Hundreds make the trek up Mt. Tapochao

Posted on Apr 18 2022

Groups of devotees help plant the cross at the peak of Mount Tapochao last Good Friday. (Leigh Gases)

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of the Catholic faithful were able to make the annual pilgrimage to the highest point of Saipan this year as part of the Good Friday tradition, and were blessed with an overcast and windy but dry weather. 

In what has become a remarkable sight, most of those who made the pilgrimage did so without masks—the first time in a long while for many of the Catholic faithful on Saipan to congregate side by side for one of the Catholic Church’s holiest days.

And with the weather holding steady, the roads were clear of mud and puddles, and the sky had but a small hint of sunlight around 8am when the pilgrimage was completed.

Many of the Catholic devotees, who walk to the top of Mount Tapochao every Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s journey before his crucifixion, start their journey by gathering at the base of the mountain and walking up as early as 3am to avoid the crowds and traffic and the early morning sun. 

As has also become tradition, many groups and organizations, such as the American Red Cross-NMI Chapter, set up booths along the way and handed out water, refreshments, and some food to sustain the pilgrims.

The heart of the tradition, which is when a wooden cross is brought up to the top of the mountain and erected, started on schedule at 5:30am, with about 30 to 35 men taking turns to carry the enormous 30-foot cross up the mountain. The cross is usually carried up the mountain on the shoulders of devotees. Some view it as a form of atonement; others as a religious obligation.

According to one devotee, he has never missed a single Good Friday trek and always helped carry the cross and mount it at the peak of Mount Tapochao. He said that it was canceled for two years because of the pandemic so he is thankful that it’s back and they’re able to carry it again this year.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was seen walking with his family and said he started at 4:30am. He said he was “very impressed with the turnout. A lot of people just came out. …I just found somebody here that is 78 years old that walked from here to the top. And so it’s just a really nice turnout.”

Saipan Mayor David Apatang was also seen with the Saipan Mayor’s Office staff handing out water to the public. He thanked his staff for working hard to get the place ready for everybody. He hopes to see everyone at the mountain again next year.

The cross and procession reached the top of the mountain at around 6:30am, which was greeted by devotees who were already awaiting their arrival.

Prior to having the cross planted at the mountain’s peak, Rev. Father James Balajadia thanked everyone who helped carry the cross “and volunteered for many years.” He then blessed the cross and offered a prayer. The cross was then carried up to one side of the mountain by the 30 or so devotees, which took a few minutes to be secured properly and safely. As it was being hoisted up, the cross swung a little dangerously to the side but was finally hoisted up and placed securely. 

Cheers were heard from the devotees at the bottom of the mountain, who were waiting patiently for the cross to finally be put in place.

Balajadia later said, “We’re honored and privileged at Santa Remedios Parish that we were able to reopen and restart this tradition this Friday.”

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at
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