From its humble beginnings as a small town in Pangasinan, Manaoag has emerged as a bustling pilgrimage destination, attracting thousands of devotees and tourists from all over the country. With its iconic Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, commonly known as the Manaoag Church, the town has become synonymous with spiritual solace and blessings.
Over the years, the number of visitors to Manaoag has seen a remarkable increase. In 2014, the town recorded an average of 7,000 visitors on weekdays and 25,000 visitors on weekends. Fast forward to the last quarter of 2022 up to the first quarter of 2023, and the numbers have nearly doubled, with nearly 12,000 visitors on weekdays and an estimated 54,000 visitors on weekends based on a recent survey.
The surge in visitors can be attributed to several factors. One of the main reasons is the accessibility of Manaoag Church to car owners in Manila and Northern Luzon through the Tarlac-Pangasinan La Union Expressway (TPLEx), using the Urdaneta and Binalonan exits. Many car owners choose to test drive their vehicles and have them blessed in Manaoag, making the town the blessing capital of the country for motor vehicles.
The declaration of the Manaoag Church as a minor basilica on February 17, 2015, marked a significant milestone for the town. This recognition not only elevated the status of the church but also granted it the authority to grant plenary indulgence, a rare privilege previously exclusive to the Vatican. As word spread about this unique opportunity for spiritual forgiveness, more and more people flocked to Manaoag in search of solace and redemption.
While the growing number of visitors has brought economic benefits to the town, it has also presented challenges for the local government and the church. Mayor Jeremy “Ming” Rosario recognizes the need to maintain orderliness and ensure the safety of the visiting public. To address these concerns, syndicated pay parking areas have been established, charging elevated fees to regulate vehicle flow and deter unauthorized parking. This initiative has also curbed the influence of syndicates that exploited visitors by collecting exorbitant parking fees in vacant lots.
Efforts are also underway to enhance orderliness and improve the local public market, which plays a crucial role in catering to the needs of churchgoers and tourists. Plans to upgrade the public market and attract more investors have already sparked the establishment of various food chains and private supermarkets. Furthermore, a private community developer is eyeing the construction of a high-end commercial complex and a man-made lagoon, which will further stimulate economic activity in Manaoag.
Mayor Rosario emphasizes that Manaoag is not just a pilgrimage destination but also a hub for various events and gatherings. The town’s unique blend of spiritual and economic activities makes it an attractive place for business meetings, family gatherings, and other developing events.
As Manaoag continues to welcome an increasing number of visitors, the local government, the church, and the community are working together to create a harmonious environment that supports both religious and economic aspirations. Their collaborative efforts aim to preserve the sanctity of the pilgrimage experience while ensuring the town’s sustainable development.
Manaoag stands as a testament to the enduring faith of the Filipino people. It exemplifies the profound impact of religious tourism on local communities, as people embark on a collective spiritual journey in search of solace, guidance, and redemption. Every day in Manaoag feels like Sunday, as devotees and tourists alike find respite in their quest for divine intervention.
As the sun sets on this vibrant town, the echoes of prayers and the scent of burning candles fill the air.