150th Jubilee International Congress at Baclaran Live!

Watch live sessions and Eucharist of the International Congress from April 24-27 here.

 

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Mary, Queen of All Creation: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Integrity of Creation

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[On Earth Day and as build up to the 150th Jubilee International Congress at Baclaran, here’s some reflections about the Icon and care for creation.]

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, 
all creation receives new life from your abundance.
Virgin, blessed above all creatures,
through your blessing all creation is blessed,
not only creation from its Creator,
but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
– St. Anselm[1]

The shrine and its surroundings is an oasis in the city. It is the only green place in Baclaran where the various hard wood and fruit trees around the shrine provide sanctuary and source of food for birds, insects and other animals.  Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin).

Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got into the shrine environment.  Somebody assumed that some guy who loves exotic animals was keeping squirrels in a cage. He/she might have thought that squirrels will be better off in the shrine compound and let it free inside the compound.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

narcissus flycatcher
Photo courtesy of Reuel Aguila

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted in the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent days photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[2] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers assumed that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

Caring for creation is an important part of the programs and values of the shrine. The shrine, for example, has long been converting its biodegradable waste like food waste, paper waste, dry leaves and twigs into compost.

Care for the environment is also integrated in the liturgy of the shrine. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis of Assisi (4th of  October). The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

In 2015, the Redemptorist community began a project called greening of the shrine. The first step undertaken in this project is the banning of smoking within the shrine compound. smoke_freeThe project also involved using recycled materials for the beautification of the garden and wall art. Moreover, the community started vertical gardening on some of the fences of the shrine. This is aimed at showing that growing vegetables even in the city is feasible, and to encourage the devotees to grow their own vegetables right in their own backyard. Seminars on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and some concrete ways to care for the environment like waste management and urban gardening were conducted, in light with this greening campaign.

In 2016, solar panels were installed at the shrine and convent. The shrine and the convent now use free electricity from the sun during the day and revert to Meralco at night. There is also a plan for a water harvesting system to harness the rain.

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Promotion of the integrity of creation is also incorporated in the novena. In the latest revision of the novena—the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena—one petition to Our Mother of Perpetual was added for the care of creation: That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.

Disconnection from Creation

It is disheartening to say that in today’s information age of interconnection we have become disconnected with Mother Nature.  This loss of connection with creation is contained in the opening lines of Pope Francis’ first social encyclical Laudato Si: Care for the Common Home. Pope Francis laments,

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

Because of the destruction of the environment, much of our own doing, there is uncertainty of the future. The biggest threat in the future is climate change. The signs are not good and if our present habits and systems continue the worst of our fears will occur. And time is running out.

The twenty-first century has seen the most temperature records broken in recorded history. Last year was the hottest year on record since 1850, and 2015 is set to outstrip 2014. Since the 1950s every continent has warmed substantially, with hot days becoming far more common than cold ones.[3]

Some of our worst fear about climate change is that it could cause the displacement of 250 million people across the world by 2050. Estimates predict that an additional 6 million will have to flee their homes each year if global warming continues at the same rate. Tens of millions of people already have to vacate their homes every year due to natural disasters — which are on the rise. In 2012 alone over 32 million were displaced.[4]

The Earth’s average temperature will continue to rise so long as we continue to produce greenhouse gases. The estimates for how much temperature will increase by 2100 range from 2 degrees Celsius to as much as 6 degrees Celsius.[5]

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

What can the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help teach us about caring for the environment? Can the Icon help us develop an ecological spirituality?

Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology always evoke a cosmic outlook. This cosmic mindset is especially represented by the background of icons: While the principal character of an icon is a person, its background often represents an image of the transformed cosmos. In this sense, an icon is cosmic since it shows nature but nature in its eschatological and changed state.[6]

Moreover, icons in Eastern Orthodox theology represent nature not in its worldly appearance but in its cosmic and glorious state:

The icon reflects the eschatological, apokatastatic, redeemed and deified state of nature. The features of a donkey or a horse are, in an icon, as refined as those of a person, and, accordingly, the eyes of animals in icons are human, not those of a donkey or a horse. We see in icons the earth and the sky, trees and grass, the sun and the moon, birds and fish, animals and reptiles yet all are subjected to a single design and constitute a single church in which God reigns.[7]

This perspective can help us understand more the meaning of the golden background of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The golden background that occupies the whole icon is a symbol of heaven, where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. The light of heaven which passes through their clothing indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful. The cosmic outlook of the icon can deepen our understanding of heaven. Heaven as our final destination is not only the glorification of humanity  but of all creation with God.

The reverse perspective of the icon can help us promote a healthy attitude towards creation. The reverse perspective of the icon implies that before an icon, we the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation. With the use of reverse perspective the world of the icon opens up. Most icons have a semi-circle outline, open space—we are part not outside of the icon.

Contemplating the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help reminds us that we are not masters of creation or center of the universe. Creation itself is an icon of the grandeur of God. Human beings are not outside but part of creation. Creation is calling human beings to participate in creation’s calling of giving adoration and glory to God. Nature, cosmos, the entire material universe is a reflection of divine beauty, and this is what the icon is called to reveal. It is possible for the world to participate in divine beauty but only to the extent that it “has not submitted to vanity” and has not lost the ability to sense the presence of God.[8]

Looking at creation through the icon entails what Hans Boersma calls, a participatory or sacramental ontology.  Boersma describes participatory ontology,

Sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference,” but that it also subsists or participates in God … [B]ecause creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory, or real, connection — not just an external, or nominal, connection.[9]

The sacramental worldview of the icon can help us to see in the environment our Creator, the glory of God, and the glory of our destiny. As Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed it: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.”

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary is the epitome of God’s new creation. Mary’s assumption represents the hope and final destiny that all of creation will become.  John Janaro articulates,

Mary is also, we might say, an icon of the whole redemption of creation. In her we see already the radical fulfillment of all things, the perfect penetration of divine love into created being. The glorification of Mary in the Assumption is the beginning of the New Creation in which God will “be all, in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), and it reveals the eternal value of every moment in every life, the transcendent significance of each circum­stance in life, because everything comes forth from God and is ordained to his glory.[10]

On the other hand, the Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly sees the life Mary itself as the quintessence of generativity of creation. Mary, the virgin mother of God, is

the paradigmatic instance of creation open to, collaborating with, and transformed by, the creative mystery of God in Christ.  As the Mother of Christ, she symbolises the generativity of creation under the power of the Spirit.  In her, as the Advent antiphon has it, “the earth has been opened to bud forth the Saviour”.[11]

In this way, Mary can be rightly called Queen of all Creation. Pope Francis in Laudato Si meditates on the meaning of Mary, Queen of all Creation and its implications for us:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the suf­ferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Com­pletely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Wom­an, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glori­fied body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (Laudato Si, #241)

St. Anselm in a sermon used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 calls Mary, gives honor to Mary as Mother of the Re-created World!

The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.[12]

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.[13]

green_shrineCall to Action

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can help us to take action especially for awareness and preparedness for natural calamities. Our devotion Our Mother of Perpetual Help can also be an instrument of making people aware of their possible role in wreaking havoc to the environment and their role of caring for the environment.

I remember when I was stationed in the Bicol mission in Legaspi in 1992, we came up with a project on how to connect devotion to Mary with the care for creation. This happened during the month of October, the month of the rosary. Every day for the whole month of October we prayed the Rosary. Together with meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary in the mysteries of the rosary, we also meditated on the mysteries of creation: Joyful mysteries correspond with the beauty and grandeur of God’s gift of creation, sorrowful mysteries resemble the destruction of creation by our own doing and glorious mysteries relate to our desire and collective action of cooperating with God’s redemption of creation.

The project, however, entailed not just praying the rosary while meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary vis-à-vis the situation and live of the environment. The praying of the rosary inspired the local community to take some concrete action like tree planting, clean-up of each one’s surroundings, recycling and backyard gardening.

What concrete actions can you develop in line with the care of God’s creation as a fruit of your devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help?


[1] Excerpt from a sermon of St. Anselm (Oratio 52; PL 158, 955-956) which is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity (Solemn Feast) of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 along with the accompanying biblical reading from Romans 5:12-20.

[2] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher

[3] Cara McGoogan, Climate change cheat sheet: what you need to know, 4 December 2015 http://www.wired.co.uk/article/climate-change-cheat-sheet

[4] Climate change cheat sheet

[5] Climate change cheat sheet

[6] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[7] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[8] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 8.

[9] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.

[10] John Janaro, “The Blessed Virgin in the Ecclesial Movement “Communion and Liberation”,” Marian Studies: Vol. 54, Article 12 (2003). Available at: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/m_studies/vol54/iss1/12, 127.

[11] Anthony Kelly, CSsR, The Mystery of Christ and our Mother of Perpetual Help, 2.

[12] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[13] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

Seeking the True, Good and Beautiful in the Age of Memes, Trolls and Selfie

Internet BackgroundThe Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the New Media Age

[As build up to the 150th Jubilee International Congress at Baclaran, I will post here every day some relevant thoughts and reflections about the Icon and the Baclaran phenomenon.]

                                            The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth
   –it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.[1]

In today’s age of digital revolution, which can be described similarly, to what Charles Dickens has said about the French Revolution, “the best of times, the worst of times,”[2] we are propelled into massive transformations—with consequences both good and bad—upon the way we think and act, our values and attitudes. This essay aims to examine critically the place, challenges and significance of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the new media age.

Media in the Shrine

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at Baclaran has always utilized the media for its broadcasting and evangelization services. In 1950, barely two years after the launching of the novena, the first broadcast of the novena on radio was conducted. The Baclaran chronicles narrates this event,

Early in January a Chinese manufacturer arranged for a weekly Broadcast of the 7.00 p.m. Novena over Station DZPI for the benefit of the sick and those who cannot come to the Church. Far from lessening the crowds, the broadcast has served to increase their numbers. Letters coming in from all over the Philippines show that the Novena broadcast is being followed throughout the Islands.[3]

The Redemptorist community of Baclaran utilized media not just in the shrine but also in the missions. In the 1950s, the missionaries were going around the barrios with their “sound car”, slides and other visual aids.  In those times, when the radio was the most advanced technology in the provinces, these media technologies were already groundbreaking tools in spreading the Gospel. The missionaries, however, eventually faced a stiff competition from the media in getting the attention of the people in the mission. Fr. John Maguire ascertains this, “By 1968 it was becoming clear that Missions in the City were losing their attractive appeal and people, now used to watching television, were not so keen to get up and go to church each evening. Missioners were also changing, and transistors were the in thing.”[4]

In 2003, for the first time video monitors were installed in the shrine. The aim of the monitors was to aid the active participation of the assembly especially in the songs and responses during the masses and novenas.   The monitors were also used for evangelization and catechesis especially on the liturgy and sacraments in between masses and novenas.  Furthermore, the monitors were utilized for disseminating and drumming up support for the many programs and services of the Shrine and the Philippine Church.  It was also envisioned that the monitors will be useful in seminars and talks in the Shrine, for example, Bible, Social Teachings of the Church, etc.

Initial reactions of the people to the monitors were varied from a bit of cynicism to enthusiastic approval. In general, however, most of the reactions were positive as many affirmed the effectiveness of the monitors in their participation and growing appreciation of the liturgy and teachings of the church.

In 2005, the shrine made its first foray into the digital world by launching its website. The shrine’s first online presence was warmly received by netizens. Based on an analytics of the site, visitors to the site came from different parts of the globe, as can be shown from the graph below.  We can just surmise that many of these visitors from other countries are devotees working abroad – Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s). If this is the case, this can only show two things, first that the OFW’s are a valuable propagators of the devotion and second, this shows that, indeed, OFW’s are present in almost every country of the world.

website_visitors

In 2012, I made a total redesign of the website integrating interactivity into the site like the ability to post comments on webpages, submitting letters of petition and thanksgiving and yes, making a donation.  The new design also incorporated social media like facebook and youtube into the site.

As I have mentioned, the website became particularly popular among the overseas Filipino workers (OFW). It became a popular source of information and communication for the OFW’s. A comment posted by Zenaida Obciana in September 24, 2014 on the website, expresses this sentiment: “Thank you very much for having this site, even I’m far away in a country with no [C]atholic church, thru your site I feel that I am home. Many thanks and more power to you all. God bless us. I love you Mama Mary.”[5]

The live-streaming of the novena and masses in the site instantly became a popular hit among the OFW’s. This is expressed in a comment posted by Nila Doroteo Simpson on March 5, 2014: “I am so thankful that even [I] am away from the Philippines I [am] still able to say Novena every Wednesday thru livestreaming. Wayback 2003 to 2004 [I] am always in Baclaran church every Wednesday … Thank you MAMA MARY for always [being] there for us.”[6]

The live-streaming afforded the OFW’s the experience of being almost like they are being transported to Baclaran shrine in real time. This evokes deep feelings and precious memories. Robert Sumang articulates this on the facebook page of the shrine:

Everytime [I] watched the live novena mass every Wednesday here abroad, I felt like [I] am embracing once again Our Mother of Perpetual Help. There are so many graces that I received in my whole life, but I also had my share of loneliness and difficulties here in my going abroad. Because of my profound trust and faith to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, she often protects me including my family and even my enemies. There is no place in my heart for vengeance, I pray instead for those who do me wrong. Thank you very much for your continuous effort to upload the live novena and masses through Facebook especially for us OFW’s.

In 2016, the website — http://www.baclaranchurch.org — won the Best Parish Website in the whole country during the 2016 Catholic Social Media Awards.  The Catholic Social Media Awards recognized the shrine’s website for creatively utilizing cyberspace and new media as a tool for online evangelization.

best parish website award

Other media tools that the shrine used for evangelization were: LED Electronic video board which replaced traditional bulletin board in the Shrine, compound and Convent Lobby, the publication of e-newsletter and the video gospel reflection posted on YouTube every Wednesday.

The most recent foray of the shrine into the new media is the Social Media.  The shrine started a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account. Through the website and the social media platforms, the devotees were able to inquire, get information about the newest activities of the shrine, pray online, post comment, write letters of thanksgiving and petition, make suggestions, donate to the shrine and interact with shrine team and fellow devotees. These new media platforms allowed for creative interactivity and greater participation of the devotees in the shrine. As of April 21, 2017, the shrine’s facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran — has garnered 20,940 fans and counting. On April 02, 2017, the page garnered 106,676 total reach. Total reach refers to the number of people who were served any activity from shrine’s facebook page including shrine’s posts, posts to shrine’s page by other people, page like ads, mentions and checkins.[7] In short, total reach refers to the number of fb accounts where the shrine’s page landed on their timeline. Indeed, these numbers reflects the vast potential of social media for evangelization and information dissemination.

On the other hand, there were downsides to these new technologies. Over social media, for example, we have been attacked for hypocrisy and called all sorts of names—bastard priests, demons from hell, members of the yellow cult, rapists and pedophiles, coddlers of drug lords, thieving hypocrites playing the games of politicians, etc. The vitriolic comments comes whenever we make prophetic stand for justice and peace and in defense of the poor, as in the case of the rampant extra-judicial killings because of the anti-drug campaign of the government. This shows that the new media technologies can be utilized in both constructive and destructive ways.

There are also positive comments, however, defending the stance of the shrine, for example, on the issue of extra-judicial killings. Cedrick C. Sagun, for example, expressed his support to the prophetic stance made by the Redemptorist community:

Stay faithful to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Church. Kings and rulers come and go, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let no one distract you or prevent you from proclaiming the Truth, even if it leads to persecution and martyrdom. People will say a lot of things, but the only voice you need to hear is the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Mother of Perpetual Help will always be there for you. MAY GOD BLESS THE REDEMPTORISTS![8]

Disconnection in a World of Interconnection

New media technologies have transformed the world into one global interconnected village. The advanced new media technologies enabled utmost information sharing, accessibility, and the democratization of broadcasting. Unfortunately, in this age of interconnection, some new media tools have generated unforeseen destructive consequences.  They have become instruments of disconnection from the true, good, and beautiful. Some popular (notorious) examples of these new media platforms, in this regard, are meme, troll and selfie. The culture of destructive meme, trolls and selfie manifests an aberration of the interconnectedness that new media has purportedly brought about.

A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”[9] Applied in the internet, an Internet meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media, which spreads often as mimicry from person to person via the Internet. Internet meme may take the form of an image (typically an image macro), hyperlink, video, website, or hashtag. It may be just a word or phrase, including an intentional misspelling.[10] Internet meme is the most common form of information that we often share on social media especially Facebook and twitter.

Meme is a great catalyst of creativity and knowledge; unfortunately, it has also intensified so-called post-truth.  Post-truth is the word of the year for 2016 declared by Oxford dictionary. Oxford Dictionary chose post-truth because of the heightening of the phenomenon in 2016 in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.[11] This same phenomenon also happened during the Philippine election of Rudy Duterte in 2016. Post-truth relates to or denotes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oxford cites, for example, that ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’ and ‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’[12]

Post-truth memes has become the source of fake news and so-called alternative facts. Pew research center has found that roughly 62% of U.S. adults get news on social media. Worst, 68% of people don’t trust the news they see or read. Think about that: most people don’t trust REAL news.[13] I think approximately the same percentage applies to the Philippines.

A related term is what we call agnotology. Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.[14] A cultural example is the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the author George Orwell cast a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda goals of the day.[15]

The availability of large amounts of knowledge in this information age, therefore, may not necessarily be producing a knowledgeable citizenry. Instead, it may be allowing many people to cherry-pick information in blogs or news that reinforces their existing beliefs.[16] In the new media age, everybody becomes an expert. This promotes what Ray Williams refers to as an anti-Intellectualism and “Dumbing Down” culture. He describes this culture as,

The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often, a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the conspiracy followers – not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they foment a rabid culture of anti-rationalism where every fact is suspect; every shadow holds a secret conspiracy. Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool. [17]

Google and Facebook are partly to blame for this. They have unwittingly allowed their platforms to be transmitters of fake news and post-truth memes. After several howls of protests, they have taken some measures.[18]

The worst thing to happen, however, is the anesthization and apathy, even the aestheticization of human misery and suffering that have developed because of the post-truth brainwashing.  We have experienced these ourselves just recently when the shrine took a stand against the immoral and unchristian extra-judicial killings because of the anti-drug campaign. Many people have criticized us showing no sympathy at all to the victims of the killings.

The rise of internet trolls is another negative consequence. Who among you here have gone into a fight with trolls? How many have unfollowed people or unfriended friends?  In Internet slang, a troll  is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.[19] Trolls are important vehicles of fake news and alternative facts. Trolls take advantage of the anonymity principle[20] in the internet, for example, when making comments, they use unidentifiable pseudonyms, which are frequently separated and anonymous from the actual author. Freedom of expression is fundamental; however, this can be misinterpreted and lead to less accountability, deception, distortion and withholding the truth about one’s identity. Trolls, therefore, generates a disconnect in identity and raises question between authenticity and anonymity.

Friends selfie at night

Another popular practice that the digital technologies have generated is the selfie. A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.[21] Selfie was the word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford English Dictionary. The ubiquity of digital cameras, mobile phones with cameras and the social media has intensified the selfie fad. I must admit I have taken selfie myself. The selfie culture helps to strengthen the postmodern shift to the individual—the self is the basic unit of society, no longer the family or tribe. Some have suggested the relationship between selfie-posting behaviors and narcissism. Though there is yet no direct evidence that links selfie and narcissism, it provides, however, for narcissists a platform to seek social status and attention.  On the other hand, selfie perhaps, is about a profound desire for beauty—that I am beautiful. Selfie as falling in love with the self, however, goes against building connection for which internet was invented in the first place.

Meme, troll, selfie have generated disconnections in an interconnected world.  They are symptomatic, however, of a greater malaise—the alienation from the foundational reality of our being human and society and fixation with replica or representations of reality. Indeed, we live in a hypervisual environment, which amplifies the replica or representations of reality. We are continually bombarded with images, videos, billboards, and ads; we have become a society “where image is everything.” Susan Sontag believes, however, that capitalist societies require images in order to infiltrate the culture of everyday life, legitimize official power, and anaesthetize their subjects through visual spectacles.[22]

Along this line, two concepts worthy of mentioning are the notion of the society of the spectacles by Guy Debord and simulacrum by Jean Baudrillard. Both Debord and Baudrillard wrote before the onset of the digital revolution (Debord in the late 60’s and Baudrillard in the 70’s to 90’s). Their musings, however, is still very much relevant especially in today’s hypermediated world. Both Debord and Baudrillard confronts contemporary society’s penchant for the superficial and consequently creating an illusory world. We are not living on reality but on simulation (imitation or replica) of reality. Media and hyperconsumption or commodity fetishism of neo-liberal capitalism have partnered to create a “simulacraic” and spectacular society. There is a blurring of the lines between the real and the representation. Sometimes we are even convinced that virtual reality is better than the real thing.

Debord traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”[23] Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.”[24] This condition, according to Debord, is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.”[25]

In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there is a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought.[26] If Debord were alive today, he would have had a field day calling the virtual communities and superficial connections created by social networks like Facebook and Twitter as characteristically “spectacular”.

Baudrillard built on the theories of Debord with his notion of simulacrum.  A simulacrum (plural: simulacra from Latinsimulacrum, which means “likeness, similarity”) is a representation or imitation of a person or thing.[27] Baudrillard, in his theory of simulacrum, attacks contemporary society, which defines reality through terms of media claims. Baudrillard warns us about the danger of this “hyperreality” where social reality and its ‘simulation’ in media can no longer be distinguished: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real.”[28] This blurring of the line between the real and the artificial has reinforced  the seduction of surfaceness. Our world is a world of simulations; experience is a sum total of simulated events. For Baudrillard, the simulacrum becomes the real; reality becomes hyper-reality. What appears on media becomes the real in actual space.

Baudrillard contends that the hyperreal has become more real than real. Hyperreality is what we get from media, advertising and hyperconsumerism. On a daily basis, most of us deal with the superficial and the hyperreal. The superficial has replaced the genuine in the most basic human experiences in the family, neighbourhood, and community relations. Even the experience of the spiritual and the religious has been coopted by the hyperreal, e.g., internet memes such as spiritual images and videos on facebook—which blurs the genuine spiritual experience. In other words, hyperreality is the aesthetization of the shallow, the superficial, and the popular.

Technologization of everyday life has further augmented the disappearance of the real. A byproduct of technologization is the relegation of traditional institution as transmitter of values. Children, for example, have more interaction with iPad, game console, computers and laptops than with parents, siblings and other children.

An offshoot of this entire phenomenon is the question of presence: What is the meaning of presence today? Am I really present? Presence today is having able to navigate both physical and cyberworld. There is a loss of real and physical presence. In a supposedly interconnected world, there is a hunger for real connection because people have been less genuinely present to one another. Virtual presence of cyberspace has sabotaged physical presence.  This further shows the irony of the hyperconnected world: many are connected online, in actual reality, however, are disconnected with their own family, friends, community, and church. Thus, a significant question is: Is technology bringing us together or keeping us apart?

The Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the New Media Age

In the aberrations of the new media age, what is the place, challenges and potentials of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help?  What can the icon offer to this technologically driven, hypervisual and simulacratic world?

I would like to suggest that what we can learn from the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in today’s new media age could be summed up in the complementary and interdependent dynamic of Contemplatio-Missio. Contemplatio is the contemplative outlook highlighted by the meaning and spirituality of the icon and missio is the missionary orientation enlightened by the life and example of Mary.  Contemplatio-Missio is the life that Mary has shown us. As Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P. said, Mary “personifies and expresses the deepest nature and meaning of the Church—a Church which is both contemplative and missionary.  Mary is the model contemplative and the first missionary.”[29]

20

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

For the past eighty-five years, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help placed on the high altar of the shrine, has witnessed the millions of devotees who have visited and prayed at the shrine. In the midst of the sweeping changes in the world, including the digital revolution, the icon has become a source of hope and transformation for the devotees.

As we contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we are invited to look at the world where everything is a sign of God’s presence. Indeed, we live in a visual world; we are all images.  The icon spirituality promotes an attitude and presents a challenge to be true and to connect with the most fundamental reality and truth about ourselves—that we are made in the image and likeness of God through the Word, Jesus Christ. In short, we are icons of God; we partake in God’s being and mission. As God is profoundly a community, our most fundamental truth also is that we are all interconnected.

There are similarities and dissimilarities between new media and icon. The icon is also an image. The icon, however, is not just a representation but also a sacramental participation in the sacred. In the icon, there is no dichotomy between the real and representation. This understanding of the icon is similar to Baudrillard’s articulation of the first stage of the notion of simulacra. The first stage, which is associated with the premodern period, is a faithful image/copy, where we believe, and it may even be correct, that a sign is a “reflection of a profound reality,” this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called “the sacramental order”.[30]

Amidst the noise and superficiality of online transactions, the icon invites us to contemplate our true identity and meaning of life and the world. The icon provides a strong and genuine anchor in new media’s fleeting and copious diversions. In contrast to the hypervisual reality that new media has unfortunately helped to create, in the icon, it is not the image, the replica, the spectacles, the simulacra, that is principal but the original. In the icon, we are all participants in the original interconnectedness of God. Thus, the icon spirituality is a calling to participate in the real. The icon spirituality is a calling to authenticity in the most profound sense. In front of an icon, we are called not to be passive—mere observer, viewer, outsider, art appreciator.  We are called to be active—to participate in the mystery of the Kingdom of God, which the icon represents. We are not outside of the icon; we become part of the icon.

Contemplating the icon especially on the character of Mary can help us to overcome the selfish perspective. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the perfect contrast and counter image to a selfie culture. The reverse perspective of the Icon implies that we the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation.

In a hypervisual and hyperreal world, the icon offers a sacramental worldview. Pope Francis articulates this worldview in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), “The awakening of the faith passes through the awakening of a new sacramental sense of human life and of Christian existence, showing how the visible and the material open themselves towards the mystery of the eternal.”[31] The Icon can help us to see truth, goodness and beauty in our world. It inaugurates a different kind of aesthetics, a sort of counter-aesthetics to the superficial beauty celebrated in the hypermediated world. Thus, the icon can serve as a critique to the escapist, addictive, and distractive patterns in cyberspace. It inspires a return to the real and original source of truth, goodness and beauty—the divine Trinity.

The icon awakens us to the deepest bonds and connection that exist between each one of us. We are all interconnected; this interconnectedness reflects the fundamental reality of us and all creations’ partaking of the interconnectedness of God. This is the deepest desire within us for the true, good and beautiful.

Through the sacramental worldview, which the icon fosters, we can conceive of the internet as a spiritual or sacramental space where we can search for meaning and experience God.  Cyberspace can serve as a sacred space, which not only enlightens the mind, but nurture the soul as well.  We are not promoting a utopian outlook on technology; the new media, however, are not necessarily opposed to religion and God. Without being naïve, there are elements of cyberspace that intersects with faith, spirituality and God.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Navigating the new media age is following the path of discipleship of Jesus. In this path, Mary is the first disciple and missionary. She walks with us. Mary showed us how to collaborate and cooperate with God in mission. Mary entered into God’s mission not God entered into Mary’s life. This is the meaning of Mary’s fiat: “Let it be done according to your Word.” Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence. This is the reason why Mary is the first missionary. Mary is an icon of God’s Mission.

In the new media milieu, where we long for authenticity, goodness and beauty, Mary is a refreshing example and model. Mary offered us a fresh approach to life—a life genuinely free and fully alive for God and for others! Mary is the most genuine person, as Karl Rahner said, [t]he holiest, most authentic, and happiest human being, to say something of her who is blessed among women.[32]  As such, she represents most profoundly who we truly are and what we will truly become, Rahner explains, “[S]he is the noblest of human beings in the community of the redeemed, representative of all who are perfect, and the type or figure that manifests completely the meaning of the Church, and grace, and redemption, and God’s salvation.”[33] This does not, however, make Mary different and distant from us; she is one of us, she is with us. “[S]he belongs entirely with us. She must receive God’s mercy just as we must, for she lives and typifies to perfection what we ourselves are to be in Christ’s sight.”[34]

Mary showed us that being disciple and missionary, first of all, is to be Teotokos[35]—bearer of God in our world. As Mary showed us, missio is entering in God’s mission—Missio Dei—and carrying that mission in the world.  It is not our mission but God’s mission. How can we become Teotokos (God’s bearer) of Missio Dei (God’s mission) in this hypermediated world?

It is essential to understand the nature of new media as areopagus[36] (public square) and agora[37] (marketplace).  New media is an important field for the proclamation of the Gospel. Despite its many defects, God is at work in the new media in many ways that the church needs to discover. Thus, the challenge for the church is how to recognize and nurture the seeds of the Gospel already growing in the Internet and how to weed out the destructive ones. The prophetic pronouncements of Mary in her Magnificat can be a model of proclamation in the internet—God will utilize the new media to overturn the world’s order that has disconnected from God, but will raise up in the end and gather in God’s new social order, those who humbly entered God’s mission—the poor, the hungry, the most abandoned.

Conclusion:

We are still in the early stage of the digital age.  The new media is only three decades old.  As I write now, new information technologies are being developed that will have far more radical consequences than what we are experiencing right now. At this stage, we are still fascinated by the technology. We are not yet mature in using the internet and have not maximized the internet for the real purpose it was invented.

However, it is not just a matter of learning the craft, acquiring the skills and applying the technique of new media but in becoming more aware how new media has changed the world and us. Every new media and communication technology in history has brought great impact upon human culture, consciousness, the way we think and act, our values and attitudes.  Following Marshall McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message,”[38] media has engendered not just techne (skill, craft and tool) but also more significantly an ethos (way of life).

As we continue to navigate the new media age, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the life of Mary are essential anchor and guide. Through an attitude of contemplatio-missio, enlightened by the icon and the example of Mary—the first disciple and missionary—Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we can seek the true, good and beautiful in the new media.


[1] Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1988), 166.

[2] Paraphrased from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities set during the time of the French Revolution, 1789—1799.

[3] Baclaran Chronicles, April 7, 1950.

[4] John Maguire, CSsR., To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever They Are Needed (Paranaque: Redemptorist Media Center, 2006), 10.

[5] Zenaida Obciana, comment posted at baclaranchurch.org on September 24, 2014. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/icon.html

[6] Nila Doroteo Simpson, comment posted at baclaranchurch.org on March 5, 2014. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/novena.html.

[7] https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran/insights/?section=navReach

[8] Cedrick C. Sagun, facebook, January 31, 2017 accessed at  https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran/inbox/?selected_item_id=646908125511183

[9] Meme, Merriam-Webster Dictionary

[10] Internet Meme, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme#cite_ref-2.

[11] Post-truth, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, accessed at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth.

[12] Post-truth, Oxford Living Dictionaries.

[13] Jim VandeHei and Sara Fischer, “How Tech ate the Media and our Minds,” AXIOs, Feb 10, 2017. Accessed at https://www.axios.com/searching-for-information-nirvana-2248588151.html.

[14] Agnotology, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotology.

[15] Post-truth, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics.

[16] Knobloch-Westerwick (2009). “Study: Americans choose Media Messages that Agree with their Views”. Communication Research, Sage, 36: 426–448. Accessed at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/poliview.htm

[17] Ray Williams, Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America, Waking Times, May 19, 2015 http://www.wakingtimes.com/2015/05/19/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-of-america/

[18] Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac, “In Race Against Fake News, Google and Facebook Stroll to the Starting Line,” The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/technology/google-facebook-fake-news.html?_r=0.

[19] Internet Troll, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

[20] The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s conference on “Anonymous Communication Policies for the Internet” upholds that “online anonymous communication is morally neutral” and that “it should be considered a strong human and constitutional right.” Anonymity principle makes people more vocal on the internet than in real life. See Teich, A., Frankel, M.S., Kling, R., and Ya-ching, L. Anonymous communication policies for the Internet: Results and recommendations of the AAAS conference. The Information Society 15, 2 (1999).

[21] Selfie, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selfie

[22] Susan Sontag in Henry A. Giroux, “Instants of Truth”: The “Kill Team” Photos and the Depravity of Aesthetics, Afterimage, Vol. 39, No. 1-2, July-October 2011.

[23] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, rev. ed. 1994), Thesis 1.

[24] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Fredy Perlman and Jon Supak (Black & Red, 1970; rev. ed. 1977), thesis 17.

[25] Debord, (1994) thesis 42.

[26] Debord, (1977) from thesis 25: “All community and all critical sense are dissolved”

[27] Simulacrum, Google, accessed at https://www.google.com.au/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=1GLUWPXoJe_DXrb4rYAE#q=simulacrum+definition&*

[28] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 2.

[29] Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P., Marian Theology up to Vatican II, 9. Accessed at http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcbride/marian-upto2vat.htm.

[30] Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 6.

[31] Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, #40.

[32] Karl Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord (Herder and Herder, 1963), 24.

[33] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 37.

[34] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 39.

[35] Teotokos which literally means “God-bearer” is the first dogma of the church on Mary decreed in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

[36] The Areopagus refers the council of elders of the city of Athens, similar to the Roman Senate. Areopagus became prominent in missiology due to remarkable address of St. Pau’s at the Areopagus (Acts 17:24). St. John Paul II identified the “new worlds and new social phenomena” and “cultural sectors — the modern equivalents of the Areopagus”, towards which “the Church’s missionary activity ought to be directed” today. First of these “new worlds” is the new culture emerging in the mass media. Redemptoris Missio, #37.

[37] Greek Agora literally means “gathering place” or “assembly.” Benedict XVI referred to the digital world as agora when he said in his 2013 World Communication Day address: “I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.” Benedict XVI, “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization,” 47th World Communications Day, Vatican, 12 May 2013.

[38] Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Penguin, 1967).

Redemptorists: Stewards of the Icon at Baclaran

redemptorist brought the icon to the Philippines

The official name of the shrine of Baclaran is National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Most, however, refer to it as the Redemptorist Church. This implies a deeper recognition that a significant factor of the Baclaran phenomenon is the Redemptorist tradition.

The Re­demptorist missionaries are the honored stewards of the shrine.  What does the Redemptorists bring into the Baclaran phenomenon? In this blog, I will show that the Redemptorists’ main contribution to the Baclaran phenomenon is its missionary charism and Marian tradition.

Mission

The Redemptorist is a missionary congregation founded by St. Alphonsus de Liguori in 1732 in Scala, Italy. Alphonsus founded the Redemptorist to give mission to the poor and the most abandoned. This is encapsulated in the constitution of the congregation: The raison d’ etre of the Redemptorist congregation is the mission of preaching the Good News to the poor, to “follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor …”[1] Therefore, the main charism of the Redemptorist is preaching and evangelization: “Indeed Redemptorists have as their special mission in the Church the explicit proclamation of the word of God to bring about fundamental conversion.[2]

The Redemptorists came to the Philippines in 1906 to do exactly what their founder and tradition instructed them to do. In spite of the many challenges that the Redemptorist encountered at the beginning—a hostile people due to the negative experience from the Spanish missionaries, a different culture, a hot climate, internal squabbles—the Redemptorist immediately buckled to do what they know best—doing missions in the barrios. Along with proclaiming the abundant redemption in Christ, the Redemptorist set out to propagate the maternal care and guidance of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In so doing, the Redemptorists missions in the barrios coupled with the enthusiastic response of the people, sowed the seeds of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help deep into the country.

The Baclaran phenomenon was not an abrupt phenomenon; it slowly grew from the numerous missions, which the Redemptorists conducted in the barrios throughout the country. The Redemptorists’ effort was, however, generously complemented by the efforts of local people from the mission areas, as they themselves became co-missionaries in spreading the icon and the novena. The local churches led by their pastor was also enthusiastic to make the novena a permanent feature of their parish life.

The Redemptorist Mission laid the groundwork for the spread of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On the other hand, the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help by the people sustained the mission even after the missionaries have left. Redemptorist mission helped in the evangelization of the Filipinos through the Our Mother of Perpetual Help. If there are crowning glories of the Redemptorist mission in the Philippines, then Baclaran phenomenon can easily be considered as one of them.

This is, at least, what the late Fr. John Maguire believes—that the novena was just a fruit of the missions:

I believe that the Baclaran Novena is one of the greatest forces for good in the world but it is just one of the fruits of the continuing struggle of the Redemptorists to give Missions to the people wherever they are needed.[3]

Maguire emphasized further that despite the novena in Baclaran, missions were being simultaneously done in the nearby provinces.  Even as the Redemptorist were kept more and more occupied with the teeming number of devotees flocking to the shrine, they never abandoned their original charism.  Thus, throughout these years the shrine have been going around the parishes doing parish missions, assisting them in Christian community building in line with the thrust of the Philippine Church and our local church. This is not so much known fact about Baclaran but has been going on for years.

The impact of the Redemptorist missions on the Church and its evangelizing work among the people cannot be underestimated. Bishop Lino Gonzaga of the Diocese of Palo writing for the souvenir program in celebration of the 50 years of Redemptorists in the Philippines in 1956, said:

When the history of the church of the Philippines shall be written, it will surely contain a chapter on the work of the Redemptorist missionaries. But even as the chapters in any history book, it will only give an account of the events ‘in their cold external garment’.  No history book can picture sufficiently the flame of apostolic zeal; no chapter can do full justice to the effects of God’s grace in a mission. Only when the Lord ‘brings to light what is hidden in darkness and reveals the secrets of men’s hearts’, only then shall we know the real worth and magnitude of the apostolate of the Redemptorist missionaries in our country.

All these show that from the very beginning, mission and devotion was not separate. Devotion grew out of mission and mission sustained because of devotion. The mutual enrichment of mission and devotion culminated in the Baclaran phenomenon. As Manuel Victor Sapitula, in his dissertation on Baclaran, affirms, “Because of its missionary charism, the Redemptorists were able to expand the reach of the devotion’s significance in ways that resonated with structural changes in postwar Philippine society.”[4]

Marian Tradition

Marian theology and spirituality run deep in the Redemptorist tradition inherited from its founder, St. Alphonus.

I remember when I was a child, I used to see the book Glories of Mary on the table of my father. My father used to read it a lot and loved it so much. When I entered the Redemptorist seminary it was only then that I found out that the author of Glories of Mary is St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, the founder of the Redemptorists.

Many consider St. Alphonsus as one of the most prolific Marian saints; his devotion to Mary is profound and profuse. Evidence of this is his numerous books, paintings, and hymns, let alone all the prayers, dedicated to Mary. Among his most popular works about Mary are:[5] Prayers to the Blessed Virgin for every day of the week, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Glories of Mary. Alphonsus also wrote many other smaller treatises, sermons, letters, and articles in larger works. Likewise, he often writes a thought about Mary or a prayer to her in his works such as the Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ.

Mary has always been at the heart of Redemptorist life. From the foundation of the Redemptorists, there have been many popular images of Mary, each one significant at a particular time. In sequence, they were:[6] Our Lady of Ransom – at whose shrine Alphonsus dedicated his life, Our Lady of Good Counsel- whose picture Alphonsus kept on his desk and the Immaculate Conception – patroness of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Because of this Marian tradition, an essential part of the Redemptorist mission is the propagation of the devotion to Mary. This was given a significant boost when in April 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists, for public veneration with the command to “make her known” throughout the world.

When the Redemptorists came to the Philippines, they brought the Icon wherever they gave missions. Michael Bailey recounts the very first mission of this kind that was conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907:

The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by Our Mother of Perpetual Help that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.[7]

More than mere patronage, Campos implies Mary as the primary missionary with the Redemptorists.  Campos elaborates, “Mary arrives with the missionaries and her icon assumes a principal place … She is the missionary who discerns and speaks in the interior of each heart, suggesting the responses of faith.”[8] Thus, fields evangelized by the Redemptorists are also fields evangelized by the virgin of Perpetual Help.[9]

After every mission, Redemptorists usually leave behind to the people two things: 1. The mission cross, 2. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Through this, even after the missionaries have left, Mary continues to missionize the people and the mission is sustained through the devotion of the people. This mission strategy achieves three purposes: First, these symbols remind the people about the mission and this memory helped to sustain the spirit of mission. Secondly, the people were inspired to become themselves missionaries by helping spread the lessons learned from the mission and the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is not farfetched to say, therefore, that the devotion to OMPH in the early twentieth century in the Philippines was spread not only by the Redemptorists but also by the people themselves. The people, who have been missionized, have become themselves co-missionaries of the Redemptorists in spreading the devotion throughout the land.

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150th Jubilee

In 2016, Redemptorists all over the world celebrated the 150th Jubilee of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Jubilee recalls that Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon to the Redemptorist in 1866 with the command, “make her known.” 150 years later, the icon is the most beloved and well-known icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the world. As Italian Redemptorist Fr. Serafino Fiore proclaimed: Yes, we can say with pride that ours is a global Madonna. We can be proud to have complied with the command of Pius IX: “make her known all over the world!”[10]

Fiore pays tribute to the many Redemptorists who made known the icon in the past 150 years:

[W]e think of so many Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers, students and novices in formation and lay people who have made this “miracle” possible. We think of the many channels the Redemptorists have used: the popular missions, the perpetual novena, the folkloristic traditions, music, painting, pilgrimages, and more recently, social networks and web pages. We also think of the splendid basilicas, sanctuaries/shrines and welcome centers erected in honor of the Lady of Perpetual Help.[11]

Fiore further points to the expanding and continuing influence of the icon today, even beyond the church herself:

Yes, ours is a global Madonna, and today we have confirmation in a fact: above all in Asia, it happens that before this Icon people stop, not only Christians, but also Hindus and Muslims. I dare to think that through the message of this Icon even atheists and agnostics are put to questioning.[12]

The Challenge of the Jubilee

After 150 years, the icon has continued to grow in certain areas, but it has diminished in other areas. The devotion to the icon has moved from north to south, from west to east. The biggest devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is now found in Asia and Latin America. Indeed, the mandate given to the Redemptorist to make the icon known throughout the whole world has become today more apparent outside of Italy, where the command originated.

What does “make her known” means to us today, 150 years after?

First of all, the jubilee gives the Redemptorists the opportunity to experience the meaning, message and spirit of jubilee among themselves. The jubilee is an important opportunity to examine their lives vis-à-vis their own living of the devotion and spirituality of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is an opportunity for renewal of their community life and missions as well as the very essential ministry at their shrines.

Thus, the first recipients of the command “make her known” is the Redemptorists.  The command “make her known” is addressed to them. They are the first beneficiary.  Perhaps they can discover, for example, that they do not yet fully know the icon; there is still so much that they can know and learn about the icon.

Alternatively, perhaps, they also have much to learn from the devotees, that the devotees can also evangelize them. The icon and the shrine was a noble gift given to the Redemptorist, which comes with a heavy responsi­bility. The command “make her known” is a responsibility for the Redemptorists to nurture the devotion and religiosity of the people. Every Wednesday as they lead the thousands of devotees in the novena and liturgies they cannot help but be strengthened by the sheer faith of the people. This phenomenon continues to astound them.  This challenges Redemptorists to examine themselves: How have they nurtured the devotion of the 150,000 devotees that come to the shrine every week? How have they honored the devotees? How have they recognized and appreciated the power of the icon among the devotees?

Renewal of the mandate

The jubilee is an invitation for us all to a renewal of the commitment to “making her known.” The call for us is how to (re)make her known amidst today’s challenges. The greater awareness and appreciation of icon spirituality can help us in this renewal of the mandate.

It may no longer be feasible to talk of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as mere devotional works of piety. Devotion flows into life and gives strength and hope to act, to confront the situation, the issues in our world today. Devotion can be a powerful tool for change not just in individuals but also for society. This implies a remodelling of devotion; for this, we need new metaphors for devotion: missionary, disciple, pilgrim, perhaps.

Our brief examination of the Redemptorist factor in the development of the Baclaran phenomenon showed us the importance of the integration of devotion and mission. Mission and devotion went hand in hand in the spread of the devotion and the icon— mission and devotion, indeed, are inseparable. This challenges us to discover the continuing place and significance of Mary amidst the burning issues of our day: the continuous poverty of our people, violence and killings of the innocent, widening gap between the rich and poor, digital revolution, environmental degradation, and others.  Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an essential partner in mission in the twenty-first century.

Standing on this vantage point of history, 150 years of making known the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we are privileged recipients of a rich heritage and tradition.  At the same time this passes on to us a big responsibility to continue to creatively and boldly preach the Good News of perpetual help in Christ anew, together with Our Mother of Perpetual Help, our Hodegetria—she who shows the way.

More than making her known, perhaps, today is more about making Our Mother of Perpetual live in our hearts, making her the model of our lives, to challenge our thinking and doing, and making her an inspiration and guide to our daily living. This goes beyond just novena and popular devotion. This calls for a more mature embrace and living out of the charism and spirituality of Mary.

 


 

[1] The Apostolic Life of the Redemptorists, Constitutions & Statutes, Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Rome 2002, no. 1.

[2] Constitutions, no. 10

[3] Maguire, To Give Missions to the Filipino people, 12.

[4] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 105.

[5] Fr. Michael Brehl CSsR, St. Alphonsus and Mary, the Mother of God, Scala News, February 14, 2017, http://www.cssr.news/2017/02/st-alphonsus-and-mary-the-mother-of-god/.

[6] Redemptorist and Mary, http://www.cssr.org.au/about_us/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=101

[7] Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929,  San Carlos Publications, University of San Carlos, Cebu, 20.

[8] Campos, 239.

[9] Campos, 240.

[10] Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21.

[11] Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21-22.

[12] Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”22.

 

Icon of Compassion: Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the 21st Century

International Congress at the Shrine

intl_congress

The Philippine Redemptorists of the Province of Cebu and the Vice Province of Manila will hold an International Pilgrimage-Congress at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque on April 24 – 27, 2017. This is celebration of the 150th Jubilee of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH). In 1866, Blessed Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer with the commission to make her known throughout the world.

Invoking the theme “Icon of Compassion: Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the 21st Century”, the international event welcomes hundreds of pilgrim-participants from all over the world to a four-day series of discussion and sharing that will highlight the devotions and the missions inspired by Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The international congress is a golden opportunity to renew the mandate given by Pope Piux IX more than 150 years ago. How can this jubilee lead to renewal of our commitment to “making her known” today? The call of the Jubilee for us is how to (re)make her known in the realities of the 21st century. The greater appreciation of icon spirituality can help us to respond to this call.

The continuous challenge of the Jubilee is a fresh dynamism in mission and evangelization for the Redemptorists and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by creatively and courageously going to the most abandoned and preaching God’s perpetual Help with Mary our Hodegetria – she who shows the way.

Intl Congress Program1

Intl Congress Program2

We shall follow the congress here. I shall post some live updates during the actual Congress. So watch out for this blog.