30 March 2024, Quezon City.  The environmental watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition heaped praises on the laity and the clergy for keeping many religious shrines “litter-free or darn close” on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday while lamenting the unrestrained littering that again sullied some popular pilgrimage sites.

“We laud the faithful for maintaining the cleanliness of many of our shrines and churches despite the throngs of Holy Week visitors by not dropping trash anywhere.  It’s litter-free or darn close in most cases, and it’s a joy to see such places of prayer and worship clean,” said Ochie Tolentino, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition. “On the other hand, we are saddened by the persistent littering observed in some pilgrimage sites as if such an inconsiderate and disrespectful act has now become a tradition in itself.”

The following shrines and churches were generally litter-free at the time of monitoring conducted on Thursday and Friday as the faithful performed the traditional Visita Iglesia: Caloocan Diocesan Shrine of the Our Lady of Grace; Cubao Diocesan Shrines of the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help; Manila Archdiocesan Shrines of the Blessed Sacrament, Espiritu Santo, Sacred Heart, San Jose de Trozo, Our Lady of the Abandoned, Our Lady of Guidance, and the Our Lady of Peñafrancia,

These shrines at the Diocese of Imus in Cavite were likewise found litter-free:  Diocesan Shrines of the Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Pillar, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, and the Our Lady of Candelaria.

Also found generally clean were the Minor Basilica of the Holy Child (Cebu City), National Shrine of the Our Lady of La Sallete (Silang, Cavite), Our Lady of Remedies Parish (Manila City), Saints Peter and Paul Parish (Makati City), Our Lady of Lourdes Parish (Tagaytay City), and Parish of the Holy Sacrifice (Quezon City).

Among the churches visited, the Diocesan Shrine of the Our Lady of Grace in Caloocan City stands out for implementing a ban on single-use plastics within the church compound, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups and straws, and polystyrene food containers. The ban has been in effect since June 1, 2023.

While the surroundings of the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Jesus Nazareno (Manila City) and the Bahay ng Mahal na Señor ng Bangkulasi (Navotas City) were observed to be generally clean last Thursday, these popular sites were found littered with assorted trash the following day.  Litter peppered the streets of Quiapo, in particular, following the procession of the revered image of the Black Nazarene.

Garbage at the street corner a few steps away from the main gate of the Antipolo Cathedral.

Despite the joint appeal for a clean observance of this year’s Alay Lakad by the Antipolo Cathedral, City Government, and Philippine National Police, which the EcoWaste Coalition enthusiastically promoted, many penitential walkers left a trail of garbage, especially along the Ortigas Avenue Extension from Pasig City to Taytay, Rizal and on the streets leading to the newly-proclaimed International Shrine of the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, the first in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

Despite the constant reminder not to dispose of trash anywhere, some visitors left empty plastic water bottles inside the Antipolo Cathedral.  Some visitors who spent the night at the church patio and on the sidewalks after a grueling walk simply abandoned their improvised sleeping materials such as corrugated boxes and used papers for others to pick up.

The patio of Antipolo Cathedral is littered with improvised sleeping materials left by some Alay Lakad penitential walkers.

“Pagkagising ay inililigpit natin ang ating pinagtulugan, at pagkakain ay iniimis natin ang ating pinagkainan.  Pero bakit hirap ang ilang nag-Alay Lakad na gawin ang mga ito na ginagawa naman natin sa araw-araw?,” Tolentino asked. (“When we wake up, we put away what we slept in, and when we eat, we take away what we ate. But why is it difficult for some who have taken the Alay Lakad to do these things that we do on a daily basis?)

Pilgrims pass by a heap of mostly plastic garbage at the Grotto of the Our Lady of Lourdes in SJDM City, Bulacan.

In Marilao, Bulacan, garbage was spotted all over the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.  Some bags of trash were even found hanging on trees, which provide shade to pilgrims amid the scorching hot weather.

As in previous years, rampant littering was observed at the Grotto of the Our Lady of Lourdes in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan from the sprawling lawns at the entrance to the hills where the life-sized Stations of the Cross are located.  At the picnic area and elsewhere, big blue bins were found brimming with trash, mostly single-use plastics, which the personnel had to frequently empty.

“Together with the Church, we will continue to remind the faithful about our shared responsibility to care for Mother Earth and uphold our human right to a clean and healthy environment in everything that we do, especially in our faith life — hope springs eternal,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Finally, the group thanked the battalion of waste and sanitation workers, including members of the informal waste sector, for their contributions in keeping the environment clean and safe during the Holy Week by picking up after litterbugs and diverting recyclable materials away from landfills and other disposal facilities.

Street cleaner Wilma Quezada uncomplainingly picks up the litter left by some devotees outside the Antipolo Cathedral.

Government personnel clean up the street leading to the popular Bahay ng Mahal na Senyor ng Bangkulasi, Navotas City.