Preaching the Gospel in Dangerous Times: The Shrine Under Martial Law

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This September 21, we will mark the 46th anniversary of the infamous declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981. With martial law, curfews were imposed, civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus were suspended, and military law or military justice were applied and extended to civilians. Many private establishments particularly media companies critical of the government were closed, and politician critics and activists were arrested. Under martial law there were widespread excesses and human rights abuses.

At the height of martial law, the Baclaran shrine became a symbol of resilience to the injustices and oppression of Marcos dictatorship and a beacon of hope for the thousands of devotees who struggled and pursued freedom and liberty amidst dangerous times.

Despite the nationwide curfew during the whole martial law period, the shrine was open to the devotees 24/7. The shrine never closed its doors to thousands of devotees and continued to celebrate the sacraments, conduct novenas and minister to both spiritual and material needs of devotees.

In the midst of the political and social upheavals of martial law years, the shrine stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. The social turmoil gradually propelled Redemptorist to get involved with issues of human rights, justice and peace. Redemptorist missionaries stood in protest together with civil and people’s organizations against increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and others. The missionaries integrated these social issues in their mission and ministry at the shrine. These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission in Manila and Tagalog provinces.

Because of involvement with justice and peace issues, the shrine became well-known as a shrine of activism and social involvement. As Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula commented, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.” [1] The shrine became very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. Redemptorist were not just administering sacraments but also preaching about burning issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Gradually, the thrust of the shrine was not just devotional and spiritual but social and missional as well. These activities and the strong preaching on justice and peace, however, subjected Baclaran church to a continuous surveillance by the Marcos Intelligence forces. There was not a few times that the shrine received warnings and death threats over the phone.

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The last years of martial law saw the shrine playing a pivotal role in the eventual downfall of Marcos dictatorship.

When the main opposition leader, Ninoy Aquino, returning from exile in 1983, was assassinated at the Manila International Airport, it was to Baclaran that his family and welcoming party went to pray. A spokesman addressed the Sunday congregation asking for prayers for Ninoy and for the country he said was worth dying for. That tragic event rudely awakened the middle class from its complacency and timidity, ushering in an era of unprecedented activism.

An ingenious expressions of dissent that was used against the Marcos regime after the Ninoy assassination was jogging. On Sundays, a group, led by Ninoy’s brother Butch and their sympathizers, would jog from Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard and end up in Baclaran for the 9 a.m. Mass.

When Redemptorist Father Rudy Romano was kidnapped in Cebu on July 11, 1985 amidst strong suspicion of military perpetrators, Baclaran Church gave his case all out support, even dedicating in his memory, a hall–Romano Hall, a street marker and a monument (together with other desaparecidos or missing persons during the Marcos regime).

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When Marcos called a “snap election” and Ninoy’s widow, Cory, was persuaded to run against him, things began to heat up to boiling point. During the counting of the ballots, some computer technicians began to notice how the official figures on the tally board kept showing a widening Marcos lead, even as the citizen’s NAMFREL count was showing the very opposite. Sensing a highly sophisticated scam manipulating the results, 35 of the technicians found the courage to walk out, dealing a major blow to the credibility of the whole electoral process. Not surprisingly, the Marcos people attacked the walk¬out as “staged” for the benefit of the foreign press. One cited the fact that the group that walked out proceeded to Baclaran where they were interviewed by the press, “when we all know that the Redemptorist church is a haven for the opposition.”

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What happened was that someone from the crowd shouted out the suggestion for them to proceed to Baclaran. When they arrived at the shrine, Redemptorist Fr. Frat Warren, happened to notice the group outside in the grounds. When he heard what they had done, he brought them into the convento in an act of humanitarian sympathy, to shield them from inquisitive reporters. He prepared a bit of supper for them and provided them with mats and sheets so they could spend the night in what used to be the community oratory on the second floor. They stayed there through the wee hours of the morning until it was thought safe enough for them to transfer elsewhere.

After Marcos endeavored to nullify Cory’s victory, the Bishops issued their now famous pastoral letter declaring the elections so “unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” that there was “no moral basis” (on Marcos’ part) for continuing to govern. Cardinal Sin chose to air the official hierarchy’s stand during the 6 PM Mass at Baclaran. Cory, who was present, began to address the crowd, but a gun threat caused the people to make a hasty exit.

Then came the brutal assassination of the former governor of Antique, Evelio Javier, whose remains were brought to Manila for burial. From the Manila Domestic Airport,. the remains were brought to Baclaran Church where a concelebrated mass was immediately said. This was followed by an all-night vigil and another mass the following day, attended by Cory. The huge crowd accompanied his remains on foot from Baclaran all the way to Ateneo, Evelio’s alma mater, a distance of some 20 kilometers. He had been an idealistic Atenean who went back to his native province to try to reform the political system. He had succeeded as far as getting elected governor, a feat in itself considering the rough and dangerous game that was the politics of those days. In the end, the system got him and murdered him. Thousands viewed Evelio’s remains and saluted him as a martyr for the cause of justice, thus helping to galvanize opposition to the perpetuation of Marcos’ rule.

All these events were significant build-up events to the now famous EDSA people’s power revolution which led to the Marcoses fleeing the country.

The aspirations of the people during martial law is reflected today in the wall art of the western wall of the shrine’s compound. Images from the history of struggle of the Filipino people especially during martial law are expressed in painting, mosaic and sculpture on the wall. These images are interspersed with images of creation and caring for mother earth. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for creation, the images of brother sun and sister moon provide a backdrop for many of the art works in the wall.

Wall-Art (2)

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

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At the entrance of the shrine on Redemptorist Road, there is a marker embedded into the wall that records the visit of Cardinal Thomas O’Fiaich, Primate of Ireland, who came to show his solidarity with Fr. Rudy Romano’s case on Dec. 5, 1986.

The aspirations of the people during martial law years also influenced the revision of the novena in 1973. Some of the petitions in the 1973 novena reflected these aspirations:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,

Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Promotion of justice and peace was incorporated into the petitions of the novena.

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

Loving Mother pray for us.

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

Loving Mother pray for us.

The novena encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace.

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.

[W]e earnestly ask you, our Mother
to help us comfort the sick and the dying
give hope to the poor and unemployed
heal the broken-hearted
teach justice to their oppressors
and bring back to God all those who have offended Him.[2]

novena2Indeed, Baclaran shrine served as a counter-symbol to the domination and oppression and a glimmer of hope amidst the dark period of the martial law era. Karl Gaspar beautifully sums up this image of the shrine as a 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.[3]

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[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 89.

[2] Perpetual Help Novena, Baclaran, 1973.

[3] Karl Gaspar, “Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The Specific Place of OMPH Icon-Novena in the Philippines’ Varied Marian Devotions,” Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 87.

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Novena: The Prayer of the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre 1948 Novena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is an added general remark in the instructions:

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

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Common Elements between 1926 and 1936 Novena

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

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

1948 Novena: Perpetual Novena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1973 Revised Novena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Jubilee Edition of the Novena

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

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

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

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

1973 Novena

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

2016 Novena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novena: Prayer of the Communion of the Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joey Echano

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

 


 

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

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

[3] Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Campos, 250.

[5] Hechanova, The Baclaran Story

[6] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #83.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #84.

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

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Rahner, 31.

Baptism at the Plane

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The community in the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Baclaran, often say, “You can never predict what will happen tomorrow.” They are usually talking about the number of people who will attend the Shrine, or the type of people or what people will be requesting of the priest. This case however is unique even for Baclaran.

We read in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community on February 11, 1952:

Around midnight last night, a call came from the Pan American Airways office at Nicholl’s Field asking for a priest to be on hand when a KLM Plane would arrive.

What was happening? I am sure the Community expected a crash landing or something worse to be about to take place. Who would go? What did he need to take with him? Eventually the Minister was chosen to go (probably because he was a driver and it was close to midnight with not much transport available).

The Chronicles continue:

The plane arrives and Fr. Minister went over and found that a baby had been born on the plane and the family were requesting Baptism. The family was on it’s way to Australia from Lebanon. The Dutch crew of the plane were all Catholics and very cooperative.

I wonder if the same thing happened today. What would be the reaction of the family? The crew? The Airline? The priest? A Lebanese Family could still be requesting an early Baptism. However, I doubt if there is any Airline who would consider a Baptism as a priority, or put themselves out to arrange one while the plane was at a temporary landing place. The crew would probably be ready to help with the delivery of the baby but a Dutch crew today would be most unlikely to think of Baptism. The Churches in Holland are all empty. As for the priest, I can’t imagine any priest today rushing to the airport at midnight. He would probably ask many questions first, like “Is the baby in danger of death?” “Why can’t they wait till they get to Australia?” “Are the parents married in the church?”

The times, they are a changin’.

John Maguire, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Devotion all over the Nation

Know that the tenderness of Mary never lets you down. And holding onto her mantle and with the power that cones from Jesus’ love on the cross, let us move forward and walk together as brothers and sisters in the Lord.                                                            

– Pope Francis, homily during the Mass in Tacloban, Jan. 17, 2015

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In a letter to Fr. O’Leary dated February 7, 1958, the late Archbishop Jose Ma. Cuenco of Jaro joyfully told Fr. Lew O’ Leary, the rector of the shrine, how he endorsed his petition to make the Baclaran Shrine as a National Shrine for the following reasons.

Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour has become national in the Philippines, as in many parishes the novena to the Perpetual Succour is held. That in Baclaran every Wednesday about 70,000 come to the Novena of Perpetual Succour. This number is unique in the world. That the new church is the longest in the Philippines. That the Redemptorist Fathers are the best promoters and propagandists of devotion to Our Lady.

After his short speech, the Bishops present approved Fr. O’Leary’s petition unanimously for the honor and glory of the Blessed Virgin.  On March 5th, 1958, the good news that the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help had been made the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was announced at all Masses and Novenas. This official declaration gave confirmation about the sacredness of the shrine and the many graces that the thousands of devotees have received through the prayers of OMPH. This further attracted existing and new devotees to flock to the shrine.

The declaration of Baclaran as a National Shrine is a recognition that the love affair between the Filipino people and Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran has now become a national affair. This love affair is no longer confined within the shrine but is widespread all throughout the nation. The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is recited in every parish every Wednesday throughout the country. Even very popular shrines such as Our Lady Manaoag, the Quiapo Church of the Nazareno, and the Sto Nino in Cebu have perpetual novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help. Seminaries all over the country also hold perpetual novena. Filipino workers and migrants brought the icon and prayed the novena in almost every country of the globe.

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The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help will no longer just be in the shrine. The icon will grace many humble nipa huts in the countryside, shanties in the slums and mansions in posh villages of the cities. It will be displayed in public vehicles, buses or jeepneys, in schools, in halls, seminaries and even in malls. Numerous hospitals, schools and universities, cooperatives, and organizations will be dedicated and named after Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Fr. Amado Picardal recounts how as a political prisoner during Martial Law years in the 1970s, he saw the image of the Mother of Perpetual Help tattooed on a prisoner’s back that someone jokingly asked him to take off his shirt so that the prisoners can hold a novena.  The spread of the devotion all over the land was not

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just the work of the Redemptorists but of the people and the local church. The devotees have become co-missionaries in making known OMPH all over the nation.

Many parishes throughout the country will be named after OMPH. In fact, there are fifty-four parishes in the Philippines dedicated to the Mother of Perpetual Help.  Below is the list of parishes under the Dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help (59). OMPH – Our Mother of Perpetual Help, OLPH – Our Lady of Perpetual Help, ILS – Ina ng Laging Saklolo, NSPS – Nuestra Senora Perpetu Sucorso)

Luzon

Diocese Parish/Shrine Address
Baguio 1. OLPH (f1961) Abatan, Bugias, Benguet
Bangued 2. OLPH  (f1952) Luba, Abra
Bayombong 3. OMPH   Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya
Cabanatuan 4. OMPH  (F1968) Mabini Homesite

Cabanatuan City

Caceres 5. OLPH (f1958) Balatan , CamSur
Calapan 6. OMPH (f1991)  Bgy Managpi, Calapan, Oriental Mindoro
Cubao 7. OLPH `13th Ave Cubao, QC.

8. OLPH Project 8, QC

Gumaca 9. OMPH Somagonsong, Mulanay, Quezon
Iba 10.  OLPH Mission, Acoje Mines, Sta Cruz, Zambales
Ilagan 11.  OLPH Calamagui, Ilagan,  Isabela
Imus 12.  OMPH, DBB-A, Dasmarinas,

13.  ILS, Sungay, Tagaytay

14.  OMPH, Perpetual Village VII, Bacoor

Laoag 15.  OMPH 2008  Pancian, Pagudpud,
Lingayen-Dagupan 16.  OLPH Canan Norte, Malasiqui, Pangasinan
Lipa 17. OMPH, Agoncillo, Batangas

18.  OLPH Aplaya, Bauan, Batangas

Lucena 19.  OMPH Taguan,  Candelaria

20.  OMPH Bukak, Tayabas

Malolos 21.  MPH, San Pedro, Hagonoy,  Bulacan
Manila 22.  ILS, Punta, Sta. Ana, Manila

23.  NSPS/OLPH f1951 Calamba cor Instruccion, Sampaloc, Manila

Novaliches 24.  ILS Phase 7, Bagong Silang,  Caloocan CIty
Pasig 25.  OMPH (QP) Sampaguita, Perpetual Village 10, Bagong Tanyag, Taguig City
San Fernando, La Union 26.  OLPH f1956 Pagdalagan, San Fernando, LU
San Fernando, Pampanga 27.  MMPH ,  Gutad, Florida Blanca, Pampanga
San Jose, NE 28. OMPH, Talugtog, Nueva Ecija
San Pablo 29. OMPH Laguna Bel Air Subd, Sta. Rosa
Tuguegarao 30. OLPH, Namuac, Sanchez Mira, Cagayan

Visayas

Diocese Address
Cebu 1. OMPH Parish, Babag 1, Lapulapu City
2. MPH Shrine-Parish(CSsR) , Elizabeth Pond, Cebu City
Dumaguete 3. OMPH Shrine-Parish(CSsR), Dumaguete
4. OMPH Parish, Balugo, Dumaguete
5. OMPH Parish, Manalongon, Sta Catalina, Negros Oriental
San Carlos 6. MPH Parish, Brgy Minapasuk, Calatrava, Negros Occidental (San Carlos)
Jaro 7. OLPH Shrine-Parish (CSsR), La Paz, Iloilo City
8. OLPH Parish, Sto. Tomas, Passi, Iloilo
Palo 9. OMPH Parish (CSsR) Real St., Tacloban City

Mindanao

Butuan 1. OMPH Parish, Brgy Holy Redeemer, Butuan
Cagayan de Oro 2. MPH Parish, Baliwagan, Misamis Oriental
Cotabato 3. OLPH Parish, Sarmiento, Parang, Shariff Kabunsuan18.

4. OMPH Parish, Guiwan, Cotabato City

Digos 5. OMPH Parish Guihing, Hagonoy, Davao Sur
Dipolog 6. OMPH Parish, Godod, Zamboanga del Norte,
7. OMPH Parish, Manukan, Zamboanga del Norte
8. OMPH Parish, Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte
Ipil 9. OMPH Parish, Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay
Iligan 10. OLPH Parish, Linamon, Lanao del Norte
Kidapawan 11. MPH Parish, Arakan, North Cotabato
12. OLPH Parish, New Rizal, Mlang, North Cotabato
(13. OMPH Shrine, Binoligan, Amas, Kidapawan
Marbel 14. OLPH Parish, Milbuk, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat

(OLPH Seminary, Sultan Kudarat)

Ozamis 15. OMPH Parish, Katipunan, Misamis Occidental
Surigao 16. OLPH Parish, Socorro, Surigao Norte
Tagum 17. OLPH Parish, Maco, Compostela Valley
Davao 18. OMPH Parish (CSsR), Bajada Davao City
Military Ordinariate 19. OMPH Chapel, Naval Forces, Eastern Mindanao Command, Panacan, Davao City

Cultural Heritage

Baclaran as a national shrine has been visited by all kinds of people–movie stars, politicians, prostitutes, rich and poor, famous and infamous, old and young. The shrine truly belongs to the Filipino people of every class and kind.

It has become not just a sacred or spiritual center but also a cultural capital. The Baclaran phenomenon had gone beyond the religious experience; it has permeated the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the country. The icon of OMPH is not just a religious icon but has become a collective representation of Philippine society.

A cultural expression of Baclaran as a national cultural heritage are the films that was made about the devotion in Baclaran as early as its inception. The earliest recorded film was Awa ng Birhen sa Baclaran (Mercy of the Virgin of Baclaran), in 1952. It stars Ramon D’Salva, Eddie del Mar, Arsenia Francisco. The second earliest recorded movie on the phenomenon is Mother Dearest in 1960.  The movie is composed of seven stories contained in letters received by the Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine at Baclaran. The titles of the seven stories are: ‘The Innocent’, ‘The Tramp’, ‘The Pickpocket’, ‘The Hostess’, ‘The Sinner’, ‘The Rebel’, and ‘The Novice’. It was written by Ben Arguelles  and screenplay by Ben Feleo. The movie stars: Van De Leon, Lilibeth Vera-Perez, and Nenita Jana.

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In the 1979 in the dramatic film Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (You are the Mother of your child), starring Nora Aunor, the church appears in the opening scene. The church also appears in the 1995 film Alfredo Lim: Batas ng Maynila (Alfredo Lim: Law of Manila) starring Eddie Garcia. The church’s candle chapel made an appearance in the 2015 film You’re Still The One starring Maja Salvador, Dennis Trillo, Ellen Adarna and Richard Yap.

The Baclaran shrine is also a favorite venue of TV stations for quick interviews and features during significant national events whether civic or religious events. The church was also featured in the American Reality Competition Program The Amazing Race Season 25 in 2014.

In 2015, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines began the process of including Baclaran shrine in the heritage listing. This was made into a proposal and was approved during a hearing in 2015 which I attended in the City Hall of Paranaque. Baclaran is now officially a national heritage. It is a testament to the Filipino’s profound love for Mary.

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This recognition, however, comes with a responsibility. As a national heritage, the façade and architecture of the shrine and the original convent can no longer be changed. As a heritage listing, the shrine needs to provide more facilities for pilgrims and tourists, like spaces for seating, drinking and eating. It also needs to organize tours and provide information materials for tourist and pilgrims. A museum showing the rich and significant events of the past and some valuable symbols and artefacts of the shrine will be an important emblem of Baclaran as a national heritage.

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)

Baclaran as Summer Getaway

shrine~19

On April 7th 1939 of the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community we read:

“Today was a terribly hot day, this afternoon the Archbishop came to enjoy the cool breeze from the bay.”

Can you believe that Baclaran was once a refuge from the heat of Manila?  When the Redemptorists first gave up Malate Parish and began their new Mission house in Baclaran, the Columbans, who took over Malate often walked around the bay to visit the Redemptorists and swim in the clear waters of Baclaran.

In the 60s and early 70s Redemptorists from Iloilo who were teaching in the Juvenate in Iloilo often spent part of their summer break in Baclaran and sat each afternoon on the top verandah of the convento enjoying the cool breeze and watching the sun set. Bro. Charles O’ Brien who lived for many years in Baclaran could be seen at two o’clock in the afternoon in his shorts having a siesta on the rocks just across the Boulevard from the Monastery. He would then dive into the crystal clear water for a swim before returning to the Convento, for merienda and the afternoon’s work.

In 1968 when a strong typhoon swept through Manila it took hours to clear the shells from the second story verandah of the Convento. The shells were picked up from the beach by the breeze of the typhoon and dumped on the second floor. Large “bankas” used to come across from Bataan on calm Wednesdays to bring the people to the Novena and wait on the other side of the Boulevard, just opposite the front gate, to take the people home again.

If you are a teenager or under twenty five years of age you may find these things hard to believe, but all these things happened, during the life of your parents and grandparents. Now it may be difficult to live without an air conditioner in Baclaran. You may think of the reclamation area as a place for fast food or the Mall of Asia as a necessity of life, but once they were under the sea and Baclaran was a place to go to find the cool breezes and buy cheap seafood.

John Maguire, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R: THE PRIEST WHO WROTE THE DICTIONARY

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Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R. is credited with leading the inauguration of the novena in Baclaran in June 23, 1948. He is more known, however, as the compiler and editor of two of the first most widely used bilingual dictionaries in the Philippines namely, the English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) and the Tagalog–English Dictionary (1986).

Fr. English was an Australian Redemptorist who was born in Melbourne on the 8th, July 1907. He was ordained to the priesthood on 10th, March 1935 and was assigned to the Philippines in 1936 arriving on December 5th. He had been assigned to Lipa City and went there almost immediately. He soon had a working knowledge of the language and joined the Missions in the Lipa Archdiocese. He remained in Lipa until the Japanese occupation, when all the Australian priests and Religious were called to Manila and eventually found themselves in the concentration camp in Los Banos. While interned by the Japanese occupation forces at Los Baňos, Father English started compiling an English-Tagalog dictionary largely in response to a need which he had long felt for a thorough work of this nature.

After the war and a short break in Australia he returned to the Philippines and was stationed in Baclaran until 1950 when he was appointed Superior of the Redemptorist community in Lipa City. During this time he continued to work on the Missions but the dictionary, that he had dreamed of, was never far from his mind. So he continued his work on the dictionary. In the final stages, he secured the assistance of Dr. Jose Villa Panganiban, Director of the Institute of National Language, and Dr. Rufino Alejandro, then Assistant Director of the Institute, as well as many other Filipino friends. It was completed in 1965. When it was published in 1965 he then began the formidable task of producing a  Tagalog -English Dictionary.

The English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) was published by the Australian Government, and given to the Filipino people as a gift of friendship. In his preface the honorable Paul Hasluck, M.P. Minister of State for External Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia said:  Australians value very highly their friendly and sympathetic relations with the Philippines.

Fr. English’s dictionary was primarily a fruit of his missionary endeavors in the Philippines. Right at the beginning of his missionary assignment in the Philippines he committed to learning Tagalog. He understood fully well that to become a good missionary, learning the local language is a must. While on mission, he would gather every new Tagalog words. He also shared the words he collected to help his fellow Redemptorist missionaries in learning the language. After many years of going out in the mission and at the same time gathering new Tagalog words, he was able to gather several thousand Tagalog words to put into a dictionary. His efforts was supplemented by a scholarly method. Just like a linguistic anthropologist, he spent time working with language. His work was recognized by the Australian government that it agreed to partly finance it.

Near the end of 1973, he was transferred to Baclaran and from then on spent most of his time working on the second Dictionary. We have to remember that he had no access to a computer in those days and everything had to be typed, corrected and then re-typed. His main assistant was Teresita Castillo who faithfully typed all the manuscripts many times as they were corrected for typographical errors, inaccuracies in translation and accentuation. The second Dictionary was published in 1986.

The dual dictionaries of Fr. English pioneered the launching of many bilingual dictionaries and thesauruses in the Philippines. Fr. English’s dictionaries had been influential in the development and propagation of the Filipino language in the Philippines and abroad.

Until the day he died, he still worked each day looking for ways to improve his knowledge of Tagalog and improving the dictionaries if ever there should be a new revised edition. He died on the 19th, October, 1997 in Baclaran. He was 90 years of age and had spent 60 years in the Philippines. He did many other things during his long life but he will always be remembered as the Priest who wrote the Dictionary.

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

When Manila Bay was in Front of the Baclaran Church

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Before World War II, the waters of Manila Bay used to come up to the refectory of the Redemptorist convent in Baclaran during high tide.  After the war it used to lap the shore along Roxas Boulevard. Now the sea is more than a kilometer away from the Church.

The name Baclaran originated from the word “baclad,” which means fishtrap. Baclad is made of rattan used to segregate fingerlings from the bigger fishes during the time when the Baclaran River and the Manila Bay were still used to breed fish. In the early years of the last century, this village was popularly known as “the place of the fishtraps”, thus, people started calling it the “bacladan”, which later became to be known, “Baclaran.” When the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran, the sea was just right at the fence of the compound which today is Roxas Boulevard. In those days, one could still see many fishing boats anchored near the seashore.  After the mass, the Fathers would usually take a dip into the clean water of Manila Bay.[1]

The Redemptorists first came to Manila in 1906. They proceeded, however, to the island of Opon near Cebu where they first settled and began their mission in the Visayas islands. In 1913, they returned to Manila and was entrusted the care of the parish of Malate. In 1931, they transferred to Baclaran. The parish of Malate was turned over to the Columban fathers.

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Fr. John Maguire, CSsR recalls how, in olden days, the Redemptorist and the Columbans used to walk along the shore of Manila Bay to visit each other’s convent in Baclaran and Malate. The Parish of Malate was centered around the present Malate Church which was then fronting the beach. When the Redemptorists transferred to Baclaran they were also fronting the beach. Often on cool afternoons they would take a walk to Malate along the beach, have a swim, visit the Columban Fathers who had taken over in Malate, join them for merienda and then walk home. On other days the Columbans would do the same, in reverse order of course. The result was that the two communities became close to each other and until recently were still inviting each other to celebrations in their respective areas.

The enjoyable walk along the beach, however, has now become a health hazard. The beach is a road full of crazy drivers. The sidewalk is the kingdom of street children, beggars, pickpockets, snatchers and the whole thing is wrapped in a blanket of smog and pollution. The beach is more than a kilometer away.

So much for the good old days. They call it progress.

 

 


 

[1] Fr. Sam Boland, CSsR, Redemptorists in Luzon, 19.

 

 

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)

 

A Shrine Born Out of a Love Story

~22~22

Did you know that when the first Redemptorist missionaries came to Baclaran, Philippines in 1929, they never planned to build a big shrine for Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Little did they imagine that someday, Baclaran would turn into the biggest pilgrim shrine in the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

If the Redemptorists did not plan it, who planned it? To answer this question, let us take a trip down memory lane.

The first Redemptorist missionaries who came to the Philippines in 1906 began their mission in Opon, near Cebu. From there, they gave missions to several provinces in the Visayas.

From the Visayas, the Redemptorist advanced to Luzon to expand their missionary work. The Manila Archdiocese entrusted to the Redemptorist the care of the parish of Malate in 1913.  The Redemptorist was reluctant all along to live in Malate as they were keener on giving missions to the barrios of the Southern and Northern Luzon region. Fr. Michael Bailey summarized the sentiments of the early Redemptorist about Malate as “good as a parish apostolate but as a mission to Filipinos it was in many ways as ill-fated as its origins were compromising.” Filipino Sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula explains that the reticence of the pioneer Redemptorists regarding Malate was because they deemed it “too urban.”  Instead of an urban parish, the majority of the pioneer missionaries preferred a mission base far removed from the exigencies of urban life.

To cut the story short, not long after settling in Malate, the Redemptorists negotiated with the Archdiocese for a transfer. The Archbishop offered them a piece of land in the then rural village of Baclaran. The land was a donation by a devotee of our Blessed Virgin Mary. In Baclaran, the Redemptorist have finally found an ideal location for a mission station, one that they have been longing for, ever since they sat foot in Luzon. The Redemptorist immediately began the process of transfer from Malate to Baclaran in 1929.   

In 1929, Baclaran was an unknown small rural fishing village of Manila, Perhaps during that time, people would have asked: Is there something good that can come out of Baclaran? Ironically, Baclaran as a suburb outside of the city center, poor and rural are the reasons why the Redemptorists settled there.

The Redemptorist built a small convent and church in the middle of grassland. The grassland was near the seacoast where the fisher folks used to anchor their small fishing boats. Before World War II, the waters of Manila Bay used to come up to the refectory of the monastery especially on high tide.  After the war, the water used to lap the shore along Roxas Boulevard. Now the sea is about two kilometers from the front of the Church.

From the very beginning, the early Redemptorists conceived of Baclaran as a mission station where they can hold missions to distant barrios. The Redemptorists settled at Baclaran primarily to give mission. There was never a plan to make Baclaran a parish. The small wooden chapel will only cater to the local community around the convent. This chapel fits the ideal preconception of a rural mission church that the pioneer Redemptorists favored. Built with wooden frames and rather small, the shrine and monastery suited the predominantly fishing village landscape that Baclaran exemplified.

The entry in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community, dated March 21, 1932—the day Fr. Denis Grogan, the man who built Baclaran Monastery and Church left the Philippines—encapsulated the missionary intent of the Redemptorist when they settled in Baclaran:

“The Redemptorists now had a Monastery where they could live as religious and get on with their main work of learning Tagalog to give Missions to the Filipino People wherever they were needed.”

~13A further expression of this missionary aspiration is Grogan’s dedication of the shrine and its attached convent to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, patron saint of mission. This is etched in the foundation stone of the Monastery, which was blessed and laid on Sept 13, 1931:

At the request of Most Rev. Fr. General Murray and with the approval of His Grace, the Monastery and Church are to be dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus, the patroness of the missions. The secondary Patrons shall be the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Mother of Perpetual Succor, St Joseph, St. Alphonsus, St. Clement and St. Gerard.

After settling down in Baclaran, the Redemptorists did what they knew best—doing missions!  We read in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community that they were working regularly in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Pampanga and occasionally in Ilocos, Baguio, and Palawan, as well as in Manila and Rizal.

Deeply occupied by missionary work, the early Redemptorists never thought of transforming the small wooden chapel into the big shrine that it is now. At the very beginning, however, there were already writings on the wall that will foreshadow the transformation of this small wooden church into the biggest shrine in the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

First of this writings on the wall is the intention of the donor. The donor, a certain pious woman named Anastacia donated the land with the intention that it give honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Fr. Sam Boland narrates,

The land was a pious foundation, as the Archbishop of Manila had described it, and quite an interesting one. It had been the property of a good widow whom Father Gallagher, the source of our information, remembers as Anastacia. In her will, she bequeathed the land to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her relations after her death referred the matter to the Holy See for an interpretation; and the decision was that it was to be regarded as a bequest to the Church to be used for religious purposes. Now at last after the elusive talk of the past few years about Baclaran, “the place of the fishtraps,” Anastacia’s gift to the Blessed Virgin, was entrusted to the Australian Redemptorists.

The second writing on the wall is the providential story of how the altar came to be dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. At the beginning of their ministry in Baclaran, the Redemptorist asked for donations from the people in building and adorning the small wooden chapel. The Ynchausti family came, along with friends and benefactors, with the intention of donating a beautiful high altar to the congregation. They had one condition, however, that the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help ought to occupy the high altar. This would conflict with the intention of the pioneer Redemptorists to have the chapel in honor of St. Thérèse. Who would get the high altar— St. Thérèse or Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Fr. Grogan unfolds to us this drama on an entry dated Feb 1, 1932 in the Chronicles:

“I am preparing the House and Church for the arrival of the Fathers and Brothers from Australia. The new high altar given by Sra. De Ynchausti arrived. It was designed and made by Mr. Maximo Vicente under the guidance of the donor. It became the high altar very providentially. Sta. Teresita being the Patroness should naturally have been there and for the first Mass celebrated in the church she was actually installed but when the donor offered her altar, she expressed the wish that it should be the high altar. I proposed her wish to Father Provincial (Byrne) with a good recommendation and he decided it should be so. The delay in communicating brought us near to the Opening Day and hearing nothing from Australia we gave orders that the plans should be changed and the altar made smaller to suit the aisle, but at that very moment, while the designer was in the house, the mail arrived from Australia and all was changed. Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (Help) was given the High Altar and Sta. Teresita on her right side, with St. Gerard on the left.”  

Later on, the Redemptorists transferred St. Thérèse’s statue to the grounds in front of the convent. As time will tell, this became a more fitting place for St. Thérèse’s statue as the people were able to touch her. This also serves as a reminder that the saint once had a brief reign in the shrine, before it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Filipino historian Trazer Dale Mansueto notes that Ynchausti’s choice of Our Mother of Perpetual Help underscores the growing devotion to the Marian title in the Philippines at the time prior to the explosion of the novena.  This further shows that some awareness about Our Mother of Perpetual Help has already reached Baclaran even before the Redemptorist arrived there.

It took sixteen years before anyone in the Redemptorist community thought of having a Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. For sixteen years the Redemptorist were busy giving missions from all over the Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon areas. Although in most of these missions, they were introducing the icon and propagating the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, no one thought, however, of introducing the novena at the small chapel of Baclaran.

When the Redemptorist finally did start the novena after hearing of it’s warm acceptance in Ilo-ilo, Lipa and Cebu, all were taken by surprise by the rapid increase of the crowd flocking to the small wooden chapel for the novena. During the first novena, there were only 70 people present.  The following week the number doubled. Before the year ended, the Redemptorists added more novena sessions since the original chapel was good for only 300 people.

1st_novenaThen, it dawned upon the Redemptorists that this chapel is not just meant to be a mission station. This chapel is meant for something extraordinary which the past writings on the wall have foreshadowed. Something special is about to transform this place because of Mary of Baclaran, Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The small wooden chapel would have to give way to a larger church.

By the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the novena, and many others were following it from the parking area. By this time, the crowd was estimated between 50,000 and 70,000 people.

The rest is history!

But where did the crowd who attended the novena came from? Why did the attendance to the novena multiplied so fast?

The Filipino people fell in love with Our Mother of Perpetual Help or shall we say Our Mother of Perpetual Help fell in love with the Filipino people even before the explosion of the novena in 1948. As the late Fr. John Maguire said,

[O]ne reason for the rapid spread of the Perpetual Novena, after it began in Baclaran in 1948, was the already existing love of the people for the Mother of Perpetual Help, whom they had come to know and love from the Redemptorist Missions.

It was the love story between the Filipino people and Our Mother of Perpetual Help that catapulted the explosion of the novena to cosmic proportions. It was the love story between the Filipino people and Our Mother of Perpetual Help who planned the biggest shrine of the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The Redemptorists helped facilitate this love story to blossom in Baclaran. The Redemptorist missions in the barrios deep into the country introducing Our Mother of Perpetual Help helped prepare the way for the coming of the novena. The Redemptorists were the stewards entrusted with the care of the shrine that is a testament to the love story between the Filipino people and Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

newly constructed church

 

(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)