The Shrine as a School of Mary

school-of-Mary

Marian shrines in particular
provide an authentic school of faith
based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[1]

During seminars on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we asked the participants: Who is the perpetual help? Immediately they would answer with great conviction, Mary, of course. But then we’ll repeat the question. This time, we’ll rephrase the question: Mary is the Mother of perpetual help, so who is the perpetual help? This time they would think for a while and stare at us intriguingly.

We use this question as a take-off point for a deeper study of the icon. Mary is our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary is the mother of the source of perpetual help which is her son Jesus. As in the icon, Mary is she who points to the way—Jesus Christ.

This question also becomes the starting point for the study on the life of Mary and the theology of Mary or Mariology. Mary is not just the mother of God but also the first disciple and missionary of Jesus.

Evangelization is one of the major mission of the shrine. Evangelization represents the biggest challenge of the shrine for the renewal of the devotion.  A major expression of this challenge is for the shrine to be a school of Mary.  As the document states, “Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[2]

Some of the programs of the shrine as school of Mary are catechesis, evangelization and proclamation. The shrine evangelized the devotees primarily through prophetic preaching—by connecting the Word of God and their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to their daily issues, struggles, concerns and aspirations. Prophetic preaching challenged the devotion by proclaiming the transformative power of the Word and Mary’s life in the personal lives of devotees. Genesis Toledo Lustre narrates such experience in October 31, 2017.

I was four months pregnant when I set foot at Baclaran Church not knowing why I went there. I was frustrated and depressed during those times. My original plan was to end up my life because of the unbearable pain caused by the predicament I was going through at that time.

I was seated at the side of the church and was thinking why I am in this place. And then I heard the words of the priest: “There is no test the Lord gives which we cannot carry.” Along these lines, I asked God if I am really strong enough for such a test. These thoughts kept echoing on my head.  Then suddenly, I was enlightened and asked any sign from God if I should fight for my husband or not. And God gave me his quick answer. On my way home God showed me the sign to continue fighting for my family.

From then on I often went to this church to pray or sometimes just to light candles and ask God’s help through Mama Mary. From that time on my problems gradually lessened. My situation slowly changed based on my wholehearted petition to God. Today, what I asked of God was fulfilled. There is so much change in my husband and things are fine for all of us. Most of all, we are together now in going to Baclaran Church to pray. I saw the sincerity in my husband’s eyes which made me happy and contented.

Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers. You did not disappoint me for my simple petition.[3]

Redemptorist_preaching

After the explosion of the novena and the influx of thousands of devotees in 1948, the focus of the Redemptorist was the leading of the novena and the administering of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation. Because of this, the evangelization’s orientation of the shrine at this time was more devotional —focusing on Mary’s privileges and the need to honor her with affection and constant prayer. Undoubtedly, this has encouraged a deeply personal and pietistic devotion.

Beginning in the 60s, the shrine began to preach about the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. The shrine actively promoted justice and peace in preaching and seasonal liturgical celebrations. This heightened the awareness of the devotees to the social dimension of their devotion.

In recent years, the shrine has integrated more the theology and spirituality of the icon in their homilies and catechesis in the shrine. This reflects a shift from introducing the icon merely as a devotional object to an icon with profound spiritual and theological meaning and calling. The restoration of the original icon in Rome in 1995 became an inspiration for the Redemptorists to preach more about the icon—it’s story, meaning, spirituality and theology.

The shrine also stressed the evangelizing power of the life of Mary.  This necessitated a rediscovering of Mary in scriptures and the human Mary. By understanding more about the life and character of Mary, the shrine hope that devotees may be able to emulate her more and identify with her.

The shrine in recent years has also tried to integrate the popular religiosity of the devotees with a genuine sense of mission and active social involvement.  The shrine has also encouraged the devotees to develop their devotion from praying the novena to becoming more active in their respective parishes and communities.

Novena Text

An important tool for evangelization in the shrine is the Novena text. The novena is not just all about petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The novena has been evangelizing the devotees since the very beginning. The Novena text has always emphasized the life and example of Mary as a disciple of Christ and Mary exhorts all the devotees to follow her son as well. As devotees pray in the novena,

While you were on earth, dear Mother * you willingly shared in the sufferings of your Son.* Strengthened by your faith and confidence * in the fatherly love of God * *you accepted the mysterious designs of His Will.*

We, too, have our crosses and trials.* Sometimes they almost crush us to the ground.* Dearest Mother, * share with us your abundant faith and confidence in God.* Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; * that He answers all our prayers * in the way that is best for us. * Strengthen our hearts to carry the cross * in the footsteps of your Divine Son. Help us to realize * that he who shares the cross of Christ * will certainly share His resurrection.

novena

The shrine in it’s latest version of the novena made several revisions to reflect a healthier theology on Mary. The biggest revision along this line is shifting the focus of the source of help from Mary to Jesus; that the source of help is God–Jesus. Mary intercedes for the devotees so they can receive God’s perpetual help. For example the response to the petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was changed from Help us to Pray for us

1973 Novena

LOVING MOTHER HELP US

2016 Novena

LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US

Mary is an intercessor rather than the giver of grace. In the following prayer in the novena, the words powerful help supposedly coming from Mary was changed to compassionate intercession.

1973 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection * and confidently hope for your powerful help.

2016 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection *  and confidently hope for your compassionate intercession

 Similarly, in the prayer below, the source of perpetual help is God. Mary points all devotees to God the giver of all help and graces. Thus, the words addressed to Mary as help us was changed to pray for us. Similarly, the words your powerful help was changed to God’s perpetual help.

1973 Novena

All:

Holy Mary * help us in our needs * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience your perpetual help.

 

2016 Novena

 

All:

Holy Mary pray for us * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience God’s perpetual help.

 

Return to Mary 

The traits and personality of Mary resembles some of the character of the devotees. Many of the values and qualities of devotees resonate with the values and qualities of Mary. The simplicity and humility of Mary, for example, correspond to the warm affection and trust of the thousands of devotees. The devotees emulate some of the simplicity and humility of Mary. No wonder, most of popular devotions are Marian in nature. American journalist Maureen Orth, suggests that one of the reasons for the  popularity of devotion to Mary is because “Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings.”[4]

photo-gallery-devotees-raise-hands

Many devotees, however, see Mary primarily as intercessor with God. Many devotees venerate Mary to intercede for them with God, and lesser do they take her as model to imitate because they do not know much about her life and journey during her life on earth. Taking Mary primarily as an intercessor may also be rooted to the indigenous origins of Filipino religiosity deeply embedded among the devotees. Indigenous Filipinos believe in a shaman who enters the supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting their individual lives and the community. They intercede with the gods to seek solution and bring good results.

They may now see Mary as the new shaman. A big part of the appeal of Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the certainty among  the devotees that their prayers will reach God because Mary is the most powerful intercessor. Mary is closest to God–she is full of grace and most blessed of all human beings that ever lived–therefore God will listen to their prayers because Mary intercedes for them.

Mary, however, goes beyond being a powerful intercessor or shaman. She is a model disciple and missionary of Jesus which all devotees need to emulate. To understand Mary beyond being an intercessor, the shrine has integrated more the life of Mary in the preaching in novenas and masses. In these preaching, the shrine challenged the devotees to return to the life of Mary. The shrine has emphasized the need to unravel more her virtues and reconnect their devotion with the real Mary.

Moreover, Mary is one among us; she is not just sitting on a pedestal. Yes, she is a model of the church, but she is also a member of the church. As American theologian Elizabeth Johnson would say, she is not just our mother but also our sister.[5] Following the example of Mary, each in his or her own way brings forth Christ as Pope Francis explains,

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful…  Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb.  He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith.  He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul” (EG, #285, 212).[6]

Preaching more about the life of Mary entails a shift in devotion from honoring the privileges and splendors of Mary for their own sake to following more her example; a shift from putting Mary on a pedestal where no one can reach her to remodeling their lives with the life of Mary. Devotion is to be like Mary, to learn from Mary. Yes, Mary recognizes our basic economic needs but there is more to our economic needs. Mary pierces into our souls—Mary sees a more profound need, hunger and thirst within us, that is, existential and eschatological hunger.

It is in this context that Mary becomes an evangelizer in the shrine. As the thousands of devotees see in the icon, while Mary’s eyes gaze intently on us, her right hand points to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way, leads people to follow Jesus. In the words of Pope Francis,

Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church”. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness.[7]

It is in this light that Pope Paul VI proposed that Mary be the model for all evangelizers. He gave Mary the title “Star of Evangelization,”

On the morning of Pentecost she watched over with her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit: may she be the Star of the evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope.[8]

Similarly, Pope Francis called Mary as the Mother of Evangelization: “She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.”[9]

In living out a proper and meaningful devotion, they can look up to Mary. Mary is herself a devotee; Mary is the exemplar par excellence of a devotee. She is a devotee they need to look up to for she already experienced what they all long for as a devotee. Mary as a devotee has fully reached out to heavens; has tasted, felt, and touched heaven, the sacred, the mystery and the divine. She has bridged the ordinary and the divine. Mary as a devotee with us, praying with us is expressed by Portia Fidelis C. Legaspi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on April 18,2014:

It is always at the darkest and difficult time of my life that I experience your loving presence, giving me hope and strength to survive. And later, witness how through your intercession my human limitations and weaknesses be fortified by your unfailing guidance. I owe you all that I am today. I am a mother of three children, a real estate broker and a law student from 2009 until 2013. During my fourth year in law school last 2012, our family was beset with a painful test. My second child only 15 was charged with a criminal case. I felt devastated. We knew that my child was innocent, and that the charge was meant to extort money from my family. This event challenged my conviction as a mother and as a future lawyer. It came to the point, that I asked God and Mother Mary, to help me look after my child And protect him from all the evil people. That I am willing to stop my studies and career in the law profession if the situation will demand for it. Today, I have passed the 2013 bar exam, and a full fledged lawyer at the end of April 2014. During the times, when my mind and heart went out for my child rather than to my bar review, it was God and Mother Mary that helped me survive each day. It was through her intercession that I surpassed my human weakness and be Strong by having faith. Success is always possible, I and others like me just have to keep our faith to God and Mother Mary. For what I am today, it is God and Mother Mary that lifted me up. Thank you so much.

Return to the Icon

The renewed interest in the Eastern theology of the icon inspired the shrine to return to the Icon as an important vehicle in the school of Mary. In recent years, Redemptorist were preaching more about the iconographical elements of the icon. The Redemptorists were also preaching more about the Eastern theology and spirituality of the icon.

In so doing, devotees saw the icon not just as a devotional object but as a window to the divine, to eternity, an encounter between their mundane existence on earth and the certain promise of a future life with God. Experiencing icon in this way appeals profoundly to the devotees’ rootedness in the indigenous cosmic worldview. If we recall, our ancestors believed in an invisible society coexisting with their material world. This society, they believed, was inhabited by spirits that included dead ancestors, deities, and lesser gods.[10] To represent this society and the spirits residing in this world, our ancestors created anito which are sometimes called larauan (icons) made from wood, stone, or ivory. They served as the bridge to the spiritual world. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help appeals to the devotees because it served as a window to eternity in the same way that their ancestors’ larauan served as bridge to the higher heavens.

touching-the-icon

The return to the icon also shifted the ultimate focus of devotion from Mary to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way. The perpetual help of Mary is centered on Jesus. As Fr. da Silva reiterates,

With her Son in her arms, which expresses at the same time both the Incarnation and the Passion, Mary gives us our plentiful redemption again and again …This is why Mary is our perpetual help, the mediator of all graces. All the other petitions we are accustomed to present in our Novenas should come later, as though integrated into the greatest grace that Mary offers us, that is, her very own Son.[11]

Liturgy

Another important tool of evangelization in the shrine is the liturgy. Many have called our attention that novena is more popular than the Eucharist and sometimes it seems that the Eucharist is just an addendum to the novena. Some of the devotees, after praying the novena, leave the shrine and do not attend the Eucharist anymore. Indeed, in Baclaran, Wednesday—novena day—is more popular than Sunday.

Through these years, the shrine has strengthened its celebration of the Eucharist. The shrine has enhanced the participation of the whole assembly. Efforts have been made in the shrine to harmonize the novena prayer with the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  Recognizing that liturgy is the most important activity of the shrine, the Redemptorist saw this as a very important undertaking taking into consideration that our shrine is not just an ordinary shrine but a national shrine.  This is also in line with the call for liturgical renewal as envisaged in Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium):

… the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the church’s power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” –The Constitution on the Liturgy, 10

A perennial question hurled by other Christian denominations at Catholics is: Do Catholics worship Mary?  Devotees’ main attraction is Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help; their fondness for Mary has often times made her more important than Jesus.

cropped-1stwed2011331.jpg

Ever since ancient times, the church has always reiterated the importance of worship over devotion or veneration. The church has distinguished between latria (worship) and dulia (veneration). This distinction was made as early as Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome. In 787 the Second Council of Nicaea affirmed a three-level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia that applies to God, the Virgin Mary and then to the other saints respectively.

Dulia (Greek doulia; Latin servitus), is a theological term signifying the honour paid to the saints, while latria means worship given to God alone, and hyperdulia the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[12] Hyperdulia is not adoration; only God is adored. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, does not amount to worship – which is reserved for God. This distinction implies giving importance to the Eucharist and the sacraments which are celebrations of true worship of God. Moreover, this clarifies for the devotees the importance of the worship of God and the following of Jesus as his disciple over devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. As Ang Mahal na Birhen declares, “all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator.”[13]

On the other hand, there should be integration between liturgy and devotion. Ulyssys da Silva calls for a stronger unity between the official liturgy and popular piety of the people:

[I]f the sacramental action, celebrated in the Liturgy, does not move toward an encounter with an interior piety, already called forth and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, it becomes ineffective. When both are experienced in parallel, as two distinct realities, without seeking a concrete integration that unites them in a single celebration, we are not being faithful to Jesus, for whom what mattered most was not the “official cult” or the pious customs, but rather, the experience of meeting the Father and the fraternity among his disciples. Therefore, the first purpose of sacramental action is to further enhance the experience of piety, even to the experience of complete union between a human being and God. Only in this way does a creature arrive at perfect conformity to the Will of the Father and undertake in earnest the mission of the Kingdom of His beloved Son. When will we get to the point of having this gospel reality clearly visualized in all our liturgical celebrations and acts of piety?[14]

Debo(Mi)syon

In recent years the shrine has emphasized the unity of devotion and mission. This is encapsulated in what the shrine called debo(Mi)syon: a concatenation of two words: debosyon (devotion) and misyon (mission). This implies that devotion and mission mutually saturate each other. Devotion cannot be confined to devotion but is essentially missional. Mission cannot be confined to mission or action but is essentially devotional.  They are not two separate entities. Fr. Victorino Cueto explains that this is the disposition that pervade the Baclaran phenomenon,

a dis/position that is akin to a journey, a search that lies devotion and mission. It is highly devotion-al as it is filled with zeal and love. The devout is intensely touched by his/her experience glimpsed through the Icon of God. S/He is “consecrated” to the altar of a man-God whom s/he encounters in his/her narrations of prayerful pleas and heartfelt gratitude. In the same regard, it is mission-al in its practiced desire to reach-out and serve others, not in his/her own terms alone but in the service of God’s mission and His/Her Reign.[15]

Translated into evangelization, the aim of debo(Mi)syon is to make devotees become aware that they are missionaries and are partners in the mission of God. Through preaching, retreats, prayers and liturgies, devotees deepen their understanding of their identity as missionaries and by virtue of their baptism, they are sent as missionaries. Through evangelization the shrine has emphasized the identity of Mary as first disciple of Jesus so that as they grow in their devotion to Mary, they grow as disciples of Jesus.  On the other hand, as they become worthier disciples of Jesus, their devotion to Mary grows stronger.

The goal of debo(Mi)syon is for the devotion to become not mere religious piety and ritualistic devotionalism, nor mere supplication and thanksgiving, nor just practical participation in the mission of the church, but more importantly, it is entering into the mystery of the mission of God. Just as the icon calls devotees to participate in the divine mystery of the icon which is the life of glory with God and the saints, debo(Mi)syon calls devotees to see their lives in the life of the divine trinity—a life of mission within the three-persons-one-God and the overflowing of this love to the world, the whole of creation. Debo(Mi)syon is ultimately imitating the life of Mary who is the epitome of an icon of God, the prototype of a redeemed creation and the exemplar par excellence of a disciple of Christ. The shrine becomes the locus of the encounter betwixt and between heaven and earth, of living the present and the eschatological fullness of life.

Conclusion

Evangelization, indeed, is the greatest challenge of the shrine today as in the past. Much remains to be desired in this area. The shrine has to give more emphasis in evangelizing the devotees about the Icon and the life of Mary. The shrine also needs to further promote a holistic evangelization. Evangelization needs to address the many areas of life and piety of devotees that are disconnected from each other.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[2] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

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

[4] Maureen Orth, “How the Virgin Mary Became the Most Powerful Woman,” National Geographic, December, 2015, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/virgin-mary-text

[5]see Elizabeth  Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 2003).

[6] Evangelii Gaudium, #285.

[7] Evangelii Gaudium, #287.

[8] Evangelii Nuntiandi, #82.

[9] Evangelii Gaudium, #284.

[10] Almocera, Ruel A., (2005) Popular Filipino Spiritual Beliefs with a proposed Theological Response. in Doing Theology in the Philippines. Suk, John., Ed. Mandaluyong: OMF Literature Inc. Pp 78-98

[11] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #48.

[12] Dulia, Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. Accessed at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05188b.htm

[13] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #80.

[14] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #34.

[15] Cueto, DEBO(MI)SYON: Celebrating the Spirit in / of Baclaran, 12.

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Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Icon of Compassion

 

fiesta-icon
Photo credit: A. Lubi, C.Ss.R. | Baclaran | June 2018

“Be ready to intercede with every form of help
for each human heart and all the peoples …
especially for those who have heavy ordeals in life
due to suffering, poverty and every form of afflictions…
Mother of Perpetual Help, accept this humble offering
 and place it in the Heart of Your Son,”
– St. John Paul II in Baclaran

Filipinos have embraced Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as their own mother. From the moment that Our Mother of Perpetual Help arrived in the Philippines in 1906, Filipinos took her into their own homes and communities. Many devotees fondly call Our Mother of Perpetual Help “Mama Mary” (Mother Mary). It may sound sentimentalist to some but to many devotees it expresses their deep devotion and childlike dependence on Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Just like Marvin L. Maderas who in October 14, 2014, wrote a thanksgiving letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help which she fondly calls Mama Mary,

Dear Mama Mary,

I cannot stop thanking you for the blessings you have given me. I was jobless and hopeless then. I prayed to You for a job and You found me one in Manila, near your shrine. I tried to make it every Wednesday to attend to the novena asking for a more permanent job so that I can continue to support my children in their college education. You not only given me a regular employment but you restored me to my previous job in my hometown. O Mama Mary, You are really the kindest of all mothers for granting my prayers and giving me this extra gift! I am now working in our place and going back to our home daily and sleeping every night beside my youngest daughter. I can now watch her as she grows up into a lady. Nothing is impossible to you and your generosity is beyond expectation. Thank you, thank you so much Mama Mary. I promise to proclaim Your miraculous intervention in every opportunity that I have. Amen

Mary of Baclaran is the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help enshrined on the altar of the shrine. The original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enshrined in Rome in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Chiesa di Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino in Italian). It is a Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Church) icon painted sometime between 1350 and 1450 AD in the island of Crete by an unknown iconographer (painter of icons).

Unlike other objects of devotions to the Blessed Mother in the Philippines which are usually images or statues of Western origin, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an icon of Eastern origin.  Not all devotees know that Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an icon let alone an Eastern icon. Many are unfamiliar that this icon comes from the Eastern Church tradition. This comes to the fore when devotees comment on the beauty of Mary in the icon. Many find Mary in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help different from the smooth, fair, and beautiful faces of Mary they have been used to in images or statues of Mary of Western origin, like Fatima, Lourdes, or Rosary. This highlight a significant reality that Filipinos’ standard of religious beauty has, for a long time, been conditioned by Western standards, symbolism and spirituality.

The unfamiliarity with the Eastern spirituality and understanding of the icon adds to the mystery of the icon. This is symbolized by the location of the icon at the shrine—enshrined at the top of the altar with no physical access for devotees. Despite the inaccessibility of the icon, however, devotees find creative ways to reach the icon. I remember the story of Fr. Maguire on a one Wednesday when he just finished the blessing of pious objects. A woman approached him and said, “Can I go in and touch the image of the Blessed Mother?” He said, “How do you intend to do that?” He had an image in his mind of her trying to climb the bronze decorations above the Tabernacle to reach the icon. She said simply, however, “I just touch the tabernacle; the icon is connected to it.”

For many devotees, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help seems to be full of paradoxes: distant yet near, mysterious yet familiar, unattractive yet inviting, and alienating yet fascinating.  Indeed, there is a profound mystery and universal appeal in the icon that transcends the physical and natural as Clement M. Henze suggests,

It appeals to the supernatural within us; to something, therefore, that is wider than the world; to something that is not confined to race, or color, or country; to something that is not determined by artistic theories or artistic values, be they proper to the East or to the West.[1]

Despite all these, Filipinos loved the icon of Mary of Baclaran. How can a strange foreign icon become so popular and well-loved in the Philippines, not to mention in many parts of the world where there is widespread devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. J. Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R. tries to make sense of this enigma,

[W]e are faced with an Icon that in itself does not belong to the Catholic tradition of the Roman Rite, or to western religiosity, as we know it and inherited it with our paintings and devotional images. How was it possible for this Icon to be welcomed in such an amazing way by the devotional world of the west? What process would have had to happen for the mandate of Pius IX to us Redemptorists to have such an international effect and for peoples of different cultures to feel such a strong affection for a typically Byzantine Icon? Or could it be that we have taken an Icon of eastern culture and conferred a new meaning upon it, so that it might penetrate our religious culture?[2]

Appeal of the Icon to our Indigenous Religiosity

There must be something in the icon of Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help that appeal profoundly to the Filipinos’ sense of religiosity, or as da Silva suggests, Filipino devotees could have conferred a new meaning upon it consonant with their cultural and religious idiosyncrasies. Fr. Nico Perez also ponders on the attraction of the icon to Filipino devotees and posits that it has something to do with the practical advantages of it being an icon.[3] Unlike a statue,  a copy of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be easily placed on their wallets. Thus, the icon is always with them wherever they go. It would be inconvenient doing the same thing to a statue. In other words, Our Mother of Perpetual Help as an icon has the character of accessibility (availability), mobility (transportability) and physicality (presence)—qualities which always appeal to and sustains popular religiosity.

In the previous chapter, we saw how our ancestors also made larauan (icons) made from wood, stone, or ivory which are representation of the invisible society coexisting with their material world. In other words, these larauan served as the bridge to the spiritual world. The icon of OMPH appeals to the devotees because it served as a window to eternity in the same way that their ancestors’ larauan served as bridge to the higher heavens.

Rootedness in the Church Tradition and Teaching on Mary

Before Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon to the Redemptorist in 1866, it took an almost 500 year’s journey from Crete to Rome. The miraculous icon was painted or written in the 14th century in the island of Crete.  The story of the journey of the icon from Crete to Rome is a fascinating one. It is a long journey replete with miraculous anecdotes. One very significant observation is that from the very beginning of the journey of the icon, the protagonists of the veneration have been mostly lay people: the merchant who ‘stole’ the icon, the family who came into possession of it and the girl to whom Our Lady appeared in a dream so as not to be forgotten.[4] Through many ordinary people, sinners even, Mary was directing people where the Icon should go and where it should be enshrined for veneration. This may also hold true in Baclaran.

The story of the icon, however, cannot be traced only from the 14th century as the icon represents the hundreds of years of church’s tradition, teaching and reflection on the role of Mary in God’s mission beginning from the Council of Ephesus in 431, which gave the title to Mary, as Mother of God.  The original Greek word used in this church dogma was theotokos which means God-bearer.  Mary was chosen to be the bearer of God-made-man.

The teachings and faith declarations of the church on Mary, however, was based on the scriptures and witness’ accounts of her actual life here in earth.  Therefore, the icon also bears the actual life of Mary.  To kiss an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is to show love towards Virgin Mary herself, not just to the wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon. Veneration of the icon as entirely separate from Mary’s life is inconceivable. Indeed, we can say that the icon is a relic of the living Mary; an icon of a life lived in the fullness of God’s grace: “Hail Mary full of Grace.”

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, is more than a work of art.  It is a sacred testament which reveals the church’s profound development in the understanding, belief, and recognition of Mary as the Icon of Trinitarian love. The icon is not mentioned in the scriptures but expressed centuries of church’s traditions and teachings on Mary as well as veneration and devotion of people through the years. In order to understand the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, we need to understand the theological and spiritual role of Mary as proclaimed by the church through the centuries. As Fr. da Silva reiterates,

The Icon itself is normally not the object of devotion or veneration, as are our pictures and images of saints. It is totally integrated into a broader context, as a sacramental reference to the contemplation of the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. It is an invitation to contemplate the History of Salvation in its mystery dimension, that is, as a fulfillment of the salvific plan of God.[5]

By containing the church’s teachings and traditions, the icon is important means of evangelization. As the document The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God says, “The icon as an instrument for evangelization especially about the life and theology on Mary. Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[6]

Synthesis of Marian iconography/archetypes

Church’s tradition and teachings on Mary is not only ingrained in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The icon is a product of centuries of tradition of iconographic archetypes. Each of these archetype contributed to the final art and meaning of the icon. Ferero states that if we wish to understand the original and overall significance of icons, we must refer back to the iconographic archetypes that produced them.[7]

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is at the tail end of a long creative, artistic and theological process. [T]he original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was written by the iconographer at a time when the Christian art of symbols was reaching the end of its creative process. As a result it becomes a synthesis of the fundamental elements of earlier Marian iconography. Being at the tail end, it gains much of the insights, spirituality and meaning of previous icons.

Let us now examine briefly the iconographic archetypes contained in icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

There are five Marian archetypes that are significantly present in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. They originally appear in a number of other fundamental iconographic themes or compositions. Ferero enumerates these archetypes as the Virgin Mother, the Mother of God as Empress, the Orant, the Hodegetria and the Eleusa. All other types and models, including the Virgin of the Passion, are derived from these five archetypes.[8]

Virgin Mother

Upon her veil are three stars, which represent her eternal virginity: Mary was “always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ.”[9]

Mother of God as Empress

Besides Christ, the basis of all iconography, no other subject has been more depicted than Mary, the Theotokos (Greek for “Mother of God”, literally “God-Bearer”). The icon of Theotokos represent the first human being who realized the goal of the Incarnation: the deification of man.

On her left hand the Virgin holds the hand of he who holds the universe in his hand and whom neither heaven nor earth can contain. The words of the Akathistos hymn read as follows:

“He who sits in glory, on the throne of Divinity, Jesus, the Supreme God, came in a veil of cloud, into the arms of the Immaculate, and brought salvation to those who cried out, ‘Glory, 0 Christ, to your power’” (Od. 4).

“Hail to you who bear he who sustains all” (Od. 1). “Hail to you, the seat of God, the Infinite one; hail to you, the portal of the sacred mystery … Hail, to this throne more holy than that of the cherubim; hail seat more beautiful than that of the seraphim” (Od. 15).

Orant

Mary as intercessor. In this type, Mary is shown with arms in ornate position, with Christ enclosed in a circle in her womb. “Of the Sign,” is a reference to the words of Isaiah 7:14, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”

orant

The Mother of God as one Praying (Orant) is a symbol of the ascension of the soul, through the experience of death, towards the resurrection and participation in the mystical life of Christ. It culminates in the hereafter but we are also called upon to experience it at specific moments of our life on earth, such as times of prayer. This is why the celebrant raises his arms during the Eucharistic prayer and invites the faithful to raise their hearts to God, like Mary as the one Praying and in the scene of the Annunciation, the Ascension and Pentecost.[10]

Eleusa

Eleusa means tender mercy. In this type, the Theotokos holds her Son, who touches his face to hers and wraps at least one arm around her neck or shoulder. This icon type, showing the poignantly intimate relationship between mother and child, is much beloved by Orthodox worshippers, and has been often painted through the centuries

eluesa-icon

The Eleusa does not offer a moving depiction of the relationship between Mother and Son, instead it expresses the most profound experience of the life of the human soul in God, obtained not from a psychical perspective but in the world of the spirit.[11] The Eleusa focuses more on the human and maternal dimension of this Marian attribute.[12]

Hodegetria

Hodegetria depicts Mary as the guide. In this type, the Ever Virgin Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation.

It is interesting to note that Mary in the Eastern tradition does not give so much emphasis on Mary in her own right. In Byzantine icons, Mary is never depicted by herself, autonomously, separately but always depicted with her divine son—Jesus.

hodegetria-icon

Mary’s right hand is, above all, the Hodegetria hand, that is to say, the hand of she who shows the path to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, as in the wedding feast at Cana, she appears to say to believers: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).[13]

Virgin of the Passion

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an example of the Virgin of the Passion type of icon. When we say: Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, we have to include the icon of the Virgin of the Passion and the Marian devotion that has appropriated it.[14]

Da Silva summarized all these iconographical elements in the icon:

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an iconographic representation of the Theotókos, the Mother of God, in the style of the post-Byzantine school of Crete, between the 15th and 17th centuries. Unlike the Icons that present Mary in a majestic attitude, Our Lady of Perpetual Help bears the same characteristics of serenity, but in a maternal attitude, lovingly holding her son. And while holding him, she presents her Son to whoever is contemplating her. More specifically, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is part of the iconography proper to the Virgin of the Passion, in which the Son glimpses his future sufferings and the serene face of Mary is mixed with something like angst. The child clings to her thumb and one of his sandals is loosened from his foot. The same Archangel Gabriel who announced the Incarnation to her, now with the Archangel Michael shows the Child the instruments of the Passion.[15]

All the theological elements that these iconographic archetypes should be present if we are to develop a healthy and balanced devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In understanding the meaning of the icon, we need to consider all the iconographic archetypes. In the past, we have stressed so much the intercessory part of Mary but we have neglected the part of the icon where Mary shows the way and Jesus looking beyond the passion. The intercessory dimension of Marian icons is the least powerful part of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help; the strongest is the gaze and the hand.

What’s in a Name?

The title Our Mother of Perpetual Help also evokes profound appeal that draws the attention of Filipino devotees. The name—Our Mother of Perpetual Help—has also contributed to the phenomenal rise of the devotion in Baclaran.  The title Our Mother of Perpetual Help originated in the text itself accompanying the icon. The Blessed Virgin herself chose this name to serve as an encouragement to us all to have recourse to her with complete confidence in all our needs.[16] Let us reflect on each of the name of the title and it’s appeal to the devotees.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper comers of the icon). Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the few titles that calls Mary, mother (the only other titles that I can think of are Mother of God and Mother of Mercy). Other titles are mostly called our Lady of _______________ which is oftentimes connected to a particular place.  Other times, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Indeed, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is universal; it appeals to us all of our universal experience with our own mothers. Mother is a more universal title. While others are called by their local names, Our Mother of Perpetual Help transcends the local. Fr. Ulysses da Silva expounds,

It is not a title bound to a location (such as Aparecida, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.), nor to a privilege or accolade of Mary (like Assumption, Mystical Rose, etc.), nor to the Passion event, as would be the original characterization of the Icon. It is an invocation that identifies the maternal attitude of Mary in relation to her Son and to all of us. It is a universal title in relation to time as well as space, whenever or wherever someone is found in need or in danger.[17]

Similarly, Pope Francis in his homily on the celebration of the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the 21st of May, 2018 in the Vatican, said that Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.”  Mary’s motherhood is emphasized throughout the Gospels, from the Annunciation to the foot of the cross.[18]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) is always active rather than passive. The emphasis is not just on the help but on the active quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is helping us now, as in the past and in the future, in all our predicaments.

Help

Saklolo is almost a desperate cry for help in distress. This is the plea of many devotees: help me, saklolo! Many are desperate, they have no one to turn to; any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (Our Mother of Perpetual Help) appeals to the very situation that the thousands of devotees find themselves in real life.

We are all creatures in need as we sought the help of God and of one another through prayer and action.  Those who have freely received blessings are called to freely give and those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask. By expressing our devotion and praying the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we accept that the help we ask and receive should be perpetual never to be stopped and disconnected from each other.

touching_icon

Perpetual Help

Whenever we show the Icon and ask the people: Who is the perpetual help? Most of them immediately answer: Mary is the perpetual help.  Most devotees think that the help and blessings comes from Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, Jesus then is the perpetual help.

The perpetual help of Our Mother of Perpetual Help ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God to everyone through the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Put differently, understanding the meaning of perpetual help in the context of the whole icon, means the perpetual showing of Mary to the devotees Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, Our Mother of Perpetual Help can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way as in the iconographic type of hodegetria.

Rediscovering the Icon

Since the Redemptorists introduced the icon to the Filipinos in 1906, the Redemptorist has been instructing the devotees about the meaning and nature of Our Mother of Perpetual Help as an icon. The missionaries also introduced the history and the meaning of the different parts of the icon. The earliest extant of Novena in 1926 explains and meditates on the different parts of the icon. The second earliest Novena in 1936 also includes an explanation and meditation of the different parts of the icon.

The instructions about the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, focused mainly on the meaning of the parts of the icon and the history of the icon from its origin in Crete to its arrival in the Philippines.

The instructions, however, only mentions the Eastern theology, spirituality and background of the icon in passing.  The division within Christianity between the East and the West may have contributed to a lack of appreciation of the Eastern tradition and theology let alone the Eastern background and spirituality of the icon. The return to Eastern spirituality of the icon was only given a boost after more than 100 years of the mandate of Pope Pius IX. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the greatest Marian gifts of the Eastern Church to the Western Church. Yet, it was overwhelmed by the explosion of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It is essential to understand the background and purpose of Eastern iconography in order to understand the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Instructing about the icon without an understanding of Eastern iconography will only scratch the tip of the iceberg, as Ferero explains,

To truly comprehend the richness of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help we must do more than give it a simply vague or even pious look. We need to tune in to the theological message it holds through an iconographic, aesthetic and spiritual ‘reading’ of the symbolic elements it employs.[19]

Because it expresses a foreign culture–the Byzantine culture–it is not easy to decipher. As Ferrero admits,

[F]or those who belong to a different culture from that represented in such images, icons are works of art that are not easy to understand or appreciate. As with all works of symbolic character, they require an authentic introduction. It is not possible, in a spontaneous way, to capture the message of which they are bearers and which they set out to convey.[20]

Moreover, because of the cultural and time gap, it is also one of those icons that have been most exposed to iconographic distortion. Without losing its fundamental symbolic elements, artists have adapted it to the aesthetics of each region, reducing it, in many cases, to a simple devotional image.[21] Due to this localized adaptation, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succor has acquired its own context (added to those of the past) in the Marian devotion that it now symbolizes. The sanctuary of Crete, in which it was so venerated as the Virgin of the Passion, has been replaced by altars to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that the devotion has created all over the world.[22] In so doing, it’s rootedness to the iconographic elements–theological and artistic–have been lost in the process.

We will discuss more the Eastern spirituality of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in later chapters.

Present Situation

We have seen how the theological and iconographic elements help us retrieve the original meaning of the icon. Iconographic understanding of the icon, however, is only one side of the pole. The other side of the pole is the current concrete life-situation of the devotees.

Thus, each period need a re-reading and re-reception of the icon according to their context. We need to read the icon in the context of the burning issues of the day, the signs of the times, and the lights and shadows.

As we contemplate the icon, we experience a creative tension between our present situation and the future life in eternity with God which the icon represents. The icon is the encounter between heaven and earth, now and the fullness of time. This is represented in the icon by the interplay between the sad eyes of Mary upon seeing our situation and the golden background of the icon which symbolizes heaven as our future home. Likewise, this is represented in the expression of fear of Jesus as symbolized by his falling sandals upon seeing the cross and the promise of the victory of resurrection.

Icons are doorway, means of access into the age to come. It is a meeting point and a place of encounter with the communion of saints. It makes Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the icon present to us. We participate in the mystery that is depicted. More than an object, the icon is an event.  An icon is a proclamation.

The shrine for the devotees has also become an icon. The shrine has become a channel of passage from the present world to the eternal where Our Mother of Perpetual Help dwell.

Conclusion:

The icon that devotees, venerate, touch and kiss is a dynamic icon; a living icon, not a dead icon.  It carries with it a rich history, spirituality, theology and sacramental efficacy. It is not a magical object which is inertly imbued with vast power and a miraculous object where we bring our petitions but rather a dynamic icon that enters into our life story.  The icon is the story of our faith; the summary of our salvation. We are invited to participate in this story and journey. We are invited to enter into God’s story, into Mary’s story; to join our story with the story and journey of the icon.

Ultimately, the whole icon points to Christ. Jesus Christ is our way, truth and life. Christ is the Word who came down to us so that we can come up to God.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Clement M. Henze, 3.

[2] Fr. J. Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, Campo Grande, Brazil, May, 2014. http://www.cssr.news/2017/12/our-lady-of-perpetual-help-and-popular-piety/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OlxbVy_AcM&index=3&list=TLGGapvNN1caKwIxOTA1MjAxNw

[4]  Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21.

[5] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety

[6] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[7] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 48.

[8] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 48-49.

[9] Miravalle, Mark (June 2006) [1992]. Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion. Foreword by Édouard Gagnon. Goleta, California: Queenship Publishing. pp. 56–63.

[10] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 52.

[11] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 52.

[12] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 50.

[13] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 123.

[14] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 15.

[15]Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #12.

[16] “Give this message to your mother and to your grandfather: Holy Mary of Perpetual Help requires that you remove her from your house, if not, you will all soon die”. Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 133.

[17] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #43.

[18] Pope Francis, “The Church, like Mary, is woman and mother,” Vatican News, 21 May 2018. Accessed at  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-05/pope-francis-mass-santa-marta-mary-church-woman-mother.html

[19] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 128.

[20] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 11.

[21] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 14.

[22] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 15.

The Shrine Economy

20170108_151956

Holy Mother of the Redeemer,
magnificent sign of hope,
we entreat you,
come to the aid of your people,
who long to rise again
St. John Paul II.[1]

The explosion of novena in 1948 not just attracted thousands of devotees; it also attracted business and trades people to Baclaran. The arrival of thousands of devotees and pilgrims in Baclaran in 1948 transformed this small village into a center of trade. The devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help powered the economy of Baclaran in the 20th century. Today, the whole economy of Baclaran revolves around the shrine. Manuel Victor Sapitula calls this economy a pilgrimage-based economy.[2] Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the main driving force of this economy.

Up to the beginning of the war, Baclaran was a fishing village. In April 1940, the Chronicles mention of a conflict of the community with some fisher folk who parked their fishing boats on the missionaries’ property near the shores of Manila Bay:

We have had some trouble with the local fishing people who put their boats on our property, claiming that the strip of 33 meters depth inside the fence does not belong to us but to the government. The particular piece in question was given to the government some years ago, but at present efforts are being made to get back the title for such in exchange for a strip on the right side of our property for the new road.

This is the last reference regarding fishing activities along the bay, and subsequent years saw the disappearance of fisher folks and the eventual rise of vendors and business people in Baclaran. The novena explosion in 1948 transformed Baclaran from a fishing village to center of trade. As soon as the thousands of devotees flock to the shrine for the novena, street vendors followed suit. The first reference about vendors in the Chronicles is an entry dated 28 September 1949:

During the week past – a subdivision of Quiapo market has been growing up along Redemptorist [Road] in front of the gate. Someone has counted more than 30 stalls. Many people have expressed disgust at the nuisance – but nothing much can be done about it.

This was just one year and three months after the beginning of the Novena and there were only 30 vendors. The vendors were selling their wares on the main road leading to the shrine aptly called Redemptorist Road.

Before the war, a big part of Redemptorist road was given by the Redemptorist to the government in exchange for the property fronting the sea, which today is the property fronting Roxas Blvd. During that time, Roxas Blvd is where the seashore was. The Baclaran chronicles narrated this event in December 1940,

During December, the President, Manuel Quezon visited one day at the request of Mrs. Cuyugan to inspect the new road (Redemptorist Rd.). The result was that it was decided to make the road 20 meters wide instead of the previous plan which provided for a 50 meter wide Road. The latter would have brought the road almost to the Monastery wall. The property was supposed to be a swap for the land between the Monastery and the New Road being built along the sea wall, now known as Roxas Boulevard, but the agreement had not yet been drawn up.[3]

After the Redemptorist donated a big part of the shrine’s property for the widening of the Redemptorist Road, it became a National Road. It had four lanes for traffic and big sidewalks. With the explosion of the novena after the war, the vendors increasingly occupied Redemptorist road which limited the passage of vehicles. To make the situation worst, scrupulous people tried to make big money out of the situation and of the vendors. This is shown in an incident in 1955 when a group of vendors asked the Redemptorist community of the shrine to charge them for rent. The Chronicles in an entry dated 18 July 1955 explained the situation:

This morning a delegation of vendors came to see the Superior bringing with them a petition signed by 150 vendors. The petition: that we will accept rent from them! It appears that households on either side of the road have been charging vendors up to seventy pesos a Wednesday – payable in advance – for the right to put their stands on the road. As the households have no claim whatever on the road it was quite a profitable revenue – for them. The vendors finally rebelled. They acknowledge us as the true road-owners and ask us to from each vendor a rent of 1 ½ pesos a square metre. Offer accepted.

Today the street vendors are beyond count. They occupy most of Redemptorist Road on Wednesdays and Sundays. The influx of pilgrims in Baclaran not only invited street vendors but a whole system of  economic infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, banks, shopping centers, flea market, barber shops, beauty parlors, hospitals and many others. The shrine has stimulated economic transactions in a wide system of exchange. Vendors, traders, business owners and even Muslim merchants has turned Baclaran into a major trading center.

sampaguita_vendor3

While the novena generated this economy, this economy, in turn, contributed to the growth of the novena. Sapitula attributes one of the factors for the Perpetual Help devotions’ success is its recognition of material needs especially in post-World War II Philippines.[4] The emergence of the pilgrimage-based economy had significant impact on the character of the Perpetual Help Devotion itself. Sapitula explains that “[this] demonstrates in spatial terms the melding of the sacred and the material in devotional practice. This indicates a strong link between devotional activity and materiality which can allude to processes called religious commodification.[5] The various manifestations of ‘religious commodification’ are not unique to Baclaran but are found in various shrines and cuts across various religious traditions.[6]

The transformation of Baclaran into trading center also gave rise to spiritual trade where religious stalls sell all sorts of religious articles: statuettes, devotional pictures, candles, shrine water, various designs, sizes and colors of the rosary; various sizes of the baby or young Jesus, statue of some saints, and many others. Today, even Muslim vendors sell many religious articles and pious goods like novena booklets, rosaries and statutes.

Baclaran’s dry goods markets are known throughout the country as a bargain hunters’ haven. Their line of ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing are most sought and haggled for items. It is also has a number of flea markets (tiangges), selling everything from clothes and electronics to home decorations and traditional medicine, which occupied the westbound lane of Taft Avenue. Many of the devotees after praying the novena go shopping to these cheap shops and flea markets around the shrine. This is another reason why devotees go to Baclaran—to buy cheap goods.

vendors

Our Mother of Perpetual Help brought jobs and trade to the small and sleepy town and with it livelihood opportunities especially for the poor mainly through selling of all sorts of things like food, clothes, and electronics. The economic benefits of the devotion/shrine is enormous especially for the vendors and business people. Indeed, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a gift to the economy of Baclaran and the Philippines.

The shrine herself is a big job creator.  The shrine employs many people. On any given day, almost 100 people work for the shrine from lay missionaries, social workers, secretary, accountant, janitors, security guards, candle suppliers, parking aide, cleaners, janitors, and many others. The shrine directly employs approximately 50 regular and extra staff and working students, and 4 Lay missionaries. Additionally, the shrine indirectly employs people through agencies. They include 9 workers in the public toilets, 30 security guards and 22 regular parking aides. The shrine also provides employment and business for candle makers and suppliers and religious goods suppliers.

The shrine has its own store which sells primarily devotional goods like icons, novena booklets, rosaries, medals, cross and many others. All the profit of the store goes to the box for the poor which fund many social services and programs of the shrine. The shrine also host the Sinirangan coffee shop in it’s Carillon bell tower. All the profit of the coffee shop goes to the farmers in Eastern Samar who were victims of supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013.

Baclaran shrine funded many social services and programs such as Sarnelli Center for Street Children, St. Gerard Family life Center, Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center, Medical-Dental Services, Crisis Intervention Center, St. John Neumann Migrant Center and Redemptorist Educational Assistance Program (REAP), feeding programs and other programs. The shrine funded not just the social services and program of the shrine but all the communities of the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila—Legaspi, Lipa, Laoag, and the formation of seminarians in its Cubao seminary.

The shrine has also responded to emergency and immediate relief of people who were victims of calamities whether natural or man-made. The devotees were very generous when the shrine tried to raise funds for people who suffered disasters like typhoon, flood, landslide, fire, and others. Through the generous donation of the devotees the shrine has funded immediate delivery of relief goods and longer-term rehabilitation projects for victims of calamities.

Let us not forget the voluntary job in the shrine. The Shrine is home to about 500 volunteers helping in various programs and services of the shrine.  Most of the volunteers offer freely their time and effort, first and foremost, out of their devotion to our Mother and their strong sense of service to others.  In spite of the big number of volunteers, the shrine still needs volunteers. The many programs and services of the shrine are run through the generous efforts of many volunteers. If you would try to monetize all these voluntary work all these years it would amount to a lot of money.

Indeed, the shrine is a major contributor to the economic life in Paranaque and for many people a job creator, not to mention that the shrine is one of the highest taxpayer in the city of Paranaque.

The burgeoning of trade in Baclaran, however, generated some negative social impact. In recent years, Baclaran has been at the forefront of the news because of the proliferations of crime, terrible traffic caused by the clogging of the roads by vendors, uncollected trash which kept piling by the day, the lingering distrust regarding transparency in the collection of fees by Barangay and City officials, the proliferation of pornographic and abortion-inducing merchandise, loud speakers and audio components which create so much noise pollution especially at night and the anarchy in the streets manifested in the never-ending vicious cycle of violence between MMDA and vendors resulting to several deaths and injuries. Unfortunately, the most affected by this social impact are the devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

We can only discuss two of the major side effects here—the problem of vendors and the underground economy.

The Problem of Vendors

The increasing number of vendors and its delinquent consequences has posed considerable problems for the shrine.  A major complaint about the vendors is that they obstruct the smooth entry of the devotees into the shrine.  There is no order among the vendors who just stand right in the path where people are walking. The vendors have also blocked the flow of traffic at the roads around the shrine. Robert Arista Martinez, a devotee, complains in January 9, 2018, “Too much vendor surrounding the area, can’t move my vehicle due to illegal vendor.”[7] The order and cleanliness has also worsened as uncollected trash kept piling by the day. The vendors continuously throw plastic and other trash on the ground which eventually clogs the drainage system.

vendors

The Redemptorist community has always worked in solidarity with other sectors of Baclaran for a permanent solution to the problem of small vendors. The shrine never opposed nor obstructed the deliverance of opportunities for livelihood for the vendors. The shrine has promoted the welfare of the vendors especially the poorest among them who have no other means of livelihood but selling. The shrine has always insisted in the past that it both serves the concerns of the devotees and the vendors. The Redemptorist Community believes that both the concerns of the devotees and the vendors can be responded to without trampling upon the rights and dignity of one over the other.  The shrine, however, has always emphasized that this should never jeopardize the interest of the thousands of devotees and the preservation of the spiritual heritage of Baclaran.

In solidarity with other sectors, the shrine has always sought peaceful resolution to the issue of vendors, albeit a solution that will not desecrate the past honor and dignity of Baclaran. Thus, the shrine has stood strongly against the continuous commercialization, anarchy and desecration of Baclaran.  It has strongly opposed, for example, the planned roofing and turning of Redemptorist Road into a street mall. Repeatedly, we came into clash with the city government regarding this issue. Turning the national road, which is beyond the commerce of man, into a street mall will only compromise the security, safety and access of the devotees to the shrine.

Underground Economy

Another negative repercussion of the pilgrimage based economy is the emergence of underground economy. Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Edgar L. Feige identifies four major underground economies as:[8]

  1. the illegal economy
  2. the unreported economy
  3. the unrecorded economy
  4. the informal economy

The “illegal economy” in the shrine consists of the criminal activities that takes advantage of the thousands of devotees especially the most vulnerable ones. Crime began as soon as novena began in 1948. In Oct 19th, 1949, the Baclaran chronicles reported the first record of arrest of pickpockets in the Church during the Novena. Sadly, this is more rampant today.

The influx of devotees into the shrine has also given rise to increasing incidents of prostitution, pickpockets, snatchers, syndicates like budol-budol, and even professional beggars. Many devotees have fallen victims to these bad elements.  One of the victims, Elvis Salazar Urbina, narrated in September 27, 2015 his bad experience:

[A] peaceful house of our lord but the people around you ..you can’t trust and the security is not meticulous in their safeguarding. A while ago, seafarers day, after mass at 6pm, I went with the crowd  in trying to get close to santo ñino. After I touched santo ñino, when I turned back I realized I was pickpocket together with the ATM card and five thousand pesos cash with receipt. Be aware guys, for the security please be alert especially on Sunday…[9]

Underneath the open and legal economy of Baclaran is an “unreported economy” which consists of income that should have been reported to the tax authority but was not reported. Everybody talks openly, for example, about millions of pesos changing hands in everyday transactions in Baclaran. This refers to unaccounted fees collected from the vendors, drivers and other business people by some persons in authority in exchange for protection. This creates the lingering mistrust regarding transparency in the collection of fees. Nobody knows how much money pass under-the-table and how much the extent of corruption is.

The “informal economy” includes street vendors selling highly discounted copies of films, music CDs, and computer software such as video games, sometimes even before the official release of the title. Many of these vendors are Muslims.

The shrine and its environs were also covertly taken advantage by unscrupulous individuals for immoral activities.  Outside the shrine, there are abortifacients being sold openly on the streets. Some notorious individuals have taken advantage of the large gathering of devotees in the compound of the shrine to do their flesh trade.

To address the underground economy, the community has constantly denounced all acts of corruption in Baclaran whether this is committed on the streets or in big government offices. The shrine has also kept reminding the devotees about the presence and activity of bad elements taking advantage especially of vulnerable devotees. The shrine has often told devotees in between novenas and masses to always keep an eye on their belongings and their loved ones. It has also formulated certain security policies which were announced to the devotees. Obviously, these policies will not prosper without the cooperation and vigilance of all.

The community has also hired more security personnel. The security personnel has increased their visibility inside and outside of the shrine. It has also installed more CCTV cameras in major areas of the shrine. The community has also asked the help of the police in preventing these crimes to occur.

Beyond the Economic Benefits

Despite the enormous benefit that the devotion has brought to the economy of Baclaran, the economic benefits are only byproducts and contingent upon the religious phenomenon. Take away the novena in Baclaran and it is highly unlikely that people will go to Baclaran just to buy goods.

The Baclaran phenomenon is more than just the material and economic benefits that vendors, business people, devotees and Redemptorists have received. The devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is not just about jobs, travel abroad, passing the examination, healed from sickness. The devotion goes beyond the economic needs. The devotion satisfies a deeper hunger and thirst. Our Mother promises us not to take us from our trials but to assure us of the glory at the end through her son. Valera Michelle expressed it well,

[S]ometimes we need not … ask anything to our [M]other of [P]erpetual [H]elp for she already knew what our heart desires, all we need is just thank her on every visit we made to her shrine…thank you to all the priests and devotees who continue to spread God’s overflowing love and amazing grace!!! 🙂[10]

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] St. John Paul II, Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help

[2] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 139.

[3] Maguire, To Give Missions Wherever They are Needed, 20.

[4] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 145.

[5] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 145.

[6] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 145.

[7] https://www.facebook.com/pg/Our Mother of Perpetual Helpbaclaran/reviews/

[8] Edgar L. Feige, “Defining And Estimating Underground And Informal Economies: The New Institional Economics Approach,” Development and Comp Systems 0312003, EconWPA. <https://ideas.repec.org/p/wpa/wuwpdc/0312003.html&gt;

[9] https://www.facebook.com/Our Mother of Perpetual Helpbaclaran/inbox/?selected_item_id=646908125511183

[10] Valera Michelle, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/testimonials.html

The Shrine and Integrity of Creation

green_shrine1-e1528933860838.jpg

Lady, full and overflowing with grace,
all creation receives new life from your abundance.
Virgin, blessed above all creatures,
through your blessing all creation is blessed,
not only creation from its Creator,
but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
– St. Anselm[1]

When the Redemptorist settled at Baclaran in 1932, the place was a big grassland near the sea shore. Throughout the years, Redemptorists who were assigned to Baclaran planted their favorite trees. Amongst the many species of trees planted in the surroundings were Mahogany, Nymph Tree, Golden Shower, Narra, molave, fire tree, butterfly and mefacasia.

Today, the shrine compound is a lush area full of trees. The desolation and the emptiness of Baclaran’s early days has been replaced by trees.  Both Church and convento are no longer located on a grassland near the seashore but on a mini-forest. The shrine and its surroundings serves as an oasis in the city. In fact, it is the only green place in the whole of the densely populated highly urbanized Baclaran.

18

Many devotees appreciate the natural surroundings of the shrine like Kris Vente Tagayon, who wrote in August 29, 2017,

Nice place to visit where you can light candles and reflect and take pictures in the walkway, and even if it’s crowded, it’s so refreshing outside the church because of the trees surrounding it. It’s my first time to come here.[2]

Likewise Liezel Besuña, writes in January 7, 2018, “I love so much Baclaran church.. it’s so beautiful here, the air is cool … adorable…”[3] Ben Hernandez, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “The place looks so divine and neat as opposed to its 1980s rowdy image. The mini park and wall mural makes Baclaran Church even more refreshing to the eyes! Excellent job!”[4]

Many sit and gather under the trees relaxing and chatting with each other after the novena and mass. The green surroundings provide respite and peace especially for the worried and burdened devotees like Raine Zetolemrac, who wrote in May 22, 2017: “It’s ambiance melts my weariness. For me … this is the best place to rest.”

The various hardwood and fruit trees around the shrine provide sanctuary not just for humans but also for birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

narcissus-flycatcherIn November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[5] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound. Photo courtesy of Reuel Aguila.

Care for creation is an important part of the programs and values of the shrine. The shrine, for example, has long been converting its biodegradable waste like food waste, paper waste, dry leaves and twigs into compost. The compost is used to fertilize the flowers and other plants in the shrine compound.

The shrine has been practicing waste segregation since the 90s.  Three separate bins are scattered all around the shrine where devotees can throw their trash. Announcements in every novena and masses enjoin the devotees to throw their trash in the proper bins. The first bin is for organics like food scraps: fruit, vegetable, meat, bread, pasta, rice, garden waste: grass clippings, leaves, flowers, weeds, twigs, small branches, soiled paper and cardboard and small timber off-cuts. Everything that goes into this bin gets must be able to decompose and thus, goes to the compost. The second bin is for recyclable materials like milk and juice containers, paper and cardboard, glass and crockery, plastic containers, plastic bags and soft plastics, aluminium cans, clean foil, steel cans, aerosol spray cans and dry paint tins, hard plastics such as children’s toys and plastic tableware, small plastics such as bread tags and straws bagged. The third bin is for mixed rubbish items that cannot be composted or recycled like small plate glass, disposable nappies, scrap metal, pet droppings in a plastic bag and others.

Care for the environment is also integrated in the liturgy of the shrine. On October 4th, 2005, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine. Every year on  4th of October, except when it falls on a Sunday, devotees bring their pets—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals.

Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis of Assisi on the 4th of  October. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

Promotion of the integrity of creation is also incorporated in the novena. In the latest version of the novena—the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena—one petition to Our Mother of Perpetual was added for the care of creation:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.

In 2015, the Redemptorist community began a project called greening of the shrine. The first step undertaken along this project is the banning of smoking within the shrine compound. The project also involved using recycled materials for the beautification of the garden and wall art.

greening-of-the-shrine_page_08.jpg

The community also initiated vertical gardening on some of the fences of the shrine. This was aimed at showing that growing vegetables even in the city is feasible, and to encourage the devotees to grow their own vegetables right in their own backyard. The shrine also conducted seminars on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and some concrete ways to care for the environment like waste management and urban gardening.

Another project in line with the greening of the shrine was the installation of solar panels in the shrine and convent in 2016. The shrine and the convent now uses free electricity from the sun during the day and revert to Meralco at night. The shrine has the highest number of solar panels among all the churches in the Philippines. There is also a plan for a water harvesting system which will harness rain water.

solar

Caring for the environment is not just practiced within the shrine. Every year the shrine volunteers and devotees participate in the beach cleanup activity in the nearby Manila bay. The event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day, the world’s largest annual preservation and protection event and volunteer effort for beaches and waterways. It is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in September since its inception in 1986.

coastal-cleanup2

Disconnection from Creation

In more recent years, devotees have increasingly experienced detrimental impact brought by the rapid destruction of nature and environment. Many devotees experienced the environmental destruction in their local communities brought by mining, land conversion, air pollution, toxic waste materials from factories being thrown into rivers and seas, massive logging and coal power plants. In a 2014 Global Attitudes survey by Pew Research, about a third of Filipinos (34%) see pollution and environmental problems as the greatest threat to the world; no other problem mentioned in the survey (including religious and ethnic hatred and nuclear weapons) is viewed with such alarm by as many people in the Philippines.[6]

The rapid exploitation of natural resources and unregulated development affected mostly the poor. Ordinary citizens, however, were not blameless in the ecological degradation. Many showed lack of care for the environment by throwing garbage anywhere, burning waste, using plastic, and dirtying rivers and seas.

In recent years, devotees have expressed concern for what is happening to the environment. In the midst of ecological destruction they sought divine protection and Our Mother of Perpetual Help intercession. Like Miriam M. Pasetes who wrote a letter of thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help on July 15, 2015,

In the past days when typhoons Egay, Falcon and Goring hit our land, we were once again confronted by the havoc of nature. However, as the rains intensified for many days, we still felt God’s protection because the soil that was thirsty for rain has enriched the farms. For those lives lost in the typhoon, I pray through your intercession, that they may live in peace in the home of the Father. Through the fields that spring anew, rivers cleansed and the winds of the environment, I ask you, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, to extend my gratitude to God.

The destruction of the environment added to the uncertainty for the future for the devotees. The biggest environmental threat in the future is climate change. In more recent years, people around the country have experienced the negative consequences of climate change: more frequent flooding, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.The prognosis for the future does not look good. With no radical change in our present habits and systems, time maybe running out.

At the root of all these devastating happenings in the environment is our disconnection with nature. It is inconceivable to think that in this information age of interconnection we have lost connection with Mother Nature. This loss of connection with creation is expressed in the opening lines of Pope Francis’ first social encyclical Laudato Si: Care for the Common Home. Pope Francis laments,

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

The icon and Mary has quietly helped devotees confront the continuous destruction of the environment. By contemplating the icon and receiving inspiration from the life of Mary, devotees were able to cultivate an attitude of interconnectedness with and care for God’s creation. The Icon and Mary helped formed a missionary attitude and action for integrity of creation among the devotees.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

For years, through the icon, Mary saw and felt the suffering of the devotees brought by the sorrowful state of the environment. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the icon instilled the seeds of an ecological spirituality amongst the devotees.

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as any Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology, always evoked a cosmic outlook. This cosmic mindset is especially represented by the background of icons: While the principal character of an icon is a person, its background often represents an image of the transformed cosmos. In this sense, an icon is cosmic since it shows nature but nature in its eschatological and changed state.[7]

Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology represent nature not in its worldly appearance but in its cosmic and glorious state:

The icon reflects the eschatological, apokatastatic, redeemed and deified state of nature. The features of a donkey or a horse are, in an icon, as refined as those of a person, and, accordingly, the eyes of animals in icons are human, not those of a donkey or a horse. We see in icons the earth and the sky, trees and grass, the sun and the moon, birds and fish, animals and reptiles yet all are subjected to a single design and constitute a single church in which God reigns.[8]

The reverse perspective of the icon also help to promote a healthy attitude towards creation. The reverse perspective of the icon implies that before an icon, the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation. Contemplating the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help reminds the devotees that they are not masters of creation or center of the universe. Human beings are not outside but part of creation.

By becoming a participant in God’s care for creation they are able to see creation also as an icon.  Creation is calling human beings to participate in creation’s calling that everything is interconnected. Creation as an icon calls devotees back to their original identity as stewards of creation. As human beings we are created to care not to dominate or destroy God’s creation.

Creation as an icon also calls devotees to give adoration and glory to God. Nature is an icon of the grandeur of God. Nature, cosmos, the entire material universe is a reflection of divine beauty, and this is what the icon is called to reveal. It is possible for the world to participate in divine beauty but only to the extent that it “has not submitted to vanity” and has not lost the ability to sense the presence of God.[9]

Looking at creation through the icon invited the devotees to what Hans Boersma calls, a participatory or sacramental ontology.  Boersma describes participatory ontology,

Sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference,” but that it also subsists or participates in God … In other words, because creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory, or real, connection — not just an external, or nominal, connection.[10]

The sacramental worldview of the icon helped the devotees to see in the environment the creator, the glory of God, the glory of our destiny. As Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed it:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

St. Anselm in a sermon used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 calls Mary, Mother of the Re-created World!

The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.[11]

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.[12]

In this light, Mary is the epitome of God’s new creation. God’s taking up of Mary’s body and soul into heaven represents the quintessential work of God’s recreation of humanity. Mary’s assumption represents the hope and final destiny of all of creation–all will be transformed in God’s glory.  John Janaro articulates,

Mary is …  an icon of the whole redemption of creation. In her we see already the radical fulfillment of all things, the perfect penetration of divine love into created being. The glorification of Mary in the Assumption is the beginning of the New Creation in which God will “be all, in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), and it reveals the eternal value of every moment in every life, the transcendent significance of each circum­stance in life, because everything comes forth from God and is ordained to his glory.[13]

Similarly, the Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly sees Mary as the model of God’s creation,

the paradigmatic instance of creation open to, collaborating with, and transformed by, the creative mystery of God in Christ.  As the Mother of Christ, she symbolises the generativity of creation under the power of the Spirit.  In her, as the Advent antiphon has it, “the earth has been opened to bud forth the Saviour”.[14]

In this way, Mary is rightly called Queen of all Creation. Pope Francis in Laudato Si meditates on the meaning of Mary, Queen of all Creation and its implications for us:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (Laudato Si, #241)

Call to Action

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and care for Mother Nature are closely connected. Our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can become more productive and meaningful if we can learn and connect with nature. At the same time our connection with nature can grow more through our devotion to Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help who is the model of the new creation.

I remember when I was stationed in the Bicol mission in Legaspi in 2002. During the month of October, the month of the rosary, we prayed the Rosary every day. Together with meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary in the mysteries of the rosary, we also meditated on the mysteries of creation. Joyful mysteries corresponded with the beauty and grandeur of God’s gift of creation, sorrowful mysteries corresponded with the destruction of creation of our own doing and glorious mysteries corresponded with our desire and collective action of cooperation with God’s re-creation. Through this activity, we found meaningful connection between devotion to Mary through the rosary and action towards care for creation.

What concrete actions can you do to care for God’s creation as a fruit of your devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help?

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Excerpt from a sermon of St. Anselm (Oratio 52; PL 158, 955-956) which is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity (Solemn Feast) of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 along with the accompanying biblical reading from Romans 5:12-20.

[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] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher

[6] Greatest Dangers in the World, Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes and Trends, OCTOBER 16, 2014. http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/10/16/greatest-dangers-in-the-world/

[7] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[8] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[9] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 8.

[10] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.

[11] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[12] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[13] John Janaro, “The Blessed Virgin in the Ecclesial Movement “Communion and Liberation”,” Marian Studies: Vol. 54, Article 12 (2003). Available at: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/m_studies/vol54/iss1/12, 127.

[14] Anthony Kelly, CSsR, The Mystery of Christ and our Mother of Perpetual Help, 2.

The Shrine and Migration

migrants

On my way to Heaven,
Where I shall see you,
Your beloved image accompanies me
on my earthly journey
to be my Perpetual Help.
– St. Therese of Lisieux 

One of the most popular petitions that devotees bring to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran is to go abroad or get a job abroad. Martin Vente Quidet, one of the thousands devotees who were able to work abroad, thank Our Mother of Perpetual Help in November 21, 2017: ·

Before I report to the office where I am applying as a seafarer, I always drop by at your shrine to pray that hopefully I can get onboard the ship. You heard my prayer.  Now I will finally get onboard the ship. Thank you Lord, you did not abandon me.

Through these years, millions of Filipinos have worked abroad and migrated to other countries, despite the risks and vulnerabilities they are likely to face. They accept all the risks in exchange of the prospect of a much higher income and the promise of better future for their family. Melissa Gangoso-Subito’s thanksgiving letter is one of the thousands of success stories of migrating to other countries. Melissa, in April 13, 2016, expressed gratitude to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that their petition to go abroad was answered

I am an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) from Dubai (from 2005 to 2012), my husband is also an OFW in Canada (from 2008 up to the present) and my children are in the Philippines. Though I gave up, I am so grateful because Our Mother of Perpetual Help never gave up on me. And I am really full of thanks that she has answered my MOST URGENT PRAYER, June 12, 2014, our family is whole again. We are presently residing in Canada and she has blessed me with our own home. I could say that I am contented and complete in life because of the never failing help of Our Mother. Thank you Our Mother of Perpetual Help, thank you.

After receiving their wish to work abroad, many OFW go to the shrine either before they leave or after they arrive from abroad.  The proximity of the shrine to the airport made this practice possible. On any given day, one could see people with their luggage coming in and out of the shrine. Many OFW have told me that the very last thing they do before they leave the country for abroad is to visit the shrine to give thanks and ask the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help for protection and guidance in their work abroad. Like Nallimnarom Anne Yerrhc, an overseas Filipino worker, writing in September 11, 2016, on the day she was about to leave for abroad: “[A] miracle I’m here before my flight to Kuwait. Thanks, my petition to her has come true.” And when they arrived back in the Philippines, the very first thing they do is to visit the shrine to give thanks to Our Mother of Perpetual Help for the safe travel and protection in their work abroad.

When they go abroad, OFW bring along with them their devotion and practice this devotion to the country of their work or migration. Their devotion becomes a great source of strength in their life and work abroad. Even if they are now in a foreign country they continue their devotion through the novena. Despite the obstacles and risks of practicing devotion in a foreign country especially in non-Christian countries where religious expression is banned, Filipino devotees find ways to practice their devotion.

The newspaper Philippine Star, for example, reports about Ricky a Filipino waiter who has been working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for twenty-one years. He lights candles in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday. But Ricky has to keep his devotion in private, knowing fully well that non-Muslims like him cannot openly display their religious beliefs in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. “They have the right (to impose that law). That is their culture. But we also have the right to practice privately,” he said.[1]

Many overseas Filipinos are surprised and saddened to find that Marian devotion is non-existent especially in Christian countries in North America and Europe. They feel that something is missing in the services of the parishes abroad if there is no novena. They feel a little nostalgia if there is no novena as the devotion has become part of their identity. Fr. Bernabe Sison, for example, works in a parish in the New York area with hardly any Filipino church goers. When he introduced the Perpetual Help Novena, Filipinos from other parishes started coming regularly every Wednesday! Because of this, other parishes followed suit.[2]

When there is no novena in the parishes where they live, many Filipinos take the initiative of starting a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. At the beginning of the novena, Filipinos were mainly the ones attending the novena, but soon after, other nationalities come and join the novena. The novena reminds them and connects them with their Filipino culture and identity. Even if they are living pretty well off in Western countries, they continue to have devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. True to their identity as pueblo amante de maria, Filipinos regularly pray the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, write letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and say the rosary.

In Rome, where the original icon is enshrined, the Perpetual Novena was not worth mentioning until several years ago when migrant Filipinos began to hold a weekly novena on Sundays and Thursday afternoons. On Sundays, the Mass is preceded with a novena for those who cannot come during the week due to their work. The other day for the novena is Thursday because that is the day when domestic helpers have a half day off. And since the novena is said in English, it attracts people of other nationalities including Indians, Sri Lankans, Irish, Americans, etc. Lately, Perpetual Novena sessions have been started also in Italian on Tuesdays and in Polish on Wednesdays.[3]

But sometimes even if there is a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the parish, some Filipinos do not show much interest if the format is not the one they got used to praying in Baclaran. According to a Redemptorist who studied in Chicago, a Filipino group there did not feel at home with the format of the novena in the Redemptorist church so they looked for another church where they could have it following the Baclaran format.[4]

Through their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Filipino overseas countrymen and women were able to contribute to the building up of the church in foreign countries.  OFW’s are helping to add some signs of life to an otherwise dying parishes. In many instances, they are filling up churches, contributing to the church collections, actively serving in the different ministries of the church.  In some parishes in Canada and the U.S., the Filipinos have become the mainstay of their local parish or have helped to start a parish. The Filipino’s contribution to the sustenance of Christian faith confirms Philip Jenkins’ observation that world religions continue to thrive in Western societies today because of the immigrants who flock to these countries.  Jenkins even points to a resurgence of Christianity, thanks to the migrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America.[5]

The efforts of OFW’s are a witness value that in the midst of a secular and industrialized society, faith matters.  This also shows the special missionary contribution of Filipino devotees in secular countries. If Filipinos are sent on mission, their special gift in mission will be their love for Mary, particularly Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

mass-for-migrants

The Risks of Migration

Migration is an issue that devotees have grappled with ever since the beginning of the novena. Because of the massive unemployment, abject poverty and cheap labor in the Philippines, many Filipinos sought greener pasture outside of the country.  Many devotees have migrated to other countries mainly for economic reasons. Consequently, a “culture of migration” has emerged. This culture of migration regards those whose families were able to work abroad as economically advantaged in life. This culture has also strengthened the colonial mentality of Filipinos–seeing anything foreign especially first world countries as inherently superior to their own.

Sometimes, they have been misunderstood for leaving our country and draining our country of talents and skills. Many, however, have to give up their professions back home just to find work to the extent that doctors have become nurses, teachers have become domestic helpers, and engineers have become laborers.  While we have Filipinos working in prominent positions as doctors, engineers, computer programmers, consultants, artists, nurses, etc., the majority take on odd jobs where no American or European would take like, nannies, caregivers, house cleaners, domestic helpers, etc.

They made a lot of sacrifices in working abroad just for the sake of alleviating their families back home from poverty.  The money they sent back home not only help their families but greatly contribute to the economy of our country.  Indeed, they are the biggest contributor to the gross domestic product of our country. Even in the economy of first world countries, around the world where they work, their contribution cannot be underestimated.

In 2013, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that approximately 10.2 million people of Filipino descent lived or worked abroad.[6] This is roughly 10% of the total Philippines population. Thus, in any country of the world, chances are, one can find a Filipino diaspora.[7]

Not all OFW’s have happy endings.  There are many OFW’s who have tales of woes and tragedy to tell.  Migrant workers pay a steep price for working abroad. The biggest collateral damage of migration are the one inflicted on the moral fibers and the integrity of marriages and families. The biggest price is the spouse and children migrant workers had to leave behind. Mass migration of Filipinos abroad have left many families broken, given rise to cases of infidelity, adultery, absentee parents, and drug addiction among youngsters. Family structures have changed with many of the children end up having to live with a single parent. Others are left under the care of their immediate relatives. There are also others who have to be in charge of their siblings at a very young age. Indeed, it is heartbreaking to see families gain financially but are torn apart in the end.

Thus, despite all the benefits and comforts they have enjoyed in foreign countries most OFW’s say that they are still happier to live in our own country despite all the hardships.  They all dream that someday they will no longer have to go abroad in order to work because the work and descent life that they sought in other countries can now be found  in our country.

Many devotees have brought these issues and concerns while praying the novena at the shrine. They also brought their pains and struggles due to the migration of their families in the confessional. In response to this grave need, the Shrine community established the St. John Neumann Center for Migrants. St. John Neumann was a Redemptorist saint who was a migrant to the United States from Bohemia, Germany during the nineteenth century.

migrant_center

St. John Neumann Center for Migrants

The growing number of petitions and thanksgiving letters received from migrants, OFWs and their families, and the pastoral concerns brought about by the social costs of overseas work to family life became the strong impetus for the Shrine to address not only the spiritual but also the various needs of the migrant families. In 2010, a group composed of professed Redemptorists, staff and volunteers of St. Gerard Family Life Center discerned and conceptualized an initial program that resulted in the institutionalization of the Mass for Migrants and OFWs every last Friday of the month. The mass was usually followed by venues where OFWs and their families gathered like fellowships and awareness building activities. In the following months, not only the attendance during the various activities grew but also the number of volunteers who would like to serve the migrants. An MPS Sister was recruited to train volunteers and coordinate the activities.

To further strengthen the services of the program based on the needs gathered from the fellowships, the staff and volunteers began attending seminars and forums on migration and development, and building networks with Church and government agencies. This paved the way for the formation of a Core Group that planned and implemented the initial programs and services.

In November 2011, the St. John Neumann Migrants Center was formally opened. As a Center of refuge for migrants, it seeks to build a culture of hospitality and volunteerism that will lead to solidarity and community building across borders.

The vision of the SJNMC is that  “Migrant families that emulate the virtues of the Holy Family (Madasalin, Pag-asa sa Kagandahang-Loob ng Diyos, Paglilingkod).”  The mission of the SJNMC is to facilitate the growth of the “laging saklolo” spirituality among its staff, volunteers, clients, and partners

To realize this, the SJNMC aims to:

  1. Strengthen family values and relationships.
  2. Build communities among families of migrants.
  3. Address the social costs of migration.
  4. Develop volunteerism.

The primary clients of the program are the OFWs and their families; victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking; and itinerant people or “people on the move” because of calamities and militarization.

The efforts of the shrine towards migrants reflects the call of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People document, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, to open shrines to the other,

In the shrine, we learn to open our heart to everyone, in particular to those who are different from us: the guest, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, those of other religions, non-believers. In this way the shrine does not only exist as the setting for an experience of Church, but also becomes a gathering-place open to all humanity.[8]

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon:

The story of the icon is also a story of migration. From its original writing in Crete, a number of lay agents brought it to Rome. And from Rome it spread to many countries all over the world.  In this journey, we saw how the Icon was enriched by the diverse cultures and traditions of each local country. On the other hand, we saw how the Icon challenged and enriched the local culture and religiosity of each country that it encountered. The journey of the icon from east to west to east is the story of an eastern icon who made her home in the Philippines, in the hearts and loving embrace of the Filipinos. As Fiore beautifully explains,

[The Icon] was created at an intersection of cultures, artistic traditions and spiritualities. It was created by collecting a theological heritage that preceded it, and treasuring it. This is not only a wonderful gift that has been made: it is also a sign of a new world, today’s global world where one in seven people lives outside his/her place of origin; a world where cultures meet, spiritualities compete, and we are left wondering what to do with the faith we have received as an inheritance. It is a world where Christ asks only that we emanate the abundance of his redemption.[9]

In this light, the Icon is an icon of the promised land that we so long to experience in this world. It foreshadows the time when all human beings will reach their true homeland. All will be gathered as one despite all the perceived differences today. It symbolizes a common future when all nations will celebrate and experience peace and harmony under God’s sovereignty. Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help will be a special star guiding peoples into this journey towards our true homeland.

The icon expresses our journey towards our ultimate new belonging. Mobility as feature of the present society shows that we are always on a journey in this world. The icon reminds us that life is a pilgrimage, we are temporary residents in this world. We are pilgrims or migrants in this world as our true permanent residency, is in the promised home where the saints now resides with God. The star on Mary’s in the icon symbolized Mary as guide and model in this pilgrimage of life.

For years, through the icon, Mary saw and felt the struggles and suffering of the devotees as a consequence of migration. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the devotees learned the value of  compassion for those gravely affected by migration.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

The holy family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus were also refugees once. We read in St. Matthew’s gospel:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ (Matthew 2.13-15)

As refugees, they knew the pains and anxieties as well as the hopes and aspirations of a refugee. The struggles and aspirations of being a refugee helped form and strengthened the characters of the holy family. This also exposed the holy family to the perils and difficulties of a system which utilizes power and domination against the weak and the poor manifested by Herod’s clinging to power in partnership with imperialist Rome’s colonization of the Jewish people. This experience will also influence profoundly the mission of Jesus inasmuch as during his public ministry he took the side of the poor and condemn heavily the rich and powerful.

Mary’s life on earth was a pilgrimage and migration towards her true self and ultimate destiny. From her conception, her services as a temple girl, her annunciation, her motherhood of Jesus, her discipleship of Jesus up to her assumption, Mary was blessed by God’s grace to experience the fullness of life. Mary understood her life as a journey from here on earth towards our true home with God–a new heaven and a new earth.

Call to Action:

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by sharing our devotion not just locally but also internationally. At the same time, our devotion can be enriched by the culture and diversity of a pluralistic and multicultural world today. This calls for retrieving hospitality as a wonderful Filipino trait. Living out hospitality demands that we welcome the stranger and refugees in our communities.

We can volunteer at our center for migrant workers the St. John Neumann Center where we can share our time and talents in reaching out to families in distress and at risk because of migration.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Alexis Romero, For Filipino Catholics in Saudi Arabia, church is in the heart, philstar.com, April 12, 2017, http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/2017/04/12/1690192/filipino-catholics-saudi-arabia-church-heart

[2] http://www.baclaranchurch.org/ofw.html

[3]Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[5] Philip Jenkins, Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[6] “Stock Estimate of Filipinos Overseas As of December 2013” (PDF). Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Retrieved 2015-09-19.

[7] A diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “scattering, dispersion”) is a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora#cite_note-webster-2

[8] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

[9] Fiore, The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon, 22.

The Shrine and New Social Order

candles_shrine

He has cast down the Mighty from their Thrones,
and has lifted up the Lowly
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

– Blessed Virgin Mary[1]

Over the years, the shrine has established various social services and programs. The social services were a growing response to the diverse material and human needs that churchgoers and church volunteers regularly brought to the shrine. The shrine began with responding to the immediate needs of devotees—food, medicine, hospitalization, travel, and funeral. Some people called these dole out services. Gradually these services evolved into more developmental, educational and transformative programs and services like skills training, livelihood, scholarship, community organizing, counselling and finance management. The programs’ chief beneficiaries were the truly alienated and marginalized.

These programs and services reflects the shrine’s way of living out the recommendation of Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines:

Pilgrimages and Shrines should be places of charity, accessible to ordinary people. They should have a special concern for the poor, providing social services and facilities for pilgrims to rest and be refreshed. Charity can also be expressed by welcoming, listening and understanding pilgrims.[2]

The various social services and programs that the shrine has established over the years are:

  1. Sarnelli Center for Street Children

Established in 1995, the Sarnelli Center for Street Children is a center dedicated to the service of the children at risk and most abandoned children like street children and  children victims of domestic abuse and violence.

2. St. Gerard Family life Center

Established on October 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard Majella, aims to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life through counseling, consultation, advisory, and referral services.

3. Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center

The Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center was established in 2007. It provides vocational and technical courses like cookery, massage therapy, computer and cellphone repair, solar panel installation, bartending and others.

skills-graduates

4. Medical-Dental Services:

On Sundays and Wednesdays, the shrine provides free Medical-Dental service to the thousands of devotees. The team also conducts medical-dental mission to remote barrios all over the Philippines. The team is composed of many volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and medical technologies.

5. Crisis Intervention Center

The Crisis Intervention Center provide immediate assistance to walk-in clients in the form of medical, hospitalization, food, transportation, temporary shelter, education, and the like.

6. St. John Neumann Migrant Center

A counselling and service center named after St. John Neumann, one of the Redemptorist saint who was a migrant to the United States in the last century, it caters to the material and spiritual needs of overseas Filipino workers and their families left behind.

7. Redemptorist Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

Many indigent but deserving college students benefited from the educational assistance program of the shrine. The scholars not only received financial assistance but as well as support in their studies through tutorials, group dynamics and spiritual development.

8. Solidarity Assistance Committee

Solidarity Assistance Committee is composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. It responds to emergency needs of people hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire through relief and rehabilitation projects.

solidarity-assistance2

9. Sinirangan Coffee Shop

Sinirangan Coffee Shop is a program of the shrine which responds to two needs: First is to provide alternative livelihood to victims of Super typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Samar and second, to provide job for graduates of the skills and livelihood center and girls from the women’s center.

10. Laging Saklolo cooperative

Just recently the shrine sponsored and supported the organizing of a consumer cooperative for volunteers and devotees of the shrine, the Laging Saklolo cooperative. It is aimed at selling cheap basic goods to its members while at the same time enabling the members to attain increased income and savings. After a pre-membership seminar, it was launched in July 2016.

Many devotees have expressed gratitude for the services. Noemi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on March 3, 2017, gave thanks to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as well as to the shrine,

I would like to thank Baclaran Redemptorist Church for taking care of my sibling who was missing for almost one year.  Nochelle is now in my care. I am wholeheartedly grateful for all the help you have given to Nochelle. Thank you very much.

DHang GUlferic Alberto, also wrote in April 12, 2017 to give thanks

Many thanks for the help you have given to my son JHON JASFER ALBERTO who is here now at Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) .. May you not tire of helping those who are in need … Even if I am not perfect, even if am not so prayerful, God will hear my prayers for my family and my children over and over again. Many thanks to the Redemptorist Baclaran Church.

Funding for social services came from the devotees themselves through the box for the poor, donations, coins thrown into the wishing well and all profits from the shrine store. This shows devotees helping fellow devotees. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. The devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help received the help they needed. In return, the financial and spiritual help they shared in the shrine were able to help many especially those most in need.

Before the social services were established, the shrine had an urban mission team who went out to the different parishes of nearby dioceses serving the most abandoned poor in the city. From 1932 to 1950s, the mission team was composed of mainly Redemptorist priests and brothers.  Beginning 1960s, however, lay people and religious sisters and brothers began joining the mission team. Today, there are more lay people and religious sisters in the mission team than Redemptorist priests and brothers.

urban-mission

The main objective of the mission is to support and assist the parish in building basic Christian communities. The Christian communities the mission team help to organize are expressions of a new way of being the Church. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed this

[BECs] decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united. They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor, and of commitment to the transformation of society… [They are] a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.[3]

The social services and the urban mission program are not just dole out services but represent the deepest desire of the shrine to contribute to the building of an alternative social order based on Jesus’ gospel. They expressed the shrine’s hope about the realization of the dreams and aspirations of the devotees for a society reflective of the Kingdom of God. Many devotees experienced how the system is rigged and stacked against their favor. The social services which convey the shrine’s profound quest for a new social order challenges and serves as alternative values and standards to the prevailing status quo in society. These services and programs serves as a counter-symbol to the dominant socio-economic system and structure. Karl Gaspar reflects profoundly on the nature of the shrine as counter-symbol,

Baclaran serves as a counter symbol, as a beacon of light, as a parola [lighthouse] by the shores of Manila Bay for the weary travelers out there in the pitch darkness of night. Because in this church-shrine which lies at the crossroads of people’s pains and struggles, but also their hopes and joys; which is open 24 hours a day from Monday to Sunday, through sunshine and rain, earthquakes and typhoons, dictatorships and people power; allows the devotees to sit still under the gaze of a loving Mother who bridges them to the God of small people, the anak-dalita [wretched children], the most abandoned.  Here the poor came home to the bosom of God who does make possible plentiful Redemption.[4]

lumad

The integration of the liturgical and social cultivated a deeper appreciation of the social dimension of the sacraments and worship amongst the devotees. Moreover, the consciousness of the churchgoers was aroused towards their social and missionary responsibilities. Thus, the Social Services ministry flowed from and complemented the liturgical, sacramental and spiritual services of the shrine.

The aspiration to build a new social order is also reflected in the novena.  One of the petitions in the 1973 novena which is retained in the present version of the novena is:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Crisis of the Present Socio-Economic System

From the beginning of the novena in 1948 up to the present, the socio-economic order failed to uplift the lives of the vast majority of the poor devotees. The situation today may have even gotten worse. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are becoming even richer.  New faces of the poor and new victims of marginalization have emerged to which the shrine has responded: child labor, modern day slavery, victims of human trafficking, abandoned children, drug addicts, prostituted women, migrants, HIV patients, and LGBTQ community.

Many of the devotees remain poor and destitute in spite that we are living at a time where there is so much display of wealth and prosperity. The dominant economic system in the world today directed by the values of neo-liberal capitalism has brought enormous wealth to an elite few but has maintained the poverty of millions of poor people.  The widening gap between the rich and the poor is one of the greatest scandals of our present economic system. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium has condemned this disparity:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.[5]

Many of the poor and those left out by the progress of the dominant system have availed of the various services and programs of the shrine. Many of them have not reaped the fruits of the promised progress and development. Many of them have suffered from degradation of human dignity, alienated from the fruits of their labor, experienced violence, and social injustice.

After the world financial crisis of 2008 struck the world economy and subsequent crises which saw inequality worsened, serious questions have been raised regarding the viability of the present system.  Capitalism is starting to show signs of crumbling under the weight of its own systemic contradictions. The present order is no longer sustainable and healthy. Other ideologies, however, have failed to give a viable alternative to the dominant social order. Calls for a new order is getting louder every day.

Despite the rigged social order, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the shrine never showed signs of decline. Devotion, in fact, has become one of the sources of their hope and resilience. Their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help helped instilled a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order.

How has the devotion became a source of hope and resilience for the devotees? How has the shrine, icon and Mary able to instill a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order?

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

Our Mother of Perpetual Help has witnessed the sufferings and hardships of the devotees under a rigged socio-economic system. For a long time the poor has suffered under a system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful. Gazing through the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary invited the devotees to contemplate the world in search of a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom which she proclaimed in her magnificat.

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help symbolizes the new order that God will actualize in the fullness of time. Icons are images of the victorious, glorified Christ, Mary, Apostles and Saints who are already experiencing God’s new order in heaven. Consequently, icons help devotees to live and see beyond the present corrupt order. They give them hope and strength to live and apply alternative values and systems in the light of the social order of God’s kingdom, already taking shape here and now and will reach fulfillment in God’s time.

The golden background that occupies the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the glorious state with God where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. As Ferero commented, “The gilded background of the icon (purest light) and the circular halos invite us to contemplate Christ and the Mother of God already living the full glory of the great mystery of the Redemption.”[6] The color gold implies a place which this world cannot give; a place that is bright, peaceful, abundant and joyful. The light of heaven which passes through their clothing indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the exemplar of the glory and joy that will happen to us at the end of times. Even as the completion of this glory will happen in the end, the icon invites the devotees to open their hearts and mind to the glory of God already unfolding in the daily events—even in the most mundane and gloomy days of our lives.

The eyes of Mary are the doorway between our lives here on earth and the life of glory in heaven. The eyes of Mary in the icon are the bridge linking our life on earth and the eternal life with God. Looking through the icon, the devotees are led to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. Our Mother of Perpetual Help invites the devotees to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. Through the loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary helps the devotees to discover in the world the new social order reflective of God’s social order. The icon invites the devotees to contemplate the world in the light of God’s vision and fullness of redemption. “I have come to bring life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

Mary invites all the devotees to find the fullness of life in her son Jesus. Through the icon, Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help have drawn thousands of devotees not to herself but to her son Jesus Christ who is the hope to the poor, deprived and oppressed. Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God which will transform all social orders in the fullness of time.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary powerfully proclaimed in her song, the magnificat, the future social order that will come through the grace and power of God. Mary’s song began as a jubilant reaction to the profound truth of God’s growing within her and ended with the prophetic declaration of a new social order that God will usher. As American mariologist S.M. Roten explains,

The magnificat as Mary’s reaction to God who inhabits her virginal womb proclaimed both the past and the future acts of God; it is retrospective and prophetic at the same time. Mary’s prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel.[7] Her song announces not only the birth of Christ, but also the birth of a new people, a liberated people, a people whose life will be centered on the Spirit of Life.[8] Mary’s song is the magna carta of any and all authentic faith experience.[9]

Mary’s magnificat is a proclamation of God’s new social order.  The magnificat of Mary prophesy the overturning of the rigged system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful and the fulfillment of God’s order which favors the weak and the poor. Mary’s humble acceptance to be the Theotokos of the redeemer will inaugurate a brand new beginning for human history.

Mary herself is a counter-symbol to power and hierarchy. The election of Mary as Mother of God is a counter-symbol to the world’s understanding of election based on power, domination, influence, wealth and fame. Mary was elected by God because she was poor, humble, free and open to God’s grace and calling.

Mary was able to praise God and God’s action of reversal of world systems and structures.  In the magnificat, Mary becomes an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world. It is only through Mary, most virgin and purest of all, stripped of all power, wealth, fame, prestige and position, that the power of God was proclaimed in the magnificat.

The magnificat showed us a portrait of Mary which many of us may have misconstrued.  How come Mary was able to proclaim God’s revolution?  Isn’t she, as many of us thought, meek, mild and humble virgin woman who can never break a plate?  Paul VI, in Marialis Cultus, dispels the mistaken notion of Mary as meek and passive

Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions (cf Lk. 1:51-53).[10]

Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, shows how the magnificat expresses the prophetic character of Mary,

This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.[11]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the magnificat’s significance as: “Mary’s prayer is revealed to us at the dawning of the fullness of time” (CCC, #2617). The dawn of the fullness of time—new heaven and new earth—implies that God’s kingdom has already begun and is active here and now. Mary is the first human being who belongs to the social order ordained by God; the social order that is counter-symbol to the present order of the world.

The magnificat of Mary is indeed a prophetic expression of the reign of God, though unwelcome by our present world because of its reversal of fortunes theme, will be celebrated by all humanity and creation at the end of time.  It implies the hope of eradication of poverty, sound health and education for all, better future, peace, justice, harmony with all creation.  We can only achieve this vision, however, not through domination, violence, hatred but through service, collaboration and love for one another.

Mary awakens our deepest identity that we are the embodiment of the promise of a new society, a redeemed people and a transformed community working for the prosperity and peace for all. Mary inspires us to confront the disordered systems and structures and proclaim the orderly system of God which brings true prosperity and justice for all. Mary invites us to be at the side of the poor, excluded and anawim in our society today in cooperating with God in realizing God’s reign here and now.

Inspired by Mary’s life and the spirituality of the icon, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, can led us to a concerted involvement and struggle for a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom. Devotion to Mary entails not only praying the novena, reciting the rosary, joining processions, or offering flowers at her pedestal.  Together with all the warm affection and devotion to Mary as pueblo amante de Maria (people in love with Mary), it entails active participation in the proclamation of the Kingdom as Mary did in magnificat. This entails today active involvement in transforming the socio-economic structures of our society, eradicating poverty, fighting for justice and human rights, enlivening our democracy especially for the marginalized. promoting health and cleanliness, caring for the environment and protecting mother nature.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help we are called to sing, proclaim and live Mary’s magnificat.  We can truly sing and live the magnificat if like Mary we humble ourselves to the power of God, to allow God to be God. Like Mary we can learn how to proclaim, live and practice the new social order which Mary sang in the magnificat.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Luke 1: 46 – 56.

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines (Nagasaki, Japan, October 15-17, 2007), #4.

[3] John Paul II. “Redemptoris Missio”. Apostolic Exhortation. Vatican.

[4] Karl Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 23.

[5] Evangelii Gaudium, #56.

[6] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 126.

[7] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #18.

[8] Father Johann G. Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/m/magnificat-reflection.php

[9] Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat

[10] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #37.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Elizabeth Johnson, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” Catholic Magazine, December 2003 (Vol. 68, No. 12, pg. 12).

Novena: The Prayer of the People

novena

Lex orandi, lex credendi
The law of praying is the law of believing.
(- An ancient saying of the Church.)[1]

The praying and singing together of the novena by the thousands of devotees at the shrine conveys a special appeal drawing devotees and non-devotees alike. A thanksgiving letter written in January 3, 1951, barely two years after the introduction of the novena, narrates how a non-devotee was drawn to the shrine for the first time because of the novena,

[O]ne day, while I was travelling in a bus which was coming from Cavite City, it was caught in the traffic in the vicinity of Baclaran Church. The crowd of people pushed me along the pathway to the Church until I found myself inside the Church’s patio. I entered the Church and while inside, I heard those beautiful hymns that forced me to forget my loneliness. Then I found out that the people were making a novena in honor of you.

Novena is key to the explosion of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. Novena transformed the small wooden chapel in 1948 into a popular shrine and pilgrimage center. Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula asserts this in his dissertation:

The introduction of the Perpetual Novena devotion in 1948 was the single most significant development in the transformation of the shrine from a local chapel to a pilgrimage site of national proportions.[2]

Thousands of devotees came in droves after the novena was introduced in 1948.  Soon the small chapel couldn’t accommodate the crowd anymore.  This paved the way to building a bigger shrine twice, first in 1949 and second in 1954.

The novena prayed in the shrine is not just an ordinary novena; it is called a perpetual novena. A novena is a series of prayers recited over nine days or nine weeks consecutively, usually in preparation for a major feast or to ask for a special favor. The ordinary novena stops after the nine occasions until resumed the next time around, often the following year when connected with feasts, or whenever a devotee decides to resume it privately. A perpetual novena, on the other hand, is a series of nine occasions of prayer but repeated continuously. When one series is finished, it begins again. In practice, it becomes an unending series of weekly sessions, usually associated with a particular day of the week, not necessarily Wednesday.[3]  Some stop after nine consecutive Wednesdays of novena but most devotees pray the perpetual novena. We can call them perpetual devotees or devotees for life.

pregnant-woman-novena.jpg

A frequent question about the novena is: Why Wednesday? Hechanova explains that there was no definitive historical answer about the choice of Wednesday (Hechanova 1998). The choice of Wednesday seemed to be a practical choice. Wednesday was the only day vacant in a week where each day was devoted to a particular devotion or saint. For example, Tuesday is for San Antonio de Padua, Thursday is for St. Jude, Friday is Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes on Saturdays and so on.

As we have mentioned before, there were already various versions of the novena published even before the novena explosion in 1948. The first one was in 1926 and the second one was in 1936. Why did the 1948 novena become an instant hit whereas 1926 and 1936 did not? What was the difference of the 1948 novena from the 1926 and 1936 novena? To answer these questions, we need to examine each version of the novena.

Pre 1948 Novena

The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was first introduced by the Redemptorists to the country immediately after they settled at Opon, Cebu. The first reported recitation of the novena in the country was in the church of Opon in 1907.  Novena were also recited during the hundreds of missions that the Redemptorist gave to the barrios in the Visayas and Luzon. We do not have a copy of the text and format of the novena used in Opon and in the barrio missions. These texts, however, most certainly have spread throughout the country.

The novena in 1926, is titled Maikling Pagsisiyam sa Mahal na Virgen sa Tawag na Ina ng Laging Saklolo (Short Novena to the Blessed Virgin under the Title of Mother of Perpetual Help), with an imprimi potest granted by Fr. O’Callaghan, C.Ss.R. and imprimatur given by Fr. Jose Bustamante. It was published by UST Press. Interestingly, this novena was published even before the Redemptorist settled in Baclaran in 1932. We do not know, how many of this novena were printed, but it certainly help in the propagation of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Luzon.

pre-1948-1926-olph-novena-1.jpg

The novena contained several interesting features. An introductory part contains the narration of the origins of the icon and a brief explanation of the icon. For the nine days novena, each day begins with a meditation focusing on a specific part of the icon and its meaning, then the common prayer for each day and a pagsasanay (exercise) which recommends some forms of call to action. The common prayer is very theocentric and centered on surrendering to the will of God. Clearly the format and text of the novena is intended for individual devotion.

The novena is written in rich and old Tagalog.  The daily prayer (PANALANGIN SA ARAO ARAO) of the novena exemplifies this,

Kabanalbanalang Virgen, saklolo sa twi­twina ng mga kaluluwang napaaampon sa iyong makainang pagibig: Marapatin mong idalangin ako sa iyong mahal na Anak at Panginoon naming Jesucristo upang kalugdan Niya ang lahat kong panimdim, wika at gawa sa araw na ito at habang ako’y nabu­buhay.

Tangapin mo oh! mahal kong Ina ang munting handog ko sa iyo sa pagcisiyam na ito, at ipagkaloob mo sa akin ang biyayang hinihingi ko kung nauukol sa lalong ikalulualhati Niya sa kapurihan mo at ikagagaling ng kaluluwa ko.  Siya Nawa.

The 1936 version of the novena is written in English titled Novena in Honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The Imprimatur was by Francis I. Cosgrave, CSsR. and nihil obstat by William E. Finnemann, Episcopus Auxiliaris. The publisher is not indicated. The format of the novena contains the history of the icon, explanation of the meaning of the parts of the icon, meditation and prayers for each day of the nine days novena

There is an added general remark in the instructions:

  1. The person making the novena should go to confession and Holy Communion at least once during the nine days.
  2. The prayers of the novena should be recited in a church in which the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is publicly exposed or in your own home before the same picture.
  3. The novena is made by each day reading the set meditation and then reciting the prayers which follow each meditation.

pre-1948-1936-imprimatur-olph-novena-1.jpg

Common Elements between 1926 and 1936 Novena

Both the 1926 and 1936 novena had similar characteristics: Both consist of nine successive days and a meditation each day followed by a common prayer. The format of the novena clearly shows that they were meant for individual devotion not for collective prayer in the church. The theology of both 1926 and 1936 novena shows a high theology of Mary where Mary is shown closer, almost equal, to Jesus. Mary is apart from us bestowed with the highest honor in heaven.

The meditation on the different parts of the icon and its meaning was a strong point of the 1926 and 1936 novena over 1948. This remarkable part disappeared in the 1948, 1951 and 1973 versions of the novena. The most recent 2016 jubilee version of the novena brought back this essential feature.

1948 Novena: Perpetual Novena

The origins of the 1948 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena in Baclaran can be traced to the United States. A novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was began in St. Alphonsus “Rock” Liguori Church, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in July 11, 1922. In 1924, in the same church, Father Henry Sutton began novenas in which people participated through singing, praying with the priest, rather than remaining silent while the priests prayed. This devotional style which was collective in nature spread throughout the congregation.

In 1928, the novena began by Father Henry Sutton grew to eleven services every Tuesday to accommodate 15,000 people. In 1928, the name “Perpetual Novena” for this new form of devotion was suggested: a Perpetual Novena was to be performed for nine consecutive days (hence novena), but the nine-day cycle can be repeated continuously (hence perpetual). This form is the most impressive Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotional form today.[4] The Perpetual Novena flourished in Australia and United States as well as in India, the Philippines and Singapore. It suffered, however, a gradual decline in Australia, Europe and United States beginning in the 1970s.

The perpetual novena in the country, however, did not begin in Baclaran but in Iloilo.[5] Hechanova recounts that in the year 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, American troops, some from the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, found themselves stationed in Iloilo. Among them were Irish-American Catholics from Boston who were delighted to find that St. Clement’s Church in La Paz, Iloilo City, was run by Irish Redemptorists. They were disappointed, however, that the Perpetual Novena then flourishing in the popular Mission Church of the Redemptorists in Boston was not part of church services. Thus, they requested the Redemptorist to start a novena in Ilo-ilo patterned after the novena in Boston.

The novena in Ilo-ilo was followed by Lipa in 1946 and Cebu in 1947. Both were well-attended novena. But they were not as phenomenal as Baclaran.

Iloilo-Novena-1

The first novena in Baclaran was presided by Father Leo English on June, 23, 1948. There were only seventy people present. The following week the number doubled to one hundred and fifty. Before the year ended, more novena sessions had to be added since the original chapel was good for only three hundred people. By the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the novena, and many others were following it from the parking area. The rest is history.

~14

Sapitula noted that the text of the 1948 Perpetual Novena, contrary to expectations, did not begin as a fixed text but assumed its final form only after months of experimentation. A “core format” of the novena text was established around three months after it was begun, which in turn became the basis of the 1950, 1951 and 1953 editions of the novena booklet (Gornez 2003).

Even as the 1948 novena was public and collective, it’s theological and spiritual orientation bears much resemblance with the individually oriented 1926 and 1936 novena. Both novena emphasized life after death and salvation of the soul. The goal of life in this world is personal sanctification so as to be ready to enter into eternal life after death. Both novena also reflected the high Mariology of pre-Vatican II which promoted a maximalist theological view on Mary that saw Mary as an altogether special creature whose privileges paralleled those of Christ. By putting Mary on a pedestal with all her titles and glories, she becomes distant from the ordinary devotee and the whole church.

Baclaran-1951-(Tagalog)-Novena-1Two years after the inauguration of the Perpetual Novena in Baclaran, the prayers were already recited in parishes in Quezon City, Quiapo and Sampaloc in Manila, Taguig, and Marilao, Obando and Barasoain in Bulacan province (entry dated 1-7 April 1950; cited in Gornez 2003). This shows the rapid adoption of the novena by the different parishes in Manila and nearby provinces.

A Prayer for Peace was added to the Novena Prayers each Wednesday in 1951 at the request of Ramon Magsaysay who was then the Minister for defense.

1973 Revised Novena

Nothing changed in the official text of the Perpetual Novena for twenty-five years until Redemptorists and some devotees felt the need for reform. The need for revision emerged in the light of the reforms inspired by Vatican II and the social upheavals in the country and in the world. Hechanova recalls,

In the early 1970s, the Redemptorists of the Manila and Cebu Vice-Provinces set up a common Commission to study how the novena itself could be renewed along the Vatican II principles on liturgy and devotion.[6]

The call for renewal of popular devotion, particularly the renewal of the Novena structure and prayers, was also echoed by Ang Mahal na Birhen:[7] “Novenas will then be renewed by making them more scriptural, avoiding a verbosity present in some of them and a sentimentality less in consonance with today’s religious attitudes.”[8]

novena3

One of the strongest points of the 1973 novena is the emphasis on the social dimension of the Christian faith. A closer reading of the 1973 Perpetual Novena reveals that social justice and peace dimensions are given more attention, perhaps as a corrective to the perceived overemphasis on personal needs in the 1948 Perpetual Novena text (Gornez 2003; Hechanova 1998). Ramon Echica claims that it is in the aspect of social justice that the 1973 novena stands out from other popular Marian devotions.[9] Echica contrasted the prayers in the novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, for example, with that of the Santo Niňo devotion in Cebu City. Echica considers the Santo Niňo devotion as having an “apolitical nature” extremely lacking in social dimension. He adds that there is hardly any prayer that the Sto. Niňo would disturb and afflict the consciences of people whenever they have been unjust to their fellow men and women as these prayers “do not spell out the broader social and political context of one’s concern” for others.[10] Moreover, prayers in this novena are “most explicitly other-worldly” (2010, 44-45).

On the other hand, Echica cites the prayers of the 1973 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena as calling devotees to serve the community. Sins against justice, like usury, bribery, and perjury are also virtually condemned when devotees pray that they or others may never involve in them.  There are also prayers for workers to take pride in their work and be given just compensation. Echica affirms that these prayers help the devotees to include questions of social justice in their examination of conscience.[11] Echica also underscored the enumerations of petitions of a this-worldly character as one of the distinctive appeal of the 1973 novena:

There is no flight from the world spirituality in this devotion. Furthermore, there is no reference to some apparitions or some extraordinary celestial phenomena, or miracles which may be outside the realm of human causality. It is distinctive at least in terms of quantity of concrete occasion mentioned in the perpetual novena. There are prayers for scenarios that may occur in one’s daily life; worries about finances, misunderstanding with loved ones, choice of recreation, avoidance of prohibited drugs, and temptation to take revenge.[12]

Indeed, concrete needs in concrete situations spur the faithful to their devotions, particularly to the Blessed Virgin.[13] [M]any petitions are not actually for the individual self but for society at large or one’s country in particular.[14]

2016 Jubilee Edition of the Novena

Despite the strong integration of social reality and devotion in 1973 novena, there were other areas that will need reform and improvement in the years to come. As early as the 90s, calls to revise the novena once again began to surface. Among the reasons for the proposed updating was the need to reflect ‘new’ signs of the times in the novena, for example, gender sensitivity, ecological awareness, migrants’ concerns and a more sound theology on Mary. The aims of the revised 2016 novena reflected these issues:

  • To help in the renewal towards an authentic devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
  • To adopt the novena to the signs of the times particularly the new issues and challenges that our world is confronted today.
  • To express a more healthy and meaningful understanding and practice of devotion to our Blessed Mother.
  • To incorporate an inclusive language into the novena.

The Prayer for the Sick was also seen as needing some major revision. The 1973 novena seemed to romanticize sickness by projecting an image of the sick who have nothing else they can do about their sickness except to embrace it. God’s compassion and strong desire for the healing of the sick is not much evident. A more redemptive healing not only for that person, but for the whole family was desired.

Here’s a comparison between the 1973 and 2016 Prayer for the Sick:

1973 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience. * Graciously hear our prayers for the sick. * Grant that those who are weighed down * with pain and other afflictions of illness * may realize that they are among the chosen ones * whom you called blessed. * Help them to understand * that they are united with You in Your sufferings * for the salvation of the world. Amen.

2016 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience; * graciously hear our prayer for the sick especially (pause and remember your sick loved ones). Grant that they who are weighed down * with pain and other affliction of illness * may experience God’s healing power and comfort*. Restore them to health* in body and soul* so that they can continue to serve you* and their brothers and sisters. Amen.

There was also the desire to reflect in the novena a more healthy theology about Mary. There was a strong desire to show that the real source of “saklolo” (help) is not Mary but Jesus. A major expression of this in the new novena is changing the response for every petition to Our Mother of Perpetual Help from Loving Mother, HELP US to Loving Mother, PRAY FOR US.

novena-english

There were also suggestions to make the language of the novena direct the people more to Jesus and to the celebration of the Eucharist. There was also the longing to change the seeming economy outlook to a more healthy outlook of the novena. Other points suggested to include into the revision of the novena were:

  • a greater appreciation of the lay and avoiding clericalization,
  • inclusive language,
  • a more healthy expression of solidarity with the poor,
  • clearer and consistent wording,
  • better wording about religious vocation,
  • omitting some repetitive petitions (particularly on death).

There were three new petitions to reflect the new signs of the times particularly on ecology, sanctity of life and peace in the world:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That we may defend the human dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

An interesting feature of the 2016 novena is the return of the contemplation of the meaning and spirituality of the icon and its parts as an essential part of praying the novena. As the 2016 revised novena states in its introduction,

The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help but to let Mary bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It would be a great means, therefore, that in praying the novena for nine days, we contemplate on the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. The whole purpose of this contemplation is to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary— following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

The Redemptorist community of Baclaran saw the 150th Jubilee of the icon in 2016 as an opportune time to implement the revision. In the spirit of the 150th Jubilee of the Icon, a new version of the novena was published.

Novena: Prayer of the Communion of the Saints

One of the primary reasons for the explosion of the novena in 1948 was the fact that it was written for public and communal prayer. Whereas the 1926 and 1936 novena were meant to be prayed privately by individual devotees, the 1948 novena brought individual devotees together to pray to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and intercede with one another. The intercessory character of the novena is not just asking the intercession of Mary but of fellow devotees as well. Thus, communal devotion rather than individual devotion catapulted the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to national prominence.

The intercessory prayer of the novena instilled a new consciousness upon the devotees. It inculcated the experience that prayer is not just personal but also a prayer for the other and with each other. Indeed, when each devotee goes to the novena, she/he brings her/his own petition but when he/she joins the thousand others who has his/her own individual petitions, each one is transformed that he/she not only pray for his/her own but for and with the others. The Novena helped transform the “I” to “We” consciousness. From a personalist and individualistic attitude, the devotees are not meant to pray only for their own needs but are meant to pray as members of a fellowship, in agreement, remembering that life and the world are not arranged for them as individuals but for the fellowship as a whole.[15] As Karl Rahner states:

A congregation praying, singing, and listening to word of God, is not only an assembly of lonely, solitary people, not only a number of isolated individuals, who impelled by concern for their eternal salvation, gather here for merely practical convenience, in order to try to work out their own private salvation… We are a holy community praising God by praising the glory of the blessed Virgin precisely because in our very salvation we are dependent on this virgin mother of God.[16]

Moreover, the novena experience brings out the essential fact of faith that as church we are a community of both living and dead, interceding for each other. Death does not sever the bonds of the body of Christ. Those who intercede for me are not just my living fellow devotee but even those who have died and are already with God–Mary and all the saints. In this way, the novena truly becomes an experience of the communion of saints. We have no direct route to God only through a relationship mediated and interceded with the communion of the saints, living here on earth and triumphant in heaven. Like Mary, devotees at the shrine are invited to be intercessors not just for one another but for the whole church and the world. As Francia Competente said in July 4, 2016, “I like going to Baclaran Church because I am with the people who are really in need of Mama Mary’s intercession and can feel God’s love thru Mama Mary.”

novena2.pngThe novena experience and consciousness recalls for the devotees their indigenous heritage of veneration of the dead. Before Christianity arrived in the country, indigenous Filipinos venerated their deceased ancestors because they are considered still a part of the family and their spirits can have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living. The novena experience has tapped into this primordial worldview of the Filipinos and devotees appropriated it into their warm devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Mary is the role model of intercessory prayer through her intercessory role for us in heaven. We do not pray to Mary, Mary pray with us. Once again, Rahner reiterates,

[N]o doctrine concerning Mary could have importance and significance for us, if it were not true that each of us is responsible for the salvation of his brethren, and can and must intercede for them with prayer and sacrifice and aid.  That is why Mary is not only the mother of our Lord, but our mother too.[17]

While novena is central to the devotional experience in the shrine, it is not all there is to the devotion. The experience of devotion is not only the praying of the novena but also the embarking of a faith journey. Devotion as a faith journey is quintessentially conveyed through pilgrimage to Baclaran. We will discuss the notion of devotion as a pilgrimage in the next chapter.

Joey Echano

(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)

 


 

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1124.

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 84.

[3] Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Campos, 250.

[5] Hechanova, The Baclaran Story

[6] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #83.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #84.

[9] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ramon D. Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 2.

[13] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 3.

[14] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[15] Novena Prayers, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/prayers.html

[16] Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord: Theological Meditations (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963), 30-31.

[17] Rahner, 31.

A Shrine of Justice and Peace

jpic

Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Pope Francis[1]

Every now and then, we get reactions from devotees especially when our homilies touched on the social issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Some react by saying that they went to the shrine to seek spiritual solace and peace, not to be disturbed by the ugly reality of the country or the world. Some say they came to the shrine to pray, not to become socially aware. Sometimes they invoked the concept of separation between church and state,[2] misinterpreting it by saying that the church should not talk about social issues because it is the domain exclusively of the state. They say that the church’s only domain is the spiritual and religious like sacraments, prayers and catechesis. Thus, according to them, preaching about issues of justice and peace is tantamount to meddling in politics.

The shrine has become well-known among the devotees as actively promoting justice and peace in preaching and social programs. The shrine has been very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. This gave a unique identity to the shrine as Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula observes, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.”[3]

Prophetic Proclamation

The shrine through the years has integrated social issues, justice and peace and integrity of creation in its mission and ministry.  In the 60s and 70s, Redemptorists were influenced by values and ideas from Vatican II and liberation theology which emphasizes, among others, preferential option for the poor, liberation of the oppressed, aggiornamento or openness of the church to the signs of the times. During the political and social upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s the Redemptorist community of Baclaran stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. Among the burning socio-political issues which confronted the missionaries were increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and other social issues.  These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission by the Redemptorists. Much of these endeavors were in line with the Redemptorist Vice Province of Manila’s thrust and directives: “Our main contribution lies in an explicit and prophetic proclamation of the gospel especially to the poor and the most abandoned.”

The involvement in justice and peace was particularly strong during the time of Marcos dictatorship. The shrine played an important part during the controversial 1986 Snap Elections at the time of Marcos dictatorship. The Shrine became the refuge of several computer engineers from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Thirty five technicians who were operating the COMELEC’s electronic quick count staged a walkout from their headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center to protest the alleged electoral fraud by supporters of Marcos. This incident proved to be pivotal as it triggered the people power or EDSA revolution in 1986 that led to the toppling down of Marcos.

comelec-walkout

In recent years, the church has become a regular sanctuary for victims of violence and oppression—farmers, workers, fisher folks, migrant workers, battered women, indigenous people—seeking genuine justice and peace. In 2016, the shrine welcomed more than 700 Lumad (Indigenous Filipinos) from Mindanao who brought to the people’s attention the sad plight of their communities and the killings of their leaders. They camped in the shrine for 10 days. Many groups and sectors expressed and gave their support—moral and material—to the Lumad.

Oftentimes the shrine has invited speakers from organized groups of the poor to share their plight to the devotees within the novena and masses of the shrine. This occurs through special celebrations of the people’s calendar. Through the people’s calendar, people’s aspirations and concerns are integrated into the liturgical calendar throughout the year. The liturgical celebrations offered the opportunity for devotees to connect their devotion and faith with their daily life situation and contemporary signs of the times. This is also to promote the consciousness of the devotees towards their social and missionary responsibilities. The reaction of the devotees were mixed. Some felt discomfort while others showed empathy to them.

jpic-lumad

The pontifical document, “The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God,” affirms the importance of prophetic ministry of the shrine: “Shrines [are] places of education in ethical values, particularly justice, solidarity, peace and the protection of creation, and thus contribute to the growth of quality of life for everyone.”[4]  On the other hand, the document reminds shrines when they lose their prophetic dimension by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

Who has asked you to trample through my courts? Bring no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust. New moons, Sabbaths, assemblies – I cannot endure solemnity combined with guilt… Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. (Is 1:12-17)[5]

The novena also encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace. Promotion of justice and peace is well integrated into the petitions of the novena.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world,

Loving Mother pray for us.

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,

Loving Mother pray for us.

Help us to grow daily in genuine love of God and neighbor so that justice and peace may happily reign in the entire family of mankind. Amen.

The promotion of justice and peace is also inscribed in the building and compound of the shrine. The main upper hall of the National Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall.  It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 2005 in Cebu City.  He was silenced and disappeared because of his defence of the poor and work for human rights. Since that fateful day, Fr. Rudy Romano has remained missing up to this day.

At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.

bantayog-ng-desaparecidos

Longing for Justice and Peace

The struggle for justice and peace in the country is a primary concern of the devotees. Justice in the country remains elusive especially for the poor. Justice is not blind in the country as the the rich can easily circumvent the law but the poor always bear the brunt of the law without much support from the justice system. On the other hand, people continue to long for genuine and lasting peace as war goes on in the countryside. The aspiration for justice and peace is expressed in a thanksgiving letter written by Miriam M. Pasetes on February 4, 2015

Grateful and Praising OUR FATHER GOD, JESUS OUR SAVIOR, THE HOLY SPIRIT OUR GUIDE for you having been given as our most loving Mother of Perpetual Help. Through You I lift my thanks to OUR TRIUNE GOD, for the past month of January of this year, one month passed with joyful events as the Holy Father Pope Francis came and visited as HE OUR FATHER willed. We were made stronger as a nation. Dear Mama, despite our life’s challenges as a country beset by difficulties, by the inspiration of Pope Francis in GOD’s mercy and compassion, love made more manifest. We are for now more strongly confronted with these virtues as our nation’s internal peace is rattled by the encounter between PNP SAF and the MILF/BIFF costing lives lost on both sides. May the souls of those who perished for the sake of peace, find peace in GOD’s Kingdom. Dear Mama please pray for them and for the fortitude of their grieving loved ones.

Two wars continue to rage in the country—the communist insurgency and the Muslim separatist movement. Despite repeated attempts at peace through dialogue and negotiations between the government and the NDF and MILF, no substantial agreement has been reached. Both sides remain recalcitrant regarding their position. NDF and MILF continue to defend their ideological principles. The government is content with maintaining the socio-political status quo and introducing cosmetic changes.  Genuine and long-lasting peace continues to be a dream for all the people.  In the midst of these wars, devotees continue to pray and long for justice and peace. This aspiration is expressed, for example, by Danna Zerrudo who wrote on May 3, 2017 to thank Our Mother of Perpetual Help for passing the bar exams:

I know that my passing the bar exams is just a beginning. So here I am, imploring you once again. Help me to help those who are truly in need. Help me to use my title “Attorney” for the right purposes… Teach us always the path to Jesus. Help me and all my countrymen and women to bring back justice to the legal system of our country. Many are saying that there is no more hope to repair this system, however, such a gargantuan system would never be mended if there is no one or only a few will try to reform it. May God bless the Philippines and every Filipino.

Sadly, however, one of the hindrances to achieving justice and peace is the lack of empathy and indifference of many people. We see this in the reaction of many devotees when we make a moral stance on social issues in the light of the gospel. Just recently on the issue of the rampant extra-judicial killing in the country as an offshoot of Duterte government’s war on drugs. After a year of Duterte’s war on drugs, more than 12,000 suspected addicts and pushers were killed by police and armed men. It is utterly distressing that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported by a majority of people who are mostly Catholic. And yet when we denounced the killings, we were called all sorts of names–bastard priests, demons from hell, members of the yellow cult, rapists and pedophiles, coddlers of drug lords, thieving hypocrites playing politics–many of them coming from the devotees.

Pope Francis laments about the indifference that has engulf many people around the world:

[A] globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.[6]

A devotion to Mary that is individualistic may reflect apathy and indifference. When devotion is indifferent to what is happening in society, it can stagnate to individualistic piety as Ang Mahal na Birhen asserts: “We rarely associate devotion to Mary with the social dimension of Christian living, and this is when devotion to her can tend to become pious individualism.”[7] In this light, the pastoral letter challenges us:

Our devotion to Mary should never lose sight of the present plight of the vast majority of our Filipino, brethren who live lives unworthy of human beings.  These poor and oppressed brethren of ours are devotees of Mary, too; and they call out to her, their Mother, to ease their sufferings and free them from their chains…Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which we needed in the Philippines today are the works of justice and freedom from oppression.  As the Church points out to us, our mission is “to be present in the heart of the world proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted.”[8]

This is always a big challenge for the shrine–how to tackle and transform the indifference and individualism of the devotees’ piety. How do we cultivate the devotion towards a positive response to issues of justice and peace in the country and in the world? In addressing these challenges, the Icon and the Mary have actively inculcated among the devotees a missionary attitude and action for issues of justice and peace among the devotees.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

Through the icon, Mary saw and heard the hunger and cries of the devotees for justice and peace. As devotees gaze on the icon, Mary invites them to contemplate the world where there is injustice and conflict and form a life of compassion and identification with the poor and the suffering.

Identification with the suffering is pervasive in the icon. Mary’s sorrowful gaze upon the devotees expresses Mary’s identification with their misery here on earth. Mary feels the pain and suffering that they undergo daily, exacerbated by the present order dominated by power, greed, and wealth.  Thus, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an Icon of compassion. While her gaze upon us is a gaze of mercy and compassion, it is also a gaze that brings hope to the struggling, the poor and the most abandoned.

Like Mary who gazed upon the devotees with compassion and sorrow because of the misery and suffering they experience every day, the devotees are invited to open their eyes and see the hardships of their fellow poor, deprived and oppressed. So that they may see the poor and needy in the same way that Our Mother of Perpetual Help see them—seeing them with compassion and sorrow at their miserable situation.

As the devotees allow Mary’s gaze to enter into their souls, they are drawn into her power—the power of tenderness. Pope Francis meditates on this:

“[E]very time we look to Mary, we believe again in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong, who do not need to abuse others in order to feel strong” (Evangelii gaudium, 288).

Mary’s gaze, however, is not meant to draw the devotees to herself only. It is ultimately directed towards Jesus. Mary invites the devotees to follow the path of her son Jesus. Mary showed the devotees that Jesus is the true path towards liberation, justice and peace.

In the icon, the eyes of Jesus is not looking at Mary but on the cross, even beyond the cross. The eyes of Jesus is looking at God the Father through the cross with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come. The symbol of the instruments of the passion carried by the two angels also symbolized the passion of humanity and passion of the earth today. Jesus’ impending suffering evokes Jesus’ identification with our own suffering. But the instruments that the Angels hold are instruments not of death and failure but of life and victory. The most sacred event of our salvation is the passion and the offering of Jesus’ life for our redemption. Through the passion and death of Jesus, devotees are called to identify with the suffering and offer their lives for each other.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary, in her life here on earth, identified with the poor, the oppressed and most abandoned because she herself was poor. Mary of Nazareth belonged to the anawim. The anawim or the “faithful remnant” of Israel are the poor of God. In the Old Testament, the anawim were the poor of every sort—materially and spiritually: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. Robert A. Guelich summarizes the meaning of anawim as “those in desperate need (socio-economic element) whose helplessness drove them to a dependent relationship with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication. Both elements are consistently present.”[9]

Mary is the epitome of an anawim. Mary is the perfect reflection of God’s own humility, for she indeed is the poorest and lowliest of people in her society: the anawim.[10] In this way, Pope Francis paints Mary as an inspiration for justice and peace.

As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice.  She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love.  As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love.  Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity.[11]

Likewise, Mary is an inspiration in the work for justice and peace because Mary was considered a prophetess. Scholars have noted that Luke’s portrait of Mary, particularly in Lk. 1.26-56, characterizes her as a prophetess, although, the evangelist refrains from explicitly calling Mary a prophetess. We seldom think of Mary as outspoken and bold for justice but as quiet, passive, gentle virgin, meek and mild.  For centuries, we heard of the perception of Mary as submissive which is paradigmatic for female lives on earth. Yet in the Canticle of Mary in Luke 3:46-55, we see a totally different Mary. Here Mary sings a song of praise to God who overturns the status quo, who lifts up the humble like her, and chooses her, rather than a queen or princess, to be bearer of God’s Son. Mary was not timid

Like Mary, devotees are called to be prophets today. As prophet they are called to proclaim defiance and resiliency against all social structures and systems that is contrary to the Gospel.  They are called to announce the liberation from all forms of oppression and domination, and at the same time, pronounce alternative path of service towards the coming of God’s reign.  As prophet, however, they recognize that ultimately their final destiny is beyond this world.  Prophecy expresses the experience of eternal discomfort with the world where there is the tension of the already-but-not-yet realisation of the reign of God. As the pontifical document The “Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God” states, “[S]hrines stimulate us to live as a critical and prophetic ferment in these present heavens and in this present earth and they renew the vocation of Christians to live in the world, while not being of the world (cf. Jn 17:16).”[12]

The life of Mary inspires the devotees to open their eyes to the reality of poverty around them, in the society and the world. Like Mary they are called to participate in bringing justice, mercy, and lasting compassion to those most in need. Just as Mary identified with the anawim and was not timid, they also ought to be bold and daring in proclaiming God’s justice and peace.

They who experience and receive the perpetual help from God through the prayer of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, is called to be channels of perpetual help of God. Help becomes perpetual as it does not stop with them. Help becomes perpetual through service to their fellow human beings especially the poor and most abandoned.  They are called to be servants in their home, community, church and society.  Ultimately the fruit of our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is to become like her through our unselfish and humble participation in the God’s work of building God’s kingdom.

Call to Action

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the life of Mary as a disciple and missionary has serve as an inspiration to the devotees in living out justice and peace today. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by the prophetic and transformative understanding and living out of Marian model amidst the signs of the times. Emphasis on the devotional aspect only is counterproductive.

Volunteer for mission to the poor whether in rural or urban area near you. For the more committed ones join missionary groups and organization who go to other countries or remote areas. Share whatever talent you have for the promotion of justice and peace both global and local.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Evangelii Gaudium, #288.

[2] The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and, No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5)…..

[3] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 89.

[4] “The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God,” Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Vatican: 8 May 1999. Accessed at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/documents/rc_pc_migrants_doc_19990525_shrine_en.html

[5] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God.

[6] Evangelii Gaudium #54

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #94.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #96.

[9] Robert Guelich as quoted in Anna Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean?: Explaining the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables in Simple and Universal Human Concepts. Oxford University Press, 2001.

[10] Mary the Archetype for Man’s Spiritual Perfection, 21.

[11] Evangelii Gaudium, #286, 213

[12] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God.

The Shrine and Ecumenism

Mosque

“And when the angels said, ‘O Mary!  
Indeed God has chosen you, and purified you,
and has chosen you above  all other women of the worlds. 
O Mary! Be devoutly obedient to your Lord
and prostrate and bow with those bow.’”  
– Qur’an 3:42-43

Outside the shrine, there are many Muslim vendors selling all sorts of wares—clothes, electronics, housewares, even Catholic religious articles like rosaries, statutes, novena booklets and other religious materials. Most of these Muslim traders came from the provinces in Mindanao, the island in the south of the Philippines that has the largest Muslim population in the country. The Muslim traders began to arrive in the 1990s. In due course, some Muslim settlers invested in established stalls (puwesto) and matched medium-and-large-scale business enterprises owned by other merchants in the area. A considerable number, however, remained as street vendors due to lack of sufficient capital.[1]

After the trade came the mosques. Four mosques were constructed within 500 meters from the shrine. The earliest mosque is the Masjid Abdullah, built in 1978; the next to be built is Masjid Rajah Sulayman in 1995. Masjid Al-Nur in Brgy. 79 of Pasay City came next in 1998, while Masjid Al-Wasat, located a few meters away from Baclaran Barangay Hall at the shrine’s northern part, was completed in 2009.[2] At present, only three mosques exist. The Masjid Rajah Sulayman which sat on a reclaimed land on Roxas Boulevard just south of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, overlooking Manila Bay was demolished by the government in 2013. The government’s reason for the demolition was the tenants’ lack of legal ownership of the site and an ordinance to widen city streets and prevent pickpocketing and violence in the area.

The shrine has maintained a relationship of peaceful co-existence with the Muslim community in Baclaran in the past. Besides small attempts at reaching out, there was no substantial effort towards dialogue between the shrine and the Muslim community. I do not know why no substantial dialogue between the Baclaran shrine community and Muslim community occurred. Perhaps, both sides did not know where and how to begin.

Nevertheless, this will be a big challenge for both parties in the future. Because of the large number of Muslim community, the Baclaran shrine has the potential to become a center for Christian-Muslim dialogue. In this endeavor, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, can play a vital part in the dialogue with the Muslims.  Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be a vital part because Mary is also greatly revered by the Muslims. I shall talk more about this later.

An interesting phenomenon in some countries in Asia where there are shrine for Our Mother of Perpetual Help is non-Christians praying before the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This is true in Singapore, India (Bombay), and the Philippines. In the Novena church[3] in Singapore, for example, Singaporean Redemptorist Fr. Gerard Louis reports that 20 to 25% of those who attend the Novena are non-Catholics, people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Among all Catholic churches in Singapore, they only go to the Novena church. They only go for the novena not for the mass and other church sacraments and services.[4]  Some new Catholics, however, have come to faith and Baptism through the Novena Devotions.

Here in Baclaran, there is no exact figure or percentage of how many non-Catholics pray the novena. From time to time, though, the phenomenon has received some admiration from other Christian denomination. For example, Jullian Robin Sibi said that Baclaran is one of those spots where you have to go to even though you are not Catholic.[5] Andy Dierickx, who identifies himself as a Protestant Christian, sincerely admires the devotees’ dedication despite the fact that he does not approve of every practice they do:

Let me preface my comment by saying as a ‘protestant Christian’ (for want of a better label) there are many things I don’t understand about the Roman Catholic church. Novenas, rosaries, praying to statuary and knee-walking are just some of the things I don’t comprehend. Lately I have been a bit outspoken on the subject and have offended loved ones in the process. On reflection I pray and ask forgiveness for that. I may never understand the rituals and practices, but I cannot question the devotion of the devotees of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church. They sit and sweat and kneel and sweat when they could be in SM or home in front of the aircon! If some of my fellow Christians could have half of that fervor it would be amazing. While I could never subscribe to the Catholic precepts and ideology I pay respect to the beautiful folk who gather at Baclaran each Wednesday. Next time I am in town I might just drop in and sweat with you.[6]

Ben Hernandez, a non-Christian, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “I am not a Christian but, as l have said in my wall post, Baclaran Church truly reflects our Filipino culture, values and heritage.”[7]

The latest novena does not have any prayer intention on ecumenism. Not surprisingly, the 1948 novena had a Prayer for the Conversion of Non-Catholics as one of it’s recommended private prayers. This reflects the prevalent antagonism towards non-Catholics during the time before Vatican II. This was removed in the 1973 novena. This reflects a changing attitude and the increasing desire for ecumenism towards non-Catholics.

Ecumenism is an important ministry of shrines as affirmed by the pontifical document, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God. The document states,

“The intense experience of the Church’s unity which shrines provide can help pilgrims to discern and welcome the promptings of the Spirit that lead them in a special way to pray and work for the unity of all Christians … Shrines can be places where ecumenical commitment is strongly promoted, since there the change of heart and holiness of life that are “the soul of the whole ecumenical movement” is fostered and the grace of unity given by the Lord is experienced.[8]

The Pontifical Council reaffirmed this in the Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines in Nagasaki, Japan in 2007:

Pilgrimages and Shrines are privileged opportunities and places of peace and reconciliation, even not in fullness of communion, where not only the Catholic faithful gather, but also believers of other religions too. Using Pope Benedict XVI’s recent words, “they become meeting spaces for unity while respecting legitimate diversity”[9]

Interreligious Milieu

Ecumenism has affected families of devotees. Some families of devotees have members with different religions like Karen who wrote in September 23, 2014,

I am married now and thankful that 35 years of my life I bring my husband even though we do not have same religion he tend to embrace and respect what I believe. I know you have great plans for me and my husband. I am grateful and thankful.

According to Philippine Statistics Authority, 92% of the population of the country is Christian.  The Roman Catholic Church is the predominant Christian denomination with 81% of the total population, while about 11% belong to Protestant Christian and independent Catholic denominations, such as Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Seventh-day Adventist Church, United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Evangelicals.[10] According to national religious surveys, about 5.6% of the population of the Philippines is Muslim, making Islam the second largest religion in the country. Philippine traditional religions are still practiced by an estimated 2% of the population, made up of many aboriginal and tribal groups.[11]

Despite that the Philippines is 80% Catholics, the ordinary devotee is exposed to other religious culture and expression of the faith. OFW’s working abroad are exposed to different beliefs and religious life style especially when they work in non-Christian countries. The exposure to other religions brings changes to their thinking and living of their devotion, not to mention, being converted to other religion. They bring this renewed religious thinking when they go back home to the Philippines.

We live at at time where there is a growing movement of dialogue among religions and faiths.  The increasing calls and efforts for interreligious dialogue continue to break down walls of prejudice and intolerance. Fiore describes today’s global world as a world where one in seven people lives outside his/her place of origin; a world where cultures meet, spiritualities compete, and we are left wondering what to do with the faith we have received as an inheritance.[12] The world is heading towards greater openness beyond the religion we have grown into. There is no turning back, as David Tracy contended, “[T]here can be no return to a pre-ecumenical, pre-pluralistic, ahistorical theology.”[13]

The interreligious milieu poses several challenges to the living of one’s religion. First, each one is challenged to have a clearer understanding and deeper living of one’s religion.  As people are exposed to other religions they learn to see more the distinctiveness of their own religion and this help to clarify their religious identity. Alternatively, each one is challenged to learn from the other.  Everyone is challenged to have a wider and deeper understanding of God that goes beyond one’s own religion.  Finally, it provides an opportunity for mutual enrichment about God as each religion reveals a special facet of the truth about God.[14]  In this interreligious milieu, dialogue becomes a necessary attitude, a way of life. It challenges each one to learn the art of listening despite actual differences.

These developments affirm the church’s conviction in recent years towards continuous interreligious dialogue.  Many church documents, especially after Vatican II, have affirmed that the seeds of the Gospel go beyond the Catholic Church. For example, Lumen Gentium says that salvation is possible for all people of goodwill whether they have explicit faith in God or not.[15]  Nostra Aetate declares that other than Christianity, there is a ray of truth that enlightens all men and women.[16]  And Gaudium et Spes affirms that the Holy Spirit in a way known only to God offers every person the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery.[17]

Despite the climate of pluralism, multiculturalism, and ecumenism there is continuous religious conflicts and the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism in the world today. There are those who advocate for a return to exclusion, religious discrimination, religious fundamentalism and, religious extremism. In the Philippines, there is still a perceived mutual prejudice between Muslims, Lumads, and Christians. Many suffer from the continuous war between Muslims and Christians in the south.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

There is a profound basis for ecumenism both in the icon and the life of Mary. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the icon has instilled the seeds of ecumenism amongst the devotees.

Even as the icon is foreign, a Byzantine Icon which proclaims an Eastern theology, devotees came to love the Icon. Through the icon, devotees became exposed to the influence of a foreign theology–Eastern theology.

Icona dopo il restauro senza corone

The icon is a product of ecumenism. In the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help East and West tradition and elements meet to deliver a profound meaning and spirituality. Italian Redemptorist Fr. Serafino Fiore expounds,

East and West met in admirable harmony, and our Icon shows the vestiges. If in this one the Eastern tradition speaks through symbols and themes that are proper to it, including the stylized face of Mary and the thread-like design of the hands, then the West reveals the influence of Italian art in the humanized figure of the child and in a new combination of colors.[18]

Missio: Walking with Mary

Whatever religion one may belong and adhere to, Mary presents a refreshing model in the living out of one’s faith and religion. Mary is the archetype to how one ought to live religiously. Major religions, in particular, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have found in Mary an inspiration and model to living out one’s religion. Mary as Theotokos, virgin, mother/spouse, best represents humanity’s allowing the fullness of God’s grace into human life.

In this light, Mary is key to ecumenism. Professor Macquarrie contends that in Mary, Christian denominations may find resources for unity and reconciliation, rather than conflict. Macquarrie asserts that the theology of Mary will “throw new light on the truths from which it had been derived and will thereby strengthen the coherence and unity of the many elements which together constitute the Christian faith”.[19] Archbishop Francesco Gioia contends that because of her special place in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Mary is regarded as a meeting point in interreligious dialogue. Mary serves as an opening for dialogue between religions. Charles Dickson,  Lutheran parish pastor and author of two books on Mary, beautifully summarizes Mary’s special role to ecumenism,

A Muslim student in Rome asks to visit Santa Maria Maggiore Church and then explains the Muslim devotion to Mary. A Greek tour guide takes tourists through Eastern Orthodox churches resplendent with beautiful icons of Mary. And a Presbyterian minister writes a book on the Rosary and, as a result, incorporates it into his daily devotions. Perhaps it is no accident that in our world of harsh conflict and human insensitivity, people of many faiths should find a common meeting place in devotion to the tender Mother of Jesus. Perhaps she will bring her warring children together and teach them how to live as a family of peace. In the Blessed Virgin we find elements of all the world’s monotheistic religions.

Let us examine how Mary is an instrument of unity and reconciliation between different denominations within Christianity and between Christian and Muslims.

East and West

Both Eastern and Western church have a deeply rooted devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox Churches both share a deep love for Our Lady. John Paul II underlined “how profoundly the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the ancient Churches of the East feel united by love and praise of the Theotokos[20] Dimitrios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, has noted that “our two sister Churches have maintained throughout the centuries unextinguished the flame of devotion to the most venerated person of the all-holy Mother of God’, [Dimitrios I, Homily given on December 7, 1987 during the celebration of Vespers at St. Mary Major(Rome): L’Osservatore Romano(Eng. Ed. Dec. 21-28, 1987), p. 6.], and he went on to say that “the subject of Mariology should occupy a central position in the theological dialogue between our Churches … for the full establishment of our ecclesial communion.” [ibid., 6]

architecture christianity church crosses
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help can serve as a bridge between the East and West church. Fiore cites the potential of the icon for dialogue with the Eastern church:

With our mutual love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, she can be an instrument of unity among our faiths. In this sense our Icon also has a role: to make us rediscover the Christian life breathing with two lungs.[21]

Catholics – Anglicans

The Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was created in 1969 which seeks to make ecumenical progress between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. In 28 January 2004 – 3 February 2004 in Seattle, Washington, the ARCIC produced an agreed statement on Mary,”Marian Issues and Final Document”; “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.” The ARCIC offers this Agreed Statement in the hope that it expresses our common faith about the one who, of all believers, is closest to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.[22] The statement further declares the communion of the two churches regarding Mary:

Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, stands before us as an exemplar of faithful obedience, and her “Be it to me according to your word” is the grace-filled response each of us is called to make to God, both personally and communally, as the Church, the body of Christ. It is as figure of the Church, her arms uplifted in prayer and praise, her hands open in receptivity and availability to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that we are one with Mary as she magnifies the Lord. “Surely,” Mary declares in her song recorded in the Gospel of Luke, “from this day all generations will call me blessed.”.[23]

We recognize in the event of the Incarnation God’s gracious ‘Yes’ to humanity as a whole… Mary’s fiat can be seen as the supreme instance of a believer’s ‘Amen’ in response to the ‘Yes’ of God.[23]

Catholics – Protestants

Up to the early 20th century, Protestants look to the Marian devotion and tradition of the Catholic church with great suspicion. This is epitomized in the term “Mariolatry” which is a Protestant pejorative label for perceived excessive Catholic devotion to Mary. The Swiss Reformed theologian who is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, has said that Marian theology is the main heresy of Catholicism: “Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excrescences must be excised.”[24]

In the second half of the 20th century, however, there was an emerging interest among Protestants in Mary.  Byassee Many Protestants have taken a new look at Mary.  Protestants heightened interest in Mary … suggest she could be an ecumenical bridge — or at least that the Protestant aversion to Marian devotion is eroding.[25]  Byassee contends that Protestants rejecting Mary have often thrown out the baby with the bathwater.[26]  The internationally renowned American evangelist and prominent evangelical Christian figure in the 20th century, Billy Graham admits that evangelicals did not give Mary her proper due. Reformed theologian Willie Jennings says, “Salvation begins with Mary’s yes.”[27] But the Lateran theologian Asmussen still expressed some reservation: “We say yes to Mary the highly praised mother of God, and no to Marianism.”[28]

Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson has focused on the ecclesial import of Mary, and advocated a Protestant recovery of the tradition of Marian prayer.[29] Byassee recommended that to ask Mary for prayers is not un-Protestant. Another Lutheran theologian, David Yeago, invoked the long tradition of “Marian consciousness” in the church, and called upon Protestants to recognize and reclaim, on the basis of Scripture, the truth that every Christian’s relationship to Jesus Christ contains a relationship to Mary.[30] Even further, he argued that Scripture supports the view that “Mary is present to the church and to the believer both as the proto-type and model of the church and the believer, and also as an active agent of the formation of the church and the believer”.[31]

Catholics – Islam

Vatican II ushered a new attitude towards Islam: “Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem.”[32] Nostra Aetate listed several reasons why the Church should respect Islam; it shows parallels between Islamic belief and Christian faith. Among these many common elements, Mary is clearly mentioned: “They also honor Mary, His [Jesus’] virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion.”[33]

Love for the Virgin Mary runs deep in Islam. In the Qur’an, Mary’s name (Maryam) appears explicitly thirty-four times; in twenty-four of these references, she is identified as the mother of Jesus (Isa). Mary is mentioned more often by name in the Muslim scripture than in the Christian New Testament. One chapter of the Qur’an (Sura 19) is in fact entitled “Mary” and it narrates the events of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth: Mary is chosen by God and given divine favors; she is immaculately consecrated to God from her mother’s womb; an angel appears to her and announces the miraculous virgin birth of a child; Mary accepts, conceives Isa and gives birth to him.[34] The very story of the birth of Mary, which the feast day commemorates, is found in the Quran: (3:35-36).

In the international pilgrimage shrine of Our Lady of Fátima, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the subtle connection with Islam. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children near the city of Fátima, Portugal, a place named after both a Muslim princess and the daughter of Mohammed.[35] As Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fátima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.” Thus, not surprisingly, the shrine at Fátima, Portugal, has also attracted Muslims in great numbers. They go to see the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in a city named after one of their most highly revered women. [36]

Thus, Mary can serve as a bridge between Islam and Christianity: It is certainly true that in her very person there is a meeting point, or at least a stepping stone, between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, as the Qur’an itself says: “To those who believe, God has set an example (“mathalan”) … in Mary, who preserved her chastity …, who put her trust in the words of her Lord and his scriptures and was one of the truly devout” (“Prohibition” LXVI:12).[37]

Call to action

Mary and the icon has enriched devotion through understanding and appreciation of ecumenism. Mary and the icon can become starting point for dialogue with other religions and faith that can nurture and develop our devotion. Our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can become more productive and meaningful if we learn from other faiths and Christian denomination through Mary and the icon.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be a bridge between communities. Marian devotion can be an avenue for inter-faith dialogue with peoples of other faith traditions. The icon and Mary encourages interreligious dialogue. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help does not harbor biases against people of other faiths or people with different political convictions. The devotion can be an instrument of peace, mutual cooperation among peoples of different faiths towards common fight against poverty and violence.

Perhaps, Mary and the Icon can be the starting of a dialogue between the Muslim community and the shrine in Baclaran in the future.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity: A Sociological Assessment of Popular Religion in the Philippines, 150.

[2] Ustad Samanuddin, personal communication, 2011: Sapitula, 147.

[3] The official name of church is St. Alphonsus but everybody calls it the Novena Church.

[4] Gerard Louis, “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Devotion in a Non-Christian Context: Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue,” in a Talk Given to the 150th Jubilee International Congress, Baclaran, April 24-27, 2017.

[5] Jullian Robin Sibi accessed at http://www.blissfulsnapshots.com/2016/11/kalye-serye-maynila-when-in-baclaran.html

[6] Andy Dierickx, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/devotees.html

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

[8] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, #43 – 44.

[9] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines (Nagasaki, Japan, October 15-17, 2007)

[10] Philippines in Figures : 2014, Philippine Statistics Authority.

[11] Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project: Philippines. Pew Research Center. 2010.

[12] Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”22.

[13] Tracy, “Defending the Public Character of Theology.”

[14] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[15] Lumen Gentium, 16.

[16] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[17] Gaudium et Spes, 22.

[18] Serafino Fiore, The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon of the Lady of Perpetual Help

Presentation to the Campo Grande Conference in Brazil, May 2014, 2.

[19] Macquarrie, Mary for All Christians, 59.

[20] Redemptoris Mater, 31.

[21] Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”22.

[22] Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, The Seattle Statement, #1.

[23] Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, #5.

[24] Karl Barth (1 January 2004). Church Dogmatics: The doctrine of the word of God (2 pts.). Continuum. pp. 139

[25] Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion,” 1.

[26] Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion,” 5.

[27] Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion,” 6.

[28] Catharina Halkes, “Mary in My Life,” Mary: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Edward Schillebeeckx and Catharina Halkes (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 52.

[29] Jenson, Robert. “A Space for God.” In Mary, Mother of God. Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, eds. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, 49-57, 56.

[30] Yeago, David S. “The Presence of Mary in the Mystery of the Church.” In Mary, Mother of

God. Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, eds. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, 58-79, 63.

[31] Yeago, “The Presence of Mary in the Mystery of the Church,” 59.

[32] Nostra Aetate, #3

[33] Nostra Aetate, #3

[34] R.J. McCarthy, “Mary in Islam,” Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1982), 208-211.

[35] Philip Kosloski, The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam, Aleteia, May 7, 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/05/07/the-surprising-connection-between-our-lady-of-fatima-and-islam/

[36] Philip Kosloski, The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam, Aleteia, May 7, 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/05/07/the-surprising-connection-between-our-lady-of-fatima-and-islam/

[37] William Keeler, How Mary Holds Christians and Muslims in Conversation, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops USCCB, 3.

Shrine and Family Life

family_shrine2

Mother of Perpetual Help, 
we choose you as Queen of our homes.
We ask you to bless all our families
with your tender motherly love.[1]

It is always a wonderful sight when families pray the novena and attend the Eucharist together in the shrine.  After the novena and mass, some of them ask the blessing of the celebrant of the novena or mass. Others sit in the shrine benches outside or under the trees to have a picnic. Others go to the restaurants and eateries around the shrine for a family meal together.

A happy and healthy family life is one of the biggest aspiration for many devotees. Like Cynthia Jayson who wrote her experience in a thanksgiving letter on June 17, 2016:

One of the petitions that I have asked for a long time in the novena is to have my own family. I trusted you that this will be achieved despite my fear in child-bearing because of the disability which was the reason for my humped back when I was 11 years old. However, I was able to overcome my fear because of my deep faith in Jesus and you Mama Mary. This is the reason why it was only at the age of 38 that I was able to get married and had 2 children: A four year old boy and a two year old girl. Praise God! Praise to You Mama Mary! So I am happy to bring my whole family—my husband and two children—to your shrine and miraculous picture in wholehearted gratitude to you Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

family_shrine

For many devotees, their family is their greatest source of support. Family is not just the immediate family, but the extended family. Carmelita write about this in a thanksgiving letter on September 28, 2014:

Thank you with all my heart for my siblings, extended family, and friends who have helped me stay afloat financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Thank you for my sister and brother-in-law who have welcomed me into their home so warmly and generously. I hope and pray that I may be able to give back something in return. Please, Mother, help me pray for their good health, safety, happiness, and long life. Help me, my Mother, so that I can be up on my feet and return their goodness and generosity.

At the same time, family life is one of the biggest trials and challenges of the devotees. Many families of devotees have experienced problems and crisis in relationships as Sylvia wrote in a thanksgiving letter in December 31, 2014:

Thank you very much for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon our whole family. Thank you God the Father for all the trials that we experienced as a whole family especially our marriage which I thought would collapse. From the bottom of my heart, thank you because you did not allow our marriage to break up. And because of the trials that we have experienced as a couple, we became stronger, our understanding for each other has deepened. Thank you that our family is still whole. It is indeed a big blessing that our family is still one until today.

Prayer for family occupies a significant part in the Novena. The novena has a PRAYER FOR THE HOME

Mother of Perpetual Help, * we choose you as Queen of our homes. * We ask you to bless all our families* with your tender motherly love. * May the Sacrament of Marriage * bind husbands and wives so closely together * that they will always be faithful to each other * and love one another as Christ loves His Church.

We ask you to bless all parents, * may they love and cherish the children * whom God has entrusted to them. * May they always give them the example * of a truly Christian life. * Help them to bring up their children * in the love and fear of God. * Bless all children * that they may love, * honor, and obey * their fathers and mothers. To your loving care * we especially entrust the youth of today

Give us all a sense of responsibility * that we may do our part * in making our home * a haven of peace * like your own home at Nazareth. * We take you as our model. * Help us to grow daily in genuine love of God and neighbor * so that justice and peace may happily reign * in the entire family of mankind. Amen.

The latest revision of the novena also added a prayer for the sanctity of life:

That we may defend the human dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,

Loving Mother pray for us.

Shrine Ministry

Many devotees bring the issues of their family into the shrine. At the beginning, the main channel for bringing these issues was the confession. As the shrine have daily confession, many devotees take the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. But there are also times that the devotees share inside the confessional moral issues and problems in their family like marital infidelity, couple differences, parent-children gap, birth control, abortion, drug addiction, homosexuality, and many others. Because these are serious cases needing more time and attention beyond the confessional, we usually suggest counseling. From this experience, came the need for establishing a counseling center at the shrine. Thus, the St. Gerard Family Life Center was born.

st.gerard_family_life

The Center begun in 1991. It was named after the Redemptorist saint–St. Gerard Majella who is popularly known as “the saint of mothers.” Some people who have no children pray the novena to St. Gerard.  Many devotee couples who have not conceived for many years have testified that after they asked the intercession of St. Gerard they were blessed with the gift of a child.

The center has trained and professional volunteer counselors.  They give counseling on matters affecting the family, especially responsible parenthood and marital problems. They are available every day.

A sad thing that happens at the shrine are babies abandoned by their mothers and left in the shrine. The shrine takes temporary care of these babies and organize them for adoption through appropriate agencies. Many of the adoptions have turned out remarkably well.

A sadder case is fetuses of aborted babies, or miscarriage being left in the vicinity of the shrine. Because of the continuing number of these unfortunate incidents, the shrine has dedicated a special place in the ossuary at the back of the convent. Now the souls of these poor unborn babies shares the beautiful garden besides the ossuary with departed Redemptorist brothers and priests who have served in the shrine.

ossuary27_1.jpg

Family Today

Keeping the family close together is one of the greatest challenges of the family in the 21st century. British sociologist Anthony Giddens observed that the family in the second half of the last century has become a major arena for the struggles between tradition and modernity.   The standard family of the first half of the last century—where both parents lived together with their children of the marriage, the mother was a full-time housewife and the father the breadwinner—is  now a minority.[2]

Individualization has transformed traditional marriage.  Marriage became the project of individual persons.  As German Sociologists couple Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim explains, “The why, what and how long of marriage are placed entirely in the hands and hearts of those joined in it. From now on there is just one maxim defining what marriage means: the script is the individualization of marriage.”[3]  The Becks adds that the couple has become the center of family: “Today the couple, married or unmarried, is at the core of what the family is.  The couple came to be at the centre of family life as the economic role of the family dwindled and love, or love plus sexual attraction, became the basis of forming marriage ties.”[4]

This is also the experience of many devotees’ family. Many of devotees’ families are undergoing transition. At the beginning of the novena until about the 70s, the typical family of the devotees is the traditional family where both parents lived together with their children of the marriage, the mother is a full-time housewife and the father is the breadwinner. Beginning in the 80s, the devotees family was strongly influenced by modernity. The modern family was characterized more by attitudes, values interests, and goals directed toward individual performance and achievement. In general, the family of the devotees today is in transition; it displays attributes of both traditional and modern family. In particular, the role of women is changing rapidly. More have joined the labor force. In growing numbers, they are escaping the drudgery of housekeeping.[5]

Pope John Paul II observed the same global changes in the family in 1981: “The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture.”[6] The family “is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it.”[7] Twenty years later, the Pope would write about the family in the same vein: “ … this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis.”[8]

When their family is confronted with great difficulties, devotees run to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of their greatest source of consolation in times of family troubles. Iris & John Monsalve and Family shares their experience in a thanksgiving letter in August 26, 2015,

In the previous years, during one of the most stressful times of our life as a family and as a married couple, we were aided at most times with your maternal love, provision and protection. It was during these times that we were caught in great financial distress due to an investment scam by people personally known to us. It was also the time that our second child was given to us after 5 years, but due to our ongoing circumstances during said period, ours was a difficult pregnancy. But great is your faithfulness and grace, heavenly interventions saw us through those difficult, stressful times. And we take this opportunity to thank you and let these be known to people of similar circumstances for hope and inspiration.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

For years, through the icon, Mary saw and felt the struggles and suffering of the devotees in their family life. In the midst of the crisis and radical transformations that the family of devotees have undergone, the icon served as an anchor that gave them hope and strength. In the icon, they saw  Mary as a true mother who invited them to the right path–the path of her son Jesus.

The elements of the icon taught devotees how to live as a family of God. The icon is an image of the new family which Jesus proclaimed during his time on earth. The right hand of Mary points to Jesus as if saying: “Follow him: He is our Redeemer!” All throughout her life, Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, gave everything for the mission of Jesus. In the same way, Mary invites all devotees to choose the way of Jesus in the midst of so many cares and enticements of this world. Mary inspires the devotees through the glory that God has given her, so that despite it is the narrow and unpopular road, devotees may choose the path of Jesus.

touching_icon

The left hand of Mary holds Jesus in a loving and caring way. The left hand of Mary symbolizes the throne of Jesus where Jesus sits. Mary is the seat of Wisdom who is Jesus. Jesus’ hands are turned downward, a symbol of His placing the graces of redemption in her hands.

Through the contemplation of the icon, Mary invited the devotees to strengthen their family life. The icon invited the devotees to contemplate the situation of their family in the light of the new belonging to the family of God. The family that they live in this world is their preparation to the new family of God which goes beyond blood, race, culture and even religion.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

The Holy Family is a model for all Christian families: Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph. The Holy Family was in many ways like any other family; they also faced many troubles and tribulations. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen enumerates the many difficulties of the holy family:

[The holy Family] … embrace all the tribulations of their never easy life: the discomforts of the sudden flight to Egypt, the uncertainty attendant on settling in a strange country, the fatigues of hard work, the privation of a life of poverty, and later the anguish of losing their Son on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.[9]

Certainly, Jesus’ knowledge and wisdom was enhanced because of the formation and guidance Mary and Joseph inculcated in him during his early years. Thus, by the time Jesus was twelve years old, He was able to amaze the scholars in the temple with His wisdom and ability to discuss the Word of God (Luke 2:46–47).

Although, Mary was blessed by God to be the mother of his son Jesus, Mary did not understand everything.  An example of this was when the holy family went to Jerusalem for a festival when Jesus was twelve years old. After the festival, Mary and Joseph thought that Jesus was with them as they journey back home but Jesus got separated from his parents. After three days of anxious searching for him, Mary and Joseph found him in the temple engrossed in discussion with the scholars. Mary told him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 2: 49). But Jesus told them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (Luke 2: 50)” Both Mary and Joseph did not understand everything that happened and what Jesus told them. They, however, continued to nurture Jesus with much love. Mary pondered deeply all these things in her heart. “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51–52).

When Jesus began his ministry, he preach the good news of God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, Jesus will gather new family under God the Father which goes beyond blood, race, and culture. Mary has to give way to the new family that Jesus proclaimed and remained obedient and supportive of the mission of her son despite her lack of understanding. As Pope Benedict XVI states,

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, [Mary] had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f).[10]

We find this in the gospel particularly in a scene in the gospel of Mark (Mark 3: 31 – 35). At a time when Jesus was persecuted and falsely accused, his mother and brothers were concerned about his welfare. So they went out to Jesus who was in the country preaching the gospel to the people. Surrounded by a crowd while Jesus was preaching, the word was passed on to Jesus: “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” Jesus’ response was “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

In a commentary on this gospel scene, prominent American scripture scholar Raymond Brown commented that Jesus’ response raises the issue of who really constitute his family now that the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed. As his natural family stands outside, Jesus looks at those inside and proclaims, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.”[11] Jesus’ response to the crowd is consistent with his other words to those wishing to follow him as he continues to proclaim the Kingdom of God:

Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10: 29 – 30).

This scene where Jesus praised a family of disciples that is obedient to God at the expense of his own natural family, may not incline readers to develop devotion to Mary as many non-Catholics do. Yet, in this scene Jesus subtly highlights the fact that Mary was the first one who obeyed the will of God. She is the model of being a member of the new family of God that Jesus preached. The belongingness to the new family of God is modeled after the fiat of Mary and her life of discipleship in Jesus.

This is what is happening in the shrine; the shrine is the gathering of the new family of God with Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help as their model. The thousands of devotees, coming from different families, gathered as one big family in the shrine to hear and live out the word of God.  They are the new family of God united in following Jesus, moved by the Spirit, journeying towards the Father despite differences in blood, culture, language, race, color, status and gender.

Call to Action

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by learning from the life of the first family–Mary, Joseph and Jesus. What are the challenges of this to our family?

family_novena

Our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can become more productive and meaningful if we begin to proclaim, live and practice our devotion within the family. Instead of praying the novena as individuals, for example, we can pray the novena in the shrine or in our home as a family. We can consecrate the family to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We have a prayer for consecration to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the novena:

Immaculate Virgin Mary, * Mother of God and Mother of the Church, * you are also our Mother ever ready to help us. * With hearts full of love for you * we consecrate ourselves to your Immaculate Heart * so that we may be your devoted children. * Obtain for us true sorrow for sins * and fidelity to the promises of our Baptism.

We consecrate our minds and hearts to you * that we always do the Will of our heavenly Father. * We consecrate our lives to you * that we may love God better * and live not for ourselves * but for Christ, your Son * and that we may see Him * and serve Him in others.

By this humble act of consecration, * dear Mother of Perpetual Help, * we pledge to model our lives on you, * the perfect Christian, * so that, consecrated to you in life and in death * we may belong to your Divine Son for all eternity.

Amen.

family_novena2

The first family at Nazareth have shown us the higher mission of the family. Families are inherently missional—that is, they participate in God’s mission to transform the world. The family participates in God’s mission of building a new family based on living out the will and values of God’s kingdom not because of blood, race, ethnicity, culture or religion. Understanding families this way implies conversion, a change of thinking about the family. Rather than viewing families as a training ground for individual glorification, families are communities of formation for the Kingdom of God in service to the world.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Prayer for the Home, Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Baclaran, 2016.

[2] Giddens, Runaway World, 59.

[3] Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization, 11.

[4] Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization, 11.

[5] Lucila Salcedo, et.al., Social Issues (Manila: Katha Pub., 1999), 60.

[6] Familiaris Consortio, #1.

[7] Familiaris Consortio, #3.

[8] Novo Millennio Ineunte, January 6, 2001, no. 47

[9] Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, Divine Intimacy, Vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 96.

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 2007, #50.

[11] Raymond E. Brown, J.A. Fitzmyer, and K.P. Donfried (eds), Mary in the New Testament (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 52 – 53.