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.

comelec-walkout

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,

The Shrine and the Sick

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, February 11, we celebrate World Day of the Sick. Today is also the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, a name given to the Virgin Mary who appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. The church calls people around the world today to take the time to pray for the sick and for those who work very hard to alleviate the sufferings of the sick. Pope John Paul II initiated this celebration in 1992.

The shrine has responded to the needs of the sick since its beginning. Many sick devotees have asked the shrine for help in their sickness, whether spiritual and material. Since the beginning of the novena, there was a prayer for the sick. The shrine has also celebrated many healing masses with praying over and anointing of oil for the sick, through the years.

To give a more concrete and organized response to the needs of the sick, however, the shrine established the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program. The clamor of people for health services because of the unavailability of health services to the poor, the high cost of medicines, medical services and consultations which the poor cannot afford were some of the concrete needs that led to the establishment of Medical/Dental services of the shrine. Established in 1991, the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program aims to respond to the health needs and formation of its beneficiaries and extend assistance to calamity stricken areas.

medical-dental-logo

At the center of the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program is the shrine’s clinic. It is an outpatient clinic that offers primary health care services like maternal and child care, control and prevention of communicable diseases, health education, minor surgical procedures, environmental sanitation, Natural Family Planning Method and basic dental procedures.  The clinic is open two days a week at Wednesday 8:00am – 7pm and Sunday – 8:00 am– 5:00 pm. The clinic is operated by a full time clinic staff, and medical/dental health practitioners and volunteers.  Those who avail of the services are churchgoers, indigent walk-in patients with referrals from NGO’s within Parañaque, shrine volunteers and staff, beneficiaries of the Social Mission programs of the shrine and adopted Community/Mission Areas.

medical

The second primary program of the Medical and Dental Services of the shrine is an outreach program. It aims to provide immediate health services to calamity stricken areas, nission areas of the Redemptorist Community from the Vice Province of Manila, organized communities of People’s Organizations, communities with poor health statistics, limited or has no access to or low quality health services and low socioeconomic status.

medical-dental-mission3

The Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program also implements advocacy and networking. This extends current services by collaborating with governments and local organizations, church, other private institutions. It also establishes networking and referral to hospitals, institutions and other health agencies to help the beneficiaries in their health needs.

The program also have a regular education and training program for the Baclaran clinic staff and volunteers, beneficiaries from  Mission Areas, Health Committee members, and regular beneficiaries. There is an effort to support the development of appropriate indigenous health care like acupuncture, herbal medicines, etc.

On this World Day of the Sick let us pray for all our brothers and sisters who are in need of God’s healing, whether in body or in spirit. Let us also pray for all the carers of the sick–the Doctors, Nurses, caregivers, and others. Let us pray the prayer for the sick at the Novena:

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

Manila Bay Clean-Up and the Shrine

 

Coastal clean-up is a regular program of the Baclaran shrine. Every year the shrine volunteers and devotees participate in the beach cleanup activity in the nearby Manila bay. The event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day, the world’s largest annual preservation and protection event and volunteer effort for beaches and waterways. It is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in September since its inception in 1986.

The pictures above were taken during the International Coastal Cleanup Day in September, 2014.

3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RECLAIMING JESUS’ MISSION STATEMENT

proclamation

The Baclaran shrine has become well-known among the devotees through these years as a shrine of vigorous preaching about justice, peace and other social issues. The Redemptorists have always been very vocal in preaching about the burning issues in the world and country today in the light of the gospel.  Because of this, every now and then, we get reactions from devotees. When devotees asked us why do we have to preach on social issues, I often quote today’s gospel text, the very words of Jesus which has come to be known as Jesus’ mission statement.  Some of them are surprised to hear these words as they may not sound particularly religious. Some even could not believe that they actually come from Jesus.  Many of them have believed for a long time that being Catholic is merely going to mass, receiving sacraments, praying the novena. For them, the Catholic faith is merely a spiritual activity and has nothing to do with the concrete realities of the everyday life of the ordinary people.

Today’s readings of the 3rd Sunday in ordinary time talks about the essential importance of the proclamation of the Word of God in Christian faith and life. The Word of God proclaims God’s eternal plan of total salvation and liberation of all peoples from sin and all forms of evil and oppression. The proclamation of the Word of God is both and at the same proclaimed in words and action; they are not mutually exclusive nor can be separated from each other.

In the First Reading from the book of Nehemiah, Israel, the people of God, has newly returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. They listened to Ezra, a priest-scribe who read the law (Torah) for the first time. After Israel’s exile from Babylon, the Torah was just completed. Ezra read the law for more than six hours, to men, women and children old enough to understand (7 years old up).  While Ezra read the Torah, the assembly cried as all around them lay the ruins of what Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple and God’s people had once been.

In the second reading, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, proclaimed about how the Body of Christ, the Church, is to live out the mission statement of Jesus. St. Paul points out that all members of the Church have gifts for ministry. The members of the Church, however, have different gifts for ministry; we are not clones of each other. The different gifts can only come to life in the context of the whole.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, following his river baptism and his long wilderness fast and temptation, returns to his home town of Nazareth. Reports about him have been spreading through the population, probably the result of his healing miracles and his synagogue teaching. So when he comes back home, it’s quite a big day in the synagogue. It was the day of Sabbath.  Everybody’s there, eager to hear the local boy who’s making a name for himself.

Like Ezra, he takes up a scroll, this one containing the book of Isaiah. He reads a passage which says that the Spirit of the Lord has sent him to “bring glad tidings to the poor,  …  to let the oppressed go free,” to proclaim a time of favor from the Lord (Is 61: 1-2).

After reading these verses, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat. It is the custom for teachers to sit, rather than to stand. So when Jesus sat, everyone looked at him, expecting some commentary, some explication of this text, a text well known to many of them. Jesus, however, merely said,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is, very possibly, the world’s shortest sermon, but packs lots of punch.  The people of Israel have waited for centuries for the fulfillment of promises that God made throughout their history, beginning with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).  Now Jesus declares that the wait is over — that the day has come — that the promises are fulfilled — that salvation is nigh!  This is, indeed, good news.

Jesus claims for himself the ancient prophetic words as his own mission statement. He bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the sweet Jubilee Year, when the economy will be conformed anew to God’s justice.

Jesus’ mission statement did not become merely a string of high-sounding words (as some mission statements do). Everything that follows in his life, as presented to us in the Gospel, amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that sabbath morning in Nazareth.

urban_mission

Today, we are called by Jesus to continue his proclamation of the Word of God. In order to be true Catholics or Christians, we should not be content with living our faith merely by going to mass, praying the novena or receiving the sacraments. To be true Catholics and Christians we need to reclaim Jesus’ mission statement as our mission statement too. In the light of today’s reality of continuous suffering by many of our people–the exploited poor, unemployed, homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the wounded creation, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others, the proclamation of Jesus’ glad tidings remains imperative and urgent as ever.  As each one of us has our own distinctive gifts, as St. Paul said, we are called to apply and share our gifts generously for the continuation of the enactment of Jesus’ mission statement.

Let us pray for the courage and grace of the Holy Spirit that we may become vibrant hearers, proclaimers and doers of Jesus’ words, our Lord and primary missionary of God.

 

 

FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO: GROWING UP IN OUR FAITH

sto-nino

While the rest of the Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Philippines Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). Vatican granted the Philippines Church a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January because of the Filipinos’ exuberant devotion to Santo Niño.

The celebration of the feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful expression of the wedding between the Christian faith and the Filipino culture. Santo Niño symbolizes, on the one hand, the introduction of the Christian faith to the Filipino people.  The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil. On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The native’s cultural appropriation of Santo Niño is beautifully expressed in the dance called Sinulog. Before the Spanish conquistadores came, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and Anitos. The natives then adapted the Sinulog as a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. Thus, Sinulog became the link between the country’s indigenous past and its Christian present.

While devotees dance the sinulog, they chant “Pit Señor.” “Pit Señor” is the short form of “Sangpit sa Señor,” a phrase in Cebuano that means, “to call, ask, and plead to the king.”  Indeed, the image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, Sto. Niño reminds us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. These enigmatic contrasting elements provide us with one of the profound reasons to believe that Sto. Niño is our protector and has the power to grant and answer our prayers as many miracles have attested.

The feast of Santo Niño is a continuous celebration of God’s incarnation—God immersing himself into the life and situation of his people. The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. Jesus as a boy experienced all the joys and pains, anxieties and jubilations that every Jewish boy would have experienced during his time.

The readings of today’s feast talk about the spiritual meaning of the boyhood of Jesus.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This light will be a child who will be born among them, “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The description of the child sends a strong message to the oppressors of Israel. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader.  The child will defeat machineries of oppression and rule over Israel with wisdom, peace, justice and good judgment.

In the gospel, we hear of the story when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents–Joseph and Mary–took him on a journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. After the feast, however, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  And when they found him, he was among the learned in the temple. They did not fully understand what Jesus told them about his mission.

And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

In the Temple, the boy Jesus finds home and school: He must be in his Father’s house; he discusses with the learned. The boy Jesus was aware of his mission at an early age. He was discussing already with the experts.  The boy Jesus was obedient to the Father in heaven as well as to his parents.

What does the childhood of Jesus say to you and me today? In the childhood of Jesus we foresaw what he will become when he grows up. The child Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favor before God and people.  He never lost his childlike-attitudes but developed them to become the Messiah who came to serve, not to be served. He grew to become the bearer of good news of God’s liberation from all forms of oppression especially to the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable and rejects of society. He grew to proclaim true greatness and success beyond wealth, fame, and power, but being poor in spirit, simple, and humble. He grew up to suffer and give his life on the cross because of his great love for all humanity.

In the same way, the feast of Santo Niño calls us to grow in our own faith. While not losing our childlike-attitudes, this celebration challenges us to transform our childish attitude and faith to become mature followers of Christ. The image of Santo Niño is not someone whom we can manipulate according to our whims and caprices. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader. Our devotion to Santo Niño demands of us not just piety but radical changes in our attitudes and mindset in accordance with the gospel values that Jesus proclaimed. Our devotion to Santo Niño calls us to commit to God’s kingdom and live opposite the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.

The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity brimming with profound spiritual meaning. It is, indeed, fit and just to joyfully dance the Sinulog but the celebration of the Santo Niño goes beyond mere pageantry. To be a devotee of Santo Niño is not to become childish in our faith; it goes beyond piety and petitionary form of relationship with Santo Niño.  It calls us to grow and to change our lives to become disciples of Jesus and proclaimers of his Kingdom. It calls us to grow in maturity of our faith.

Viva, pit Señor!

Shrine of Children

children

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19: 14

 

The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus) this coming Sunday, is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. The image of Sto. Niño is an image of Jesus as a small boy. The image, however, shows some contrasting elements.  The image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. This enigmatic element of the image may perhaps be one of the reasons for the belief of many Filipinos  that the Sto. Niño is their protector and has the power to grant and answer their prayers.

The image of Sto. Niño reminds us of the children in our midst. The children, indeed, both symbolize innocence and dependence as well as challenge us, especially the adults, to learn and return to childlike values like humility, wonder and joy.

The Baclaran shrine is a haven for children. It is always a wonderful sight at the shrine when parents bring their children and pray the novena and attend the Eucharist as one family.  After the novena and mass, a lot of children at the shrine’s surroundings, play, relax and hang around with their parents and siblings. Others sit under the trees and have a picnic.

The shrine through these years saw the need for an organized program for the children.  This implied establishing physical centers to serve the needs of children.  One of these centers is the Sarnelli Center for Street Children. It is a center born out of the need to help the children who were wandering day and night in the streets of Baclaran. Established in 1995, the center cater to the needs – both spiritual and material of the most abandoned street children around the shrine. The goal of Sarnelli Center is to help the street children readjust and undertake a process of rehabilitation and development and eventually become responsible members of their families and their communities.

Another center that the shrine established for children is the Kuya George Children’s Center which serves as the center for all the children volunteers in the shrine, all the children beneficiaries of the programs and services of the shrine’s children ministry and the children in the mission area around the shrine. It is named after Fr. George Tither, an indefatigable missionary who loves children. The Vice-Province has just recently initiated moves to pursue his case for beatification.

The shrine has also formed a Children’s Committee to organize and coordinate programs and activities for children. The committee is composed of a Missionaries of Perpetual Help (MPS) sister, volunteer catechists and children ministers. They meet regularly to plan, monitor and supervise the whole children’s ministry in the shrine.

children-committee-baclaran

On top of the list of the various programs for the children in the shrine is the children’s mass. This is scheduled at 2:30 PM every Sunday. The shrine encouraged devotees to bring their children especially in this mass.  All the lay ministers in this mass are mostly children like the lectors, altar servers and choir. Near the end of the mass, there is a blessing for all children.

children-mass

The second major program for children at the shrine is the children’s catechesis. The volunteer catechists conduct children’s catechesis before the 2:30 children’s mass every Sunday.  To train the catechists, the shrine sponsored the formal education of the catechists. In return, the catechists voluntarily teach the catechism and help facilitate other activities for children.

community-based-catechetics

Another major program is  the Children’s Month which is held in October each year. The whole month is filled with special activities for children. The highlight of this month is the All Saints Day where the children dress in costumes depicting the many famous saints of the church.

children-baclaran

 

4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT: THE MISSION OF CHRISTMAS

The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008
The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008

These past few days, many people have been taking the hard and long journey going home for Christmas. One could just admire all the hardship and troubles that people endure just to be back in time for Christmas to visit their families, loved ones and friends: the long queue and waiting at terminals, enormous traffic, longer trips because of the traffic, exhaustion, hunger, lack of sleep during the trip. But all their tiredness disappear once they arrived home and see their loved ones.

In today’s gospel, we hear of the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary took at least three days of long and arduous journey to reach the home of Elizabeth (more on this later). But when Mary arrived, her tiredness was transformed into joy.  As soon as Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s greeting, very likely “shalom” (peace), the infant in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” at the recognition of the soon to be born savior in Mary’s womb. Because of this, Elizabeth became filled with the Holy Spirit, and she burst out in joyful salutation:

“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Pope Francis describes this visitation scene as a scene of overflowing joy from both soon-to-be mothers because of the coming of Jesus.

… When Mary arrives, joy overflows and gushes from their hearts, because the invisible but real presence of Jesus fills everything with meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people. Everything!

The joyful and blessed encounter between Elizabeth and Mary notwithstanding, we cannot underestimate the importance of the long and arduous journey that Mary embarked to reach Elizabeth. She took off from Nazareth, a Galilean city west of the Sea of Galilee and travelled to Ein Karem, the Judean village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. This covers a distance of between 128 and 160 kilometers. Luke does not mention whether Mary made any preparations for the trip or how she traveled. She may have gone on foot or as part of a caravan. We don’t know if she traveled alone or whether St. Joseph accompanied her, or SS. Anne or Joachim.  In Mary’s day, a person traveling by foot could cover about 32 kilometers per day. If Mary walked to Elizabeth’s home, it would have taken her four to five days. If she accompanied a caravan, she would have arrived in about three days.

map-journey-visitation

Such a journey would have been dangerous, especially for a young girl alone. Mary demonstrated her courage as well as her desire for confirmation of God’s plan. She overcome any fear she may have had about surrendering to God’s call on her life or facing the possible danger involved in confirming his will. Such complete surrender freed her to act in confidence.

In going to Ein Karim, Mary became the first missionary, the first bearer of the Good News. Despite being pregnant with Jesus, the word incarnate (logos), in her womb, she journeys through the hill country to the town of Juda. English theologian John Saward refers to this image of Mary on her journey to Elizabeth as the “Logos carrying Virgin.”[1] In this journey, Mary became the first disciple and missionary of the Logos (Word). Indeed she is the Theotokos—bearer of God in our world.

Mary stayed 3 months to be with Elizabeth to continue to accompany and assist Elizabeth into the more delicate three months remaining of her pregnancy. We do no know, whether Mary was still present when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. This further showed, however, that Mary, despite herself being pregnant, was able to be present and minister to someone who was more in need.

What is this story telling us about Christmas?

Christmas is a joyful celebration that essentially leads to vibrant mission. The celebration of the incarnation of Jesus overflows with life, joy and goodness that it cannot be kept just to ourselves and lived only at this time of the year. It has to be lived, shared and proclaimed to others, to the whole world, throughout the year. As we sing in the famous Tagalog Christmas carol, Sa Maybahay,

Ang pag-ibig ‘pag siyang naghari   (When love reigns)
Araw-araw ay magiging Pasko lagi  
(Everyday will be Christmas!)

Like Mary, we are all called to be Theotokos—God-bearers. We are all called to share the good news of Emmanuel, God is with us, not just with our lips but also with our feet, with all our heart and soul all the days of our lives.

 

St. Francis and the Love for Animals at the Shrine

Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the Baclaran shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. This is in commemoration of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It was On October 4th, 2005, that a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine.

Saint Francis is associated with the patronage of animals. Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.

Because of Francis legacy, it has become customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to carry out animal blessing ceremonies on his feast day of 4 October. The secular world has also recognized Francis’ legacy by celebrating in October 4 the World Animal Day, an annual celebration of international day of action for animal rights and welfare.

Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis not just with a blessing of animals but also with prayers for creation. 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. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

The shrine in recent years has become sanctuary to many animals. Stray dogs and cats  hang around the shrine and the convent every day not to mention the rats, bats, and the birds which has made the shrine their home ever since the shrine was built. The presence in the shrine of skinny and smelly dogs and cats abandoned by their human owners is a sad reminder of human’s cruelty to animals and of the abdication of our sacred duty as stewards of creation.

stray-cat

Outside the shrine, however, animals of various kinds enjoy the security and food that nature provides. The various hardwood and fruit trees in the shrine compound provide sanctuary for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

green-shrine

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[1] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

narcissus-flycatcher

On this feast of St. Francis, we are reminded that care for animals and the promotion of the integrity of creation is an essential expression of our devotion and faith.  In the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena, the shrine incorporated into the novena a petition that expresses this:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.


[1] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narcissus_flycatcher.

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

shrine-martial-law

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).

rudy-romano

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.”

comelec-walkout

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]

candles_shrine

 


 

[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 During Typhoons and Other Calamities

shrine-typhoon

As the whole nation braces for the impending arrival of another super typhoon, “Ompong” (international name Mangkhut), I would like to reflect on how the Baclaran shrine witnessed and responded to calamities through the years.

Many typhoons and other calamities, both natural and man-made have ravaged our disaster-prone country. According to the World Risk Index, Philippines is the 3rd most disaster-prone country in the world. The Philippines by virtue of its geographic circumstances is highly prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical cyclones and floods, making it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. If we add the man-made calamities like fire, landslide due to mining and deforestation, flooding due to the heedless throwing of plastics and clogging of drainage, one can say, indeed, that calamities is a normal order of the day for millions of Filipinos.

In the midst of all these calamities, the shrine has been a source of concrete help and a beacon of hope especially for those mostly affected by calamities. The shrine has brought hope to thousands of calamity victims by bringing immediate aid in the form of food, clothing, emergency shelter and others. The shrine has also facilitated some rehabilitation projects as victims of calamities try to rebuild their lives. The shrine also became temporary sanctuary for those who were stranded at the height of storms and typhoons and thus, cannot further travel to their destinations. Many of them spend the night at the shrine sleeping on the pews.

The shrine has a Solidarity Assistance Committee composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. The Committee responds to people in need especially during calamities. In the past years, the committee was quick to respond to the different needs of the people through relief and rehabilitation projects in areas hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire.

These relief and rehabilitation efforts, however, could not have been possible without the generous support of the thousands of devotees of the shrine. After every calamity, the shrine asked devotees for help to victims of disasters. Many devotees, though they are poor, have generously given help. Thus, this is a case of the poor helping the poor. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. Many of devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help have received the help they needed. In return, they give financial and spiritual help to many especially those most in need.

The shrine has responded to calamities, however, not just after the disaster has struck. The shrine has also responded before the calamity strikes by helping people to prepare for a disaster through prayer and action. There is the perennial issue of the lack of preparation to a disaster in the country. After a calamity, many times different agencies of our government and even the people, chorused: “We didn’t saw it coming!” The shrine has linked up with government and non-government agencies in disaster preparation programs. Through these programs, the shrine has proactively encouraged and educated the people in preparing for an impending disaster.

Paradoxically, the shrine has utilized calamities and typhoons as opportunities for evangelization. In every calamity, we hear people say that these calamities are sent by God out of his wrath and punishment for our sins. The shrine has always proclaimed that this viewpoint offers a convenient way out of our own culpability for our destruction of nature and exploitation of our fellow humans. This also distorts the very nature of God as loving and compassionate. Our Lord Jesus did not come to punish us through the disasters, but came to be one with us, to live amongst us in the midst of the despair and destitution we experience in our daily lives.

The above belief is just one of the many contradictions that the shrine has witnessed during and after calamities. Another contradiction is the great divide between the haves and the have nots. During typhoons, while the Manila elite drove to posh hotels and malls, the poor had nowhere else to go but to protect their scanty houses making sure the roofs and walls are not blown off by the strong winds and rains.

In the aftermath of the typhoon, there is no power, no water, no TV, no cell phones, no refrigerators, etc. These temporary deprivations forced many to go back to the simple, the basic and the natural things in life. These are only temporary deprivations for some but are permanent deprivations for many of our people.

Through the many calamities, the shrine has also witnessed the validity behind the observation that any typhoon brings either the best and the worst in people. One of the best thing that typhoon brought out of people is at the height of the typhoon, some individuals can risk their own lives to save others like the story of security guards who save 100 from floodwater in the midst of ‘Reming’ on December 9, 2006. Philippine Daily Inquirer reported this event:

“With only a piece of cable wire to cling to and his strength stretched to the limit, security guard Rey Jan Borillo, 18, of Barangay Libod, Camalig, Albay, was able to save about 100 residents at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming.” “Hearing the cries of the residents for help, Borrillo, who was six feet and an inch tall, waded through the narrow passageway, carried old and young people on his back and brought them to a three-story building where the pawnshop (he was guarding) was renting space … Helping Borillo was his co-security guard Ricky Legisniana, 21, of Palanog Camalig.”

On the other hand, one of the worst things that a typhoon brings out of people is when some individuals used the typhoon to put forward their agenda and prop up their image. Like many politicians who love to pose for pictures while giving out to evacuees sardines and noodles donated by private individuals and organizations.

As typhoon Ompong continue to move closer to our land, let us make all the necessary preparations. Let us act together and be ready to help each other so that this typhoon bring not the worst but the best in us. We ask the prayers of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, so that God may protect us from any danger and destruction.