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MIP Nature Church Brings Worshippers Closer to God

Angelo is an active volunteer and is proud to have dedicated his life to serving God in MIP as a choir member, lector, and youth leader.

Inside of the church decorated with doves as lights. (Photo by the author)

Inside of the church decorated with doves as lights. (Photo by the author)

Mary Immaculate Parish Nature Church

Mary Immaculate Parish (MIP) Nature Church provides an open-air experience that brings worshippers closer to the Spiritual presence through nature. From anywhere in the church, you can look out and see plants, trees, flowers, and even birds that chirp in the surrounding trees.

Located within Moonwalk Village, Las Piñas City, under the Diocese of Parañaque, this unique church is designed like a nipa hut, and is locally known as the "bahay kubo" due to its roof made out of anahaw leaves and open-air ventilation. Anahaw is the national leaf of the Philippines and is commonly used as a fan due to its shape (it is also known as a fan palm).

Its designer is none other than the late National Artist for Architecture, Architect Francisco "Bobby" Mañosa.

Statue of Jesus behind the altar (Photo by the author)

Statue of Jesus behind the altar (Photo by the author)

Origins of MIP Nature Church

The parish was founded in August of 1979 as a simple chapel that was originally where the old Sto. Niño Chapel used to stand. It was dedicated on December 8, 1979, which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception (the church's namesake).

As the need for a bigger church to accommodate more people was realized, Fr. Pierino Rogliardi, an Italian Focolare priest and the parish priest at that time, came up with the idea of building a larger structure that would showcase Filipino architectural design.

A Gorgeous Open-Air Design

The final design that Mañosa and his team came up with is extraordinary—a hexagonal roof for the main church structure with no walls and nature on all sides. It was built on a 4,000 square meter mango orchard, which they decided to keep to further enhance the nature concept and to beautify the design as well.

On December 8, 1987, eight years after the original church was opened, the new church was inaugurated.

Roof of Mary Immaculate Parish (Photo by the author)

Roof of Mary Immaculate Parish (Photo by the author)

New Year's Eve Fire at MIP

As the country welcomed the year 2007, disaster struck in the parish community when a fire engulfed the anahaw roofing of the church, destroying nearly all parts of the roof and dropping ash on the seats.

It was caused by a self-propelling firework, a rocket known as "kwitis," that suddenly dropped from the air upon ignition. We may never know for sure whether it was an accident or planned.

As the months passed, fund-raising programs helped support the rebuilding of the Nature Church. It was successfully rebuilt using a non-flammable material called synthetic cogon while still staying true to the original design.

On September 8, 2007, in celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church was reopened and rededicated.

Seats inside Mary Immaculate Parish. (Photo by the author)

Seats inside Mary Immaculate Parish. (Photo by the author)

What's So Special About MIP?

When you enter, you will notice that there are no doors or walls—you are completely surrounded by nature as you meditate and pray. It is basically an open-air church, which helps you feel the spiritual presence of God (and improves ventilation, of course).

Worshippers Are Surrounded by Nature

It seems like an enormous garden all around you, contributing to the serenity and quiet that you're seeking. With nature enveloping you, you feel the peace of the surroundings—the wind blowing through the leaves, the birds chirping in the trees, and the sounds of raindrops when storms pass through.

Creative Lighting Lifts the Soul

Inside the church, there are about 180 doves made from a material called "capiz" or "windowpane oyster shells" that serve as lanterns and hang in a spiral towards the center. These seem almost like fireflies or "alitaptaps" that are flying above your head when illuminated.

Even the Seats Are Natural

The assembly area for the congregation is divided into three sections for seats. The seats are made out of tree stumps and fallen logs of acacia trees, which were taken from illegal loggers and recycled so that they wouldn't go to waste.

The seats are coated in varnish so that the congregation can feel the authenticity of the Filipino-inspired design of the church as well as to protect them from being destroyed by dust, pests, and daily use.

Altar section of the church (Photo by the author)

Altar section of the church (Photo by the author)

The Altar Is One of a Kind

The altar section has tropical palms and plants as its backdrop, which add to the natural theme of the church. When it rains, the statues of Jesus and Mother Mary get wet, but not soaked, as they are made of durable and waterproof material.

The altar itself is made of a coral marble slab, which is rough-finished and rests on two madre cacao driftwood pedestals. Madre cacao is also known as Gliricidia sepium, a type of tree that is traditionally used in the Philippines to provide shade for cocoa tree plantations.

The flooring of both the altar section and the aisles is an interplay of wood tiles that were cut crosswise, with white-pebble washout. Interplay means that you place two or more elements together (they may or may not be joined together) to form an interesting design.

Nature-themed surroundings with the structures designed like a nipa hut. (Photo by the author)

Nature-themed surroundings with the structures designed like a nipa hut. (Photo by the author)

The Outbuildings Are All in the Same Style

The church's surrounding structures are also Filipino-themed, again fashioned after a nipa hut, with wooden walls, posts, and woven anahaw leaves as a roof.

The function halls—used for occasions such as weddings, baptisms, and birthdays—have tree branches joined together like mesh serving as walls and safety partitions. Like the pews in the church, they are coated in varnish to protect them from the elements.

In addition to these outbuildings, the church also features an Adoration Chapel, which is located behind the altar section right next to the sacristy. There is a large glass panel that separates the public area and the sanctuary area (reserved for the priest and lay minister).

There Is a Beautiful Fish Pond Nearby

Also within the vicinity of the church, there is a fish pond that is home to a few species of fish, such as tilapia and koi. There is also a bridge in the middle that people can cross to either admire the scenery of the fishpond or just pass over when getting to or from the ossuary garden.

The church surroundings, view from the entrance of the ossuary garden (Photo by the author)

The church surroundings, view from the entrance of the ossuary garden (Photo by the author)

There Is an Outdoor Ossuary for the Departed

MIP also features an ossuary garden located behind the church, with its entrance at the left side of the main church right next to the choir loft. The ossuary garden houses the cremated remains of people, which makes it an outdoor columbarium. In other words, the ossuary serves as the final resting place for the departed.

There is an exit at the back right next to the Youth Center and right by the fishpond, where visitors can rest and contemplate after visiting their departed loved ones.

Young church choir members of MIP. (Photo by the author)

Young church choir members of MIP. (Photo by the author)

My Experience at the MIP Nature Church

This is the part where the author comes in and talks in the first person. Having been a part of the church community since 2006 as a church volunteer for the mass, and now as a youth leader, there are some things that make me feel like this church offers an experience that is truly unique.

For one thing, when you go there to meditate and reflect, you truly feel the presence of God through nature, especially when facing the trees and plants behind the altar section.

This is wholly unlike other churches, which may give you an eerie feeling when you visit without many other people, and where you may only feel the divine presence through the church's silence and images of saints and biblical figures.

When you're there at MIP, it seems like He is speaking to you through His creations, like the wind blowing through the leaves. It seems like you feel His guidance whenever you reflect on the decisions that you make in life.

You also feel His Heavenly presence whenever you are there to serve either in the mass or in sharing His Word with the community. At MIP, you feel His presence more as He guides you to be more active in service by generating ideas about how to make serving in the church more valuable than ever.

A choir after mass service in MIP (Photo by the author who is also in the photo)

A choir after mass service in MIP (Photo by the author who is also in the photo)

Being able to serve at MIP makes it feel like I am a part of His creation—I am a part of nature, one with the ecosystem. It feels almost like a forest in there; wherever I look, there is greenery. This abundance of trees also helps with the supply of oxygen, providing us fresh air wherever we roam.

When I'm at the Nature Church, it feels like I'm in the province due to the theming and traditional Filipino-inspired design. It seems like I'm in an actual park—a nature reserve without modern structures, except of course of the parish office and the youth center. A park where kids can sit, run around, play, and relax from a stressful day in the urban landscape. It is like a rural area within the city. Do you realize how cool that is?

Entering the gates of the churchyard is like entering another world. From the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel (which is styled in the same way as the main church) to the stone bridges and walls around the trees and plant boxes, the man-made creek in which water flows strongly when it rains, the luscious greenery that surrounds the structures, and the structures that showcase Filipino design aesthetics, the whole of MIP is totally unique.

Yes, MIP may be a very different type of church for many, but for those of us who have been serving in this church for years, it is home and it forms a big part of our lives.

Come and Visit MIP Nature Church

MIP Nature Church is located at Apollo III, Moonwalk Village, Las Piñas City, Philippines. For more information and inquiries, check the official Facebook Page: Mary Immaculate Parish Nature's Church.

© 2021 Angelo Barnachea

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