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
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 The desolation and the emptiness of Baclaran’s early days has been replaced by trees.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.
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.
Likewise Liezel Besuña, writes in January 7, 2018, “I love so much Baclaran church.. it’s so beautiful here, the air is cool … adorable…” 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!”
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.
In 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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?
(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)
 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.
 Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher
 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/
 Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.
 Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.
 Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 8.
 Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.
 St. Anselm, Oratio 52.
 St. Anselm, Oratio 52.
 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.
 Anthony Kelly, CSsR, The Mystery of Christ and our Mother of Perpetual Help, 2.