Street Kids Given Opportunity to Choose their own Birthday

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Last September 8, we celebrated the birthday of Mary in the shrine. In that blog, I mentioned that despite the yearly celebration of Mary in Catholic churches around the world, Mary probably never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime.  The reason being that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration. Moreover, there was no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.

But how about not knowing your own birthday. Do you know that there are people who even do not know their own birthday?

In the Sarnelli Center, the shrine’s center for street children, it is not uncommon to encounter kids whom we pluck out from the streets who did not even know their own birthday.  Being thrown out of their homes voluntarily or involuntarily at a tender age when others are still enjoying their lives as toddlers, they did not know the basic facts about their own lives let alone knowing the day of their birth.

Now, it has always been a tradition in the center to have a monthly celebration for all birthday kids celebrants. Just like a typical children’s birthday party, there is a birthday cake, an ice cream and spaghetti. There are balloons and all the kids sing a hearty happy birthday before they dive into the food.

For those street kids who did not know their birthday, they were given the opportunity to choose a date for their birthday. Some chose Christmas day, other chose September 8, birthday of Mother Mary or any other day they may like. This, I guess, is the advantage of not knowing your birthday; you can choose whatever day you like as your birthday.

Despite not knowing their birthday, these kids were given the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays, only God knows, when it is. In this way, they experience the same joy of celebrating their birthday and having the same sense of dignity like any other normal kid.

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For more information about Sarnelli Center for Street Children please visit our website.  If you want to volunteer at  Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our volunteers’ page. If you want to donate to Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our donate page.

Joey Echano, CSsR

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Memory is the Gratitude of the Heart

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When you work, as we do, in the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help you receive very little feedback as to whether what you do is helping people or not. We know that thousands upon thousands of people come each week to the shrine and we try to satisfy their needs. We read the letters of thanksgiving from devotees who pray hard and get what they are asking for. But this is the result of the prayers of the people and the response of Our Blessed Mother and her Divine Son. So it is very encouraging when on rare occasions we are told by someone that what we did for them really helped them.

One day, when I was passing through the Candle Chapel, I was stopped by a young woman who was lighting a candle. She said “Father I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time now. Six years ago when I was pregnant and my “boyfriend” disappeared, I didn’t know what to do. But I met you and you convinced me to have the baby. Now I want you to meet him. He is six years old, today” Then she called and a little boy came running. She said “Isn’t he wonderful. Will you give him your blessing?” I blessed the little boy, and agreed that he was truly wonderful. They both went away very happy and so was I, even though I have no idea until now, whether I was the person who gave the good advice or not.

Still, even if it was not me, it is good to know that some people do follow our advice, whatever the cost to them in the beginning, and take the trouble to even return to say thanks.

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)

Baptism at the Plane

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The community in the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Baclaran, often say, “You can never predict what will happen tomorrow.” They are usually talking about the number of people who will attend the Shrine, or the type of people or what people will be requesting of the priest. This case however is unique even for Baclaran.

We read in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community on February 11, 1952:

Around midnight last night, a call came from the Pan American Airways office at Nicholl’s Field asking for a priest to be on hand when a KLM Plane would arrive.

What was happening? I am sure the Community expected a crash landing or something worse to be about to take place. Who would go? What did he need to take with him? Eventually the Minister was chosen to go (probably because he was a driver and it was close to midnight with not much transport available).

The Chronicles continue:

The plane arrives and Fr. Minister went over and found that a baby had been born on the plane and the family were requesting Baptism. The family was on it’s way to Australia from Lebanon. The Dutch crew of the plane were all Catholics and very cooperative.

I wonder if the same thing happened today. What would be the reaction of the family? The crew? The Airline? The priest? A Lebanese Family could still be requesting an early Baptism. However, I doubt if there is any Airline who would consider a Baptism as a priority, or put themselves out to arrange one while the plane was at a temporary landing place. The crew would probably be ready to help with the delivery of the baby but a Dutch crew today would be most unlikely to think of Baptism. The Churches in Holland are all empty. As for the priest, I can’t imagine any priest today rushing to the airport at midnight. He would probably ask many questions first, like “Is the baby in danger of death?” “Why can’t they wait till they get to Australia?” “Are the parents married in the church?”

The times, they are a changin’.

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)

Baclaran as Summer Getaway

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On April 7th 1939 of the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community we read:

“Today was a terribly hot day, this afternoon the Archbishop came to enjoy the cool breeze from the bay.”

Can you believe that Baclaran was once a refuge from the heat of Manila?  When the Redemptorists first gave up Malate Parish and began their new Mission house in Baclaran, the Columbans, who took over Malate often walked around the bay to visit the Redemptorists and swim in the clear waters of Baclaran.

In the 60s and early 70s Redemptorists from Iloilo who were teaching in the Juvenate in Iloilo often spent part of their summer break in Baclaran and sat each afternoon on the top verandah of the convento enjoying the cool breeze and watching the sun set. Bro. Charles O’ Brien who lived for many years in Baclaran could be seen at two o’clock in the afternoon in his shorts having a siesta on the rocks just across the Boulevard from the Monastery. He would then dive into the crystal clear water for a swim before returning to the Convento, for merienda and the afternoon’s work.

In 1968 when a strong typhoon swept through Manila it took hours to clear the shells from the second story verandah of the Convento. The shells were picked up from the beach by the breeze of the typhoon and dumped on the second floor. Large “bankas” used to come across from Bataan on calm Wednesdays to bring the people to the Novena and wait on the other side of the Boulevard, just opposite the front gate, to take the people home again.

If you are a teenager or under twenty five years of age you may find these things hard to believe, but all these things happened, during the life of your parents and grandparents. Now it may be difficult to live without an air conditioner in Baclaran. You may think of the reclamation area as a place for fast food or the Mall of Asia as a necessity of life, but once they were under the sea and Baclaran was a place to go to find the cool breezes and buy cheap seafood.

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)

When There were No Vendors

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The first thing that people notice when they come to Baclaran is unfortunately the complete chaos in the streets surrounding the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. There are vendors anywhere and everywhere, the cars have to wait until the vendors are prepared to let them past and the pedestrians have to elbow their way through the crowds of vendors if they wish to get to the Shrine. People often say, Why don’t the police do something about it? Why doesn’t the barangay do something about it? What is the City doing about it?

Redemptorist Road is a National Road and once had four lanes of traffic and big sidewalks. All these was about to change as soon as the novena began in 1948.  We can find a clue of this in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community. We read on September 28th 1949:

“During the past week a “subdivision” of Quiapo Market has been growing in front of our gate. Someone has counted more than 30 stalls. Many people have expressed disgust at this nuisance – but nothing much can be done about it. The police seem to be getting a “rake off” (as two or three have admitted) and so are not anxious to act.”

This was just one year and three months after the beginning of the Novena and there were only 30 vendors. Now the vendors are beyond count. And there is total chaos every day. Sometimes the MMDA clears the road for a day but the vendors comes back the following day. Many have been killed because of this cat and mouse drill.

Surely we can not go back to eden. But we dream of the day when there will be order and harmony on the streets surrounding the shrine so that the devotees can walk or drive in and out of the shrine smoothly and peacefully.

(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)