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.
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 …” 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.”
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.
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.”
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: 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: 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.
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.” Thus, fields evangelized by the Redemptorists are also fields evangelized by the virgin of Perpetual Help.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
 The Apostolic Life of the Redemptorists, Constitutions & Statutes, Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Rome 2002, no. 1.
 Constitutions, no. 10
 Maguire, To Give Missions to the Filipino people, 12.
 Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 105.
 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/.
 Redemptorist and Mary, http://www.cssr.org.au/about_us/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=101
 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.
 Campos, 239.
 Campos, 240.
 Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21.
 Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21-22.
 Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”22.