A Shrine of Miracles

devotees-abstract

I don’t believe in miracles, I rely on them to get through each day!
– Karl Rahner[1]

 

Many times, Baclaran has been called a shrine of miracles. Many flock to Baclaran because they believe it as a sacred place imbued with special spiritual powers where miracles happen. Kevin Angelo James Francisco wrote on February 14, 2018, “The place where miracles happen! I love you Blessed Mother!”[2] Edwin De Veyra, also wrote on October 11, 2017, “There will be a big miracle in our lives if we go to Baclaran church.”[3] Nelen R. T. Herrera testifies that Baclaran is a shrine of miracles in a thanksgiving letter in November 4, 2017, ·

There were many miraculous answers to my petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Healings, business deals, strength guidance and love. And, twice, I witnessed, people presumably possessed by evil spirits, who became very uneasy and their illnesses seem to surface. Maybe, the power of the place caused them to be uneasy. Baclaran Church magnifies God’s presence and love for us through various and countless answered prayers. Loving Mother, pray for us![4]

Many hope and believe that a miracle can also happen to them when they come to Baclaran shrine: Whether to be healed or to travel abroad or get a job or pass the board exams or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. Jessa Llano writes on Mar 19, 2017 thanking Our Mother of Perpetual Help for a miracle she received,

There is so much joy and happiness inside my heart the day I received a miracle from God. All my fears are gone and eventually fade away. I believe in the miracles of God. And I am more than thankful to you, for always helping me and showing me the right path. As a student, I will never ever forget all the graces I received. Thank you for interceding for me to your divine son Jesus. I will not stop praising you forever till the rest of my life … I love you Mama Mary.

The identification of the shrine as a shrine of miracles began shortly after the introduction of the novena in 1948. The first report of a “miracle” mentioned by the Redemptorist community in their chronicles was in June 20, 1949: “Many favors were granted to her devotees during the Novena. The most striking being, the sudden cure of a case of tetanus and the conversion of another to the true faith.”

There is no official formal declaration from the official Church that the shrine is a shrine of miracles. Not that the shrine need any official declaration nor the devotees demand one. The promise of miracles combined with the conviction that they can easily bring to God whatever needs they have through Mary’s intercession, attract many devotees. Indeed, devotees flock to shrine because they believe that their petitions will reach God through Mary’s intercession. As the American Mariologist Fr. Johann G. Roten states, “There is no sense in prayer, meditation and devotion, if the faithful individual does not have some assurance or moral certitude that his or her act of religion does, in fact, reach the intended addressee.”[5]

devotees_abstract

There has been no report, however, of any extraordinary phenomena or miraculous happenings in Baclaran like apparitions, host with blood, Mary crying in tears of blood, and other supernatural events. There is also no legend or myth that has become part of the oral tradition of the shrine. The only time that the Baclaran phenomenon was associated with an external supernatural activity was during the time of the reported phenomenon of the showers of petals in Lipa in 1948.[6] When the novena exploded in Baclaran in 1948, it was also the time when the reported showers of petals occurred in Lipa.  Fr. Louie Hechanova narrates that during the time, “With the news of the shower of roses in the Carmel of Lipa all over the papers then, ‘a journalist happened to get curious and asked a sacristan in Baclaran what he was looking for.’ ‘Rose petals,’ the sacristan answered. ‘Next day, the daily bulletin reported that petals had fallen in Baclaran!’ This promoted the idea that miracles also occur in Baclaran and consequently, attracted more people to flock to Baclaran.

This reminds me of a widely acclaimed Filipino film, Himala (Miracle) which stars Nora Aunor, Filipina superstar during the 70s and 80s. The movie tells the story of Cupang, a poor and sleepy town in Northern Philippines which suddenly came to life after a reported apparition of the Blessed Virgin to a poor girl named Elsa (Nora Aunor). This drew large numbers of pilgrims to the once barren town boosted by the successful faith healing of Elsa. Soon business people, politicians, media and other people with interest took advantage of the phenomenon. Aghast at all these developments, Elsa near the end of the film, steps on the stage and talks into a microphone in front of thousands of devotees and pilgrims who have eagerly awaited her address. She proclaims: “Walang himala, ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat. Tayo ang gumagawa ng himala, tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos!” (There are no miracles. It is all inside us… We make miracles ourselves… We pronounce the curse… We create the gods!).

American Professor of Hispanic Studies Frank Graziano defines a miracle in popular devotion as

one that exceeds not the laws of nature but rather the real possibilities of a devotee, which are frequently very limited by people’s low educational level, by poor medical and sanitary conditions because of structural poverty … and by a lack of savings to respond to unforeseen situations.[7]

Indeed, most miracles in Baclaran are the small miracles and internal transformation that happened to the devotees; nothing of the external extraordinary kind. Like the thanksgiving letter of Gabrielle Mindy Uy dated November 3, 2014, where she gave thanks to OMPH for granting an almost impossible favour that she had prayed for a long time.

Thank you very much because you answered what I have been praying for a long time. It seemed almost impossible, but the person I love most came back to me. You answered my prayer and you continue to fulfil what I have asked for. Thank you very much Mama Mary, and may you continue to help those who ask for your help.

reaching-out2

In hindsight, there is no need in Baclaran for one visionary or select few recipients of some extraordinary phenomenon.  There is no need for an apparition to keep people coming to Baclaran. The transformation of Baclaran into a booming town and the transformation of the devotees are themselves the biggest miracles. The thousands of devotees are themselves the witnesses to the graces and presence of God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Like Mylene S. Obed who wrote a thanksgiving letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help:

Our Mother of Perpetual Help hears even the most silent prayers of our hearts… After months of continuous novenas and devotion, I was blessed with a child, who is now a young lady, and we now go together to Baclaran to show our gratitude to this answered prayer.[8]

Marvin Maderas also wrote, “Thru your miraculous intervention we are united once again as a family. Thank you so much Mama Mary for your blessings (my italics).”[9]

Thanksgiving Letters: Testimonies of Miracles?

A major reason why the shrine is called a shrine of miracles is because of the letters of thanksgiving. Many of the testimonials about the miracles in Baclaran are narrated by the devotees through letters of thanksgiving. Jas Aquino, for example, narrates the miracle he received through a thanksgiving letter in September 3, 2015,

Last time I found myself writing here when I was in the most deep and lonely situation. I find comfort in writing and talking to you. I have undergone a difficult time financially and with your help and through your intercession a miraculous help came to me in my darkest hour.  I was approved for my loan at the office. I was able to pay some of my debts and lessen them. I was able to pay for my youngest brother’s tuition and bought him a uniform, because I haven’t paid it for a long time and I just asked for extension to pay … Because of our situation there are times when we don’t have food on the table over the past few months, now we can eat and my kids as well. Thank you for always hearing our prayers. Through your intercession Mother of Perpetual help our prayers is being answered.

Ever since the novena began in the shrine, the Redemptorists have encouraged the devotees to write letters of petitions or thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Devotees can drop these letters to several boxes marked separately for letters of petition and letters of thanksgiving. They are located in conspicuous places in the shrine. Today, devotees can also send their letters of petitions and thanksgiving through the official website of the shrine. This is highly advantageous for OFWs who cannot physically go to the shrine to drop their letters. Indeed, most of the letters received online comes from OFWs.  Ayla Joy, an OFW writing on July 12, 2016, expresses her joy of being able to send letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help from abroad,

I really wanted to send letter to our Blessed Virgin even though I am far away because I know she is the reason for the many blessings that I have received in my life today. All that I asked from her was fulfilled.  All these blessings I owe to her son Jesus and to the Blessed Virgin. Thank you very much that there is this kind of way for OFW’s, despite that they are far away, they can be able to write their thanksgiving and petitions to our Blessed Virgin.

Every Tuesday of every week throughout the year, the Baclaran Redemptorist community come together to count the number of petition letters and read the letters of thanksgiving received during the past week. Reading through the letters of thanksgiving every week, I can just admire the deep and genuine faith of the devotees. It gives profound inspiration to my own devotion and faith. After reading all the thanksgiving letters, the community chooses the best ones.

All letters are read except for the letters of petitions. The letters of petitions are not read simply because of the sheer number of petition letters received. Reading all the letters of petitions would take almost the whole week.

The selected letters are read by the commentator during the novena and masses at the shrine the following day, Wednesday.  The commentator also announces the total number of letters of petitions and thanksgiving received. The preacher sometimes uses the selected letter as a launching pad for his homily.

letter-to-OMPH

The letters of petitions that the shrine have received throughout these years ever since the beginning of the novena can attest to the various needs that the devotees bring to Our Mother of Perpetual Help along with their trust and confidence in her loving care. On the other hand, the letters of thanksgiving that the shrine have received from the devotees can attest to the many favors that the devotees have received. The letters of thanksgiving attest to the conviction that the shrine is a shrine of miracles.

On any given year, the letters of petitions outnumber the letters of thanksgiving by a huge margin. Of the total letters received every year, 85% to 90% are letters of petitions while 10% to 15% are letters of thanksgiving. In 2016, for example, 136,819 letters of petitions were received which represents 87.83% of the total letters received while only 18,954 letters of thanksgiving were received which represents 12.17% of the total letters received. This does not accurately reflect, however, the actual number of petitions and thanksgiving of the devotees. For one, not all devotees write letters of petitions and thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

From the thanksgiving letters we read every Wednesday, one important albeit hard insight that devotees learn is that in prayer they receive may not be the answer which they desire, but the answer which God in his wisdom and love knows to be best. Not all petitions from the devotees were answered by God in the exact way and time that the devotees hoped for.  Cecilia and Gerald Salandanan learned this hard truth but their confidence in Our Mother of Perpetual Help never wavered. They share with us their experience through a thanksgiving letter written in September 3, 2014,

After 9 Wednesdays, I did not pray the novena again and I did not return to you as well. Not because I lost hope that you would not answer my petition at that time, but I had complete trust that you will not let me down. Thank you very much for you taught me to be strong and not let my impatience crush my faith. Even if my prayers were not answered immediately, my trust never waned, for all things happen for a reason and all things have an end.  Thank you very much for my husband is finally home after 5 months of sickness, hardship, anger, tears and loneliness. Even though it has been painful and difficult, I believe that all things happen according to the will of God. Impossible things become possible. All is miracle, dear Mother. And I will not be surprised because I know that God the Father and almighty God will make all things to mend our lives through your prayers. 

Even though their prayers were not answered in the way they expected it, Our Mother of Perpetual Help empowers and strengthens them as they continue to hope that God will respond to their prayers in the way that God knows what is best for them.  As the devotees pray in the novena, “Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; that He answers all our prayers in the way that is best for us.” Krystelline Jimenez testifies to this conviction in her thanksgiving letter February 3, 2016,

I have prayed the Novena every Wednesday morning for a couple of years now. Some of my petitions were answered with a “no”, some were “not yet” but most were “YES”. But more than the petitions, the Novena gives me a sense of security, a sense of peace, where nothing could ever go wrong. I thank the Lord and Mama Mary for taking care of me and my family despite my shortcomings. Thank you for my whole life, including the No and Not yets.

There are some devotees where many of their petitions were not even answered. Despite this, they continue to come to the shrine. For them, the warm presence and loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enough as it gives them inner peace and strength. This is the experience of Ritchie Limpin who wrote in July 08, 2014,

For a person who has many concerns like me—a single mom who brings up my children alone, it is only to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I hold on to. I must admit, there are times that I started to ask myself, what do I get out of coming here besides the profound peace I feel whenever I come to this place? Are there any prayers that she has already heard and come true? Despite all of these, I continue to visit her even though sometimes there is nothing that I can think of anymore to pray for. I just remain sitting or kneeling there and praying the novena.

For the petitions answered, however, they are not just graces coming from God but supplemented by human efforts and cooperation. As the Filipino saying goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is God’s, action is with people) implies that prayer must be complemented by action and action must be supplemented by prayer. This is the experience of Mr. and Mrs. Rogelio and Jessie Sugcang. For 13 years they were devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. They had a son who was a drug addict. He was living with them. He had two children. Whenever he gets high on drugs, he becomes out of control; he threatens them, he wanted to kill them. For almost four years they prayed to OMPH. For them only a miracle could save their son. Because of their unwavering faith and devotion, the couple’s prayers were answered. His son found a job in the ship overseas. Now their son is successful in his career and living a life guided by Our Mother of Perpetual Help.[10]

Through the various favors identified by devotees in their thanksgiving letters throughout the years, the Redemptorists have come up with classes of favors received by the devotees. There are 17 classes of favors, these are: Spiritual Favours, Conversion, Peace in the Home, Reconciliation, Partner in Life, Health & Recovery from Sickness, Delivered from All Dangers, Gift of a Child and Safe Delivery, Financial Help, Education & Success in Studies Board Exam, Travel Abroad, Local Employment, Overseas Employment, Social Justice & Peace in Society, Legal Favours, and Temporal Favours. The favors that were not clearly identified by the devotees in their thanksgiving letters were classified as unspecified and/or all the blessings.

The table below shows how many favors were received by the devotees per category in 2016.

Favors Answered from the Thanksgiving Letters Received, 2016

  TOTAL Rank Percentage
Total PETITIONS

Mga Kahilingan

136,819
Total THANKSGIVING

Mga Pasasalamat

18,954
Spiritual Favours

Pang- Espiritual na mga Biyaya

910 3 4.80
Conversion / Pagbabalik-loob 116 16  .61
Peace in the Home

Kapayapaan sa Tahanan

328 8 1.73
Reconciliation /Pagkakasundo 123 14  .65
Partner in life/ Katuwang sa Buhay 163 13  .86
Health and Recovery from Sickness

Kalusugan at Paggaling

1,262 2 6.65
Delivered from All Dangers

Kaligtasan sa mga Sakuna

120 15  .63
Gift of a Child and Safe Delivery

Pagkakaroon ng Anak

246 11 1.29
Financial Help /Tulong Pinansyal 376 7 1.98
Education and Success in Studies

Pag-aaral

300 10 1.58
Board Exam/ Pagpasa sa Eksamen 499 5 2.63
Travel Abroad

Pagbyahe sa Ibang Bansa

208 12 1.09
Local Employment / Lokal na Trabaho 589 4 3.10
Overseas Employment

Trabaho sa ibang Bansa

311 9 1.66
Social Justice and Peace in Society

Katarungan at Kapayapaan Panlipunan

19 17  .10
Legal Favours/ Pang-legal na Biyaya 9 18  .04
Temporal Favours

Pang Material na Biyaya

447 6 2.35
Unspecified/ All the Blessings

Lahat ng mga Biyaya

 

13,681

1 72.18

From the table above, we can see that the highest number of favor received was unspecified favors.  13,681 devotees have received it which makes for 72.18% of all favors received. Health favors and recovery from sickness came in second where 1,262 devotees received it which make for 6.65% of all favors received. 910 devotees received spiritual favors which represents 4.80% of all favors received. 589 devotees received local employment which represents 2.63% of the total favors received.

 


 

[1] Karl Rahner’s answer when he was once asked whether he believed in miracles. Accessed at https://www.mary.org/blog/201601/do-you-believe-miracles#.WwX62UiFO70

[2] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[5] Johann G. Roten, S. M., Marian Devotion for the New Millennium, Marian Studies, L1 (2000), 65.

[6] The apparition is known in the Philippines for the rose petals which allegedly fell within the vicinity of the monastery; some of these bear religious images, and are held be some to be miraculous. Initially declared “non-supernatural” after a thorough investigation by six Filipino bishops headed by Cardinal Rufino Santos on 11 April 1951, the case was reopened in 1991 with extensive research and investigation. In a reversal of fortune, on 12 September 2015, the Archbishop of Lipa Ramón Argüelles, against explicit direction from the Holy See and the Bishops Conference of the Philippines, formally approved the apparitions, declaring them “supernatural in character and worthy of belief.” On 11 December 2015, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ruled out that the Marian apparition are definitively non-supernatural based on the coerced negative verdict of six Filipino bishops in 1951 and the alleged confirmation of the same verdict by Pope Pius XII in the 1960s.[1][3] The Archbishop of Lipa received the official copy on May 31 of final verdict. On 1 June 2016, Archbishop Arguelles released a public statement retracting his episcopal judgment on the controversial matter, reverting to the decision issued by the Vatican. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_Mediatrix_of_All_Graces

[7] Frank Graziano, Miraculous Images and Votive Offerings in Mexico (Oxford University Press, 2016), 86.

[8] Jun 6, 2015 http://www.baclaranchurch.org/testimonials.html

[9] Oct 14, 2014, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/testimonials.html

[10] Mr. and Mrs. Rogelio and Jessie Sugcang, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/testimonials.html

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)

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