The custom of Visita Iglesia (“church visit”), which is well known in the Philippines, is not part of Lenten practice in Canada. Though, if you still want to spend a day visiting churches to pray and meditate on the Passion of Christ, Toronto is the perfect place for it as it is home to many historic Catholic churches.
Visita Iglesia or Seven Churches Visitation is a pious Roman Catholic tradition that has been practiced by many Filipinos since the Spanish colonization. According to a post written by Rev. Fr. Louie Coronel on Online Visita Iglesia, it is traditionally done on Maundy Thursday, right after the Mass of the Last Supper. However, it is now common to do it any day during the Holy Week.
Since the number seven has significance to Christianity (e.g., seven last words, seven holy wounds, seven scripture passages in the trial of Jesus, seven ancient Roman Basilicas), seven churches are commonly seen. Some devout Catholics, though, made a variation to it, doubling the number of churches to 14 and reciting the 14 Stations of the Cross at each site.
No matter how many churches you visit this Holy Week, whether more or less than seven, keep in mind the true purpose of this old tradition: to remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These seven Toronto churches are not just beautiful, but also have interesting histories:
1. Our Lady of the Assumption Church
Located at the West End, this beautiful and spacious church is home to the Filipino Catholic Mission. This Church was established to serve the pastoral and spiritual needs of the changing Filipino demographics in Toronto and the province of Ontario as well. If interested, you can also take part in this parish’s traditional Filipino Lenten activities, such as Pabasa and Salubong.
Location: 2565 Bathurst St.
2. St. Michael’s Cathedral
St. Michael’s Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the city and has a stunning architectural style. It is also the principal church of Canada’s largest English-speaking archdiocese. Despite being situated in the heart of the city, just a few minutes away from the Eaton Centre, it is a quiet sanctuary for prayer and reflection.
Location: 65 Bond St.
3. St. Patrick’s Church
St. Patrick’s is an English and German speaking parish, also located in Downtown Toronto. It is run by the Redemptorists of the Edmonton-Toronto Province and is the national shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Location: 131 McCaul St.
4. St. Basil’s Roman Catholic Church
St. Basil’s is the third oldest church in the city of Toronto, next to St. Paul’s Basilica and St. Michael’s Cathedral. It is located within the heart of Downtown Toronto and is the collegiate church of the University of St. Michael’s College. Since late 2007, St. Basil’s Parish has been the home of the National Televised Mass, which is broadcasted six days a week.
Location: 50 St. Joseph St.
5. Sacre-Coeur Parish
This parish is the first Roman Catholic Church founded to serve the French- Canadian community in Toronto. It has been both a cultural and spiritual center for its French-speaking parishioners. Francophone or not, everyone’s welcome to visit and pray in any language in this church.
Location: 381 Sherbourne St.
6. Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi is located in The Beach, a popular tourist destination in Toronto. Behind the main altar, you’ll see beautiful stained glass made by Italian-Canadian master Guido Nincheri. The City of Toronto declared it as a heritage building in 1973.
Location: 1810 Queen St. E.
7. St. Paul’s Basilica
End your Visita Iglesia at St. Paul’s Basilica, the oldest Roman Catholic congregation in Toronto. The parish was established in 1822 and the church was completed in 1824. It is renowned for its antiquity and beauty. The late Pope John Paul II elevated St. Paul’s rank to a Minor Basilica by an Apostolic Decree on Aug. 3, 1999. After almost two centennials, the church is still a center of liturgical and pastoral life in the diocese.
Location: 83 Power St. (One block east of Parliament St. on Queen St.)