By Francis N. Tolentino
Religious festivals in the Philippines have always been a very potent magnet for tourists. Both local and foreign visitors travel far and wide just to bear witness to the Filipino way of celebrating their deep faith and total surrender to the Lord God Almighty. From mere spectators to the most devout pilgrims, those who spend a great deal of resources – time, energy, money – to witness these religious festivals indeed contribute to the growth of tourism in the host locality.
Our country is famed for celebrating colorful fiestas in honor of several patron saints believed to be always keeping watch over us and sending our prayers to heaven. We have the world-acclaimed Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Ati-atihan Festival of Kalibo, Aklan, and the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City, all held in honor of the Santo Niño. The Moriones Festival in Marinduque commemorates the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ and is staged during Holy Week. Flocked by couples either beseeching God for a child or thanking Him and the saints for having borne a child, the Obando fertility parade and dance are done in honor of Obando, Bulacan’s patron saints Santa Clara, San Pascual, and Nuestra Senyora de Salambao. The feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City and the Pista ng Poong Nazareno of Quiapo, Manila, are two of the most celebrated and heavily attended processions of all times. Undeniably, these processions and festivals bring together large crowds from various places and from all walks of life, united in prayer, thanksgiving and celebration.
Every year, millions of tourists flock to Cebu, Iloilo, and Kalibo to witness the festivals we have mentioned, and each visitor is sure to have prepared more than enough money for transportation, accommodation, food, and souvenir expenses. It is in this way that these festivals serve as instruments of tourism growth. The more tourists coming to join these festivities, the more beneficial it is to local economies as there will be added market for local products and services. These festivals also attract potential investors, which in turn are potential generators of local employment. These religious festivals likewise stretch the likelihood of local product development and enhancement as tourist arrival increase each year.
Apart from the economic and tourism gains that might be derived from these religious celebrations, they bring the people of the community together, unite them in attaining a shared vision, strengthen their faith in God and in one another, and deepen their commitment to contribute to community building. These gains are, after all, what truly matter.