Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, DD. – First Filipino Redemptorist Bishop

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran mourns the death of Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Tandag. After his retirement as Bishop, he was assigned for a couple of years at the shrine.  His assignment at the shrine even though was short, was a fruitful and memorable one. Many of the shrine volunteers, staff and his own Redemptorist confreres remember him as humble, friendly and funny.  After long years of service in God’s vineyard, Amantillo succumbed to cancer and died in the hands of the Lord in the morning of October 11, 2018. He was 83.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace!

Amantillo-memoriam

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Fr. John Maguire, CSsR: A Man with No Guile

John Maguire

Fr. John Michael Maguire, “Fr. Mags” as we fondly call him, was born on the 19th day of November, 1932 at Leichhardt, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His parents were John Thomas Maguire and Ivy May O’Neill. He was professed a Redemptorist on February 11, 1954.

His sister Anne, told Fr. Frank Pidgeon about how Mags practice his faith during his childhood years:[1] 

“John made his First Communion at the age of 6. From that day on, he was never absent from daily Mass. At that early age, he became an altar boy.”

His sister also narrated to Fr. Pidgeon how Mags decided to join the Redemptorists:

“John came down from Sydney to Wagga Wagga with our parents for my profession as a religious sister. Someone had given him a small booklet entitled ‘Van, beloved of God and man’, which told the story of a young American Redemptorist seminarian who died shortly before his ordination. John read that book while he was with us, and afterwards decided to write to the Redemptorists to learn more about their life and work. A short time later, John found himself in the Redemptorist seminary – he was 18 at the time – studying Latin.”

On March 20, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop J. O’Collins of the Diocese of Ballarat. A year after his ordination, Fr. Maguire took part in parish mission in New South Wales, Australia until the early months in 1963. In the same year, he was sent to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on March 3, 1963 at the age of 30.

He spent the best years of his life in the missions and in the shrine ministry in Baclaran. He spent about half of his missionary life in the Philippines in mission and half in the shrine ministry in Baclaran.

The first thing he did upon arriving in the Philippines is to learn Tagalog. He became very fluent in it that he was able to talk in Tagalog very fast. Even in his native English, he doesn’t mince lots of words and could get across his message in simple and few words. More than words he was a man of action. He was a man without pretense, without “airs”; a man who would do you no wrong and who was open to the world.

Besides learning the language, Mags understood the culture and made friends with a lot of people especially from the mission areas. He gave mission mostly in Tagalog provinces especially in Quezon. He also gave missions in Bulacan, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite as well as many Squatter areas in Manila, like Tondo, Tramo in Pasay, Pandacan, Paranaque, Muntinglupa, Cubao etc.

He had always a genuine interest in people. He was willing to put himself out to anyone who had any special needs especially for the young. He helped a lot of young people in their education and other needs. In recognition of his work for the youth, the shrine named its newly established youth center as John Maguire Youth Center.

Above all, he had a great love for the Baclaran shrine and the many thousands of ordinary people who flock there each Wednesday and Sunday. The wellspring of his love for the shrine and the devotees is his love for Mary. His Rosary was always beside him. He gave flesh and blood to the instruction of Mary to His apostles—“Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” In generously offering his time and life in service to God and his people in an uncomplaining way, he took his Mother at her word.

Mags was a prolific writer. He was one of the original writer and editor of the shrine’s newsletter, The Icon. In fact, he was the most sought after writer of The Icon with his humorous section—Shrine Trivia and the interesting bit of historical chronicle—Ala-ala ng Kahapon. He also wrote a book, To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever they were Needed, an enlightening short book on the missionary endeavors of the Baclaran community since 1932.

In his later years, he was into painting. He painted about the meaning of all he encountered in his lifetime: his hopes and dreams and faith, the suffering of the people he ministered to, their unanswered prayers of yearning and longing for a more beautiful life.

In the last year of his life, Fr. Mags had suffered from both lung and brain cancer. Didoy Fajarda, the man who took care of him during his six months of illness recalled that two days before he died, Father John told him:

“Lahat ng gagawin ay para sa tao, sa mga kabataan, at mga bata. Huwag humingi ng tulong sa iba, tumulong sa kapwa.” (Whatever you do, you do it for others, the people, the youth, the children. Do not seek help from others. Rather give them your help.”

Here two days before he died, John had laid bare his soul. He had revealed with utter clarity the truth about himself. He had made his own the quintessential message of the Gospel: He was prepared, like Jesus, to give his life for others; “to serve and not to be served.[2]

On October 11, 2007, at around 9:20 in the evening in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, Fr. Mags, a true servant of Jesus and Mary, passed over to eternal peace.

Is it allowed to have beer in heaven? I am sure Mags would love to. But more than enjoying beer in heaven, in the presence of a most loving God, he is enjoying the company of ordinary people who have genuinely served God and others.

Joey Echano, CSsR

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


 

[1] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

[2] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

Fr. Phil Vinteres: Composer for the Masses

fr.-phil-vinteres

When I was still young and active on the missions Fr Phil and I were members of the Community of Lipa. Most of our work at the time was in the Province of Quezon and we only returned to Lipa to rest between Missions. On one of those nights during our rest time I said to Fr. Phil I have a few ideas I wrote down today, can you make them fit some tune (I suggested a possible tune) so that we can use it to teach the children more easily. He took the paper and said nothing. Next morning at breakfast he gave me another bit of paper. All the ideas were present but now it was in poetic form and it fitted perfectly the tune of a well-known Kundiman. We sang it for many years on Missions and it is still remembered as Ang Salita ng Diyos.

Fr Phil was a well-known musician and composer of religious and liturgical songs. In the early seventies just a few months after Mass was permitted in the vernacular, he had produced a Tagalog Folk Mass, which was so Filipino, that it was quickly learned by the people, and so popular that it was translated into many Filipino Languages. During the visits of Pope John Paul 11 to the Philippines, Fr Phil’s composition of the Ama Namin was sung during the Pope’s Masses and caught the attention of the Pope. Another much better known priest composer of Liturgical Music is reported to have said, I would be willing to give up all my compositions and be the composer of the Ama Namin of Fr. Phil. He was not as prolific as most composers because he usually found his inspiration in happenings and Liturgical Seasons. Also music was only his hobby. He wrote his songs to teach the people and help them to remember.

Who then was Fr. Teofilo Vinteres or Fr.Phil?

Fr Phil was born in Dagupan in 1932, the 7th, of 8 children. He entered St. Clements College in Iloilo in 1954, after 2 years of college at the UP in Diliman, Quezon City and the UE in Sampaloc, Manila. He was professed as a Redemptorist on July 22nd, 1957, and was sent to Ballarat, in Australia to study Theology. After a few years in 1963, he had to return to the Philippines due to ill health. However, after a short break and one semester teaching Catechism in the Juvenate he was able to return to his studies in Australia and was ordained on Sept 24th 1966. He was ordained by Msg. Hernando Antiporda, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila.

He was appointed Prefect of the college from 1972 to 1975, and was the first Formator to change the locus of a Formation House from a big building separated from the people to a rented house among the ordinary people. This was the inserted community in Libertad St, Mandaluyong. He was Novice Master from 1978-81 and Prefect of Students in 1990.

He was the first Filipino Vice-Provincial of the Manila Vice Province and was elected for three consecutive terms 1981-90. He took a break as Vice Provincial for two terms and then was elected again from 1996 until his death in 2001. Fr Phil had his gall bladder removed in 1998 but this was not the end of his medical problems as he had hoped. He had recurring trouble with his pancreas and in 2000 had an operation to bypass the pancreas. He was diagnosed to have chronic pancreatitis, and suspected cancers. He refused to give up his work and often had to call time-out during meetings when the pain became too great to bear. For the last year of his life he was in and out of hospital. He died in Baclaran on the 5th of November 2001 at 12:07 just after midnight, surrounded by his Community and most of the Formation Community.

He will always be remembered by us who knew him as a wonderful confrere, a person of tremendous gifts, with a great fighting spirit, and a remarkable hobby.

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)

Fr. George Tither: God is Rich!

tither

Fr. David Januarius Tither C.Ss.R. was born on August 20, 1920, at Edendale, Southland, New Zealand. His father, William Tither was from County Kerry, Ireland.   His mother was Frances Snodgrass, the first European child born in Te Anau, at the time a backwater. Though he was officially David Januarius, he was widely known as “George”, a name bestowed on him by his contemporaries in the Redemptorist juvenate.[1]

Fr. George always dreamed of becoming a priest. He was introduced to the Redemptorists by a teaching brother in his parish, who told him that by becoming a missionary he could do more good, and save more souls.

He was professed as a Redemptorist on February 2, 1940, and ordained priest on September 9, 1945.  He was appointed to the Philippines in 1948.  He was to minister there, apart from brief home visits, for the next sixty years.

Because of his beard and chubby frame, people would call him Fidel Castro. But the kids loved to call him Santa Clause. He loved to gather the kids around him and would sit the kids one by one over his legs and let them touch his beard. Then he would teach the kids the song, “Ang mga ibon …” The kids loved him and would always follow him wherever he goes.

He preferred speaking in Tagalog than in his native English, and he was very fluent at it. He was a fast talker just as he was a fast doer.  He is known for great energy and drive. The word “No” seems to be not part of his vocabulary. He had unbounded energy and zeal in mission and vocation.  He was a zealous promoter of vocation having recruited a number of Filipino Redemptorists.  Many of today’s Filipino Redemptorists and even those who have left the Redemptorists have testified that he was a decisive influence in their lives.

He had a knack for connecting with the young especially those who attended his Vocation search-in and “Night with the Lord.” In his correspondence to them, he would always sign his letters with words like utol George (brother George) or ang iyong ka chokaran (your buddy).  Whenever any of his recruits would hesitate to enter the seminary especially because of financial problems, he would always tell them, don’t worry, mayaman ang Diyos (God is rich!). Because of George’s magnanimity in giving his time, assistance and resources to anyone, people saw in George that, indeed, God is rich!

In mission, he was a hard worker and innovator. He especially inspired the explosion of the pioneering Kilusang Ilaw (Light Movement) mission.  In 1968, George challenged his confreres to give a mission in the entire fourth district of Manila and in the process he was able to secure the approval of the archbishop and the support of the parish priests. The mission was conducted simultaneously in the parishes of Paco, Pandacan, Peñafrancia, San Andres, Sta. Ana and Pius X. The mission was called Kilusang Ilaw and ran from 4 January to 29 March 1969.

Apart from being a missionary, he was famous for being a water diviner.  He can pinpoint streams of water underground in lands that were bone-dry using nothing but a Y- or an L-shaped twig. Sometimes he would just use a rod or a pendulum.  Those sceptical of his ability to divine water were silenced when a well drilled in the spot indicated by him provided a copious flow.  His reputation at this mystical craft had apparently spread far and wide that even the Philippines’ biggest landowning families were sending for him to search for water in their vast haciendas and farmlands.  It was far cheaper to get him than consign the job to a group of earth-digging geologists from the state university.

George’s commitment to the confessional was exceptional. Even in advanced old age he devoted many hours each week to this ministry.  One penitent who had known him for years had this to say after sharing with him last year a very personal problem.  “As I looked into George’s tear-filled eyes and listened to his soft, trembling voice, I realized more clearly than I ever did before, that I was truly in the presence of a holy man, hallowed by living, loving, and compassionately walking with the poor and the suffering. “[2]

In 1990, after serving in various capacities at the Redemptorist community in Baclaran, Manila, he was assigned to the community in Legazpi City, and never really left the place, except for a few periods. He was a popular confessor and spiritual director for many of Legazpi’s faithful – clergy, religious and laity alike. He had long suffered the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease before finally succumbing to severe pneumonia.

Fr. Tither was deeply committed to his religious community.  In his final illness, when it was realized that he had only a short time still to live, he was brought back from hospital so that he could end his life among his brethren. As one who was present put it, “After he was wheeled into the living room of the community, George’s face lit up immediately.  He had come home.”[3]  On January 31, 2008 Father David “George” Tither, passed on to eternal life at the age of 87.

His death left many people grateful and inspired to seek the richness of God through the goodness and utmost holiness in their own lives. In 2015, the Chapter the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila approved the initial process of investigating the worthiness of his life for canonization purposes.

Joey Echano, CSsR

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

 


 

[1] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[2] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[3] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

Bro. Tony Bernardo, CSsR: Friend of Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

 bro-tony-bernardo

Most Redemptorists, like all ordinary people, have experienced pains and wounds in their lives. These painful and wounded experiences ironically became a resource for ministering to others. A minister is compelled to heal others because the minister himself/herself is “wounded”.  An example of this is the story of Bro. Tony Bernardo C.SS.R.

Brother Tony was born in Velasquez, Tondo and was the youngest of eight children. He graduated from Feati University as a Radio Operator. He tried to become a Brother with the Blessed Sacrament Order but had to leave in 1968 due to bad health. The same happened with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the following year. He joined the Redemptorists in 1972 and once again had difficulties in Formation due to his arthritis and diabetes. His Formation took him to Legaspi, Lipa and Antipolo and in 1975 he entered the Novitiate in Lipa. He was professed temporarily on May 15th 1977 and took Final Vows in 1981.

He was assigned to the Community in Antipolo to care for the needs of the professed students and later went with them when they transferred to 14th Street, New Manila. In 1987 he was given a chance to join the Mission team in Legaspi. He was always successful with the simple people and had a way of reaching their hearts and converting them.

In 1989 he was transferred to Baclaran and joined Alcoholics Anonymous in Makati. This was a turning point in his life. It began with his own need but it was here that he found his true vocation in life. He soon saw the need for a center for simple people who could not feel at home with the Regular AA meetings in Makati and the Army and Navy Club and it was not long until he had permission to hold his own meetings in one of the Consultation rooms in Baclaran. He also had a poster on the front door declaring himself available for those with drinking problems.

It was soon clear that his gift with simple people worked even with Drug Addicts. He studied Clinical Pastoral Education in 1991 and soon after became a regular counselor in Pasay City Jail especially with the addicts. His career as a counselor would not be a long one as God called him home on July 11th 1992 when he died of a massive heart attack. He was just 52 years of age.

John Maguire, CSsR.

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

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

joe_english

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

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

A Shrine Born Out of a Love Story

~22~22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history!

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

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

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

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

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

newly constructed church

 

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

Redemptorists: Stewards of the Icon at Baclaran

redemptorist brought the icon to the Philippines

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

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

Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marian Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10

150th Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

The Challenge of the Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

Renewal of the mandate

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

[2] Constitutions, no. 10

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Campos, 239.

[9] Campos, 240.

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

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

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