kilometers to Pagudpud. I finally reached Pagudpud at 5:15, exhausted but euphoric. I have reached the northermost tip of Luzon. I had cycled 2,010 km in 18 days. 

After spending a day of rest in Pagudpud and enjoying the beautiful beach, I cycled back to Laoag on April 14. After travelling for 73 km, I reached the Laoag cathedral. This was a fitting day to end my pilgrimage since this was the national day of fasting and pilgrimage. The cathedral was filled with pilgrims from the different parishes of the diocese. Almost of the members of the clergy were around to concelebrate in the Eucharist. I was introduced to the people as a pilgrim from the Mindanao and received a warm applause. I was so happy to be among pilgrims. This reminded my that the Church is a pilgrim people. Christian life is a pilgrimage towards the Kingdom of God.

I went back to Manila by bus that evening. I rested in Baclaran for two days. On April 17, I culminated my pilgrimage with a bike for peace around Manila with Fr. Robert Reyes and several cyclists. The following day, I took the plane back to Davao and was warmly welcomed by my confreres, friends and parishioners at the airport. The pilgrim has finally come home after cycling for 2,083 km across the Philippines