THERE IS NO shortage of islands in the Philippines to visit, and undoubtedly, some receive more attention than others (Boracay, you know I’m referring to you). Big and small, there is no way for a visitor to see them all, and it’s easy to simply ride the bandwagon and miss out on those charms – which, for many a small, lonely or isolated island, may actually be a blessing for the sake of preserving traditional ways of life. When you get to the truly small island provinces, perhaps the biggest change is actually a change in geography – an even small island breaking away, that doesn’t know where it belongs.
And so, allow me to introduce – Camiguin. Legally, it’s administered as part of the Northern Mindanao region (Mindanao is the large island in the south of the Philippines, the nation’s second biggest). But it is its own island, and its own province, isolated from Mindanao by a strait, a one hour ferry away from the nearest port. It consists of one volcano, one road. one wharf, and one town with one market. And one thing holds this quaint, small island community together: its faith.
It’s only natural that the people of Camiguin put the centre of their lives at the centre of their island – and for Good Friday, they do exactly that. On Good Friday, Catholics go to church, hold a service of The Lord’s Passion, and a ceremony known as ‘Stations of the Cross’: fourteen images depicting Jesus’ death. In Camiguin, the locals do all of that, except for one thing: they don’t ‘go’ to church … the whole island becomes the ‘church’. The locals take their devotion to the max, carving out stations from the volcanic rock and erecting them on the slopes of Mount Mambajao. And every Good Friday, while other Catholic parishes walk between paintings inside a church building, the whole island marches up the slope of several hundred metres in the tropical heat in an act of true endurance and devotion.