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).

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