Smart’s Virtual Visita Iglesia: PH expression of faith through digital

Filipino Roman Catholic devotees looking to visit Laguna's historic churches this Holy Week can do so from the safety of their homes with the help of virtual reality.

With the imposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine covering Laguna, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite, it has now become a must for Catholics like Josefina Concepcion Lector, a teacher in Miriam College Nuvali in Calamba, to participate in Visita Iglesia virtually.

"We first learned about the project from the Parish Pastoral Council, which I am a part of. We knew that the usual Visita Iglesia would not be possible because of the pandemic, so we're happy that this platform exists," said Lector, adding that she is excited to try this out with her entire family this year.  "In fact, our family will be doing this together--including family members from abroad. It's a good way to spend the Holy Week. We can still fulfill our Catholic obligation while in the safety of our homes."

The Virtual Visita Iglesia in Laguna 2021 includes 30 diocesan churches from San Pedro to Santa Maria. A project of the Provincial Government of Laguna, the Laguna Tourism Culture Arts and Trade Office (LTCATO), the Diocese of San Pablo, Laguna-based start-up Virtual Reality Travel, and leading mobile services provider Smart Communications, Inc (Smart), this allows tourists to listen to prayers while virtually walking through the entire expanse of churches and viewing the retablos, images of saints, mural paintings, and other religious artifacts.

Smart and TNT customers can access the Virtual Visita Iglesia for free until Easter Sunday, April 4 by visiting http://virtual.reality.travel/visita-iglesia-laguna/

"Especially in this pandemic, every peso counts. Because Smart has enabled us to access this platform for free, more people can join the Virtual Visita Iglesia, not just from Laguna, but from other parts of the country, too," Lector said.

Enabling this virtual reality experience is Smart's LTE network, present from Batanes to Sulu, and across all of Laguna's 30 municipalities. As part of the company's continuous network expansion and upgrade efforts, it has also fired up Smart 5G sites in Laguna, especially in San Pedro, Biñan and Santa Rosa.

Smart's mobile network, the fastest mobile network in the Philippines according to third-party analytics firm Ookla, is supported by PLDT's fiber infrastructure, the country's most extensive at 429,000 kilometers nationwide.

"We are proud to partner with the provincial government of Laguna, LTCATO and Virtual Reality Travel in powering this Virtual Visita Iglesia and making this tradition more accessible to our customers, even amid the restrictions of the pandemic," said John Y. Palanca, Smart FVP and regional head – consumer sales group. "Through this initiative, we are enabling our customers to Stay Safe and Stay Smart," he added.

'Providential'

"It was providential that we were able to launch this project with our partners, especially now that Catholics are prohibited from going around and are in fact advised to stay at home," said Msgr. Jerry Bitoon of the Diocese of San Pablo, who provided spiritual guidance to the project especially when it came to the prayers, identifying the churches for inclusion, and facilitating access to these churches.

"Visita Iglesia is something very close to the heart of Catholics, especially during Holy Week. With this project, they will be able to fulfill their devotion while staying safe amid the pandemic," he added. "Laguna has a lot of beautiful, historical churches, and we are happy that this platform makes it possible for people to still visit these churches."

To inform parishioners, churches are putting up tarpaulins of the Visita Iglesia map featuring QR codes that can be scanned to access the virtual tour for corresponding churches. "80% of churches in Laguna are also conducting online Masses," he added.

"This program aims to recreate the traditional tour around Laguna's churches in a modern and safe way. This also includes the Way of the Cross, where we can listen to prayers and music as we retrace Christ's path and strengthen our faith. This is a timely initiative, especially now that we are in the New Normal, where strictly following health and safety protocols are crucial," said Regina Austria, OIC of LTCATO.

Anne Grek, the founder of Virtual Reality Travel, said the platform will help the faithful observe Holy Week traditions safely. "Despite the current restrictions due to COVID-19, we are here to help devotees practice their faith safely, hassle-free, and in the convenience of their homes," she said.