Ghost in the Shrine?

Every night the security guard goes around the Shrine at least every hour to check if everything is secure and that there are no unauthorized people around the back of the Sanctuary, in the Sacristy or other places not easily visible from the church proper. Recently the roving guard was just about to do the regular rounds when the guard stationed in the Candle Chapel said “There is no need to go to the sanctuary I saw a priest there a short time back”.

It was one o’clock in the morning. The other guard said, “Let’s both go it may not be a priest but someone trying to create mischief”. They both went to the side of the sanctuary and saw a figure in white like a priest in a sutana sitting in the sound cage at the amplifier. They walked past but then they remembered that the keys to the sound cage had been handed in to the Guards when the sacristan went home around 7.P.M.

How had this person got into the cage? They returned but whoever it was had gone.

Now they became suspicious and started to look around the area to see if the person was hiding somewhere. They now felt that surely it must be a thief. They could find no one but one of the guards said “Perhaps he went down into the crypt to hide” so they opened the light in the crypt and went down. There was nobody there but they saw a photograph sitting on one of the tombs, the photo of the person who had been sitting at the amplifier. On the tombstone was the inscription Brother Anthony ‘Tony’ Bernardo.

Who or what was it? Were the guards dreaming? Hardly, after all there were two of them.

Was the photo sitting on the correct tombstone? It was I checked it myself. Was the report correct? There have been a number of versions of how this happened but they all contain the same basic facts; person in white, sitting at amplifier, person disappeared, person’s photo was seen on top of the tombstone of Br. Tony.

What do you think?

John Maguire, CSsR

St. John Paul II: First and Only Pope who visited Baclaran

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Today, the Catholic church worldwide celebrates the feast of St. John Paul II.

St. John Paul II when he was pope visited the Baclaran shrine on February 17, 1981. But before he became a pope, St. John Paul II visited the shrine on February 1973. It was a brief stopover, when he was still Kraków Archbishop Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyla, on his way to Australia to attend the International Eucharistic congress. Although, it was an unofficial one, he was able to celebrate the Eucharist with thousands of devotees in attendance even if it was already late in the evening. The affection of the thousands of devotees to OMPH caught his admiration and created a lasting impression upon him. He mentioned this on his visit to the shrine as Pope. 

I bless the providence of God that has brought me back to Manila, back to this Sanctuary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where I once celebrated Mass. I bless the providence of God that has brought me to you, and you to me.

When he became Pope and went to the Philippines on a pastoral visit, Baclaran shrine was his first stop straight from the airport.  His visit to the shrine was held to address the women religious of the Philippines.

Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community describing that great event:.

Feb 17th, 1981. The great day had come at last. The Lipa Carmelites had arrived the night before and asked permission to stay in the church all night to make sure that they got a good position. The Redemptoristines slept in the house of Mrs. Flor Duran in Pasay and came here before 5.a.m.only to find the church packed with more than four thousand nuns. Our collegians acted as ushers. Since it was an address for Women Religious they were the only ones allowed into the Church. The famous Mother Teresa arrived with a group of about 80 of her sisters. They all had tickets except her. One of the ushers stopped her and when one of her sisters said “But that is Mother Teresa”. The usher replied “Who is Mother Teresa? No one gets in without a ticket”.  (She did get in eventually). The Pope arrived about 9.00 a.m. He entered through the front gate in a beautifully decorated motor float and passed up our front drive, greeting and blessing the people as he came. The vice Provincial read a short address of welcome. Before the Pope’s address he referred to his former visit to Baclaran and his Mass at the high altar. At the end he read a beautiful prayer to the Mother of Perpetual Help, consecrating to her and placing under Her mantle his apostolic tour of the Far East. He then presented the Vice Provincial with a symbolic Candle that came as a gift from St. Mary Major’s in Rome.

The Pope blessed all the Sisters, especially the sick ones who were in the front. It was reported later, though it could not be confirmed by us, that one wheel chair case was actually cured by the Pope’s blessing. The Pope then went up the spiral staircase and passed along the gallery where the Redemptorist confreres and their friends were. The Pope shook hands with each one and when he came to an aspirant with a crutch (now Fr. Caloy Ronquillo) he embraced him. He paused at the front of the Convento on the azotea to address and bless the immense crowd in the parking area and the streets beyond.

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Then he insisted on going to the refectory where he had been entertained eight years before. He even remembered where he had sat. He sat down again and took some refreshments and chatted.

From the refectory he went to the float through the front door. The exit route was the same as the entrance. On the way he stooped down twice to take a small child in his arms to the great delight of the crowd. The Cardinal Secretary of State was found strolling happily around in the garden near the library. He had somehow missed his car and didn’t know that the Pope had already gone. The Community were about to drive him to the Cathedral when Msg. Woods arrived and rescued him.

On the façade of the shrine there is a plaque commemorating the two visits of the saint quoting the saint’s prayer to OMPH on his visit of the shrine in 1981:

Be ready to intercede with every form of help for each human heart and all the peoples … especially for those who have heavy ordeals in life due to suffering, poverty and every form of afflictions… Mother of Perpetual Help, accept this humble offering and place it in the Heart of Your Son.

The Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Shrine will be Removed from the Altar

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The Baclaran Church has been a center of Marian devotion in the last 70 years with thousands of miracles attributed to our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Icon placed high above the altar of the church is the focus of this devotion and is considered miraculous.

On September 5, 2019, the Icon will be temporary removed from the altar. This is only the third time to happen since. The first time it was removed was during the World War II for safekeeping. The second was in 1992 when the Icon underwent restoration. Now, 27 years later, it will be taken down to give way for the Altar renovation.

It will be officially removed on September 5, 2019, Thursday, after the 9:30 AM Mass. However, on September 7, 2019, Saturday, it will be displayed for public veneration and vigil after the 5:45 PM Mass until midnight. This is timely as we celebrate the birthday of Mary on September 8. Likewise, on September 10, Tuesday, after the 9:30 AM Mass until midnight. Otherwise, the Icon will be secured by the Redemptorists until the altar is ready for her return.

This is a very significant religious event for us, devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In this very rare occasion, we will have a life time chance to have a face to face encounter with the Icon. May this experience helps us to reflect and be moved by our God who always goes down from heaven to meet us in the rough grounds of daily living.

Donation for Victims of Typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon

The Baclaran shrine is appealing for your help to victims of typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon.

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You can donate in person by bringing your donation to our shrine’s front office.  Please always ask for an official receipt.

Or you can deposit on our bank account listed below:

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After you made a donation through our bank account please email us at baclaranrector@yahoo.com the details of your donation: Name, Email, Home Address, and Amount Donated.  We can send you the official receipt by email or you can pick it up at our front office. Or you can go to our website to  send your donation through our bank account.

 

A Shrine of Contemplation

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[H]er gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze,
the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother;
like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother;
the same gaze with which she looks at us.
– Jorge Mario Bergoglio[1]

Many perceive the shrine as a busy shrine with people constantly coming and going, day and night. The shrine, however, can also become a quiet place and evoke an aura of stillness.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the traffic, the noise and pollution of Manila, Baclaran is a place that offers silence, a time to rejuvenate the soul, a venue to unleash the pains and stress of people who daily confront the struggles in life. The shrine is an oasis of prayer in the city as Jo-Me De la Peña Mamić writes, “I’m so glad I had a chance to visit the miraculous church of Baclaran. It is a great feeling and even if it’s crowded I felt peace and silence in my heart.”

To think that the shrine only comes alive on Wednesday, Sundays and special liturgical seasons, underestimate the number of people who come to the shrine on ordinary days. On ordinary days, there is no letup of people entering the shrine most often to pray silently in front of the icon and the tabernacle. While Wednesday is replete with collective prayer such as novena, silent and private prayer from intermittent devotees coming in and out of the shrine characterizes ordinary days.  Being a shrine and not a parish ensured that the shrine is quiet and empty most of the time on days except Wednesday and Sunday. This has contributed to the nurturing of a prayerful atmosphere.

Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula interviewed Emily, a devotee, who explained that while she goes to the shrine every Wednesday, she would also come during “less busy” days like Tuesday or Thursday as well because she appreciated the solitude. She explains, “When you ask for something, it is better if you are just alone when talking to her [Virgin Mary]. I think that God can hear my prayers better if I pray by myself,” she claimed. Lastly, she recounted that there were times when she did not finish the novena prayers. At some point, she would stop participating and would pray in her own words. “I prefer that because I can really talk to her.”[2]

Many devotees find the solemn and sacred environment of the shrine uplifting to the spirits. A devotee, Carmen Torres Gutierrez comments on March 25, 2018,

After I attend mass at Baclaran, I would just sit at the edge of one of the pews of the church. Nothing special whatsoever… just so all my worries will disappear, then before I leave, I take a deep breath. I’m fine once again.[3]

Jomar Gabayeron also commented, “A very solemn and sacred church. Has a big space in my heart and plays a big role in my life.”[4] Likewise, Macky Cona commented, “It is a very solemn church which motivates us to pray harder!!!”[5]

Many times, we have been asked: Where is the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the shrine? I always reply that there is no chapel of the Blessed Sacrament because any chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, no matter how big it is, could never fit the constant influx of devotees that come to the shrine outside of the novena and mass hours.  No chapel of the Blessed Sacrament could adequately accommodate the sheer number of people who come and pray at the shrine. Thus, we always reply that the whole shrine is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Gazing

As the icon is positioned at the top of the tabernacle of the shrine, the experience of most devotees about the icon is that OMPH is gazing at them. This is particularly shared by Jhuzel Alarcon in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on August 1, 2015:

During those times when I had problems, it is you who I always come to. As I pray before you, you see everything that happened in my life, all the right and wrong things I have done. For the wrong things I have done I implored you to ask for mercy to the Lord on my behalf. I also ask for your help to guide me in straightening my life. You really straightened me because despite all the wrongs things I have done I graduated from college and was able to take the Board Exam … Thank you very much for your help and for interceding for me to our God. I offer my success to you Mother who have been with me in all the events of my life till now.

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At the same time, devotees gazed at the icon, pouring their hearts out. Charmaine writing in May 27, 2015 expressed her profound experience of gazing at the icon of OMPH

It’s been one year since I first gazed on your picture and prayed. In all of my life, that was the only time that I prayed as if there was no more tomorrow. I remembered how my tears flowed while looking at your picture. Now I give you thanks, a never ending gratitude for all the petitions that you granted and will grant in the future. Thank you very much.

For the past eighty-five years, the icon of OMPH enshrined high above the altar, has gazed upon the millions of devotees who visited and prayed at the shrine 24/7. Many devotees found comfort under the loving gaze of OMPH. As Mary gazed at the devotees she points them to Jesus as the path of their true salvation and peace. Mary’s gazing upon the devotees is ultimately to direct them to Jesus. As St. John Paul II states,

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side.[6]

Similarly, Pope Francis when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio reflecting on Mary’s gaze connected it with God’s gaze:

Her gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze, the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother; like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother; the same gaze with which she looks at us.

The then-Cardinal further describes the impact of this kind of gaze upon us:

The Virgin’s gaze helps us look at each other in a different way. We learn to be more human, because the Mother looks at us. To have that gaze that seeks to save, accompany and protect. We learn to see ourselves in her motherly gaze.[7]

While OMPH’s gaze is directed at the devotees and the world she points to Jesus whom she holds firmly with her left arm. By contemplating at the icon, devotees learn to ponder the meaning of discipleship in Jesus. This reflects what the CCC said about contemplation:

Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.[8]

Contemplation

Despite the popularity of the novena, I see more and more devotees contemplating before the icon. Contemplation is the most effective way of praying with the Icon. Mary calls her devotees to enter into contemplative prayer as they gaze upon her. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence.

Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. It is the same response that Mary made when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the mother of God, “Let it be done according to your will.” Contemplating the icon of Mary helps devotees to see what God desires of them—what His will is.

This is the experience of many devotees who contemplate before the icon for hours on ordinary days. The devotees reflect the attitude of which the CCC describes of the faithful who enters into contemplative prayer:

Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more. But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.[9]

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The rich eastern theology of the icon further gives insights about the significance of contemplation.  In Eastern theology of the icon, before the icon, the viewer or gazer is invited to enter into the mystery or sacrament of the icon.   The object of contemplation is the mystery, the world of the icon, the prototype not the object itself. We focus not on what is seen in the icon, but rather on what is seen through it–the love of God expressed through God’s creatures. Thus, contemplation affords more the experience of praying with the icon rather than just praying to icon.  Icons are not the final object of our prayer but God who invites us to enter into God’s love and participate in God’s love through our love for fellow brothers and sisters and the whole of creation.

In a profound way, contemplating the icon is an event–the encounter between our life on earth and God’s life in heaven. Icon is more than an object of veneration; it is a window to eternity. Icons stand in-between our life here on earth and the life of the saints in heaven. Mary gazes on our life here on earth while we gaze on the life of Mary and the saints in heaven. Thus the icon and Mary helps to awaken an aesthetic, contemplative and doxological attitude—a sense of gratitude, awe and wonder—in the devotees’ life and faith.

Mary as model of contemplation

As devotees enter more and more into the contemplative spirit, they see Mary as a model of contemplation. This is what St. John Paul II underscored in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).[10]

The mouth, ears, and nose of Mary in the icon of OMPH symbolize the contemplative attitude of Mary. We see the mouth and the ears of Mary particularly small. The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food that the world gives. Moreover, her mouth is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God. The ears of Mary are not given much attention and it is almost hidden under her veil. This implies that it is no longer fascinated with the sounds of the world but only to the word and command of God. Her nose is long and slender which evokes honor. It is no longer dependent on the aroma of the world but only to Christ and to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

An invitation to contemplate one’s own life

Mary’s gaze upon the devotees is sorrowful because Mary sees our misery here on earth. Mary feels the pain and suffering that we undergo daily. Her gaze, therefore, is a gaze of mercy and compassion.

Moreover, Mary’s gaze enables the devotees to see the mystery of their own life and of life itself. Mary’s enigmatic gaze pierce into the soul of devotees that they could not escape plunging into their conscience and discovering its beauty and lowliness.  Mary’s gaze is an invitation to plunge into God’s Mystery, through the mystery of their own lives. This is the experience of Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer:

When I was working in Makati, Baclaran Church has become a normal sight to me. The buses from Cavite will normally stop near the Baclaran while the jeepneys bound to Ayala can be found near the site. Since I usually arrive early, for some reason, I decided to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes praying in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As time passes by, I realized that my prayers are becoming deeper that I’m starting to find peacefulness every time I kneel down and pray. I even cry and I do not even bother if anyone sees me weeping. It was a sudden change of faith and I started to realize how blessed I am by appreciating those simple things that came to my life unexpectedly.[11]

Milton Coyne’s contemplative experience shows that in contemplating God it is God finding us rather than us finding God. It is not so much how we see God and Mary in the icon but we experience more how God and Mary see our lives. As Polish Redemptorist Maryk Kotinski said,

The icon is first and foremost about God who constantly looks for us. Christianity is, above all, an intervention of God.  It is not so much human’s search for God as a descent of God’s life to the human level. It is God who reveals himself, who manifests himself.[12]

An invitation to contemplate the world

Gazing at the icon also invites the devotees to gaze at the world like Mary.  Contemplating the icon help the devotees to form within themselves the mindset of Mary.

Through contemplation of the sacred image the viewer-believer should raise himself above the flawed world that surrounds him to the very real world of the Divinity, thus producing a bond between the viewer and the image that is not only aesthetical but also mystical.[13]

The icon enshrined in the retable is a silent witness to the many changes in the world during these eighty five years. Many of the devotees who come to the shrine sought guidance and strength in navigating these constantly changing issues. They brought the many concerns and issues that affect their lives in their families, communities, the nation and the world. In the midst of the sweeping changes and the burning issues in the nation and the world, the icon has become an anchor of hope and transformation for the devotees.

Through the Icon of OMPH devotees learned to contemplate the world through the gaze of Mary. In seeking directions for the contemporary challenges, the icon gives the devotees a framework at how to see and navigate the world. The icon offers the devotees a contemplative perspective of life and of the world

An invitation to contemplate Christ

Mary’s gaze is not only a gaze of sorrow and mercy but a gaze of hodegetria; a gaze which gives us a wider vision, a renewed vision of our lives through the world of Jesus. It is a gaze to see their whole life’s involvement in the work of Redemption of Christ.

Mary’s gaze is directed towards contemplation of Christ. Jesus in the icon is looking not at Mary but at the cross, even beyond the cross outside of the icon. The eyes of Jesus are looking at God the Father with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come. Mary invites us to learn from her son Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. The path of Jesus is the cross that will lead us to new life and victory.

Ultimately, the gaze of Mary is a call to mission. Contemplating the icon of OMPH is not just contemplation for contemplation’s sake. Mary’s gaze is a call to become a disciple of Jesus. Having become aware of ourselves and the world in the perspective of Mary and following the path of Jesus, contemplation essentially leads to the mission of Jesus. Contemplation is geared towards participation in the mission of God within ourselves and in the world.

Conclusion

Baclaran is not just a shrine of devotion but also a shrine of contemplation. The atmosphere of the shrine is an invitation for the devotees not just to pray the novena but to enter into a deeper form of prayer–contemplation. Devotion to Mary and prayer to God is not only through words but also silence.

The greatest challenge that devotees received in experiencing the shrine as a shrine of contemplation is how to transform their devotion from petitionary form of devotion to participation in Mary’s life. They need to experience Mary as a model of contemplation—a life of continuous surrender and letting the mystery of God’s mission and plan enter their lives.

(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)


 

[1]Pope Francis then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Homily of October 10, 1999 in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does,” Scala News, May 8, 2018. Accessed at https://www.cssr.news/2018/05/to-see-as-our-mother-of-perpetual-help-does/

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 215.

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[5] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[6] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #11.

[7] Cardinal George Bergoglio, “Homily of October 10, 1999” (arzbaires.org). See also Homily of September 22, 2013 (vatican.va) in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does.”

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2715.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2712.

[10] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #10.

[11] Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer, “How My Faith Changed Me?” Accessed at http://bluedreamer27.com/how-my-faith-changed-me/

[12] Marek Kotynski, Meditations on the Icon of OMPH (Rome: Scala Publications, 2015),

[13] Maria Luisa de Villalobos, in Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., “Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety.”

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)

The Shrine as a School of Mary

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Marian shrines in particular
provide an authentic school of faith
based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[1]

During seminars on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we asked the participants: Who is the perpetual help? Immediately they would answer with great conviction, Mary, of course. But then we’ll repeat the question. This time, we’ll rephrase the question: Mary is the Mother of perpetual help, so who is the perpetual help? This time they would think for a while and stare at us intriguingly.

We use this question as a take-off point for a deeper study of the icon. Mary is our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary is the mother of the source of perpetual help which is her son Jesus. As in the icon, Mary is she who points to the way—Jesus Christ.

This question also becomes the starting point for the study on the life of Mary and the theology of Mary or Mariology. Mary is not just the mother of God but also the first disciple and missionary of Jesus.

Evangelization is one of the major mission of the shrine. Evangelization represents the biggest challenge of the shrine for the renewal of the devotion.  A major expression of this challenge is for the shrine to be a school of Mary.  As the document states, “Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[2]

Some of the programs of the shrine as school of Mary are catechesis, evangelization and proclamation. The shrine evangelized the devotees primarily through prophetic preaching—by connecting the Word of God and their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to their daily issues, struggles, concerns and aspirations. Prophetic preaching challenged the devotion by proclaiming the transformative power of the Word and Mary’s life in the personal lives of devotees. Genesis Toledo Lustre narrates such experience in October 31, 2017.

I was four months pregnant when I set foot at Baclaran Church not knowing why I went there. I was frustrated and depressed during those times. My original plan was to end up my life because of the unbearable pain caused by the predicament I was going through at that time.

I was seated at the side of the church and was thinking why I am in this place. And then I heard the words of the priest: “There is no test the Lord gives which we cannot carry.” Along these lines, I asked God if I am really strong enough for such a test. These thoughts kept echoing on my head.  Then suddenly, I was enlightened and asked any sign from God if I should fight for my husband or not. And God gave me his quick answer. On my way home God showed me the sign to continue fighting for my family.

From then on I often went to this church to pray or sometimes just to light candles and ask God’s help through Mama Mary. From that time on my problems gradually lessened. My situation slowly changed based on my wholehearted petition to God. Today, what I asked of God was fulfilled. There is so much change in my husband and things are fine for all of us. Most of all, we are together now in going to Baclaran Church to pray. I saw the sincerity in my husband’s eyes which made me happy and contented.

Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers. You did not disappoint me for my simple petition.[3]

Redemptorist_preaching

After the explosion of the novena and the influx of thousands of devotees in 1948, the focus of the Redemptorist was the leading of the novena and the administering of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation. Because of this, the evangelization’s orientation of the shrine at this time was more devotional —focusing on Mary’s privileges and the need to honor her with affection and constant prayer. Undoubtedly, this has encouraged a deeply personal and pietistic devotion.

Beginning in the 60s, the shrine began to preach about the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. The shrine actively promoted justice and peace in preaching and seasonal liturgical celebrations. This heightened the awareness of the devotees to the social dimension of their devotion.

In recent years, the shrine has integrated more the theology and spirituality of the icon in their homilies and catechesis in the shrine. This reflects a shift from introducing the icon merely as a devotional object to an icon with profound spiritual and theological meaning and calling. The restoration of the original icon in Rome in 1995 became an inspiration for the Redemptorists to preach more about the icon—it’s story, meaning, spirituality and theology.

The shrine also stressed the evangelizing power of the life of Mary.  This necessitated a rediscovering of Mary in scriptures and the human Mary. By understanding more about the life and character of Mary, the shrine hope that devotees may be able to emulate her more and identify with her.

The shrine in recent years has also tried to integrate the popular religiosity of the devotees with a genuine sense of mission and active social involvement.  The shrine has also encouraged the devotees to develop their devotion from praying the novena to becoming more active in their respective parishes and communities.

Novena Text

An important tool for evangelization in the shrine is the Novena text. The novena is not just all about petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The novena has been evangelizing the devotees since the very beginning. The Novena text has always emphasized the life and example of Mary as a disciple of Christ and Mary exhorts all the devotees to follow her son as well. As devotees pray in the novena,

While you were on earth, dear Mother * you willingly shared in the sufferings of your Son.* Strengthened by your faith and confidence * in the fatherly love of God * *you accepted the mysterious designs of His Will.*

We, too, have our crosses and trials.* Sometimes they almost crush us to the ground.* Dearest Mother, * share with us your abundant faith and confidence in God.* Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; * that He answers all our prayers * in the way that is best for us. * Strengthen our hearts to carry the cross * in the footsteps of your Divine Son. Help us to realize * that he who shares the cross of Christ * will certainly share His resurrection.

novena

The shrine in it’s latest version of the novena made several revisions to reflect a healthier theology on Mary. The biggest revision along this line is shifting the focus of the source of help from Mary to Jesus; that the source of help is God–Jesus. Mary intercedes for the devotees so they can receive God’s perpetual help. For example the response to the petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was changed from Help us to Pray for us

1973 Novena

LOVING MOTHER HELP US

2016 Novena

LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US

Mary is an intercessor rather than the giver of grace. In the following prayer in the novena, the words powerful help supposedly coming from Mary was changed to compassionate intercession.

1973 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection * and confidently hope for your powerful help.

2016 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection *  and confidently hope for your compassionate intercession

 Similarly, in the prayer below, the source of perpetual help is God. Mary points all devotees to God the giver of all help and graces. Thus, the words addressed to Mary as help us was changed to pray for us. Similarly, the words your powerful help was changed to God’s perpetual help.

1973 Novena

All:

Holy Mary * help us in our needs * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience your perpetual help.

 

2016 Novena

 

All:

Holy Mary pray for us * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience God’s perpetual help.

 

Return to Mary 

The traits and personality of Mary resembles some of the character of the devotees. Many of the values and qualities of devotees resonate with the values and qualities of Mary. The simplicity and humility of Mary, for example, correspond to the warm affection and trust of the thousands of devotees. The devotees emulate some of the simplicity and humility of Mary. No wonder, most of popular devotions are Marian in nature. American journalist Maureen Orth, suggests that one of the reasons for the  popularity of devotion to Mary is because “Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings.”[4]

photo-gallery-devotees-raise-hands

Many devotees, however, see Mary primarily as intercessor with God. Many devotees venerate Mary to intercede for them with God, and lesser do they take her as model to imitate because they do not know much about her life and journey during her life on earth. Taking Mary primarily as an intercessor may also be rooted to the indigenous origins of Filipino religiosity deeply embedded among the devotees. Indigenous Filipinos believe in a shaman who enters the supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting their individual lives and the community. They intercede with the gods to seek solution and bring good results.

They may now see Mary as the new shaman. A big part of the appeal of Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the certainty among  the devotees that their prayers will reach God because Mary is the most powerful intercessor. Mary is closest to God–she is full of grace and most blessed of all human beings that ever lived–therefore God will listen to their prayers because Mary intercedes for them.

Mary, however, goes beyond being a powerful intercessor or shaman. She is a model disciple and missionary of Jesus which all devotees need to emulate. To understand Mary beyond being an intercessor, the shrine has integrated more the life of Mary in the preaching in novenas and masses. In these preaching, the shrine challenged the devotees to return to the life of Mary. The shrine has emphasized the need to unravel more her virtues and reconnect their devotion with the real Mary.

Moreover, Mary is one among us; she is not just sitting on a pedestal. Yes, she is a model of the church, but she is also a member of the church. As American theologian Elizabeth Johnson would say, she is not just our mother but also our sister.[5] Following the example of Mary, each in his or her own way brings forth Christ as Pope Francis explains,

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful…  Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb.  He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith.  He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul” (EG, #285, 212).[6]

Preaching more about the life of Mary entails a shift in devotion from honoring the privileges and splendors of Mary for their own sake to following more her example; a shift from putting Mary on a pedestal where no one can reach her to remodeling their lives with the life of Mary. Devotion is to be like Mary, to learn from Mary. Yes, Mary recognizes our basic economic needs but there is more to our economic needs. Mary pierces into our souls—Mary sees a more profound need, hunger and thirst within us, that is, existential and eschatological hunger.

It is in this context that Mary becomes an evangelizer in the shrine. As the thousands of devotees see in the icon, while Mary’s eyes gaze intently on us, her right hand points to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way, leads people to follow Jesus. In the words of Pope Francis,

Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church”. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness.[7]

It is in this light that Pope Paul VI proposed that Mary be the model for all evangelizers. He gave Mary the title “Star of Evangelization,”

On the morning of Pentecost she watched over with her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit: may she be the Star of the evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope.[8]

Similarly, Pope Francis called Mary as the Mother of Evangelization: “She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.”[9]

In living out a proper and meaningful devotion, they can look up to Mary. Mary is herself a devotee; Mary is the exemplar par excellence of a devotee. She is a devotee they need to look up to for she already experienced what they all long for as a devotee. Mary as a devotee has fully reached out to heavens; has tasted, felt, and touched heaven, the sacred, the mystery and the divine. She has bridged the ordinary and the divine. Mary as a devotee with us, praying with us is expressed by Portia Fidelis C. Legaspi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on April 18,2014:

It is always at the darkest and difficult time of my life that I experience your loving presence, giving me hope and strength to survive. And later, witness how through your intercession my human limitations and weaknesses be fortified by your unfailing guidance. I owe you all that I am today. I am a mother of three children, a real estate broker and a law student from 2009 until 2013. During my fourth year in law school last 2012, our family was beset with a painful test. My second child only 15 was charged with a criminal case. I felt devastated. We knew that my child was innocent, and that the charge was meant to extort money from my family. This event challenged my conviction as a mother and as a future lawyer. It came to the point, that I asked God and Mother Mary, to help me look after my child And protect him from all the evil people. That I am willing to stop my studies and career in the law profession if the situation will demand for it. Today, I have passed the 2013 bar exam, and a full fledged lawyer at the end of April 2014. During the times, when my mind and heart went out for my child rather than to my bar review, it was God and Mother Mary that helped me survive each day. It was through her intercession that I surpassed my human weakness and be Strong by having faith. Success is always possible, I and others like me just have to keep our faith to God and Mother Mary. For what I am today, it is God and Mother Mary that lifted me up. Thank you so much.

Return to the Icon

The renewed interest in the Eastern theology of the icon inspired the shrine to return to the Icon as an important vehicle in the school of Mary. In recent years, Redemptorist were preaching more about the iconographical elements of the icon. The Redemptorists were also preaching more about the Eastern theology and spirituality of the icon.

In so doing, devotees saw the icon not just as a devotional object but as a window to the divine, to eternity, an encounter between their mundane existence on earth and the certain promise of a future life with God. Experiencing icon in this way appeals profoundly to the devotees’ rootedness in the indigenous cosmic worldview. If we recall, our ancestors believed in an invisible society coexisting with their material world. This society, they believed, was inhabited by spirits that included dead ancestors, deities, and lesser gods.[10] To represent this society and the spirits residing in this world, our ancestors created anito which are sometimes called larauan (icons) made from wood, stone, or ivory. They served as the bridge to the spiritual world. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help appeals to the devotees because it served as a window to eternity in the same way that their ancestors’ larauan served as bridge to the higher heavens.

touching-the-icon

The return to the icon also shifted the ultimate focus of devotion from Mary to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way. The perpetual help of Mary is centered on Jesus. As Fr. da Silva reiterates,

With her Son in her arms, which expresses at the same time both the Incarnation and the Passion, Mary gives us our plentiful redemption again and again …This is why Mary is our perpetual help, the mediator of all graces. All the other petitions we are accustomed to present in our Novenas should come later, as though integrated into the greatest grace that Mary offers us, that is, her very own Son.[11]

Liturgy

Another important tool of evangelization in the shrine is the liturgy. Many have called our attention that novena is more popular than the Eucharist and sometimes it seems that the Eucharist is just an addendum to the novena. Some of the devotees, after praying the novena, leave the shrine and do not attend the Eucharist anymore. Indeed, in Baclaran, Wednesday—novena day—is more popular than Sunday.

Through these years, the shrine has strengthened its celebration of the Eucharist. The shrine has enhanced the participation of the whole assembly. Efforts have been made in the shrine to harmonize the novena prayer with the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  Recognizing that liturgy is the most important activity of the shrine, the Redemptorist saw this as a very important undertaking taking into consideration that our shrine is not just an ordinary shrine but a national shrine.  This is also in line with the call for liturgical renewal as envisaged in Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium):

… the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the church’s power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” –The Constitution on the Liturgy, 10

A perennial question hurled by other Christian denominations at Catholics is: Do Catholics worship Mary?  Devotees’ main attraction is Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help; their fondness for Mary has often times made her more important than Jesus.

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Ever since ancient times, the church has always reiterated the importance of worship over devotion or veneration. The church has distinguished between latria (worship) and dulia (veneration). This distinction was made as early as Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome. In 787 the Second Council of Nicaea affirmed a three-level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia that applies to God, the Virgin Mary and then to the other saints respectively.

Dulia (Greek doulia; Latin servitus), is a theological term signifying the honour paid to the saints, while latria means worship given to God alone, and hyperdulia the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[12] Hyperdulia is not adoration; only God is adored. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, does not amount to worship – which is reserved for God. This distinction implies giving importance to the Eucharist and the sacraments which are celebrations of true worship of God. Moreover, this clarifies for the devotees the importance of the worship of God and the following of Jesus as his disciple over devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. As Ang Mahal na Birhen declares, “all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator.”[13]

On the other hand, there should be integration between liturgy and devotion. Ulyssys da Silva calls for a stronger unity between the official liturgy and popular piety of the people:

[I]f the sacramental action, celebrated in the Liturgy, does not move toward an encounter with an interior piety, already called forth and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, it becomes ineffective. When both are experienced in parallel, as two distinct realities, without seeking a concrete integration that unites them in a single celebration, we are not being faithful to Jesus, for whom what mattered most was not the “official cult” or the pious customs, but rather, the experience of meeting the Father and the fraternity among his disciples. Therefore, the first purpose of sacramental action is to further enhance the experience of piety, even to the experience of complete union between a human being and God. Only in this way does a creature arrive at perfect conformity to the Will of the Father and undertake in earnest the mission of the Kingdom of His beloved Son. When will we get to the point of having this gospel reality clearly visualized in all our liturgical celebrations and acts of piety?[14]

Debo(Mi)syon

In recent years the shrine has emphasized the unity of devotion and mission. This is encapsulated in what the shrine called debo(Mi)syon: a concatenation of two words: debosyon (devotion) and misyon (mission). This implies that devotion and mission mutually saturate each other. Devotion cannot be confined to devotion but is essentially missional. Mission cannot be confined to mission or action but is essentially devotional.  They are not two separate entities. Fr. Victorino Cueto explains that this is the disposition that pervade the Baclaran phenomenon,

a dis/position that is akin to a journey, a search that lies devotion and mission. It is highly devotion-al as it is filled with zeal and love. The devout is intensely touched by his/her experience glimpsed through the Icon of God. S/He is “consecrated” to the altar of a man-God whom s/he encounters in his/her narrations of prayerful pleas and heartfelt gratitude. In the same regard, it is mission-al in its practiced desire to reach-out and serve others, not in his/her own terms alone but in the service of God’s mission and His/Her Reign.[15]

Translated into evangelization, the aim of debo(Mi)syon is to make devotees become aware that they are missionaries and are partners in the mission of God. Through preaching, retreats, prayers and liturgies, devotees deepen their understanding of their identity as missionaries and by virtue of their baptism, they are sent as missionaries. Through evangelization the shrine has emphasized the identity of Mary as first disciple of Jesus so that as they grow in their devotion to Mary, they grow as disciples of Jesus.  On the other hand, as they become worthier disciples of Jesus, their devotion to Mary grows stronger.

The goal of debo(Mi)syon is for the devotion to become not mere religious piety and ritualistic devotionalism, nor mere supplication and thanksgiving, nor just practical participation in the mission of the church, but more importantly, it is entering into the mystery of the mission of God. Just as the icon calls devotees to participate in the divine mystery of the icon which is the life of glory with God and the saints, debo(Mi)syon calls devotees to see their lives in the life of the divine trinity—a life of mission within the three-persons-one-God and the overflowing of this love to the world, the whole of creation. Debo(Mi)syon is ultimately imitating the life of Mary who is the epitome of an icon of God, the prototype of a redeemed creation and the exemplar par excellence of a disciple of Christ. The shrine becomes the locus of the encounter betwixt and between heaven and earth, of living the present and the eschatological fullness of life.

Conclusion

Evangelization, indeed, is the greatest challenge of the shrine today as in the past. Much remains to be desired in this area. The shrine has to give more emphasis in evangelizing the devotees about the Icon and the life of Mary. The shrine also needs to further promote a holistic evangelization. Evangelization needs to address the many areas of life and piety of devotees that are disconnected from each other.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[2] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] Maureen Orth, “How the Virgin Mary Became the Most Powerful Woman,” National Geographic, December, 2015, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/virgin-mary-text

[5]see Elizabeth  Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 2003).

[6] Evangelii Gaudium, #285.

[7] Evangelii Gaudium, #287.

[8] Evangelii Nuntiandi, #82.

[9] Evangelii Gaudium, #284.

[10] Almocera, Ruel A., (2005) Popular Filipino Spiritual Beliefs with a proposed Theological Response. in Doing Theology in the Philippines. Suk, John., Ed. Mandaluyong: OMF Literature Inc. Pp 78-98

[11] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #48.

[12] Dulia, Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. Accessed at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05188b.htm

[13] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #80.

[14] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #34.

[15] Cueto, DEBO(MI)SYON: Celebrating the Spirit in / of Baclaran, 12.

The Shrine and Integrity of Creation

green_shrine1-e1528933860838.jpg

Lady, full and overflowing with grace,
all creation receives new life from your abundance.
Virgin, blessed above all creatures,
through your blessing all creation is blessed,
not only creation from its Creator,
but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
– St. Anselm[1]

When the Redemptorist settled at Baclaran in 1932, the place was a big grassland near the sea shore. Throughout the years, Redemptorists who were assigned to Baclaran planted their favorite trees. Amongst the many species of trees planted in the surroundings were Mahogany, Nymph Tree, Golden Shower, Narra, molave, fire tree, butterfly and mefacasia.

Today, the shrine compound is a lush area full of trees. The desolation and the emptiness of Baclaran’s early days has been replaced by trees.  Both Church and convento are no longer located on a grassland near the seashore but on a mini-forest. The shrine and its surroundings serves as an oasis in the city. In fact, it is the only green place in the whole of the densely populated highly urbanized Baclaran.

18

Many devotees appreciate the natural surroundings of the shrine like Kris Vente Tagayon, who wrote in August 29, 2017,

Nice place to visit where you can light candles and reflect and take pictures in the walkway, and even if it’s crowded, it’s so refreshing outside the church because of the trees surrounding it. It’s my first time to come here.[2]

Likewise Liezel Besuña, writes in January 7, 2018, “I love so much Baclaran church.. it’s so beautiful here, the air is cool … adorable…”[3] Ben Hernandez, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “The place looks so divine and neat as opposed to its 1980s rowdy image. The mini park and wall mural makes Baclaran Church even more refreshing to the eyes! Excellent job!”[4]

Many sit and gather under the trees relaxing and chatting with each other after the novena and mass. The green surroundings provide respite and peace especially for the worried and burdened devotees like Raine Zetolemrac, who wrote in May 22, 2017: “It’s ambiance melts my weariness. For me … this is the best place to rest.”

The various hardwood and fruit trees around the shrine provide sanctuary not just for humans but also for birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

narcissus-flycatcherIn November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[5] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound. Photo courtesy of Reuel Aguila.

Care for creation is an important part of the programs and values of the shrine. The shrine, for example, has long been converting its biodegradable waste like food waste, paper waste, dry leaves and twigs into compost. The compost is used to fertilize the flowers and other plants in the shrine compound.

The shrine has been practicing waste segregation since the 90s.  Three separate bins are scattered all around the shrine where devotees can throw their trash. Announcements in every novena and masses enjoin the devotees to throw their trash in the proper bins. The first bin is for organics like food scraps: fruit, vegetable, meat, bread, pasta, rice, garden waste: grass clippings, leaves, flowers, weeds, twigs, small branches, soiled paper and cardboard and small timber off-cuts. Everything that goes into this bin gets must be able to decompose and thus, goes to the compost. The second bin is for recyclable materials like milk and juice containers, paper and cardboard, glass and crockery, plastic containers, plastic bags and soft plastics, aluminium cans, clean foil, steel cans, aerosol spray cans and dry paint tins, hard plastics such as children’s toys and plastic tableware, small plastics such as bread tags and straws bagged. The third bin is for mixed rubbish items that cannot be composted or recycled like small plate glass, disposable nappies, scrap metal, pet droppings in a plastic bag and others.

Care for the environment is also integrated in the liturgy of the shrine. On October 4th, 2005, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine. Every year on  4th of October, except when it falls on a Sunday, devotees bring their pets—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals.

Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis of Assisi on the 4th of  October. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

Promotion of the integrity of creation is also incorporated in the novena. In the latest version of the novena—the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena—one petition to Our Mother of Perpetual was added for the care of creation:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.

In 2015, the Redemptorist community began a project called greening of the shrine. The first step undertaken along this project is the banning of smoking within the shrine compound. The project also involved using recycled materials for the beautification of the garden and wall art.

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The community also initiated vertical gardening on some of the fences of the shrine. This was aimed at showing that growing vegetables even in the city is feasible, and to encourage the devotees to grow their own vegetables right in their own backyard. The shrine also conducted seminars on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and some concrete ways to care for the environment like waste management and urban gardening.

Another project in line with the greening of the shrine was the installation of solar panels in the shrine and convent in 2016. The shrine and the convent now uses free electricity from the sun during the day and revert to Meralco at night. The shrine has the highest number of solar panels among all the churches in the Philippines. There is also a plan for a water harvesting system which will harness rain water.

solar

Caring for the environment is not just practiced within the shrine. Every year the shrine volunteers and devotees participate in the beach cleanup activity in the nearby Manila bay. The event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day, the world’s largest annual preservation and protection event and volunteer effort for beaches and waterways. It is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in September since its inception in 1986.

coastal-cleanup2

Disconnection from Creation

In more recent years, devotees have increasingly experienced detrimental impact brought by the rapid destruction of nature and environment. Many devotees experienced the environmental destruction in their local communities brought by mining, land conversion, air pollution, toxic waste materials from factories being thrown into rivers and seas, massive logging and coal power plants. In a 2014 Global Attitudes survey by Pew Research, about a third of Filipinos (34%) see pollution and environmental problems as the greatest threat to the world; no other problem mentioned in the survey (including religious and ethnic hatred and nuclear weapons) is viewed with such alarm by as many people in the Philippines.[6]

The rapid exploitation of natural resources and unregulated development affected mostly the poor. Ordinary citizens, however, were not blameless in the ecological degradation. Many showed lack of care for the environment by throwing garbage anywhere, burning waste, using plastic, and dirtying rivers and seas.

In recent years, devotees have expressed concern for what is happening to the environment. In the midst of ecological destruction they sought divine protection and Our Mother of Perpetual Help intercession. Like Miriam M. Pasetes who wrote a letter of thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help on July 15, 2015,

In the past days when typhoons Egay, Falcon and Goring hit our land, we were once again confronted by the havoc of nature. However, as the rains intensified for many days, we still felt God’s protection because the soil that was thirsty for rain has enriched the farms. For those lives lost in the typhoon, I pray through your intercession, that they may live in peace in the home of the Father. Through the fields that spring anew, rivers cleansed and the winds of the environment, I ask you, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, to extend my gratitude to God.

The destruction of the environment added to the uncertainty for the future for the devotees. The biggest environmental threat in the future is climate change. In more recent years, people around the country have experienced the negative consequences of climate change: more frequent flooding, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.The prognosis for the future does not look good. With no radical change in our present habits and systems, time maybe running out.

At the root of all these devastating happenings in the environment is our disconnection with nature. It is inconceivable to think that in this information age of interconnection we have lost connection with Mother Nature. This loss of connection with creation is expressed in the opening lines of Pope Francis’ first social encyclical Laudato Si: Care for the Common Home. Pope Francis laments,

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

The icon and Mary has quietly helped devotees confront the continuous destruction of the environment. By contemplating the icon and receiving inspiration from the life of Mary, devotees were able to cultivate an attitude of interconnectedness with and care for God’s creation. The Icon and Mary helped formed a missionary attitude and action for integrity of creation among the devotees.

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

For years, through the icon, Mary saw and felt the suffering of the devotees brought by the sorrowful state of the environment. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the icon instilled the seeds of an ecological spirituality amongst the devotees.

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as any Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology, always evoked a cosmic outlook. This cosmic mindset is especially represented by the background of icons: While the principal character of an icon is a person, its background often represents an image of the transformed cosmos. In this sense, an icon is cosmic since it shows nature but nature in its eschatological and changed state.[7]

Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology represent nature not in its worldly appearance but in its cosmic and glorious state:

The icon reflects the eschatological, apokatastatic, redeemed and deified state of nature. The features of a donkey or a horse are, in an icon, as refined as those of a person, and, accordingly, the eyes of animals in icons are human, not those of a donkey or a horse. We see in icons the earth and the sky, trees and grass, the sun and the moon, birds and fish, animals and reptiles yet all are subjected to a single design and constitute a single church in which God reigns.[8]

The reverse perspective of the icon also help to promote a healthy attitude towards creation. The reverse perspective of the icon implies that before an icon, the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation. Contemplating the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help reminds the devotees that they are not masters of creation or center of the universe. Human beings are not outside but part of creation.

By becoming a participant in God’s care for creation they are able to see creation also as an icon.  Creation is calling human beings to participate in creation’s calling that everything is interconnected. Creation as an icon calls devotees back to their original identity as stewards of creation. As human beings we are created to care not to dominate or destroy God’s creation.

Creation as an icon also calls devotees to give adoration and glory to God. Nature is an icon of the grandeur of God. Nature, cosmos, the entire material universe is a reflection of divine beauty, and this is what the icon is called to reveal. It is possible for the world to participate in divine beauty but only to the extent that it “has not submitted to vanity” and has not lost the ability to sense the presence of God.[9]

Looking at creation through the icon invited the devotees to what Hans Boersma calls, a participatory or sacramental ontology.  Boersma describes participatory ontology,

Sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference,” but that it also subsists or participates in God … In other words, because creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory, or real, connection — not just an external, or nominal, connection.[10]

The sacramental worldview of the icon helped the devotees to see in the environment the creator, the glory of God, the glory of our destiny. As Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed it:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

St. Anselm in a sermon used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 calls Mary, Mother of the Re-created World!

The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.[11]

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.[12]

In this light, Mary is the epitome of God’s new creation. God’s taking up of Mary’s body and soul into heaven represents the quintessential work of God’s recreation of humanity. Mary’s assumption represents the hope and final destiny of all of creation–all will be transformed in God’s glory.  John Janaro articulates,

Mary is …  an icon of the whole redemption of creation. In her we see already the radical fulfillment of all things, the perfect penetration of divine love into created being. The glorification of Mary in the Assumption is the beginning of the New Creation in which God will “be all, in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), and it reveals the eternal value of every moment in every life, the transcendent significance of each circum­stance in life, because everything comes forth from God and is ordained to his glory.[13]

Similarly, the Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly sees Mary as the model of God’s creation,

the paradigmatic instance of creation open to, collaborating with, and transformed by, the creative mystery of God in Christ.  As the Mother of Christ, she symbolises the generativity of creation under the power of the Spirit.  In her, as the Advent antiphon has it, “the earth has been opened to bud forth the Saviour”.[14]

In this way, Mary is rightly called Queen of all Creation. Pope Francis in Laudato Si meditates on the meaning of Mary, Queen of all Creation and its implications for us:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (Laudato Si, #241)

Call to Action

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and care for Mother Nature are closely connected. Our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can become more productive and meaningful if we can learn and connect with nature. At the same time our connection with nature can grow more through our devotion to Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help who is the model of the new creation.

I remember when I was stationed in the Bicol mission in Legaspi in 2002. During the month of October, the month of the rosary, we prayed the Rosary every day. Together with meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary in the mysteries of the rosary, we also meditated on the mysteries of creation. Joyful mysteries corresponded with the beauty and grandeur of God’s gift of creation, sorrowful mysteries corresponded with the destruction of creation of our own doing and glorious mysteries corresponded with our desire and collective action of cooperation with God’s re-creation. Through this activity, we found meaningful connection between devotion to Mary through the rosary and action towards care for creation.

What concrete actions can you do to care for God’s creation as a fruit of your devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help?

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Excerpt from a sermon of St. Anselm (Oratio 52; PL 158, 955-956) which is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity (Solemn Feast) of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 along with the accompanying biblical reading from Romans 5:12-20.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[5] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher

[6] Greatest Dangers in the World, Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes and Trends, OCTOBER 16, 2014. http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/10/16/greatest-dangers-in-the-world/

[7] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[8] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[9] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 8.

[10] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.

[11] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[12] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[13] John Janaro, “The Blessed Virgin in the Ecclesial Movement “Communion and Liberation”,” Marian Studies: Vol. 54, Article 12 (2003). Available at: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/m_studies/vol54/iss1/12, 127.

[14] Anthony Kelly, CSsR, The Mystery of Christ and our Mother of Perpetual Help, 2.

The Shrine and Migration

migrants

On my way to Heaven,
Where I shall see you,
Your beloved image accompanies me
on my earthly journey
to be my Perpetual Help.
– St. Therese of Lisieux 

One of the most popular petitions that devotees bring to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran is to go abroad or get a job abroad. Martin Vente Quidet, one of the thousands devotees who were able to work abroad, thank Our Mother of Perpetual Help in November 21, 2017: ·

Before I report to the office where I am applying as a seafarer, I always drop by at your shrine to pray that hopefully I can get onboard the ship. You heard my prayer.  Now I will finally get onboard the ship. Thank you Lord, you did not abandon me.

Through these years, millions of Filipinos have worked abroad and migrated to other countries, despite the risks and vulnerabilities they are likely to face. They accept all the risks in exchange of the prospect of a much higher income and the promise of better future for their family. Melissa Gangoso-Subito’s thanksgiving letter is one of the thousands of success stories of migrating to other countries. Melissa, in April 13, 2016, expressed gratitude to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that their petition to go abroad was answered

I am an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) from Dubai (from 2005 to 2012), my husband is also an OFW in Canada (from 2008 up to the present) and my children are in the Philippines. Though I gave up, I am so grateful because Our Mother of Perpetual Help never gave up on me. And I am really full of thanks that she has answered my MOST URGENT PRAYER, June 12, 2014, our family is whole again. We are presently residing in Canada and she has blessed me with our own home. I could say that I am contented and complete in life because of the never failing help of Our Mother. Thank you Our Mother of Perpetual Help, thank you.

After receiving their wish to work abroad, many OFW go to the shrine either before they leave or after they arrive from abroad.  The proximity of the shrine to the airport made this practice possible. On any given day, one could see people with their luggage coming in and out of the shrine. Many OFW have told me that the very last thing they do before they leave the country for abroad is to visit the shrine to give thanks and ask the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help for protection and guidance in their work abroad. Like Nallimnarom Anne Yerrhc, an overseas Filipino worker, writing in September 11, 2016, on the day she was about to leave for abroad: “[A] miracle I’m here before my flight to Kuwait. Thanks, my petition to her has come true.” And when they arrived back in the Philippines, the very first thing they do is to visit the shrine to give thanks to Our Mother of Perpetual Help for the safe travel and protection in their work abroad.

When they go abroad, OFW bring along with them their devotion and practice this devotion to the country of their work or migration. Their devotion becomes a great source of strength in their life and work abroad. Even if they are now in a foreign country they continue their devotion through the novena. Despite the obstacles and risks of practicing devotion in a foreign country especially in non-Christian countries where religious expression is banned, Filipino devotees find ways to practice their devotion.

The newspaper Philippine Star, for example, reports about Ricky a Filipino waiter who has been working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for twenty-one years. He lights candles in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday. But Ricky has to keep his devotion in private, knowing fully well that non-Muslims like him cannot openly display their religious beliefs in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. “They have the right (to impose that law). That is their culture. But we also have the right to practice privately,” he said.[1]

Many overseas Filipinos are surprised and saddened to find that Marian devotion is non-existent especially in Christian countries in North America and Europe. They feel that something is missing in the services of the parishes abroad if there is no novena. They feel a little nostalgia if there is no novena as the devotion has become part of their identity. Fr. Bernabe Sison, for example, works in a parish in the New York area with hardly any Filipino church goers. When he introduced the Perpetual Help Novena, Filipinos from other parishes started coming regularly every Wednesday! Because of this, other parishes followed suit.[2]

When there is no novena in the parishes where they live, many Filipinos take the initiative of starting a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. At the beginning of the novena, Filipinos were mainly the ones attending the novena, but soon after, other nationalities come and join the novena. The novena reminds them and connects them with their Filipino culture and identity. Even if they are living pretty well off in Western countries, they continue to have devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. True to their identity as pueblo amante de maria, Filipinos regularly pray the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, write letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and say the rosary.

In Rome, where the original icon is enshrined, the Perpetual Novena was not worth mentioning until several years ago when migrant Filipinos began to hold a weekly novena on Sundays and Thursday afternoons. On Sundays, the Mass is preceded with a novena for those who cannot come during the week due to their work. The other day for the novena is Thursday because that is the day when domestic helpers have a half day off. And since the novena is said in English, it attracts people of other nationalities including Indians, Sri Lankans, Irish, Americans, etc. Lately, Perpetual Novena sessions have been started also in Italian on Tuesdays and in Polish on Wednesdays.[3]

But sometimes even if there is a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the parish, some Filipinos do not show much interest if the format is not the one they got used to praying in Baclaran. According to a Redemptorist who studied in Chicago, a Filipino group there did not feel at home with the format of the novena in the Redemptorist church so they looked for another church where they could have it following the Baclaran format.[4]

Through their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Filipino overseas countrymen and women were able to contribute to the building up of the church in foreign countries.  OFW’s are helping to add some signs of life to an otherwise dying parishes. In many instances, they are filling up churches, contributing to the church collections, actively serving in the different ministries of the church.  In some parishes in Canada and the U.S., the Filipinos have become the mainstay of their local parish or have helped to start a parish. The Filipino’s contribution to the sustenance of Christian faith confirms Philip Jenkins’ observation that world religions continue to thrive in Western societies today because of the immigrants who flock to these countries.  Jenkins even points to a resurgence of Christianity, thanks to the migrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America.[5]

The efforts of OFW’s are a witness value that in the midst of a secular and industrialized society, faith matters.  This also shows the special missionary contribution of Filipino devotees in secular countries. If Filipinos are sent on mission, their special gift in mission will be their love for Mary, particularly Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

mass-for-migrants

The Risks of Migration

Migration is an issue that devotees have grappled with ever since the beginning of the novena. Because of the massive unemployment, abject poverty and cheap labor in the Philippines, many Filipinos sought greener pasture outside of the country.  Many devotees have migrated to other countries mainly for economic reasons. Consequently, a “culture of migration” has emerged. This culture of migration regards those whose families were able to work abroad as economically advantaged in life. This culture has also strengthened the colonial mentality of Filipinos–seeing anything foreign especially first world countries as inherently superior to their own.

Sometimes, they have been misunderstood for leaving our country and draining our country of talents and skills. Many, however, have to give up their professions back home just to find work to the extent that doctors have become nurses, teachers have become domestic helpers, and engineers have become laborers.  While we have Filipinos working in prominent positions as doctors, engineers, computer programmers, consultants, artists, nurses, etc., the majority take on odd jobs where no American or European would take like, nannies, caregivers, house cleaners, domestic helpers, etc.

They made a lot of sacrifices in working abroad just for the sake of alleviating their families back home from poverty.  The money they sent back home not only help their families but greatly contribute to the economy of our country.  Indeed, they are the biggest contributor to the gross domestic product of our country. Even in the economy of first world countries, around the world where they work, their contribution cannot be underestimated.

In 2013, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that approximately 10.2 million people of Filipino descent lived or worked abroad.[6] This is roughly 10% of the total Philippines population. Thus, in any country of the world, chances are, one can find a Filipino diaspora.[7]

Not all OFW’s have happy endings.  There are many OFW’s who have tales of woes and tragedy to tell.  Migrant workers pay a steep price for working abroad. The biggest collateral damage of migration are the one inflicted on the moral fibers and the integrity of marriages and families. The biggest price is the spouse and children migrant workers had to leave behind. Mass migration of Filipinos abroad have left many families broken, given rise to cases of infidelity, adultery, absentee parents, and drug addiction among youngsters. Family structures have changed with many of the children end up having to live with a single parent. Others are left under the care of their immediate relatives. There are also others who have to be in charge of their siblings at a very young age. Indeed, it is heartbreaking to see families gain financially but are torn apart in the end.

Thus, despite all the benefits and comforts they have enjoyed in foreign countries most OFW’s say that they are still happier to live in our own country despite all the hardships.  They all dream that someday they will no longer have to go abroad in order to work because the work and descent life that they sought in other countries can now be found  in our country.

Many devotees have brought these issues and concerns while praying the novena at the shrine. They also brought their pains and struggles due to the migration of their families in the confessional. In response to this grave need, the Shrine community established the St. John Neumann Center for Migrants. St. John Neumann was a Redemptorist saint who was a migrant to the United States from Bohemia, Germany during the nineteenth century.

migrant_center

St. John Neumann Center for Migrants

The growing number of petitions and thanksgiving letters received from migrants, OFWs and their families, and the pastoral concerns brought about by the social costs of overseas work to family life became the strong impetus for the Shrine to address not only the spiritual but also the various needs of the migrant families. In 2010, a group composed of professed Redemptorists, staff and volunteers of St. Gerard Family Life Center discerned and conceptualized an initial program that resulted in the institutionalization of the Mass for Migrants and OFWs every last Friday of the month. The mass was usually followed by venues where OFWs and their families gathered like fellowships and awareness building activities. In the following months, not only the attendance during the various activities grew but also the number of volunteers who would like to serve the migrants. An MPS Sister was recruited to train volunteers and coordinate the activities.

To further strengthen the services of the program based on the needs gathered from the fellowships, the staff and volunteers began attending seminars and forums on migration and development, and building networks with Church and government agencies. This paved the way for the formation of a Core Group that planned and implemented the initial programs and services.

In November 2011, the St. John Neumann Migrants Center was formally opened. As a Center of refuge for migrants, it seeks to build a culture of hospitality and volunteerism that will lead to solidarity and community building across borders.

The vision of the SJNMC is that  “Migrant families that emulate the virtues of the Holy Family (Madasalin, Pag-asa sa Kagandahang-Loob ng Diyos, Paglilingkod).”  The mission of the SJNMC is to facilitate the growth of the “laging saklolo” spirituality among its staff, volunteers, clients, and partners

To realize this, the SJNMC aims to:

  1. Strengthen family values and relationships.
  2. Build communities among families of migrants.
  3. Address the social costs of migration.
  4. Develop volunteerism.

The primary clients of the program are the OFWs and their families; victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking; and itinerant people or “people on the move” because of calamities and militarization.

The efforts of the shrine towards migrants reflects the call of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People document, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, to open shrines to the other,

In the shrine, we learn to open our heart to everyone, in particular to those who are different from us: the guest, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, those of other religions, non-believers. In this way the shrine does not only exist as the setting for an experience of Church, but also becomes a gathering-place open to all humanity.[8]

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon:

The story of the icon is also a story of migration. From its original writing in Crete, a number of lay agents brought it to Rome. And from Rome it spread to many countries all over the world.  In this journey, we saw how the Icon was enriched by the diverse cultures and traditions of each local country. On the other hand, we saw how the Icon challenged and enriched the local culture and religiosity of each country that it encountered. The journey of the icon from east to west to east is the story of an eastern icon who made her home in the Philippines, in the hearts and loving embrace of the Filipinos. As Fiore beautifully explains,

[The Icon] was created at an intersection of cultures, artistic traditions and spiritualities. It was created by collecting a theological heritage that preceded it, and treasuring it. This is not only a wonderful gift that has been made: it is also a sign of a new world, today’s global world where one in seven people lives outside his/her place of origin; a world where cultures meet, spiritualities compete, and we are left wondering what to do with the faith we have received as an inheritance. It is a world where Christ asks only that we emanate the abundance of his redemption.[9]

In this light, the Icon is an icon of the promised land that we so long to experience in this world. It foreshadows the time when all human beings will reach their true homeland. All will be gathered as one despite all the perceived differences today. It symbolizes a common future when all nations will celebrate and experience peace and harmony under God’s sovereignty. Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help will be a special star guiding peoples into this journey towards our true homeland.

The icon expresses our journey towards our ultimate new belonging. Mobility as feature of the present society shows that we are always on a journey in this world. The icon reminds us that life is a pilgrimage, we are temporary residents in this world. We are pilgrims or migrants in this world as our true permanent residency, is in the promised home where the saints now resides with God. The star on Mary’s in the icon symbolized Mary as guide and model in this pilgrimage of life.

For years, through the icon, Mary saw and felt the struggles and suffering of the devotees as a consequence of migration. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the devotees learned the value of  compassion for those gravely affected by migration.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

The holy family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus were also refugees once. We read in St. Matthew’s gospel:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ (Matthew 2.13-15)

As refugees, they knew the pains and anxieties as well as the hopes and aspirations of a refugee. The struggles and aspirations of being a refugee helped form and strengthened the characters of the holy family. This also exposed the holy family to the perils and difficulties of a system which utilizes power and domination against the weak and the poor manifested by Herod’s clinging to power in partnership with imperialist Rome’s colonization of the Jewish people. This experience will also influence profoundly the mission of Jesus inasmuch as during his public ministry he took the side of the poor and condemn heavily the rich and powerful.

Mary’s life on earth was a pilgrimage and migration towards her true self and ultimate destiny. From her conception, her services as a temple girl, her annunciation, her motherhood of Jesus, her discipleship of Jesus up to her assumption, Mary was blessed by God’s grace to experience the fullness of life. Mary understood her life as a journey from here on earth towards our true home with God–a new heaven and a new earth.

Call to Action:

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by sharing our devotion not just locally but also internationally. At the same time, our devotion can be enriched by the culture and diversity of a pluralistic and multicultural world today. This calls for retrieving hospitality as a wonderful Filipino trait. Living out hospitality demands that we welcome the stranger and refugees in our communities.

We can volunteer at our center for migrant workers the St. John Neumann Center where we can share our time and talents in reaching out to families in distress and at risk because of migration.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Alexis Romero, For Filipino Catholics in Saudi Arabia, church is in the heart, philstar.com, April 12, 2017, http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/2017/04/12/1690192/filipino-catholics-saudi-arabia-church-heart

[2] http://www.baclaranchurch.org/ofw.html

[3]Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[5] Philip Jenkins, Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[6] “Stock Estimate of Filipinos Overseas As of December 2013” (PDF). Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Retrieved 2015-09-19.

[7] A diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “scattering, dispersion”) is a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora#cite_note-webster-2

[8] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

[9] Fiore, The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon, 22.

The Shrine and New Social Order

candles_shrine

He has cast down the Mighty from their Thrones,
and has lifted up the Lowly
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

– Blessed Virgin Mary[1]

Over the years, the shrine has established various social services and programs. The social services were a growing response to the diverse material and human needs that churchgoers and church volunteers regularly brought to the shrine. The shrine began with responding to the immediate needs of devotees—food, medicine, hospitalization, travel, and funeral. Some people called these dole out services. Gradually these services evolved into more developmental, educational and transformative programs and services like skills training, livelihood, scholarship, community organizing, counselling and finance management. The programs’ chief beneficiaries were the truly alienated and marginalized.

These programs and services reflects the shrine’s way of living out the recommendation of Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines:

Pilgrimages and Shrines should be places of charity, accessible to ordinary people. They should have a special concern for the poor, providing social services and facilities for pilgrims to rest and be refreshed. Charity can also be expressed by welcoming, listening and understanding pilgrims.[2]

The various social services and programs that the shrine has established over the years are:

  1. Sarnelli Center for Street Children

Established in 1995, the Sarnelli Center for Street Children is a center dedicated to the service of the children at risk and most abandoned children like street children and  children victims of domestic abuse and violence.

2. St. Gerard Family life Center

Established on October 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard Majella, aims to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life through counseling, consultation, advisory, and referral services.

3. Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center

The Redemptorist Skills and Livelihood Center was established in 2007. It provides vocational and technical courses like cookery, massage therapy, computer and cellphone repair, solar panel installation, bartending and others.

skills-graduates

4. Medical-Dental Services:

On Sundays and Wednesdays, the shrine provides free Medical-Dental service to the thousands of devotees. The team also conducts medical-dental mission to remote barrios all over the Philippines. The team is composed of many volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and medical technologies.

5. Crisis Intervention Center

The Crisis Intervention Center provide immediate assistance to walk-in clients in the form of medical, hospitalization, food, transportation, temporary shelter, education, and the like.

6. St. John Neumann Migrant Center

A counselling and service center named after St. John Neumann, one of the Redemptorist saint who was a migrant to the United States in the last century, it caters to the material and spiritual needs of overseas Filipino workers and their families left behind.

7. Redemptorist Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

Many indigent but deserving college students benefited from the educational assistance program of the shrine. The scholars not only received financial assistance but as well as support in their studies through tutorials, group dynamics and spiritual development.

8. Solidarity Assistance Committee

Solidarity Assistance Committee is composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. It responds to emergency needs of people hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire through relief and rehabilitation projects.

solidarity-assistance2

9. Sinirangan Coffee Shop

Sinirangan Coffee Shop is a program of the shrine which responds to two needs: First is to provide alternative livelihood to victims of Super typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Samar and second, to provide job for graduates of the skills and livelihood center and girls from the women’s center.

10. Laging Saklolo cooperative

Just recently the shrine sponsored and supported the organizing of a consumer cooperative for volunteers and devotees of the shrine, the Laging Saklolo cooperative. It is aimed at selling cheap basic goods to its members while at the same time enabling the members to attain increased income and savings. After a pre-membership seminar, it was launched in July 2016.

Many devotees have expressed gratitude for the services. Noemi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on March 3, 2017, gave thanks to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as well as to the shrine,

I would like to thank Baclaran Redemptorist Church for taking care of my sibling who was missing for almost one year.  Nochelle is now in my care. I am wholeheartedly grateful for all the help you have given to Nochelle. Thank you very much.

DHang GUlferic Alberto, also wrote in April 12, 2017 to give thanks

Many thanks for the help you have given to my son JHON JASFER ALBERTO who is here now at Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) .. May you not tire of helping those who are in need … Even if I am not perfect, even if am not so prayerful, God will hear my prayers for my family and my children over and over again. Many thanks to the Redemptorist Baclaran Church.

Funding for social services came from the devotees themselves through the box for the poor, donations, coins thrown into the wishing well and all profits from the shrine store. This shows devotees helping fellow devotees. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. The devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help received the help they needed. In return, the financial and spiritual help they shared in the shrine were able to help many especially those most in need.

Before the social services were established, the shrine had an urban mission team who went out to the different parishes of nearby dioceses serving the most abandoned poor in the city. From 1932 to 1950s, the mission team was composed of mainly Redemptorist priests and brothers.  Beginning 1960s, however, lay people and religious sisters and brothers began joining the mission team. Today, there are more lay people and religious sisters in the mission team than Redemptorist priests and brothers.

urban-mission

The main objective of the mission is to support and assist the parish in building basic Christian communities. The Christian communities the mission team help to organize are expressions of a new way of being the Church. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed this

[BECs] decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united. They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor, and of commitment to the transformation of society… [They are] a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.[3]

The social services and the urban mission program are not just dole out services but represent the deepest desire of the shrine to contribute to the building of an alternative social order based on Jesus’ gospel. They expressed the shrine’s hope about the realization of the dreams and aspirations of the devotees for a society reflective of the Kingdom of God. Many devotees experienced how the system is rigged and stacked against their favor. The social services which convey the shrine’s profound quest for a new social order challenges and serves as alternative values and standards to the prevailing status quo in society. These services and programs serves as a counter-symbol to the dominant socio-economic system and structure. Karl Gaspar reflects profoundly on the nature of the shrine as counter-symbol,

Baclaran serves as a counter symbol, as a beacon of light, as a parola [lighthouse] by the shores of Manila Bay for the weary travelers out there in the pitch darkness of night. Because in this church-shrine which lies at the crossroads of people’s pains and struggles, but also their hopes and joys; which is open 24 hours a day from Monday to Sunday, through sunshine and rain, earthquakes and typhoons, dictatorships and people power; allows the devotees to sit still under the gaze of a loving Mother who bridges them to the God of small people, the anak-dalita [wretched children], the most abandoned.  Here the poor came home to the bosom of God who does make possible plentiful Redemption.[4]

lumad

The integration of the liturgical and social cultivated a deeper appreciation of the social dimension of the sacraments and worship amongst the devotees. Moreover, the consciousness of the churchgoers was aroused towards their social and missionary responsibilities. Thus, the Social Services ministry flowed from and complemented the liturgical, sacramental and spiritual services of the shrine.

The aspiration to build a new social order is also reflected in the novena.  One of the petitions in the 1973 novena which is retained in the present version of the novena is:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Crisis of the Present Socio-Economic System

From the beginning of the novena in 1948 up to the present, the socio-economic order failed to uplift the lives of the vast majority of the poor devotees. The situation today may have even gotten worse. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are becoming even richer.  New faces of the poor and new victims of marginalization have emerged to which the shrine has responded: child labor, modern day slavery, victims of human trafficking, abandoned children, drug addicts, prostituted women, migrants, HIV patients, and LGBTQ community.

Many of the devotees remain poor and destitute in spite that we are living at a time where there is so much display of wealth and prosperity. The dominant economic system in the world today directed by the values of neo-liberal capitalism has brought enormous wealth to an elite few but has maintained the poverty of millions of poor people.  The widening gap between the rich and the poor is one of the greatest scandals of our present economic system. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium has condemned this disparity:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.[5]

Many of the poor and those left out by the progress of the dominant system have availed of the various services and programs of the shrine. Many of them have not reaped the fruits of the promised progress and development. Many of them have suffered from degradation of human dignity, alienated from the fruits of their labor, experienced violence, and social injustice.

After the world financial crisis of 2008 struck the world economy and subsequent crises which saw inequality worsened, serious questions have been raised regarding the viability of the present system.  Capitalism is starting to show signs of crumbling under the weight of its own systemic contradictions. The present order is no longer sustainable and healthy. Other ideologies, however, have failed to give a viable alternative to the dominant social order. Calls for a new order is getting louder every day.

Despite the rigged social order, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the shrine never showed signs of decline. Devotion, in fact, has become one of the sources of their hope and resilience. Their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help helped instilled a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order.

How has the devotion became a source of hope and resilience for the devotees? How has the shrine, icon and Mary able to instill a defiant hope amongst the devotees which enable them not to surrender to the decadent present social order?

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

Our Mother of Perpetual Help has witnessed the sufferings and hardships of the devotees under a rigged socio-economic system. For a long time the poor has suffered under a system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful. Gazing through the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary invited the devotees to contemplate the world in search of a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom which she proclaimed in her magnificat.

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help symbolizes the new order that God will actualize in the fullness of time. Icons are images of the victorious, glorified Christ, Mary, Apostles and Saints who are already experiencing God’s new order in heaven. Consequently, icons help devotees to live and see beyond the present corrupt order. They give them hope and strength to live and apply alternative values and systems in the light of the social order of God’s kingdom, already taking shape here and now and will reach fulfillment in God’s time.

The golden background that occupies the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the glorious state with God where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. As Ferero commented, “The gilded background of the icon (purest light) and the circular halos invite us to contemplate Christ and the Mother of God already living the full glory of the great mystery of the Redemption.”[6] The color gold implies a place which this world cannot give; a place that is bright, peaceful, abundant and joyful. The light of heaven which passes through their clothing indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the exemplar of the glory and joy that will happen to us at the end of times. Even as the completion of this glory will happen in the end, the icon invites the devotees to open their hearts and mind to the glory of God already unfolding in the daily events—even in the most mundane and gloomy days of our lives.

The eyes of Mary are the doorway between our lives here on earth and the life of glory in heaven. The eyes of Mary in the icon are the bridge linking our life on earth and the eternal life with God. Looking through the icon, the devotees are led to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. Our Mother of Perpetual Help invites the devotees to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. Through the loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary helps the devotees to discover in the world the new social order reflective of God’s social order. The icon invites the devotees to contemplate the world in the light of God’s vision and fullness of redemption. “I have come to bring life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

Mary invites all the devotees to find the fullness of life in her son Jesus. Through the icon, Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help have drawn thousands of devotees not to herself but to her son Jesus Christ who is the hope to the poor, deprived and oppressed. Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God which will transform all social orders in the fullness of time.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary powerfully proclaimed in her song, the magnificat, the future social order that will come through the grace and power of God. Mary’s song began as a jubilant reaction to the profound truth of God’s growing within her and ended with the prophetic declaration of a new social order that God will usher. As American mariologist S.M. Roten explains,

The magnificat as Mary’s reaction to God who inhabits her virginal womb proclaimed both the past and the future acts of God; it is retrospective and prophetic at the same time. Mary’s prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel.[7] Her song announces not only the birth of Christ, but also the birth of a new people, a liberated people, a people whose life will be centered on the Spirit of Life.[8] Mary’s song is the magna carta of any and all authentic faith experience.[9]

Mary’s magnificat is a proclamation of God’s new social order.  The magnificat of Mary prophesy the overturning of the rigged system that benefits and favours the rich and powerful and the fulfillment of God’s order which favors the weak and the poor. Mary’s humble acceptance to be the Theotokos of the redeemer will inaugurate a brand new beginning for human history.

Mary herself is a counter-symbol to power and hierarchy. The election of Mary as Mother of God is a counter-symbol to the world’s understanding of election based on power, domination, influence, wealth and fame. Mary was elected by God because she was poor, humble, free and open to God’s grace and calling.

Mary was able to praise God and God’s action of reversal of world systems and structures.  In the magnificat, Mary becomes an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world. It is only through Mary, most virgin and purest of all, stripped of all power, wealth, fame, prestige and position, that the power of God was proclaimed in the magnificat.

The magnificat showed us a portrait of Mary which many of us may have misconstrued.  How come Mary was able to proclaim God’s revolution?  Isn’t she, as many of us thought, meek, mild and humble virgin woman who can never break a plate?  Paul VI, in Marialis Cultus, dispels the mistaken notion of Mary as meek and passive

Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she was a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions (cf Lk. 1:51-53).[10]

Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, shows how the magnificat expresses the prophetic character of Mary,

This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.[11]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the magnificat’s significance as: “Mary’s prayer is revealed to us at the dawning of the fullness of time” (CCC, #2617). The dawn of the fullness of time—new heaven and new earth—implies that God’s kingdom has already begun and is active here and now. Mary is the first human being who belongs to the social order ordained by God; the social order that is counter-symbol to the present order of the world.

The magnificat of Mary is indeed a prophetic expression of the reign of God, though unwelcome by our present world because of its reversal of fortunes theme, will be celebrated by all humanity and creation at the end of time.  It implies the hope of eradication of poverty, sound health and education for all, better future, peace, justice, harmony with all creation.  We can only achieve this vision, however, not through domination, violence, hatred but through service, collaboration and love for one another.

Mary awakens our deepest identity that we are the embodiment of the promise of a new society, a redeemed people and a transformed community working for the prosperity and peace for all. Mary inspires us to confront the disordered systems and structures and proclaim the orderly system of God which brings true prosperity and justice for all. Mary invites us to be at the side of the poor, excluded and anawim in our society today in cooperating with God in realizing God’s reign here and now.

Inspired by Mary’s life and the spirituality of the icon, devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, can led us to a concerted involvement and struggle for a new social order reflective of God’s kingdom. Devotion to Mary entails not only praying the novena, reciting the rosary, joining processions, or offering flowers at her pedestal.  Together with all the warm affection and devotion to Mary as pueblo amante de Maria (people in love with Mary), it entails active participation in the proclamation of the Kingdom as Mary did in magnificat. This entails today active involvement in transforming the socio-economic structures of our society, eradicating poverty, fighting for justice and human rights, enlivening our democracy especially for the marginalized. promoting health and cleanliness, caring for the environment and protecting mother nature.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help we are called to sing, proclaim and live Mary’s magnificat.  We can truly sing and live the magnificat if like Mary we humble ourselves to the power of God, to allow God to be God. Like Mary we can learn how to proclaim, live and practice the new social order which Mary sang in the magnificat.

Joey Echano

(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)


 

[1] Luke 1: 46 – 56.

[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines (Nagasaki, Japan, October 15-17, 2007), #4.

[3] John Paul II. “Redemptoris Missio”. Apostolic Exhortation. Vatican.

[4] Karl Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 23.

[5] Evangelii Gaudium, #56.

[6] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 126.

[7] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #18.

[8] Father Johann G. Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/m/magnificat-reflection.php

[9] Roten, S.M. The “Merciless” magnificat

[10] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, #37.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Elizabeth Johnson, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” Catholic Magazine, December 2003 (Vol. 68, No. 12, pg. 12).