St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: 2nd Patroness of the Shrine

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Today, Catholics around the world honor the life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is popularly known as “The Little Flower of Jesus”, or simply “The Little Flower.” Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life. Together with Saint Francis of Assisi, she is one of the most popular saints in the history of the church. Since her death, millions have been inspired by her ‘little way’ of loving God and neighbor.

Pope Pius XI, in 1927, declared St. Therese of Lisieux the Patroness of the missions. Despite never leaving the cloister, she was given this title alongside her co-patron the great St. Francis Xavier who traveled to many lands and converted much of Asia. Saint Thérèse was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997 – 100 years after her death at the age of 24.

Did you know that the Baclaran Church was originally dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus. But as divine providence intervened, Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help, would become the patron of the shrine.

How did St. Thérèse get relegated from primary patroness to secondary patroness of the shrine?

The original intention to dedicate Baclaran church to St. Thérése was engraved in the corner stone of the Monastery on Sept. 13th, 1931 at the beginning of its construction:

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 the first Baclaran church was built, 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 (OMPH) ought to occupy the high altar. This would conflict with the intention of the pioneer Redemptorists, particularly Fr. Dennis Grogan, the main builder of the church, to have the chapel in honor of St. Thérèse.

Thus, a drama unfolded: Who would get the high altar, St. Thérèse or OMPH? Fr. Grogan unfolds this drama on an entry in the Chronicles dated Feb 1, 1932:

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.

As history unfolds, the Redemptorists transferred St. Thérèse’s statue to the grounds in front of the convent. This seems a more fitting place as more people have been able to touch her. This also serves as a providential reminder that the saint once had a brief reign in the shrine, before it was finally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

 

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The First Intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines

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First Redemptorist Community at Opon, 1907

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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[1] Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929 (Cebu: San Carlos Publications), 19.

[2] 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.

[3] Baily, Small Net in a Big Sea, 20.

Panagpo: The Journey of the Icon from Crete to Baclaran

The longest mural in a church in the Philippines is found in the Baclaran shrine. The mural is titled Panagpo. It is about the journey of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help from the island of Crete to Baclaran, Philippines. This mural was created in celebration of the 150th Jubilee of the Icon in 2016. This is located at the back of Candle Chapel at Baclaran shrine.

Memorable Palm Sunday

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, which commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. During Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners carry palms in a ritual procession into the church. Many parishes have integrated various creative elements and contextualizations into this procession. Baclaran shrine is no exception. One memorable, albeit hilarious, incident of this kind of “creative contextualization” happened during the Palm Sunday celebrations in the shrine in 1974. This is narrated to us by the late Fr. John Maguire, CSsR. 

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On a Palm Sunday in 1974, April 7th a large crowd witnessed an event that left them spellbound and with a real feeling of what Palm Sunday was all about.

The actors in the event were a zealous and creative priest, a man who made his living selling “fireworks” and a white horse. The priest was Fr. Vincent Warren who was then the Prefect of the Baclaran Church. He was a man of great ideas and lots of creativity. He had planned for many weeks for the Holy Week ceremonies and had decided that he should try to imitate the real events of the first Palm Sunday.

It was not easy to find a colt, (a young horse) or a young donkey but someone told him that there was a big white horse in Tondo which had featured in many movies, was unbelievably tame, and could be depended on to remain calm in any type of situation.

The man selling “fireworks” was just an ordinary vendor of “fireworks” who, for a reasonable fee, would guarantee to produce the right effect at the right time.

And so on the 7th April 1974, Palm Sunday, they all came together for the big event. The horse arrived early and showed all the qualities for which it was renowned. It was completely unfazed by the crowds of people and even let little children touch it. It was slightly surprised when the tall six-foot priest appeared in a huge red Cope (liturgical cape) wearing a crown like a king, however, it remembered its breeding and pretended not to notice.

The priest tried to mount the horse and for a while the horse resisted but eventually it agreed and at last Fr.Warren was seated in glory on the white horse in cape and crown ready to head for Jerusalem (or at least the church door). Everybody was thrilled and full of excitement.

The “fireworks” vendor remembered that he was supposed to let off the fireworks at the appropriate time. This was surely the appropriate time. He got a Kuwitis (sky rocket) and lit it. Unfortunately, he was situated about two meters behind the horse. Swoo-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh boom!!!!!

The horse rose on his back legs and started to urinate. The priest “gracefully” slid down the horses back over his tail and was caught by a few kind people standing by. Everybody laughed until their ribs hurt.

Sometime later the priest and the horse were seen heading for the church door side by side. Everyone said that it was the most memorable Palm Sunday since the first.

John Maguire, CSsR

Finding the Icon

This is the second part of the story when the Redemptorist missionaries returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna during World War II. This story is published to commemorate today’s “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day).

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When the Baclaran Community were interned during the Japanese occupation, most of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. One thing, however, was still missing, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It had been left with a family living near La Salle, and when the Japanese raided their house, a number of things had been stolen and the rest, including the house, were burned. Where was the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Was it destroyed in the fire? Had the Japanese taken it?

We read in the Chronicles on April 30th 1945:

“A few days before April 30th, 1945 Bro. Athenasius, the Superior of La Salle came to see us. He said that he had been informed that some looted property had been recovered by the U.S. Army and was stored in the old Bilibid Prison. They asked him to come and identify any La Salle property that might be there. While there he noticed a icon which he thought he had seen in our Church and came to tell us. Fr Cosgrave , Rector of Baclaran, sent Fr. Gyger and Bro. Blacid to look at the picture. We (Bro. Placid is the writer) went with Fr. Scheuth a Major in the Engineering corps, who was one of our great helpers, just after we returned to Baclaran. We went in his jeep and on arrival at Bilibid, saw the Major in charge. He looked up his list and said there was no record of such a picture. Fr. Scheuth asked if we might go inside. He would not give his permission and accused us of doubting his word.

Fr Scheuth whispered that there were other ways of getting inside. We went around to a side gate where a Sargent appeared, We told him our story and he unlocked the gate and let us in.

Bro Placid wandered into a bodega and soon reappeared saying the icon was in there. The Sargent immediately handed it over. We asked if we had to sign any receipt but he told us to say nothing about it, as we had been told officially that the icon was not there. We put it in the back of the jeep and brought it home. Fr Scheuth asked us to have a special ceremony to celebrate the homecoming. In those days there was hardly anyone living in Baclaran, but a day was set and Fr. Scheuth was invited to say Mass in the chapel. With this modest celebration Our Lady was reestablished in the Chapel.”

The Chapel has since become the Shrine and the Icon is still above the High Altar.

John Maguire, CSsR

Last House Standing

Today, “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day) we commemorate the heroism of our Filipino fighters who brought freedom and democracy in the Philippines during World War II. In commemoration of this day, we publish a story of the Redemptorist missionaries who returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna.

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It was 1945, and the Japanese had withdrawn from the Philippines and were about to accept that they had lost the war. The Redemptorists had been released from internment in Los Baños in February and had slowly worked their way back to Baclaran.

On their return to Baclaran, they noticed that one house was standing alone in the midst of many blocks of wreckage in what is now the City of Pasay. What was so special about this house?

This is recorded in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community, 30th April, 1945:

We returned to Baclaran to day and our first meal was in the Sacristy of the Church. Much of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. The benches, the altars and their attachments except for a few small pieces. All of these had been placed in the house of a woman named Mrs. Chrisologo, who had agreed to have them put there even though this meant that she could no longer rent this section of the house.  This would have been a considerable financial loss to her at a time when life was very hard for anyone without a source of income. This house remained intact while those around were mostly destroyed.

Why was this the only house standing in the midst of the wreckage? Was the owner a friend of the Japanese? Surely not, for if this was so, the Americans would have certainly destroyed the house when they drove the Japanese out from Manila.

The final sentence of the chronicles’ paragraph says it all.

John Maguire, CSsR

The Redemptorists as Regular Confessor of the President

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These days, the relationship between President Duterte and the Catholic church is at an all-time low.  Same is true between the Redemptorists and the President. This has not always been the case, however. Believe it or not, there was a time when the Redemptorist had a very good relationship with the President. This was during the term of President Ramon Magsaysay–popularly called the “Man of the Masses” and “People’s President”.

The late Fr. John Maguire reminisce these good old days:

On January 20th, 1954, Fr. Rector went to Malacañan to conduct the Novena for President Magsaysay’s family and household. A few days later, we read on the Jan 23, 1954 entry of the Baclaran chronicles about the request from Malacañan:

“The Redemptorists were asked by the Head Chaplain to be special confessors to the President’s family and household. The request was from Mrs. Magsaysay. The reply was; “We will go each Saturday afternoon if requested.”

The President used to send his car once a month to Baclaran to fetch one of the Redemptorist Fathers. The Father was then requested to hear the Confession of the first family including the staff of Malacañang. He was then treated to a presumably ‘presidential’ meal, before being returned home.

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Ramon Magsaysay on the cover of Time Magazine, November, 1951

When I first came to the Philippines there was a ‘Prayer for Peace’ recited in the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday during the Benediction. This was only removed when the Novena was revised in 1973 as it was felt that this was already included in the prayers of petition in the Revised Version of the Novena. This prayer had been included in the Novena at the request of President Magsaysay during his term of office.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

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

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)