20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: OUR BAPTISM OF FIRE

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Prophets are disturbers of “peace” and “trouble makers.” This is demonstrated in our readings for today’s 20th Sunday in ordinary time.

In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah has been predicting the impending destruction of Jerusalem as a judgment from Yhwh. Quite naturally, the King and his officials regard this kind of talk as defeatist and treasonable, so it sought to silence Jeremiah by lowering him into a muddy cistern. But on this occasion his life is spared through the good offices of Ebedmelech the Ethiopian.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is again speaking to his disciples with the crowd hanging around. To the shock of them all, he told them that he has come “not to establish peace on earth.” “Division” is his blazing, heart-driven desire. It will produce divisions even within a family. He refers to this as a “baptism” with which he wishes to immerse the earth.

How can the Prince of Peace, the preacher of the message of nonviolence that we hear in the Sermon on the Mount speak the hard words of today’s Gospel?

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”

We all want and seek peace. But more often than not, the kind of peace that we want and seek is “do not disturb me”, the peace of “let us not make problems”, the peace of “everything is fine”, a superficial peace-ful co-existence. This peace is the earthly peace. Jesus has come to bring us the true peace, the fullness of the gifts of God. God’s peace may run contrary to eathly peace, thus, in the eyes of many people, it is called “division”.

True peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the fruit of justice and the pursuit of a society mirroring the divine qualities and values of the triune God. As Vatican II’s Church in the Modern World proclaims,

Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by [people] as they thirst after ever greater justice.

                                                                                                             Gaudium et Spes, #78

The Baclaran shrine and the Redemptorist missionaries has always been critical and vocal about whatever it sees in society as contrary to the values of Jesus’ gospel.  Recently, in our vigorous condemnation of the extra-judicial killing in the country, we have heard people say that why would we not just leave the government alone and cooperate with its “war on drugs.” We told them that we all want a drugless and peaceful society and we have cooperated and have exerted efforts and established programs for this purpose in our mission and the shrine.  But it is our Christian duty to denounce evil wherever and whenever it occurs.  We cannot have true spiritual solace and peace, while there are killings, massive poverty and injustice all around us.

Because of our stance, some devotees have said that they will no longer go to our shrine and will pray and attend sacraments elsewhere. This is the price we have to pay for our active promotion of justice and peace and preferential option for the poor–division among our churchgoers and devotees.

But our baptism is a baptism of fire! We are baptised into the fire of Jesus which emboldens us to work and give our lives in the pursuit of true peace and justice. There will be no peace if we fail to confront wrongdoings. Our failure to confront wrongdoers doesn’t result in peace for them either. As Scripture says, there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).

Our church is a church on fire. We are not just a feel good church. We are perpetually disturbed and discomforted by any abuse, injustice and oppression with us and in society. We accept the presence of conflict within us and in our society but make this as an opportunity to work toward true justice, reconciliation and peace.

Christ calls us to be on fire for goodness and love. Our God is a consuming fire of love, and there is peace for us only if we are at one with him in that fire.

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Remembering Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR

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The main upper hall of the Baclaran Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall.  It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 1985 in Cebu City.  Fr. Rudy has remained missing up to this day.  Tomorrow, July 11, 2019, marks the 34th year of his disappearance.

Another tribute for Fr. Rudy and his fellow desaparecidos in the shrine is a monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared). It is located at a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard. The Bantayog is a remembrance of all the missing persons under the brutal regime of Marcos. It 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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Fr. Rudy remains missing to this day, presumed to be dead. But for all of us who continue to struggle for a just and peaceful society, his spirit remains alive and strong. Fr. Rudy remains alive and present in our tireless effort and sacrifice for the defense of the poor and human rights.

Let us not allow Fr. Rudy to become missing again. Especially in these dark times–the horrible violation of  human rights and rampant killings in the name of drug war, let us not cow in fear and become indifferent to the terrible reality that has befallen our country.  May the sacrifice of Fr. Rudy, the thousands of desaparecidos and those who were killed for justice and peace, continue to inspire and strengthen our commitment towards the building of a society that truly reflects the values of God’s kingdom–love, peace and harmony for all.

Cardinal Sin and Cory in Baclaran before the People Power Revolution

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

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photo courtesy of Philippine Star

During the week after the Snap Elections in 1986 the Superior of the National Shrine received a phone call from the Secretary of Jaime Cardinal sin requesting if the Cardinal could say Mass and preach on the following Sunday at the national Shrine at 5.00 P.M. The Superior said there was no need for the Cardinal to seek permission, as he was always welcome in Baclaran.

In the following days there was great speculation as to why the Cardinal had chosen to come to Baclaran and what he would say. Someone leaked the story to the press and it was suddenly news everywhere that Corazon Aquino, who was the loser in the so called Snap Election, would be in Baclaran with the Cardinal on the following Sunday.

Phone calls were coming in all day on the Saturday to know if the news was correct. However, we could only reply that they, the callers, seemed to know more than we did. On Sunday afternoon the churchyard was soon full and by the time of the Cardinal’s arrival people were even standing on the roofs of the cars in the parking area. Cory Aquino did arrive and the crowd went crazy crying out “Cory, Cory”.

The Cardinal spoke about the Election and said that due to the massive cheating and bribery that had taken place there was an obvious failure of election. From then on nothing could be heard of what happened as the people responded with screams of “Cory, Cory, Cory……….”

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

COMELEC Programmers Take Refuge in Baclaran

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

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In 1986 when President Ferdinand Marcos was under some pressure, both at home and abroad, to show that the people still supported him he called a snap election. The election was held on February 6th. The official Comelec quick count of the votes was held at the PICC and computers were used to speed up the counting.

The people were able to watch the counting on Television and the figures being fed into the computers were transferred immediately to the large television screens in the PICC.

By Feb 8th, the second day of counting, the figures were big enough to be interesting and in the evening the Redemptorist Community of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual was watching the television, as was most of the country. Suddenly they saw a group of the computer operators stand up collect their belongings and walk out of the Convention Center. Was it a protest? Did they all have to go to the comfort room at the same time? What was the problem?

About twenty minutes later the front door bell of the Redemptorist Convent rang. One of the Fathers went to the door and returned a little later to declare that the people who had just left the Convention center were at the door looking for refuge. They had walked out because they had noticed that the Computers had been preprogrammed to count incorrectly. They could see that the figures going into the computers were nothing like the results appearing on the screens in front of them and on the Television. So they had left taking with them many of the computer discs with the incriminating evidence on them.

After a short discussion they were brought in and spent the night in an upstairs hall, which had been the community chapel many years before. One of the fathers provided merienda for them while they tried to contact by telephone their relatives and others who they felt would be ready to help them. By the following morning they left as they had already contacted lawyers and some support groups.

When asked why they came to Baclaran they said that they had no idea where they would go when they walked out but when they got outside someone said lets go to Baclaran. And so they did. Even the News reporters had no idea where they had gone.

The rest is history.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

Dead or Alive? Remembering the Missing

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Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery.  Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited  around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.

But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?

First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.

Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.

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One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.

The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the 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.

bantayog-ng-mga-desaparecido

The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.  Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.

 

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.

bantayog-ng-desaparecidos

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.

The Shrine and Peace Building Today

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This September 21, the shrine joins the whole world in the celebration of the International Day of Peace.

In 1981 the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 36/67 declaring an International Day of Peace. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution 55/282 declaring 21 September of each year as the International Day of Peace. The resolution declares,

“The International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day…”

Indeed, the World Day of Peace serves to inspire people to embrace compassion, to respect life and to live in harmony with one another. Peace on earth can only become a reality when all people rise above national boundaries, politics, religion and ideologies. We need to celebrate our cultural diversities rather than using them as a reason for conflict.

Peace is an essential element of our life as Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Peace is one of the chief teachings of Jesus:

“I leave you peace, my peace I give you.”

The peace that Jesus gave us is different from the peace that the world gives. Jesus’ peace is borne out of justice and inclusive embrace of all people especially the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the abandoned. As followers of Jesus we are called to be vigorous witnesses and advocates of Jesus’ peace.

To be advocates of peace in our country today is to stand up for life and strongly protest the unabated killings that is a daily occurrence in our country today.  Most of the recent spate of killings is in line with the government’s war on drugs for which the main victims are the poor. On the other hand, rich drug lords and politicians coddlers of drug suppliers are given the full extent of the due process of law.

Suspected poor addicts and pushers are not the only targets of killing. Political activists, journalists, church people, clergy and Lumads (tribal Filipinos) have also become victims of extra-judicial killings.  Extra-judicial killing has no place in a civilized democratic society.  No one should be killed just because one’s political conviction is different from mine.  The continuous killings makes a mockery of our democratic and Christian society.

As Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help committed to peace building, we need to condemn the utter loss of respect for the dignity of life and human rights. We are utterly distressed that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported. As peace makers we need to question what kind of society have we become, what kind of people have we become? Our country has turned into a big killing field. Death is the order of the day. A culture of killing with impunity is the new normality. To add insult to injury, a culture of silence and a climate of fear has prevailed. In the midst of the daily killings, many people go on with their lives, show no empathy to the victims and accept the government war on drugs as necessary evil.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help dedicated to peace building, it is our urgent moral calling in today’s critical times to resist the killings, defend democracy, uphold human rights and stand up for life.

Through the intercession of our Mother of Perpetual Help, may we obtain the strength to achieve peace in our society today. Like Mary, may we proclaim Jesus, the prince of peace, through our words and action of peace beginning within our family, community, parish and the whole society.

Rudy Romano, C.Ss.R: Friend of the Poor and Tireless Worker for Justice and Peace

July II, 2018 marks the 33rd year of the disappearance of Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR. He was abducted in July 11, 1985 by military men in Cebu because of his work for justice and peace and advocacy for the poor workers. He remains missing to this day and presumed to be dead, but his legacy remains alive and strong among all people who continue to struggle for a just and peaceful society.

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One evening in July 1985 as the Baclaran community was watching television Fr. Rudy Romano came into the television room. He was on his way from somewhere returning to Cebu, where he was assigned at that time. As usual it was unannounced and he was not staying for very long. This was his usual custom and no one was surprised. He often dropped in on his way through Manila which in those days was still the doorway to and from most places in the Philippines. The next day he was gone, but no one realized that we would never see him again in this life. A few days later on July 11th he disappeared, he left the Monastery on his motorbike and has never been seen since.

Who was Rudy Romano? Who was so threatened by him that they had to get rid of him?

Rudy was born on September 26th 1940 in Manila but it was only a short time until the war broke out and his family fled to his father’s hometown of Villareal in Western Samar. He entered the Seminary at the age of 16 and was professed a Redemptorist on July 2nd 1958. After studying in Bangalore he was ordained a Priest on December 20th, 1964, a time when the messages of the second Vatican Council were just breaking on the world. He took part in the Missions in the Barrios and Towns of Samar, Dumaguete and Iligan for the next ten years. This was a time of experimentation with a new emphasis on the Laity and their role in the Church, the role of the Church in Social Action and a questioning of the rigidity of the old methods. He became Vocation Director from 1975 to 1980.

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Due to his exposure to the people of his home province and his closeness to the people on Missions, he became involved in the people’s struggle against the dictatorial regime during Martial law. In December 1979, after taking part in a rally in Cebu, he was arrested but was released the same night. He was instrumental in setting up the Visayas Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, and he was elected as its first chairperson. This was around 1980. In 1982, he left the Philippines for a Sabbatical year but on his return he went straight back to his work for Social Justice and Peace, and from this time on was almost always visible at rallies in Cebu, where he was often one of the main speakers.

On Friday July 12th 1985 he was scheduled for Mass in the Redemptorist Church. When he did not arrive, the Brother knocked on his door. There was no answer so he called the superior, who opened Fr. Rudy’s room, only to find that he had not slept there. Neither had he left a note as to where he had gone, which was his usual practice.

He was never seen again.

Two months earlier he had talked to his father who said I’ve heard a lot of rumors about your activities in Cebu. Why not concentrate solely on your work in the ministry as a priest?

Rudy replied.

“Dad, you have already given me to God and I think there is no turning back. If I follow your advice I will not be a worthy priest anymore, because I cannot bear to see these people, the poor of Cebu, especially the squatters, the poor laborers, who are crying to high heaven for help but they have nowhere to go; the government could not help them. They go to the priest, they go to the church, they come to me. I am their voice. I am fighting in their behalf. Don’t worry, dad. If I die, I have no family, and you will know who has killed me.”

 

Fr. 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)

The Shrine and New Social Order

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He has cast down the Mighty from their Thrones,
and has lifted up the Lowly
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

– Blessed Virgin Mary[1]

Over the years, the shrine has established various social services and programs. The social services were a growing response to the diverse material and human needs that churchgoers and church volunteers regularly brought to the shrine. The shrine began with responding to the immediate needs of devotees—food, medicine, hospitalization, travel, and funeral. Some people called these dole out services. Gradually these services evolved into more developmental, educational and transformative programs and services like skills training, livelihood, scholarship, community organizing, counselling and finance management. The programs’ chief beneficiaries were the truly alienated and marginalized.

These programs and services reflects the shrine’s way of living out the recommendation of Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines:

Pilgrimages and Shrines should be places of charity, accessible to ordinary people. They should have a special concern for the poor, providing social services and facilities for pilgrims to rest and be refreshed. Charity can also be expressed by welcoming, listening and understanding pilgrims.[2]

The various social services and programs that the shrine has established over the years are:

  1. Sarnelli Center for Street Children

Established in 1995, the Sarnelli Center for Street Children is a center dedicated to the service of the children at risk and most abandoned children like street children and  children victims of domestic abuse and violence.

2. St. Gerard Family life Center

Established on October 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard Majella, aims to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life through counseling, consultation, advisory, and referral services.

3. Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center

The Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center was established in 2007. It provides vocational and technical courses like cookery, massage therapy, computer and cellphone repair, solar panel installation, bartending and others.

skills-graduates

4. Medical-Dental Services:

On Sundays and Wednesdays, the shrine provides free Medical-Dental service to the thousands of devotees. The team also conducts medical-dental mission to remote barrios all over the Philippines. The team is composed of many volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and medical technologies.

5. Crisis Intervention Center

The Crisis Intervention Center provide immediate assistance to walk-in clients in the form of medical, hospitalization, food, transportation, temporary shelter, education, and the like.

6. St. John Neumann Migrant Center

A counselling and service center named after St. John Neumann, one of the Redemptorist saint who was a migrant to the United States in the last century, it caters to the material and spiritual needs of overseas Filipino workers and their families left behind.

7. Redemptorist Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

Many indigent but deserving college students benefited from the educational assistance program of the shrine. The scholars not only received financial assistance but as well as support in their studies through tutorials, group dynamics and spiritual development.

8. Solidarity Assistance Committee

Solidarity Assistance Committee is composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. It responds to emergency needs of people hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire through relief and rehabilitation projects.

solidarity-assistance2

9. Sinirangan Coffee Shop

Sinirangan Coffee Shop is a program of the shrine which responds to two needs: First is to provide alternative livelihood to victims of Super typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Samar and second, to provide job for graduates of the skills and livelihood center and girls from the women’s center.

10. Laging Saklolo cooperative

Just recently the shrine sponsored and supported the organizing of a consumer cooperative for volunteers and devotees of the shrine, the Laging Saklolo cooperative. It is aimed at selling cheap basic goods to its members while at the same time enabling the members to attain increased income and savings. After a pre-membership seminar, it was launched in July 2016.

Many devotees have expressed gratitude for the services. Noemi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on March 3, 2017, gave thanks to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as well as to the shrine,

I would like to thank Baclaran Redemptorist Church for taking care of my sibling who was missing for almost one year.  Nochelle is now in my care. I am wholeheartedly grateful for all the help you have given to Nochelle. Thank you very much.

DHang GUlferic Alberto, also wrote in April 12, 2017 to give thanks

Many thanks for the help you have given to my son JHON JASFER ALBERTO who is here now at Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) .. May you not tire of helping those who are in need … Even if I am not perfect, even if am not so prayerful, God will hear my prayers for my family and my children over and over again. Many thanks to the Redemptorist Baclaran Church.

Funding for social services came from the devotees themselves through the box for the poor, donations, coins thrown into the wishing well and all profits from the shrine store. This shows devotees helping fellow devotees. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. The devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help received the help they needed. In return, the financial and spiritual help they shared in the shrine were able to help many especially those most in need.

Before the social services were established, the shrine had an urban mission team who went out to the different parishes of nearby dioceses serving the most abandoned poor in the city. From 1932 to 1950s, the mission team was composed of mainly Redemptorist priests and brothers.  Beginning 1960s, however, lay people and religious sisters and brothers began joining the mission team. Today, there are more lay people and religious sisters in the mission team than Redemptorist priests and brothers.

urban-mission

The main objective of the mission is to support and assist the parish in building basic Christian communities. The Christian communities the mission team help to organize are expressions of a new way of being the Church. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed this

[BECs] decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united. They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor, and of commitment to the transformation of society… [They are] a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.[3]

The social services and the urban mission program are not just dole out services but represent the deepest desire of the shrine to contribute to the building of an alternative social order based on Jesus’ gospel. They expressed the shrine’s hope about the realization of the dreams and aspirations of the devotees for a society reflective of the Kingdom of God. Many devotees experienced how the system is rigged and stacked against their favor. The social services which convey the shrine’s profound quest for a new social order challenges and serves as alternative values and standards to the prevailing status quo in society. These services and programs serves as a counter-symbol to the dominant socio-economic system and structure. Karl Gaspar reflects profoundly on the nature of the shrine as 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.[4]

lumad

The integration of the liturgical and social cultivated a deeper appreciation of the social dimension of the sacraments and worship amongst the devotees. Moreover, the consciousness of the churchgoers was aroused towards their social and missionary responsibilities. Thus, the Social Services ministry flowed from and complemented the liturgical, sacramental and spiritual services of the shrine.

The aspiration to build a new social order is also reflected in the novena.  One of the petitions in the 1973 novena which is retained in the present version of the novena is:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Crisis of the Present Socio-Economic System

From the beginning of the novena in 1948 up to the present, the socio-economic order failed to uplift the lives of the vast majority of the poor devotees. The situation today may have even gotten worse. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are becoming even richer.  New faces of the poor and new victims of marginalization have emerged to which the shrine has responded: child labor, modern day slavery, victims of human trafficking, abandoned children, drug addicts, prostituted women, migrants, HIV patients, and LGBTQ community.

Many of the devotees remain poor and destitute in spite that we are living at a time where there is so much display of wealth and prosperity. The dominant economic system in the world today directed by the values of neo-liberal capitalism has brought enormous wealth to an elite few but has maintained the poverty of millions of poor people.  The widening gap between the rich and the poor is one of the greatest scandals of our present economic system. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium has condemned this disparity:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.[5]

Many of the poor and those left out by the progress of the dominant system have availed of the various services and programs of the shrine. Many of them have not reaped the fruits of the promised progress and development. Many of them have suffered from degradation of human dignity, alienated from the fruits of their labor, experienced violence, and social injustice.

After the world financial crisis of 2008 struck the world economy and subsequent crises which saw inequality worsened, serious questions have been raised regarding the viability of the present system.  Capitalism is starting to show signs of crumbling under the weight of its own systemic contradictions. The present order is no longer sustainable and healthy. Other ideologies, however, have failed to give a viable alternative to the dominant social order. Calls for a new order is getting louder every day.

Despite the rigged social order, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the shrine never showed signs of decline. Devotion, in fact, has become one of the sources of their hope and resilience. Their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help helped instilled a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order.

How has the devotion became a source of hope and resilience for the devotees? How has the shrine, icon and Mary able to instill a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order?

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

Our Mother of Perpetual Help has witnessed the sufferings and hardships of the devotees under a rigged socio-economic system. For a long time the poor has suffered under a system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful. Gazing through the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary invited the devotees to contemplate the world in search of a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom which she proclaimed in her magnificat.

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help symbolizes the new order that God will actualize in the fullness of time. Icons are images of the victorious, glorified Christ, Mary, Apostles and Saints who are already experiencing God’s new order in heaven. Consequently, icons help devotees to live and see beyond the present corrupt order. They give them hope and strength to live and apply alternative values and systems in the light of the social order of God’s kingdom, already taking shape here and now and will reach fulfillment in God’s time.

The golden background that occupies the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the glorious state with God where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. As Ferero commented, “The gilded background of the icon (purest light) and the circular halos invite us to contemplate Christ and the Mother of God already living the full glory of the great mystery of the Redemption.”[6] The color gold implies a place which this world cannot give; a place that is bright, peaceful, abundant and joyful. 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. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the exemplar of the glory and joy that will happen to us at the end of times. Even as the completion of this glory will happen in the end, the icon invites the devotees to open their hearts and mind to the glory of God already unfolding in the daily events—even in the most mundane and gloomy days of our lives.

The eyes of Mary are the doorway between our lives here on earth and the life of glory in heaven. The eyes of Mary in the icon are the bridge linking our life on earth and the eternal life with God. Looking through the icon, the devotees are led to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. Our Mother of Perpetual Help invites the devotees to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. Through the loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary helps the devotees to discover in the world the new social order reflective of God’s social order. The icon invites the devotees to contemplate the world in the light of God’s vision and fullness of redemption. “I have come to bring life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

Mary invites all the devotees to find the fullness of life in her son Jesus. Through the icon, Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help have drawn thousands of devotees not to herself but to her son Jesus Christ who is the hope to the poor, deprived and oppressed. Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God which will transform all social orders in the fullness of time.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary powerfully proclaimed in her song, the magnificat, the future social order that will come through the grace and power of God. Mary’s song began as a jubilant reaction to the profound truth of God’s growing within her and ended with the prophetic declaration of a new social order that God will usher. As American mariologist S.M. Roten explains,

The magnificat as Mary’s reaction to God who inhabits her virginal womb proclaimed both the past and the future acts of God; it is retrospective and prophetic at the same time. Mary’s prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel.[7] Her song announces not only the birth of Christ, but also the birth of a new people, a liberated people, a people whose life will be centered on the Spirit of Life.[8] Mary’s song is the magna carta of any and all authentic faith experience.[9]

Mary’s magnificat is a proclamation of God’s new social order.  The magnificat of Mary prophesy the overturning of the rigged system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful and the fulfillment of God’s order which favors the weak and the poor. Mary’s humble acceptance to be the Theotokos of the redeemer will inaugurate a brand new beginning for human history.

Mary herself is a counter-symbol to power and hierarchy. The election of Mary as Mother of God is a counter-symbol to the world’s understanding of election based on power, domination, influence, wealth and fame. Mary was elected by God because she was poor, humble, free and open to God’s grace and calling.

Mary was able to praise God and God’s action of reversal of world systems and structures.  In the magnificat, Mary becomes an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world. It is only through Mary, most virgin and purest of all, stripped of all power, wealth, fame, prestige and position, that the power of God was proclaimed in the magnificat.

The magnificat showed us a portrait of Mary which many of us may have misconstrued.  How come Mary was able to proclaim God’s revolution?  Isn’t she, as many of us thought, meek, mild and humble virgin woman who can never break a plate?  Paul VI, in Marialis Cultus, dispels the mistaken notion of Mary as meek and passive

Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions (cf Lk. 1:51-53).[10]

Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, shows how the magnificat expresses the prophetic character of Mary,

This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.[11]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the magnificat’s significance as: “Mary’s prayer is revealed to us at the dawning of the fullness of time” (CCC, #2617). The dawn of the fullness of time—new heaven and new earth—implies that God’s kingdom has already begun and is active here and now. Mary is the first human being who belongs to the social order ordained by God; the social order that is counter-symbol to the present order of the world.

The magnificat of Mary is indeed a prophetic expression of the reign of God, though unwelcome by our present world because of its reversal of fortunes theme, will be celebrated by all humanity and creation at the end of time.  It implies the hope of eradication of poverty, sound health and education for all, better future, peace, justice, harmony with all creation.  We can only achieve this vision, however, not through domination, violence, hatred but through service, collaboration and love for one another.

Mary awakens our deepest identity that we are the embodiment of the promise of a new society, a redeemed people and a transformed community working for the prosperity and peace for all. Mary inspires us to confront the disordered systems and structures and proclaim the orderly system of God which brings true prosperity and justice for all. Mary invites us to be at the side of the poor, excluded and anawim in our society today in cooperating with God in realizing God’s reign here and now.

Inspired by Mary’s life and the spirituality of the icon, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, can led us to a concerted involvement and struggle for a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom. Devotion to Mary entails not only praying the novena, reciting the rosary, joining processions, or offering flowers at her pedestal.  Together with all the warm affection and devotion to Mary as pueblo amante de Maria (people in love with Mary), it entails active participation in the proclamation of the Kingdom as Mary did in magnificat. This entails today active involvement in transforming the socio-economic structures of our society, eradicating poverty, fighting for justice and human rights, enlivening our democracy especially for the marginalized. promoting health and cleanliness, caring for the environment and protecting mother nature.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help we are called to sing, proclaim and live Mary’s magnificat.  We can truly sing and live the magnificat if like Mary we humble ourselves to the power of God, to allow God to be God. Like Mary we can learn how to proclaim, live and practice the new social order which Mary sang in the magnificat.

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] Luke 1: 46 – 56.

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines (Nagasaki, Japan, October 15-17, 2007), #4.

[3] John Paul II. “Redemptoris Missio”. Apostolic Exhortation. Vatican.

[4] Karl Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 23.

[5] Evangelii Gaudium, #56.

[6] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 126.

[7] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #18.

[8] Father Johann G. Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/m/magnificat-reflection.php

[9] Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat

[10] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #37.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Elizabeth Johnson, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” Catholic Magazine, December 2003 (Vol. 68, No. 12, pg. 12).

A Shrine of Justice and Peace

jpic

Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Pope Francis[1]

Every now and then, we get reactions from devotees especially when our homilies touched on the social issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Some react by saying that they went to the shrine to seek spiritual solace and peace, not to be disturbed by the ugly reality of the country or the world. Some say they came to the shrine to pray, not to become socially aware. Sometimes they invoked the concept of separation between church and state,[2] misinterpreting it by saying that the church should not talk about social issues because it is the domain exclusively of the state. They say that the church’s only domain is the spiritual and religious like sacraments, prayers and catechesis. Thus, according to them, preaching about issues of justice and peace is tantamount to meddling in politics.

The shrine has become well-known among the devotees as actively promoting justice and peace in preaching and social programs. The shrine has been very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. This gave a unique identity to the shrine as Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula observes, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.”[3]

Prophetic Proclamation

The shrine through the years has integrated social issues, justice and peace and integrity of creation in its mission and ministry.  In the 60s and 70s, Redemptorists were influenced by values and ideas from Vatican II and liberation theology which emphasizes, among others, preferential option for the poor, liberation of the oppressed, aggiornamento or openness of the church to the signs of the times. During the political and social upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s the Redemptorist community of Baclaran stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. Among the burning socio-political issues which confronted the missionaries were increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and other social issues.  These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission by the Redemptorists. Much of these endeavors were in line with the Redemptorist Vice Province of Manila’s thrust and directives: “Our main contribution lies in an explicit and prophetic proclamation of the gospel especially to the poor and the most abandoned.”

The involvement in justice and peace was particularly strong during the time of Marcos dictatorship. The shrine played an important part during the controversial 1986 Snap Elections at the time of Marcos dictatorship. The Shrine became the refuge of several computer engineers from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Thirty five technicians who were operating the COMELEC’s electronic quick count staged a walkout from their headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center to protest the alleged electoral fraud by supporters of Marcos. This incident proved to be pivotal as it triggered the people power or EDSA revolution in 1986 that led to the toppling down of Marcos.

comelec-walkout

In recent years, the church has become a regular sanctuary for victims of violence and oppression—farmers, workers, fisher folks, migrant workers, battered women, indigenous people—seeking genuine justice and peace. In 2016, the shrine welcomed more than 700 Lumad (Indigenous Filipinos) from Mindanao who brought to the people’s attention the sad plight of their communities and the killings of their leaders. They camped in the shrine for 10 days. Many groups and sectors expressed and gave their support—moral and material—to the Lumad.

Oftentimes the shrine has invited speakers from organized groups of the poor to share their plight to the devotees within the novena and masses of the shrine. This occurs through special celebrations of the people’s calendar. Through the people’s calendar, people’s aspirations and concerns are integrated into the liturgical calendar throughout the year. The liturgical celebrations offered the opportunity for devotees to connect their devotion and faith with their daily life situation and contemporary signs of the times. This is also to promote the consciousness of the devotees towards their social and missionary responsibilities. The reaction of the devotees were mixed. Some felt discomfort while others showed empathy to them.

jpic-lumad

The pontifical document, “The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God,” affirms the importance of prophetic ministry of the shrine: “Shrines [are] places of education in ethical values, particularly justice, solidarity, peace and the protection of creation, and thus contribute to the growth of quality of life for everyone.”[4]  On the other hand, the document reminds shrines when they lose their prophetic dimension by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

Who has asked you to trample through my courts? Bring no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust. New moons, Sabbaths, assemblies – I cannot endure solemnity combined with guilt… Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. (Is 1:12-17)[5]

The novena also encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace. Promotion of justice and peace is well integrated 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.

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.

The promotion of justice and peace is also inscribed in the building and compound of the shrine. The main upper hall of the National Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall.  It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 2005 in Cebu City.  He was silenced and disappeared because of his defence of the poor and work for human rights. Since that fateful day, Fr. Rudy Romano has remained missing up to this day.

At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the 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.

bantayog-ng-desaparecidos

Longing for Justice and Peace

The struggle for justice and peace in the country is a primary concern of the devotees. Justice in the country remains elusive especially for the poor. Justice is not blind in the country as the the rich can easily circumvent the law but the poor always bear the brunt of the law without much support from the justice system. On the other hand, people continue to long for genuine and lasting peace as war goes on in the countryside. The aspiration for justice and peace is expressed in a thanksgiving letter written by Miriam M. Pasetes on February 4, 2015

Grateful and Praising OUR FATHER GOD, JESUS OUR SAVIOR, THE HOLY SPIRIT OUR GUIDE for you having been given as our most loving Mother of Perpetual Help. Through You I lift my thanks to OUR TRIUNE GOD, for the past month of January of this year, one month passed with joyful events as the Holy Father Pope Francis came and visited as HE OUR FATHER willed. We were made stronger as a nation. Dear Mama, despite our life’s challenges as a country beset by difficulties, by the inspiration of Pope Francis in GOD’s mercy and compassion, love made more manifest. We are for now more strongly confronted with these virtues as our nation’s internal peace is rattled by the encounter between PNP SAF and the MILF/BIFF costing lives lost on both sides. May the souls of those who perished for the sake of peace, find peace in GOD’s Kingdom. Dear Mama please pray for them and for the fortitude of their grieving loved ones.

Two wars continue to rage in the country—the communist insurgency and the Muslim separatist movement. Despite repeated attempts at peace through dialogue and negotiations between the government and the NDF and MILF, no substantial agreement has been reached. Both sides remain recalcitrant regarding their position. NDF and MILF continue to defend their ideological principles. The government is content with maintaining the socio-political status quo and introducing cosmetic changes.  Genuine and long-lasting peace continues to be a dream for all the people.  In the midst of these wars, devotees continue to pray and long for justice and peace. This aspiration is expressed, for example, by Danna Zerrudo who wrote on May 3, 2017 to thank Our Mother of Perpetual Help for passing the bar exams:

I know that my passing the bar exams is just a beginning. So here I am, imploring you once again. Help me to help those who are truly in need. Help me to use my title “Attorney” for the right purposes… Teach us always the path to Jesus. Help me and all my countrymen and women to bring back justice to the legal system of our country. Many are saying that there is no more hope to repair this system, however, such a gargantuan system would never be mended if there is no one or only a few will try to reform it. May God bless the Philippines and every Filipino.

Sadly, however, one of the hindrances to achieving justice and peace is the lack of empathy and indifference of many people. We see this in the reaction of many devotees when we make a moral stance on social issues in the light of the gospel. Just recently on the issue of the rampant extra-judicial killing in the country as an offshoot of Duterte government’s war on drugs. After a year of Duterte’s war on drugs, more than 12,000 suspected addicts and pushers were killed by police and armed men. It is utterly distressing that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported by a majority of people who are mostly Catholic. And yet when we denounced the killings, we were 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 politics–many of them coming from the devotees.

Pope Francis laments about the indifference that has engulf many people around the world:

[A] globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.[6]

A devotion to Mary that is individualistic may reflect apathy and indifference. When devotion is indifferent to what is happening in society, it can stagnate to individualistic piety as Ang Mahal na Birhen asserts: “We rarely associate devotion to Mary with the social dimension of Christian living, and this is when devotion to her can tend to become pious individualism.”[7] In this light, the pastoral letter challenges us:

Our devotion to Mary should never lose sight of the present plight of the vast majority of our Filipino, brethren who live lives unworthy of human beings.  These poor and oppressed brethren of ours are devotees of Mary, too; and they call out to her, their Mother, to ease their sufferings and free them from their chains…Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which we needed in the Philippines today are the works of justice and freedom from oppression.  As the Church points out to us, our mission is “to be present in the heart of the world proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted.”[8]

This is always a big challenge for the shrine–how to tackle and transform the indifference and individualism of the devotees’ piety. How do we cultivate the devotion towards a positive response to issues of justice and peace in the country and in the world? In addressing these challenges, the Icon and the Mary have actively inculcated among the devotees a missionary attitude and action for issues of justice and peace among the devotees.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

Through the icon, Mary saw and heard the hunger and cries of the devotees for justice and peace. As devotees gaze on the icon, Mary invites them to contemplate the world where there is injustice and conflict and form a life of compassion and identification with the poor and the suffering.

Identification with the suffering is pervasive in the icon. Mary’s sorrowful gaze upon the devotees expresses Mary’s identification with their misery here on earth. Mary feels the pain and suffering that they undergo daily, exacerbated by the present order dominated by power, greed, and wealth.  Thus, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an Icon of compassion. While her gaze upon us is a gaze of mercy and compassion, it is also a gaze that brings hope to the struggling, the poor and the most abandoned.

Like Mary who gazed upon the devotees with compassion and sorrow because of the misery and suffering they experience every day, the devotees are invited to open their eyes and see the hardships of their fellow poor, deprived and oppressed. So that they may see the poor and needy in the same way that Our Mother of Perpetual Help see them—seeing them with compassion and sorrow at their miserable situation.

As the devotees allow Mary’s gaze to enter into their souls, they are drawn into her power—the power of tenderness. Pope Francis meditates on this:

“[E]very time we look to Mary, we believe again in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong, who do not need to abuse others in order to feel strong” (Evangelii gaudium, 288).

Mary’s gaze, however, is not meant to draw the devotees to herself only. It is ultimately directed towards Jesus. Mary invites the devotees to follow the path of her son Jesus. Mary showed the devotees that Jesus is the true path towards liberation, justice and peace.

In the icon, the eyes of Jesus is not looking at Mary but on the cross, even beyond the cross. The eyes of Jesus is looking at God the Father through the cross with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come. The symbol of the instruments of the passion carried by the two angels also symbolized the passion of humanity and passion of the earth today. Jesus’ impending suffering evokes Jesus’ identification with our own suffering. But the instruments that the Angels hold are instruments not of death and failure but of life and victory. The most sacred event of our salvation is the passion and the offering of Jesus’ life for our redemption. Through the passion and death of Jesus, devotees are called to identify with the suffering and offer their lives for each other.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary, in her life here on earth, identified with the poor, the oppressed and most abandoned because she herself was poor. Mary of Nazareth belonged to the anawim. The anawim or the “faithful remnant” of Israel are the poor of God. In the Old Testament, the anawim were the poor of every sort—materially and spiritually: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. Robert A. Guelich summarizes the meaning of anawim as “those in desperate need (socio-economic element) whose helplessness drove them to a dependent relationship with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication. Both elements are consistently present.”[9]

Mary is the epitome of an anawim. Mary is the perfect reflection of God’s own humility, for she indeed is the poorest and lowliest of people in her society: the anawim.[10] In this way, Pope Francis paints Mary as an inspiration for justice and peace.

As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice.  She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love.  As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love.  Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity.[11]

Likewise, Mary is an inspiration in the work for justice and peace because Mary was considered a prophetess. Scholars have noted that Luke’s portrait of Mary, particularly in Lk. 1.26-56, characterizes her as a prophetess, although, the evangelist refrains from explicitly calling Mary a prophetess. We seldom think of Mary as outspoken and bold for justice but as quiet, passive, gentle virgin, meek and mild.  For centuries, we heard of the perception of Mary as submissive which is paradigmatic for female lives on earth. Yet in the Canticle of Mary in Luke 3:46-55, we see a totally different Mary. Here Mary sings a song of praise to God who overturns the status quo, who lifts up the humble like her, and chooses her, rather than a queen or princess, to be bearer of God’s Son. Mary was not timid

Like Mary, devotees are called to be prophets today. As prophet they are called to proclaim defiance and resiliency against all social structures and systems that is contrary to the Gospel.  They are called to announce the liberation from all forms of oppression and domination, and at the same time, pronounce alternative path of service towards the coming of God’s reign.  As prophet, however, they recognize that ultimately their final destiny is beyond this world.  Prophecy expresses the experience of eternal discomfort with the world where there is the tension of the already-but-not-yet realisation of the reign of God. As the pontifical document The “Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God” states, “[S]hrines stimulate us to live as a critical and prophetic ferment in these present heavens and in this present earth and they renew the vocation of Christians to live in the world, while not being of the world (cf. Jn 17:16).”[12]

The life of Mary inspires the devotees to open their eyes to the reality of poverty around them, in the society and the world. Like Mary they are called to participate in bringing justice, mercy, and lasting compassion to those most in need. Just as Mary identified with the anawim and was not timid, they also ought to be bold and daring in proclaiming God’s justice and peace.

They who experience and receive the perpetual help from God through the prayer of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, is called to be channels of perpetual help of God. Help becomes perpetual as it does not stop with them. Help becomes perpetual through service to their fellow human beings especially the poor and most abandoned.  They are called to be servants in their home, community, church and society.  Ultimately the fruit of our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is to become like her through our unselfish and humble participation in the God’s work of building God’s kingdom.

Call to Action

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the life of Mary as a disciple and missionary has serve as an inspiration to the devotees in living out justice and peace today. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by the prophetic and transformative understanding and living out of Marian model amidst the signs of the times. Emphasis on the devotional aspect only is counterproductive.

Volunteer for mission to the poor whether in rural or urban area near you. For the more committed ones join missionary groups and organization who go to other countries or remote areas. Share whatever talent you have for the promotion of justice and peace both global and local.

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] Evangelii Gaudium, #288.

[2] The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and, No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5)…..

[3] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 89.

[4] “The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God,” Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Vatican: 8 May 1999. Accessed at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/documents/rc_pc_migrants_doc_19990525_shrine_en.html

[5] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God.

[6] Evangelii Gaudium #54

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #94.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #96.

[9] Robert Guelich as quoted in Anna Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean?: Explaining the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables in Simple and Universal Human Concepts. Oxford University Press, 2001.

[10] Mary the Archetype for Man’s Spiritual Perfection, 21.

[11] Evangelii Gaudium, #286, 213

[12] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God.