Palawan is one of the most popular provinces in the Philippines for so many natural and cultural resources. The two leading natural treasures are the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which are both in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites and nominees for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. On the other hand, a leading cultural treasure is the famed Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church.
The Philippines is the only Catholic Christian nation in Asia. When Spain took control of the country in 1521, they brought along Catholicism and used religion to control the local masses. For 300 years, the Spanish Crown ruled with the Sword and the Cross, and until today the country is predominantly Roman Catholic: as a matter of fact, about 81% of the total population.
Palawan is home for 737,000 (year 2000) residents, including minority groups such as the Tagbanua, Palawanon, Molbog and Batak tribal people who occupy mostly the remote dense mountains and forests. There are 87 different cultural groups and races, and yet this scenic island is still predominantly Roman Catholic.
In 1872, the Spanish government proclaimed the Lady Immaculate Conception of Mary as the patroness of Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital city and considered the cleanest city in the Philippines. (In fact, the Immaculate Conception is officially the patron saint of the Philippines.)
The first mass in the entire island of Palawan was held in the capital city in the same year. However, the Lady of Immaculate Conception cathedral was only built and completed almost a century later. The original church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception was built in 1871, but it was transformed into a cathedral under Bishop Gregorio Espiga in 1961. The cathedral now stands along Rizal Avenue, which is the most important street in the city. The airport, wharf, city hall, important restaurants and hotels, People’s Park, and Plaza Cuartel, as well as the former Vietnamese refugee camp, are all found along Rizal Avenue.
What’s so unique about this cathedral is the way it looks. It is an angular structure and colored white and blue, nothing like other historical chapels in the Philippines. A passing tourist may look twice since at first glance it looks more like a huge office up-close without seeing the spires with crosses and bells. It is truly an unconventional religious structure.
For those not too aware of what is the Immaculate Conception, Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus without losing her virginity and being stained with original sin according to Roman Catholic teachings, and thus the title, “Immaculate Conception of Mary”. Mary is often referred to as the Immaculate One. The Catholic religion believes that God preserved and protected Mary from the Original Sin and that she “was free from any personal or hereditary sin.” In the Philippines, the belief in Mary as the Holy Mother of God is widely accepted and taught as an important Scriptural dogma. In front of the cathedral in Puerto Princesa is an image of the Mary standing on top of a cluster of cherubim that appear to be the globe. The Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is on December 8. It is faithfully celebrated in Puerto Princesa City and all over the Philippines.