Sagaynon Faith: Sagay City's Vito Church and Palapak Tradition


Vito Church in Sagay City, Negros Occidental
Vito Church in Sagay City, Negros Occidental

Already sharing borders with Escalante City, about fifteen kilometers away from the modernized and beautifully landscaped Sagay City Public Plaza in downtown lies the coast of Brgy. Vito, a fishing village where a wooden Catholic image deemed miraculous draws devotees mostly from Negros Island and around the Visayas region.





Local history goes that the image was chiseled in 1878 from a large driftwood found in Molocaboc Island—part of the protected Sagay Marine Reserve—by a certain Juan Barco, a local fisherman.

READ ALSO: Sagay Marine Reserve: Community-based Tourist Spots in Sagay City's Protected Waters

Initially intended to be used as firewood, the log would not burn despite days of letting it dry and after several attempts of setting it afire. Barco took it as a heavenly sign and decided to carve a saintly figure out of the wood. The image was later identified as that of St. Vincent Ferrer, for its iconography that is tonsured, clean-shaven, wearing a Dominican habit, and holding a book while pointing to the heavens as if preaching.

1878 wooden image of St. Vincent Ferrer
1878 wooden image of St. Vincent Ferrer


Since then, countless miracles, mostly of healing from illnesses, have been attributed to the unpainted wooden image. Sagay has an old tradition called "palapak"—from the Hiligaynon word "lapak," meaning "to step on"—wherein a church person carries and places the image over a devotee’s head or on any ailing parts of his or her body. This religious practice is believed to bring healing and/or grant prayer intentions.

Locals kneel and pray at Vito Church
Locals kneel and pray at Vito Church


“We stopped performing palapak when the pandemic hit and we have not yet resumed since then,” said Fr. Martin Maglayon, Assistant Priest of San Vicente Ferrer Parish. Palapak has taken its toll on the 145-year-old statue, prompting the parish to commission a replica which will be used for when the tradition continues.

Fr. Martin also acts as the church’s chief researcher, painstakingly rummaging through scarce written documents in a bid to make Vito Church a national Catholic shrine and a recognized historical and cultural property. The cream and red painted church dedicated to the Spanish Dominican saint was built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1930.

San Vicente Ferrer Parish (Vito Church)
San Vicente Ferrer Parish (Vito Church)


Located within spitting distance of Sagay’s shores, Vito Church and the Catholic community celebrate the feast of St. Vincent Ferrer with a fluvial parade. The procession, referred to as "pagpauli," depicts the image’s homecoming from mainland Sagay to Molocaboc Island where it originated.

We visited Vito Church on a day when an inclement weather curtailed our orginal seaward itinerary (when we failed to get a go signal from the Coast Guard). It was a Thursday. But Helen Arguelles-Cutillar, Sagay City’s Information and Tourism Officer, was eager that we visit again on a Friday for us to witness the local faith firsthand. Pilgrims flock the church on Fridays, especially on the first Friday of the month, either to pray for healing or as part of their panaad (religious vow).

Kids and elderlies walk on their knees to the altar of Vito Church
Kids and elderlies walk on their knees to the altar of Vito Church
Locals praying near the altar of Vito Church
Locals praying near the altar of Vito Church


Nevertheless, Sagaynons seem to visit the church and pray there even on ordinary days. During our visit, we have seen several locals of all ages (even kids) who dropped by and prayed—walking on their knees from the church entrance up to the gated main altar where the century-old image is displayed.

St. Vincent Ferrer's image at the altar of Vito Church
St. Vincent Ferrer's image at the altar of Vito Church

How to Go to Vito Church

Address: Brgy. Vito, Sagay City, Negros Occidental
Commute: Take a one-hour flight from Manila to Bacolod. From Bacolod-Silay Airport, go to Ceres Bus Terminal and take the bus bound for Sagay City. Take a tricycle in Sagay that would bring you to Vito Church.
Contact: San Vicente Ferrer Parish - Shrine Vito / St. Vincent Ferrer Parish-Shrine Social Communications Ministry-Vito (Facebook pages)

*For more information about traveling around Sagay, contact the city's Information and Tourism Office at (+63) 909 091 4278 or reach them via their Facebook page, Sagay Tourism Destinations.

This is a portion of an article that was originally published in the July 2023 issue of Enrich magazine (with some minor revisions).





About the Author

DJ Rivera is an I.T. professional, entrepreneur, blogger and travel writer based in Rizal province, Philippines. He juggles writing softwares and feature articles, managing his small businesses, and teaching software development in the academe. He contributes travel-related write-ups to several publications and websites, and narrates his experiences traveling around the Philippines in his own blog, PinoyTravelogue.com. He finds himself most engaged in chasing hidden waterfalls and rummaging through the history, arts and culture of the places he's been to. Click here to know more.


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