Its rural tranquility and glorious past has drawn tourists to this capital city of Southern Leyte
Adding to its rustic beauty are immaculate waterfalls, caves, stunning sunsets, host to the only zoo in Eastern Visayas, mangrove plantation, verdant forest and tourist-friendly people.
Maasin City, a 4th class city with a population of 81,250 in the 2010 Philippine census, is a major religious pilgrimage hub in Eastern Visayas. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church Diocese of Maasin.
It is also a Red Orchid awardee of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH) for its no-smoking implementation. A holder of the highest nutrition award in the country last year, -the Nutrition Honor Award (NHA) for its good nutrition practices, earning Php1 million pesos as cash award.
As you roam around the city, bahay-na-bato (stone houses) and other Spanish-designed houses made of wood, is all over the city, you thought you are transported to Vigan.
Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Maasin (Catedral de Nuestra dela Asuncion de Maasin) or commonly called the Maasin Cathedral is one of the oldest parishes in the country.
The cathedral’s baroque style and architecture is evident. The baroque paintings in the cathedral’s high ceilings illustrated key elements of Catholic dogma.
In 1993 it was declared a National Shrine by the National Historical Institute.
The original image of the Our Lady of Assumption which is believed to be miraculous is encased in glass. It is housed in a corner beside the cathedral where devotees offer flowers and light candles.
Devotees knocked on the glass to ask for favors or they wiped their handkerchiefs in the glass and in turn wipe parts of their bodies in pain, for healing.
On her feast day on August 15 and all-year round, thousands of Marian devotees flock the cathedral and the other shrines named in her honor. The cathedral also houses Spanish era antique statues of saints.
The church has simple facade with a three-storey bell tower on the side. Surrounding the church is a fortification with quadrilateral bulwarks at the corners.
Part of the fortification has been demolished to give way to St. Joseph College, the first catholic school in the city supervised by the Diocese of Maasin.
At the side of the cathedral is a beautiful gated garden with the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary who appeared to the children at Lourdes, France.
According to history books, the church was started in 17th century by Jesuit Fr. Serapio Gonzalez and continued by Agustinian Fr. Jose Paco from 1839 to 1852. It was destroyed by fire in 1884 and was later rebuilt.
Stories had it that a beautiful lady believed to be the city Patroness would be standing by the sea when a typhoon hit the city. She was said to pacify the storm and the big waves or caused the re-route of the typhoons.
Even when Maasin City and the whole of Southern Leyte was declared signal number 4 during supertyphoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) on November 8, 2013, only minimal damages were brought by the storm.
According to Demeterio, close to a million devotees visit the cathedral and other Marian shrines in the city.
Our Lady of Assumption Shrine, Jalleca Hills
Situated at the Jalleca Hills in Mantahan village, the Our Lady of Assumption Shrine is 104 meters above sea level and offers a stunning view of Maasin City.
Pilgrims can reach the shrine using a stairway of more than 300 steps built through donation from the devotees and its volunteers. A chapel at the back of the statue came 14 years.
The chapel’s altar features the coronation of the Blessed Virgin with the seven archangels and the Holy Blessed Trinity.
The Jalleca Hills was donated by the families of Jarabe, Llevares, Leyson and Cadavos families.
Years before its construction, Milagros Castro, a Marian devotee, always dreamt of the Virgin Mary requesting her to construct a shrine in her honor at the top of a mountain overlooking the city.
In 1994, the construction began after the owners of the site at the back of the provincial hospital agreed to donate the property. It was exactly the spot where the Blessed Mother requested in Castro’s dreams.
The 36-foot lovely image of Our Lady of Assumption crowns the Jalleca hills. With right hand outstretched, the image seems lovingly holding the whole of the city. The image is beautifully illuminated at night.
The holy rosary is recited daily at 4.a.m. that can be heard all over the city. The statue was sculpted by the famous Lupo Kirong, a former city councilor. The shrine is open from 4:00 a.m. up to 7:00 p.m. daily.
The shrine is not recognized as the official Marian Shrine by the Palo Archdiocese. Without recognition, a mass cannot be said in the shrine except on September 8, the birthday of the Blessed Mother and on the month of October as Rosary month.
Monte Cueva Asuncion de la Virgin Shrine
Up in the hills in Rizal village, two kilometers away from the city proper, the Monte Cueva Asuncion de la Virgin Shrine is another favorite of pilgrims.
Marian devotee lawyer Joaquin Chung, Jr. also dreamt of the Blessed Virgin requesting him to build a shrine on top of the mountain.
The Monte Cueva (mountain cave) is part of their sprawling property in Rizal village. It has an elevation of 172 meters above sea level.
In 1992, Joaquin together with his wife Loring erected a statue of the Our Lady of Assumption at the top of the mountain.
Later a chapel was built inside the cave. Canonically it was established by the Diocese of Maasin. The Monte Cueva is officially called the Shrine of the Most Previous Blood of Jesus and the Our Lady of Assumption Shrine, the city’s Patroness.
At the foot of the cave are residential houses.
A narrow pathway leads to the entrance in going to the shrine. There are two stairways going to the shrine. The other path is 550 steps in winding route, while the shorter path with 300 steps is steeper.
On the way up you can meditate in the Station of the Cross.
You will be awed by the tall trees and hearing tweeting birds along the way.
When the site was donated by the Chungs to the Diocese of Maasin, the first Mass was held in the shrine in 1999.
The chapel inside the cave can accommodate nearly 200.
St. Francis Xavier Pilgrimage Site
There are thousands of pilgrims that have been flocking to the San Francisco Javier Shrine (St. Francis Javier Shrine) in Hanginan village to ask favor from St. Francis.
The shrine, otherwise known as Dagkutanan (where one lights candle to offer a prayer and make wishes), is a famous stopover for pilgrims all year-round but more so on Holy Week especially on Good Friday.
Close to 300,000 pilgrims annually from Eastern Visayas and other parts of the country visit the shrine to thank Señor Francisco for all the favors granted them or to ask favors, according to Fiorello Demeterio, Jr. city administrator.
Mikko Duero of Palo, Leyte, a food blogger and his wife, visited the shrine two times last year and are planning for their third visit this month after his wife’s graduation.
He said that middle of last year, his wife suffered a bad case of staphylococcal infection, a skin disease and were hoping the pilgrimage may help cure through trekking the steep trail and praying to Señor Francisco. Indeed his wife get well that they visited the shrine the second time in 2014.
The San Francisco Shrine is the highest point in the city at 400 meters above sea level. The terrain going to the shrine is a bit difficult, but the magnificent view at the top of the chapel makes up for it.
These pilgrim sites also became tourist attractions of the city. According to Rina Apostol, tourism development manager for Southern Leyte, Maasin is gearing towards religious and cultural tourism.
Travel bloggers, media practitioners, trade managers joined familiarization tours for these religious sites organized by the Department of Tourism regional office under the leadership of director Karina Rosa S. Tiopes, and the local government unit of Maasin city with Mayor Maloney Samaco at the helm.
The group also witnessed the visit of the Sto. Niño de Cebu at the Maasin Cathedral before the image left for Limasawa, Southern Leyte, in celebration of the 494th commemoration of the first mass in the Philippines. (PNA) FPV/SQM/Vicky C. Arnaiz