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
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 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 .
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
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
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
after having covered 135 km. The following day I continued my journey towards San
La Union. I could smell the aroma of dried tobacco leaves along the way. When
I reached San
at , 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 ,
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 .
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 .
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 ,
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
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.