Online Visita Iglesia draws more Catholics

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) – Anticipating a large number of online visitors this Holy Week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has beefed up the capacity of its Visita Iglesia Online to accommodate an increasingly tech-savvy flock.

Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, CBCP media director, said the Church hierarchy’s official news service had augmented the website to prevent it from crashing like what happened last year when an unexpected 43,000 visitors logged on to it.

Quitorio said the CBCP was expecting the number of online visitors to double this year.

“It just shows that Filipinos, no matter where they go, will always be religious and the desire to celebrate the Holy Week is always there, too,” he told reporters.

The start of the Holy Week was marked Sunday with devout Catholics trooping to parish churches and carrying palm leaves to commemorate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Earlier launched as a project of the CBCP News, the Visita Iglesia website offers a virtual experience of Holy Week, particularly to Filipinos abroad and devout Catholics who are physically incapable of leaving their homes.

It was created last year merely as an experiment and not as “a serious endeavor,” Quitorio said. Last year, it featured only seven churches.

On Holy Thursday last year, the website suddenly crashed due to an unexpected number of Internet users visiting it. Checking what went wrong, the staff discovered that the website had already reached 43,000 hits, Quitorio recalled.

“So I thought, ‘This is serious and we cannot just ignore the 43,000 visitors just like that,'” he said. “So this year, we prepared for it. We expanded our servers that even if the figures doubled, it would not crash.”

Since it became a “hit” among Filipino Catholics, especially among those who cannot return home to observe Semana Santa (Holy Week), the CBCP News added new features to the site.

It now shows 14 historical shrines and pilgrimage churches in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to correspond with the 14 Stations of the Cross with reflections given by priests.

The multimedia presentation of the traditional Visita Iglesia included the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila; Quiapo Church or the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene; Our Lady of Manaoag Church in Pangasinan, and the Agoo Church in La Union.

An audio recording of the 21 chapters of the “Pasyon,” the poetical narration of the life and sufferings of Christ, can also be accessed through the website.

The website has also made available homilies delivered by some priests during the entire Lenten season this year and catechesis on Lent, Holy Thursday, Palm Sunday and the Kissing of the Cross, among other liturgical practices observed during the Holy Week.