A Shrine of Miracles

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Letters: Testimonies of Miracles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favors Answered from the Thanksgiving Letters Received, 2016

  TOTAL Rank Percentage
Total PETITIONS

Mga Kahilingan

136,819
Total THANKSGIVING

Mga Pasasalamat

18,954
Spiritual Favours

Pang- Espiritual na mga Biyaya

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

Kapayapaan sa Tahanan

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

Kalusugan at Paggaling

1,262 2 6.65
Delivered from All Dangers

Kaligtasan sa mga Sakuna

120 15  .63
Gift of a Child and Safe Delivery

Pagkakaroon ng Anak

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

Pag-aaral

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

Pagbyahe sa Ibang Bansa

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

Trabaho sa ibang Bansa

311 9 1.66
Social Justice and Peace in Society

Katarungan at Kapayapaan Panlipunan

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

Pang Material na Biyaya

447 6 2.35
Unspecified/ All the Blessings

Lahat ng mga Biyaya

 

13,681

1 72.18

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pueblo Amante de Maria: A People in Love with Our Mother of Perpetual Help

 [T]he church of the Philippines, as pueblo amante de Maria, “a people in love with Mary,” will always continue to seek her intercession and learn from her way of life what we need to be as a community of disciples. She is truly what her oldest image in the Philippines call her: Nuestra Senora de Guia, Our Lady who guides our way.[2]                  

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The wonderful phenomenon in Baclaran could not have happened without the warm affection of Filipino devotees to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Baclaran is the quintessential expression of the phrase, pueblo amante de Maria, “bayang sumisinta kay Maria,” a people in love with Mary. This is shown by the fact that more than a hundred thousand devotees flock to Baclaran every Wednesday. Numbers alone, however, could not fully define the devotion to Mary of Baclaran. As Fr. Sam Boland affirms,

“Numbers have long since ceased to have much significance in Baclaran. The church belongs to the people, and they are there to be seen and to provide inspiration by a piety that is so visible and so obviously genuine.”[3]

In my almost ten years of ministry at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran I have been privileged to witness the outpouring of affection of the Filipinos to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On any given Wednesday at Baclaran I am always amazed at the sheer faith and resilient hope of the thousands of devotees who flock to the Shrine. Enduring the heat and rain, the traffic, the pollution, the vendors, they make their way to the shrine to pray the novena and celebrate the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation.

Filipinos have taken Our Mother of Perpetual Help into their homes and communities. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help has become an important part of the heritage of the nation and identity of the people. It has shaped the Filipino identity and the Filipino culture has shaped devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. A slogan popularized by the shrine captures this special devotion: “Filipino ako, Deboto ng Ina ng Laging Saklolo” (I am a Filipino, Devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help). Filipinos are proud to profess it wherever they go, whether here or abroad. It’s almost like being a devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help comes with being a Filipino.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help is no longer a Redemptorist franchise. Our Mother of Perpetual Help has become an essential aspect of the ecclesial life of the Philippine church. Almost every parish in the whole country, pray the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday. Many religious and clergy are devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Indeed, the Philippines is a Marian country.

Philippines: A Marian Country

 The pastoral letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in 1975, Ang Mahal na Birhen, declares the very special place of the Mother of Christ in the life of the Filipino people.[4] The letter particularly notes the deeply rooted veneration to Mary in the socio-religious structure of the Filipino Christian family: “A familiar sight in many homes, even of modest income, is what can be called the ‘family altar.’  In most families the image venerated is the image of the Virgin Mary under one of her familiar invocations.”[5] Mary’s special place amongst the Filipinos is also expressed in the patronage of Mary in many local churches all over the country:

“[A] very large number of parishes are dedicated to the Mother of God under one of her many invocations.  Four hundred sixty-three, or over one-fourth of all parishes, have the Virgin Mary as their titular patron without counting innumerable barrio chapels, religious oratories or private shrines dedicated to her.”[6]

Over 100 of the parishes honor the Immaculate Conception, over 60 are dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc.[7]  The various manifestations of popular piety towards the Mother of God appear not only in the number of churches, chapels, or shrines consecrated to her, but in many other forms, ranging from the liturgical celebration of her feasts throughout the year to religious calendars with the holy picture of Mary — not always of the most artistic nature, it must be acknowledged — in the most humble nipa huts or in the slums of the cities, to her picture in public vehicles, buses or jeepneys.  Grottoes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under the invocation of Lourdes are found in private gardens or in various public places, along the roads or in corners of modest dwellings.[8] The endless symphony of Marian names in the baptismal records of our parishes … It may be safely said that of the names of saintly women imposed in Baptism, none is more frequently found than the name of Mary either expressly or in one of her many titles.[9]

But what is behind the Filipinos as “pueblo amante de Maria”?  What is behind the Filipino people’s exuberant zeal for Mary?

Drinking from their Own Well: Wellspring of Filipinos’ Love for Mary 

Religiosity is deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche.  Filipinos are deeply spiritual and religious people even before the Spanish Friars came to transplant Christianity to the country. According to V.G. Enriquez, Filipinos had their own native religion before Islam and Christianity came to their land. This was a monotheistic religion based on the belief on a Supreme Being.[10] While Z. Salazar states that the faith of the early Filipinos was based on the belief in anito which is considered as pure soul, pure spirit and God.[11] Likewise, J.C. Sevilla asserts that the native Filipinos have many religious rituals like devotion before the Spanish missionaries came.[12]  The subterranean religiosity and animistic belief did not disappear even after 400 years of Christianity as Leonado Mercado declares, “The Filipinos are animists in their heart despite the 400 years of Roman Catholicism.” [13]

The rich pre-Spanish religiosity of the Filipinos presents a very important premise. As with every culture and people, the indigenous Filipinos were not tabula rasa in terms of worldview and belief before the Spanish colonizers and missionaries came. Filipinos received Catholicism in the milieu of their indigenous religion and culture which they never relinquished even up to now.  Ironically, the indigenous religion of the natives, the very stamp which the Spanish missionaries have fought so hard to eradicate, became the source of hospitality for the natives in receiving the new faith. Hospitality of the Filipinos, therefore, was not just the welcoming of the foreign but also making the foreign religion their own in the context of their indigenous beliefs and religiosity.

The Christian proselytization of the Philippines was therefore not based on an unequal negotiation where only one has the goods while the other has nothing to offer. This belies the notion that the Spanish missionaries brought Christianity to a waiting Filipino natives who had nothing to offer to the missionaries in return.  In other words, it was not merely a giver-receiver relationship. Native Filipinos had their native religion and culture while Spanish missionaries had their Spanish culture and Catholic religion. Christianity as represented by the Spanish missionaries and indigenous religion as represented by the Filipino natives benefited from a process of mutual conversion during the beginnings of Spanish colonial era in the Philippines.  Thus, the Christian evangelization in the Philippines was a two way process.  The Spanish colonizers brought Christianity to the islands to transform the indigenous religion of the natives but in the process the indigenous religion also transformed Christianity. This mutual conversion became the unique stamp of Christianity of the Philippines today.

The above premise is essential in understanding the early Filipinos’ embrace of Mary. The Filipino natives attributed to Mary some of their ancient beliefs and rituals. Karl Gaspar, for example, contends that the Filipinos’ penchant for Mary can be rooted to indigenous Filipinos’ worship of indigenous goddesses. The matriarchal belief system that arose since the beginning of cultures privileged not just the notion of a female deity but a most highly revered Mother Goddess.[14] Gaspar argues that this expression of the “feminine principle” is integral to the pre-conquest ancestors’ indigenous belief system.  Like many other traditional societies, the feminine principle within indigenous Filipino’s belief system is manifested in the matriarchal elements in their culture.  Manuel Victor Sapitula also argues that the “feminine principle” strongly resonates with the devotion to the Virgin Mary.[15] Comparing among religious traditions, the figure of the Virgin Mary is analogous to a number of female divine figures and deities.[16]

The feminine principle of Filipino indigenous spirituality is further manifested through the work of indigenous priestesses called babaylans. Babaylan is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community “miracle-worker” (or a combination of any of those).[17] The Northern Tagalog Region equivalent of babaylan is katalonan. The word “katalo” means “in good terms with.” The babaylan were predominantly female. Gaspar claims that there are males who appropriated this role but they had to speak, dress up and gesticulate like women.[18]

Spanish Times: Marianization of Filipino Religiosity or Filipinization of Marian Spirituality?

When the Spanish missionaries came in the 16th century, the Filipino’s embrace of Mary was one of the key factors to the widespread and surprisingly peaceful Christianization of the islands. This position is the main thesis of Pedro Vasquez Zafe’s dissertation on the role of Marian devotion during the Spanish evangelization of the Philippines:

“The early missionaries who came to the Philippines from Spain from the very beginning found that the devotion to the Blessed Mother was so readily received by the natives, that they increasingly made it a significant part of their evangelizing work.”[19]

The Filipino Catholic faith would not be like as it is today if not for the Filipino’s warm devotion to Mary, Zafe argues.

“[T]he Philippines would not be what it is now-the only Catholic nation in the Orient-were it not, as history testifies, [due] to the many interventions of Mary in answer to the tender and filial devotion which the Filipino people professed towards her.”[20]

Zafe describes further how the Spanish missionaries were so pleased about the natives’ very eager reception to the devotion to the Mother of God everywhere in the islands.  Filipinos were taught and with great readiness adopted practices of Marian devotion: prayed the Rosary specially, joined Marian associations the missionaries organized, venerated Marian images, and those who had acquired reading and writing skills, read devotional treatises and other books on the Blessed Virgin Mary.[21] Marian shrines were built and multiplied rapidly throughout the islands. Marian images were venerated from the earliest period of evangelization; each image “had its own story to tell”: stories of faith and its rewards, stories of devotion and love and its blessings, stories of prayers offered and wonders wrought-miracles duly recorded, investigated and given credence by church authorities, all received through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, revered in so many of her images, invoked under her different names.[22]

Catalino Arevalo also commented about how visitors from Europe going through the city of Manila, and through many other towns in the evenings during the Spanish times, were amazed upon hearing the rosary recited in every house they passed. On barges and in boats bringing people from place to place, travelers would sing hymns to Our Lady, and pray the Hail Mary’s of the rosary through much of the journey.[23] At daybreak, the town’s leaders and its students would gather at the church for the Angelus and rosary, and on given days, the Mass. In the afternoons, as the day was ending, once again, the Angelus and the rosary, with practically everyone among the townsfolk participating. Before the families slept at their homes for the night, before the church doors shut for the day, there would be devotions once again, ending (as the canonical hours do) with hymns to the Mother of God, the Salve Regina above all.[24]

Ang Mahal na Birhen also affirms the early Filipinos’ warm reception to Mary.  The Filipinos’ warm reception to Mary during the Spanish times was shown through the establishment of many religious and lay orders and sodalities dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mid-eighteenth century:

“[T]he first Filipino congregation for religious women, dedicated from its beginning to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known as Religious of the Virgin Mary … the Barangay Sang Birhen, the Sodality of Our Lady, the Legion of Mary, the Association of the Children of Mary Immaculate, are [all] fruits of the same devotion and have contributed in their own way to the development of Christian life in the Archipelago.”[25]

While Zafe and Arevalo positively described Filipino’s warm reception to Mary during the Spanish times, however, they never linked it with the Filipino’s inchoate religiosity and archetypal worship of mother goddess. Could it be that the feminine principle of Filipino indigenous spirituality prepared them for the warm acceptance of Mary during the Spanish evangelization? Zafe and Arevalo are silent about this.

Gaspar, on the other hand, asserts that the native’s indigenous worship of a Mother Goddess transferred to a Marian devotion during the Spanish times, like the case of Nuestra Seňora de Peňafrancia, known as Ina throughout the Bicol region.[26]  Sapitula concurs with Gaspar by asserting that the story of the devotion of Bicolanos to Nuestra Seňora de Peňafrancia shows how the local population re-appropriated conventional Marian symbols within their own cultural notions, despite attempts by Spanish missionaries to “domesticate” her according to their own categories of passivity (see Brewer 2001).[27]

Sapitula further expounds that the veneration of images of Christ, Mary and the saints became the replacement for the pre-conquest practice of worshipping larawans (animist images). The predisposition toward iconic representations of divine power enabled the local population to identify with Christian images as replacements of their pre-conquest divinities, as these were absorbed into their existing indigenous sacral iconography (Mojares 2002).[28] Similarly, the Spanish missionaries found great potential in the work of babaylans in propagating devotion to Mary. The missionaries effectively attributed the work of Babaylan the meaning of Marian beliefs. They substituted pagan practices done by babaylans with devotion to the Virgin May but serving the same function.  An example of this is recounted by the Jesuit missionary chronicler Pedro Chirino:

A plague of locusts had been doing great damage in the island for two years.  In order to obtain from God a remedy for this evil, they chose the most holy Virgin Mary as their intercessor, and made a vow to celebrate the feast of her most pure Conception, and to give on that occasion liberal alms as aid for the marriages of the poor and the orphans.  They fulfilled their promises, and our Lord received their humble service, showing them that He was well pleased by turning aside the locusts from their crops, and giving them that year very abundant harvests.  All the people of the village have now directed to the Church that recourse and dependence which they formerly had on the ministers of the devil.[29]

When the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help arrived in the Philippines in 1906, profound affection to Mary was already deeply ingrained in the Filipino consciousness. Filipino’s affection to Mary during the Spanish times rooted in their inchoate religiosity and archetypal worship of mother goddess made easier for the formation of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Despite that Our Mother of Perpetual Help is different from the images and statues of Mary they venerated during the Spanish times, Filipinos embraced the icon as it appealed to them as the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Filipinos’ devotion to Mary has contributed greatly to sustaining the Catholic faith in the Philippines. Ang Mahal na Birhen recognizes this important reality. Mary has been, and remains, a central inspiring force among the masses of our people in “the preservation of our Catholic Faith, and the principle of deeper and fuller evangelization”[30]

I have personally witnessed this many times when I gave missions to the people living in far flung areas. Attending mass was practically impossible for them. The only means that sustain their spiritual hunger is their devotion to Mary through the rosary, processions and the novena. Even where religious instruction among Catholics is inadequate, the Filipino always holds on to the devotion to Mary as a source of inspiration and an aid to salvation.  This devotion, even in an imperfect form is a positive asset that we pray will always be ours.[31]

Conclusion

There is a profound source for the warm affection of the Filipinos to Mary. The wellspring of Filipinos’ affection for Mary is rooted from their indigenous culture and religiosity.  God has planted in the hearts of the Filipino the love and affection for Mary even before the Redemptorist arrived in the Philippines in 1906; even before the icon was brought to their homes and even before the novena was prayed in the churches of Redemptorist and all the churches in the Philippines.

Today devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the most popular Marian devotion in the Philippines.

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[1] The expression, “Pueblo amante de Maria” were originally words found in a Eucharistic hymn (written in 1937) often sung in the Philippines when Spanish was more understood than it is at present: “a people devoted to Mary, a people who love Mary.” See Catalino G. Arevalo, S.J., Mary in Philippine Catholic Life, Landas 14 (2000): 106-116, 106.

[2] PCP-II, #153.

[3] Fr. Sam Boland, CSsR, Redemptorist in Luzon

[4] Ang Mahal na Birhen: Mary in Philippine Life Today, A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Manila: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1975, #3.

[5] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #13

[6] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #6

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #7.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #14

[9] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #15

[10] Enriquez, V.G.  (1994).  Indigenous psychology and culture.  Nasa:  Pagbabagong dangal :  Indigenous

psychology and cultural movement.  Quezon City :  Akademya ng kultura at sikolohiyang Pilipino.

[11] Yabut, “Apung Mamacalulu,” 2-3.

[12] Sevilla, J.C. (1982). Filipino religious psychology: A commentary. Nasa R. Pe-Pua (pat.), Sikolohiyang

Pilipino: Teorya, Metodo at Gamit. [pp. 306-314]. Lungsod Quezon: University of the Philippines

Press.

[13] Mercado, L. (1977) Retrospect:  Some comments on Filipino religious psychology.    Nasa L. Mercado (pat).  Filipino Religious Psychology:  Kumprensyang Rehiyonal sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino (pp180-188).  Tacloban City:  Divine Word University Publications.

[14] Karl Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The Specific Place of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon-Novena in the Philippines’ Varied Marian Devotions,6.

[15] Sapitula, 97.

[16] Sapitula, 98.

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babaylan

[18] Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 11.

[19] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 150.

[20] Pedro Vasquez Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines [Dissertation presented to the Faculty of Sacred Theology]. Rome: Pontifical University of Saint Thomas, 1968, 154.

[21] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 105-17.

[22] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 105-17.

[23] Arevalo, S.J., “Mary in Philippine Catholic Life,” 110.

[24] Arevalo, S.J., “Mary in Philippine Catholic Life,” 109.

[25] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #21

[26] Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 14.

[27] Sapitula, 110.

[28] Sapitula, 103-104.

[29] Pedro Chirino, SJ., Relaciόn de las Islas Filipinas y de lo que en ellas han trabajado los Padres de la Compaňia de Jesŭs (2nd ed.; Manila, 1890), 74 – 78.  Taken from John Shumacher, SJ., Readings in Philippine History, Quezon: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979, 76, #43

[30] Ang Mahal na Birhen, 72-73.

[31] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #63.

(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)