“She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley.
Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.”” —Saint Augustine
This Sunday, September 8, we commemorate the Birth of Mary, Mother of our Lord—a feast which Catholics have been celebrating since at least the sixth century. Since it is Sunday, however, the celebration of Mary’s birthday in the liturgy, gives way to the celebration of the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time. Indeed, this is what Mary would have intended; she considers herself as mere God’s instrument in the salvation that comes through her Son.
This would not prevent devotees in the Baclaran shrine, however, to celebrate the birthday of our blessed mother Mary. Many devotees will flock to Baclaran and attend the Sunday mass, and at the same time express affection to Mary on her birthday. I would not be surprise if after each Sunday mass, devotees will heartily sing “Happy Birthday” to Mary. Many will offer flowers to her icon and in the altar. Indeed, this day is a happy day for many devotees as they share in the joy of the birth of Mary who is their intercessor and companion in the journey of life full of trials and tribulations.
This year’s celebration of Mary’s birthday at the shrine will be special as the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was officially removed from the high altar on September 5, 2019 to give way for the Altar renovation. Today, September 7, 2019, Saturday, it will be displayed for public veneration and vigil after the 5:45 PM Mass until midnight. This is indeed a special opportunity for devotees as they can have a closer physical contact with the icon as they celebrate the birthday of Mary tomorrow.
Likewise, on September 10, Tuesday, after the 9:30 AM Mass there will be a touching of the icon until midnight. For the rest of the time, the Icon will be secured by the Redemptorists until the altar is ready for her return.
This is a very significant religious event for us, devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In this very rare occasion, we will have a life time chance to have a face to face encounter with the Icon.
May this experience helps us to reflect and be moved by our God who always goes down from heaven to meet us in the rough grounds of daily living.
On June 30, 1906, the first Redemptorist community in the Philippines arrived in Opon (now presently Lapu-lapu City), in the island of Cebu. Those appointed to the Foundation were Fr Leo (at the time Rector of Ballarat, Australia) as Superior, Creagh, O’Sullivan, O’Callaghan, Casin, and Bros. Casimir and Eunan (shown in the picture above).
The settling down in the parish did not go as smooth as the Redemptorists had hoped for. The first community found the parish Priest, Fr. Roa and his 12 houseboys still in possession of the convento. The Bishop of Cebu, Thomas Hendrik, did not make matters clear to Fr. Roa, so that when the Parish Priest finally left, some local lay leaders objected that the parish was being taken over by foreigners and had driven out the Parish Priest.
Indeed, the negative experiences from the Spanish friars were still fresh in the memory of the natives that the local people gave the pioneer Redemptorist from Ireland and Australia a very cold treatment. Someone even organized a boycott against them and soon even the services in the church were boycotted. The convento had been a meeting place for the President of the Municipio (a classmate of Fr. Roa) and his cronies. The parish was a good one and the annual Fiesta was big business. The Municipio had a stake in this. Because of all of these, the pioneer Redemptorists were too disheartened to initiate anything in the parish.
Added to these woes was the fact that the new Community fresh from the cool air of Ireland found themselves crowded into two rooms and sleeping on the floor. Their reactions to all this differed. Fr. Leo blamed Fr. Boylan for everything. Fr. Boylan was the Irish Provincial who arrived first in the Philippines to prepare for the establishment of the Foundation. He joined the incumbent Parish Priest, Fr Roa, in residence in Opon on March 17, 1906. Despite all the pressures, Boylan took them well, putting on frequent celebrations for the community and appealing to holy hope.
Not all people, however, were inimical to the Redemptorists. The wife of the President of the Municipio defied the boycott from the beginning. Three sisters from a nearby barrio smuggled in food supplies, and another convinced her husband, who piloted a launch, to bring in supplies from Cebu. Also some of the priests were very supportive from the day of their arrival, especially the parish Priest of Mandawe Fr. Emiliano Mercado and Fr. Gregorio Reynes who was assigned as curate and language teacher. Filipino Hospitality won out in the end and after six months we read in the chronicles, the people are very friendly towards us.
But the most significant change was about to happen on July 24, 1906. Fr. Patrick Leo, the superior of the community, erected the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) in the tribune looking into the Church. We read in the Chronicles of the time: “It is remarkable that on this day the people became notably more friendly towards us.”
Redemptorist historian Fr. Michael Bailey describes this providential event as perhaps the very first intervention of OMPH in the mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines.
We could just imagine the reaction of the people the first time they saw the picture of OMPH. It was not one of the usual Marian images that the locals were used to. Although they have painted images of the Virgin with Child, this seemed strange for them, as it did not portray the innocence of the Child Jesus like the one cradled by their own Virgen dela Regla. They could have given the strange icon a cold treatment, in the same way that they treated the missionaries who brought them, but they gladly welcomed and embraced the icon in their parish.
With the people’s much needed approval through the maternal intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Opon, the Redemptorists now had the peace of mind to promote devotion to OMPH. The first novena to OMPH in Opon was celebrated on March 17, 1907. The Redemptorists also brought the icon when they began to give missions to the barrios. This is in keeping with the Redemptorist tradition of bringing the icon wherever Redemptorists gave missions. In one of these missions, Bailey recounts the very significant event of the barrio mission that Redemptorists conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907 which showed Mary’s already special place in the early mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines:
The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of OMPH was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by OMPH that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.
 Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929 (Cebu: San Carlos Publications), 19.
 Trizer Dale Mansueto, “Make her Known,” How the Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Flourished in the Philippines, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 36.