Women and the Shrine


Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD). International Women’s Day is a global day that celebrates womanhood. Every year the shrine joins the whole world in celebrating the gift of womanhood on International Women’s Day.

Women have played a major role in the ministry of the shrine through these years. For instance, there are many women volunteers in the shrine. The shrine is one of the few if not the only shrine in Manila who has altar girls. The shrine has long wanted to recruit female communion ministers but was discouraged by the standing policy of the Archdiocese of Manila not to allow women to become Eucharistic ministers (though women religious sisters are allowed to give communion in the archdiocese). Most of our lay missionaries are women. Indeed, the shrine has fostered the participation of women in the church for many years.

The shrine has two congregations of women religious working as partners in the shrine ministry: Missionaries of our Lady of Perpetual Help (MPS) sisters and Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer (OSR) sisters.

The MPS sisters whose official name is Misioneras de la Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro have been helping the shrine in administration and management of its services and programs.  They are religious sisters founded by a Redemptorist. The Redemptorist began partnering with the MPS sisters in July 1995 when the MPS Sisters helped in the urban mission and subsequently became members of the Baclaran Mission Team.


The OSR sisters have been helping the shrine in responding to the challenges and needs of women at risk especially those engaged in prostitution. The OSR is a Catholic religious congregation founded in Ciempozuelos, Madrid, Spain on June 1, 1864 by Bishop Jose Maria Benito Serra, OSB and Antonia de Oviedo Schonthal, OSR for the evangelization and integral human development of marginalized and exploited women.


Devotees have brought women’s issues to the shrine like unwanted pregnancies, cases of battered women, girls who were victims of incest and rape, trafficking of women and sexual harassment. In the past, we found many dead unborn children fetus in the vicinity of the shrine. We suspect that these fetuses belonged to women who felt deep regret and guilt for having gone through abortion.

Workers of the Night

The shrine has been responding to the challenges and needs of women at risk especially those engaged in prostitution mainly through the efforts of Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer (OSR).

The OSR sisters told Fr. Biju Madathikunnel, CSsR that they come to the Shrine on Tuesdays and Saturdays.[1] They spend the night there getting up the following day as early as 2 O’clock in the morning. They go out at this early hour in search of these women to extend a helping hand and an open heart. The women range in age from 18 to 43 years. They come to light some candles before the image of OMPH and pray in the church. Some of them spend time around the statue of St. Therese of Lisieux which is located on the Church grounds.

For the most part, poverty and lack of education prevent them from getting a job and so are almost forced to end up in prostitution. Sometimes they are living with someone and their ‘partner’ forces them to earn ‘rent’ money and so they turn to prostitution. Many of the women come from Visayas islands, Davao, or Mindanao. Their “customers” who come to the bar are mostly foreigners. In many of the bars, the women are paid 150 pesos (about $3 or £2.3 per night. However, if a “customer” chooses them they may earn as much as 3000 pesos depending on the situation and rules of the bar.


Some of the women are into alcoholism and drugs. They say at times they need those to endure the nights. They do so to overcome the deep shame and guilt they feel since most of them are born and brought up in a catholic environment. One woman recounted that she drinks as much as five bottles of wine to endure the nights. When the police stage a raid on them, they need to avoid being caught at all cost. The police arrest them and at times take them and rape them inside the jail.

They also face danger from their “customers”. They are often treated very cruelly by their clients and the bar managers will not step in to help or defend them. Some of the bars are run by foreigners. They marry a Filipina and usually it is the wife who manages the bars. There are neither social security benefits nor proper medical services made available to the women. Recently one woman who was affected by tuberculosis came to the sisters and the Redemptorists helped her get the needed treatment for her disease.

Mostly what they need and hunger for is someone to talk to. They also desperately want to go to confession. When they open up to the sisters or social workers, they just cry in helplessness.

The OSR sisters and the social workers encourage the women to come to take part in a ‘follow up’ program which meets every Wednesday. They are helped to become aware of the reality of their life situation and are motivated to escape to a new and fuller experience of life. Various kinds of training programs are offered by the Shrine to help these women gain the skills necessary to escape their lives of slavery to prostitution. Training is given primarily in the areas of housekeeping, culinary arts, beauty care, and the food and beverage service industry. This training program is also known as ALS (Alternative Learning System). Some are given scholarships to go to the college, and even in some cases, their children are also given scholarships to attend school. Every month there is a meeting for these women that is especially aimed to give value formation, spiritual enrichment, skills for life and lessons on reproductive health.

Within the last two years, they were able to save at least ten women from prostitution and helped them to find other jobs. Actually, many of them are now regular workers at the coffee shop of the shrine—the Sinirangan Coffee Shop. When they were asked whether they missed their former job at the bars, without any hesitation, they answered no. They are far happier and fulfilled now in their present jobs.

Novena Text and Women

One of the reasons for the revision of the novena in 2016 is to incorporate inclusive language. Inclusive language avoids the use of certain expressions or words especially gender-specific words, such as “man”, “mankind”, and masculine pronouns, the use of which might be considered to exclude women.[2] Below are some examples of this revision in the novena. In the prayer for the home, mankind was changed to human family.

1973 Novena


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.

2016 Novena


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


In the hymn, O Saving Victim, men was changed to all:

1973 Novena


O saving Victim opening wide
The gate of heaven to men below!
Our foes press on from every side
Your aid supply, your strength bestow.

2016 Novena


O saving Victim opening wide
The gate of heaven to all below!
Our foes press on from every side
Your aid supply, your strength bestow.


[1] A large part of the information in this section comes from Fr. Biju’s interview of the OSR sisters regarding their ministry to women at risks in the shrine. “A Mission that Needs Many Helping Hands,” Scala News, May 18, 2017. Accessed at https://www.cssr.news/2017/05/a-mission-that-needs-many-helping-hands/

[2] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/inclusive-language

Lent: The 40 Days Challenge


Despite the highly secularized world and decrease in attendance at church services worldwide today, Lent is becoming popular. Thanks to 40 days Lent challenges that has mushroomed in many parts of the world. These Lenten challenges are performed not just for spiritual purposes but many for social causes like care for creation, compassion for the poor and even for weight-loss and physical fitness. Many of these challenges have devised creative ways to utilize Lent for worthy causes.

Lent is the solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar which serves as the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. Lent lasts for 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the evening of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). This is actually a period of 46 days. However, the six Sundays within the period are not fast days (Sundays are always feast days in the Christian calendar) and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent.

In the early Church most converts were adults, and in order to be baptized into the Christian faith, they had to undergo a rigorous period of preparation. Lent “was the time when the three-fold preparation — instructive, ascetical, and liturgical — was carried on by catechumens (candidates for baptism). Thus, Lent became a time of spiritual preparation and was associated with a number of penitential disciplines, exhorting the catechumens to divorce themselves from a life of sin in order to adopt a new life in Jesus Christ. Eventually it became a season for all of the faithful to prepare for Easter.

In recent years, many groups in Christian churches has expanded the meaning of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (the traditional three pillars of Lenten observance). They went beyond the meaning of fasting as merely giving up or abstaining from food like meat, chocolate, chips, alcohol or personal habits and in most recent times, technology habits like Facebook and Instagram. Besides giving up, abstention and penitence, Lent is doing some positive action.  Lent could be a time of doing worthwhile deeds as well as spiritual discipline.

Comes the Lenten 40 days challenges. Lenten 40 days challenges are exercises, prayers and reflections that certain religious organizations have devised for each of the forty days of Lent. The 40 days exercises, prayers and reflection follow a certain theme patterned in the Lenten spirit of making sacrifice. Some of the themes are care for creation, charity, photography or even physical fitness. Exercises may include cleaning your clutter, donating money to a good cause, volunteering, visiting a sick person and many others. These organizations provide a downloadable list of set things people can use as a guide. The ideas are generally very simple and require not much thought or pre-planning and can easily be swapped for something else.

Here are some of the creative Lenten 40 days challenge. Many of these challenges revolves around the care for the environment.

The Franciscan religious congregation in Cincinnati, for example, has organized a Franciscan Lenten Energy Fast. St. Francis of Assisi walked in the footprints of Jesus, and today the Patron Saint of Ecology saw that all that God created was good and he chose to praise God in prayer and by his daily life choices and actions. How can we praise God in prayer and by our daily life choices and actions this Lenten season? How can we live so that nothing is wasted? (John 6:12) Each week we take a section of “The Canticle of the Creatures” and focus on it for our Lenten fast.


The Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized a carbon fast for Lent. This challenge is to take a carbon fast – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation; to reduce use of petrol, electricity, plastic, paper, water and toxins. It takes small steps for a more sustainable world, and by doing so rediscover a different relationship with God, with Creation and with one another.


Another activity that the Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized is a global fast for climate justice. Catholics from more than 40 countries fast during each of the 40 days, joining the Fast For The Climate interfaith effort and the Green Anglicans Carbon Fast. Each fast and pray for bold action to solve the climate change crisis

40 Bags in 40 Days Decluttering Challenge. This is a challenge where one goes through his/her home and declutter one area a day. Since Ann Marie Heasley organized this challenge in 2011, millions of people have learned about #40Bagsin40Days and countless participants have changed their life, created more manageable homes, and refocused their outlook.


Similarly, Patty Knap, a Catholic revert and a blogger with the National Catholic Register organized a Lent challenge: Get rid of 40 things in 40 days, The challenge is finding one thing each day that one no longer need during the 40 days of Lent. For most of us, this should be really easy. It could be a kitchen item, a jacket, a bike, an unopened gift hanging around. Go through your closets, drawers, basement, even the garage.

Another common theme for the 40 day Lenten challenge are actions in solidarity with people in poverty. The 40acts created by UK Christian charity, Stewardship.  Over the years, 40acts has become a movement of over 100,000 people on a mission to impact their communities with generosity – during Lent and beyond.

hamarket-lenten-challengeThe Haymarket Regional Food Pantry has organized a 40 Days of Giving Lenten Challenge.  The daily challenge involved:

– Collect 1 can/box per day, and deliver your donation to the Food Pantry at the end of Lent (or drop off some cans each week).

– Pledge a dollar amount each day, and submit your pledge x 40 at the end of Lent (submit via USPS mail or online).









An interesting challenge is combining Lenten observance and photography organized by Rethink Church. The challenge involves by simply taking a photo related to the theme assigned for each day, and then post and tag with #Rethinkchurch.


Several Lenten challenges combine Lenten fasting and abstinence with physical fitness. The 40 Day Lent Fitness Challenge organized by Fitness and Festivals involves 40 days of exercising. Sundays are rest days and a time to reflect on one’s achievements from the ab-challengeprevious week. A similar challenge was organized by pay as u go gym.  Another physical fitness themed Lenten challenge is 40 Day Lent Ab Challenge.  Day one starts with 20 sit ups.  Everyday after, add 1 sit up, then offer it up in prayer for someone who’s sick. Can you do it for 40 days?  No prize awarded for completion, just good karma, personal satisfaction and a stronger core.


What is your 40 days Lenten challenge? What is the 40 days Lenten challenge of your group or parish?