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.
The Baclaran shrine is appealing for your help to victims of typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon.
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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
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.”
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.
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.” Likewise, Macky Cona commented, “It is a very solemn church which motivates us to pray harder!!!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
LOVING MOTHER HELP US…
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.
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.
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.
Holy Mary * help us in our needs * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience your perpetual help.
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.”
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. 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).
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.
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.
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.”
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
(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)
 The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God
 The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God
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
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.
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.
Likewise Liezel Besuña, writes in January 7, 2018, “I love so much Baclaran church.. it’s so beautiful here, the air is cool … adorable…” 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!”
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.
In 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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?
(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)
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. This is roughly 10% of the total Philippines population. Thus, in any country of the world, chances are, one can find a Filipino diaspora.
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.
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:
Strengthen family values and relationships.
Build communities among families of migrants.
Address the social costs of migration.
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.
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.
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.
(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)
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
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.
The various social services and programs that the shrine has established over the years are:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” 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. 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. Mary’s song is the magna carta of any and all authentic faith experience.
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).
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.
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.
(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)
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Every now and then, we get reactions from devotees especially when our homilies touched on the social issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Some react by saying that they went to the shrine to seek spiritual solace and peace, not to be disturbed by the ugly reality of the country or the world. Some say they came to the shrine to pray, not to become socially aware. Sometimes they invoked the concept of separation between church and state, misinterpreting it by saying that the church should not talk about social issues because it is the domain exclusively of the state. They say that the church’s only domain is the spiritual and religious like sacraments, prayers and catechesis. Thus, according to them, preaching about issues of justice and peace is tantamount to meddling in politics.
The shrine has become well-known among the devotees as actively promoting justice and peace in preaching and social programs. The shrine has been very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. This gave a unique identity to the shrine as Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula observes, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.”
The shrine through the years has integrated social issues, justice and peace and integrity of creation in its mission and ministry. In the 60s and 70s, Redemptorists were influenced by values and ideas from Vatican II and liberation theology which emphasizes, among others, preferential option for the poor, liberation of the oppressed, aggiornamento or openness of the church to the signs of the times. During the political and social upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s the Redemptorist community of Baclaran stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. Among the burning socio-political issues which confronted the missionaries were increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and other social issues. These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission by the Redemptorists. Much of these endeavors were in line with the Redemptorist Vice Province of Manila’s thrust and directives: “Our main contribution lies in an explicit and prophetic proclamation of the gospel especially to the poor and the most abandoned.”
The involvement in justice and peace was particularly strong during the time of Marcos dictatorship. The shrine played an important part during the controversial 1986 Snap Elections at the time of Marcos dictatorship. The Shrine became the refuge of several computer engineers from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Thirty five technicians who were operating the COMELEC’s electronic quick count staged a walkout from their headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center to protest the alleged electoral fraud by supporters of Marcos. This incident proved to be pivotal as it triggered the people power or EDSA revolution in 1986 that led to the toppling down of Marcos.
In recent years, the church has become a regular sanctuary for victims of violence and oppression—farmers, workers, fisher folks, migrant workers, battered women, indigenous people—seeking genuine justice and peace. In 2016, the shrine welcomed more than 700 Lumad (Indigenous Filipinos) from Mindanao who brought to the people’s attention the sad plight of their communities and the killings of their leaders. They camped in the shrine for 10 days. Many groups and sectors expressed and gave their support—moral and material—to the Lumad.
Oftentimes the shrine has invited speakers from organized groups of the poor to share their plight to the devotees within the novena and masses of the shrine. This occurs through special celebrations of the people’s calendar. Through the people’s calendar, people’s aspirations and concerns are integrated into the liturgical calendar throughout the year. The liturgical celebrations offered the opportunity for devotees to connect their devotion and faith with their daily life situation and contemporary signs of the times. This is also to promote the consciousness of the devotees towards their social and missionary responsibilities. The reaction of the devotees were mixed. Some felt discomfort while others showed empathy to them.
The pontifical document, “The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God,” affirms the importance of prophetic ministry of the shrine: “Shrines [are] places of education in ethical values, particularly justice, solidarity, peace and the protection of creation, and thus contribute to the growth of quality of life for everyone.”On the other hand, the document reminds shrines when they lose their prophetic dimension by quoting the prophet Isaiah:
Who has asked you to trample through my courts? Bring no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust. New moons, Sabbaths, assemblies – I cannot endure solemnity combined with guilt… Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. (Is 1:12-17)
The novena also encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace. Promotion of justice and peace is well integrated into the petitions of the novena.
That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world,
Loving Mother pray for us.
That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,
Loving Mother pray for us.
Help us to grow daily in genuine love of God and neighbor so that justice and peace may happily reign in the entire family of mankind. Amen.
The promotion of justice and peace is also inscribed in the building and compound of the shrine. The main upper hall of the National Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall. It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 2005 in Cebu City. He was silenced and disappeared because of his defence of the poor and work for human rights. Since that fateful day, Fr. Rudy Romano has remained missing up to this day.
At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.
Longing for Justice and Peace
The struggle for justice and peace in the country is a primary concern of the devotees. Justice in the country remains elusive especially for the poor. Justice is not blind in the country as the the rich can easily circumvent the law but the poor always bear the brunt of the law without much support from the justice system. On the other hand, people continue to long for genuine and lasting peace as war goes on in the countryside. The aspiration for justice and peace is expressed in a thanksgiving letter written by Miriam M. Pasetes on February 4, 2015
Grateful and Praising OUR FATHER GOD, JESUS OUR SAVIOR, THE HOLY SPIRIT OUR GUIDE for you having been given as our most loving Mother of Perpetual Help. Through You I lift my thanks to OUR TRIUNE GOD, for the past month of January of this year, one month passed with joyful events as the Holy Father Pope Francis came and visited as HE OUR FATHER willed. We were made stronger as a nation. Dear Mama, despite our life’s challenges as a country beset by difficulties, by the inspiration of Pope Francis in GOD’s mercy and compassion, love made more manifest. We are for now more strongly confronted with these virtues as our nation’s internal peace is rattled by the encounter between PNP SAF and the MILF/BIFF costing lives lost on both sides. May the souls of those who perished for the sake of peace, find peace in GOD’s Kingdom. Dear Mama please pray for them and for the fortitude of their grieving loved ones.
Two wars continue to rage in the country—the communist insurgency and the Muslim separatist movement. Despite repeated attempts at peace through dialogue and negotiations between the government and the NDF and MILF, no substantial agreement has been reached. Both sides remain recalcitrant regarding their position. NDF and MILF continue to defend their ideological principles. The government is content with maintaining the socio-political status quo and introducing cosmetic changes. Genuine and long-lasting peace continues to be a dream for all the people. In the midst of these wars, devotees continue to pray and long for justice and peace. This aspiration is expressed, for example, by Danna Zerrudo who wrote on May 3, 2017 to thank Our Mother of Perpetual Help for passing the bar exams:
I know that my passing the bar exams is just a beginning. So here I am, imploring you once again. Help me to help those who are truly in need. Help me to use my title “Attorney” for the right purposes… Teach us always the path to Jesus. Help me and all my countrymen and women to bring back justice to the legal system of our country. Many are saying that there is no more hope to repair this system, however, such a gargantuan system would never be mended if there is no one or only a few will try to reform it. May God bless the Philippines and every Filipino.
Sadly, however, one of the hindrances to achieving justice and peace is the lack of empathy and indifference of many people. We see this in the reaction of many devotees when we make a moral stance on social issues in the light of the gospel. Just recently on the issue of the rampant extra-judicial killing in the country as an offshoot of Duterte government’s war on drugs. After a year of Duterte’s war on drugs, more than 12,000 suspected addicts and pushers were killed by police and armed men. It is utterly distressing that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported by a majority of people who are mostly Catholic. And yet when we denounced the killings, we were called all sorts of names–bastard priests, demons from hell, members of the yellow cult, rapists and pedophiles, coddlers of drug lords, thieving hypocrites playing politics–many of them coming from the devotees.
Pope Francis laments about the indifference that has engulf many people around the world:
[A] globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
A devotion to Mary that is individualistic may reflect apathy and indifference. When devotion is indifferent to what is happening in society, it can stagnate to individualistic piety as Ang Mahal na Birhen asserts: “We rarely associate devotion to Mary with the social dimension of Christian living, and this is when devotion to her can tend to become pious individualism.” In this light, the pastoral letter challenges us:
Our devotion to Mary should never lose sight of the present plight of the vast majority of our Filipino, brethren who live lives unworthy of human beings. These poor and oppressed brethren of ours are devotees of Mary, too; and they call out to her, their Mother, to ease their sufferings and free them from their chains…Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which we needed in the Philippines today are the works of justice and freedom from oppression. As the Church points out to us, our mission is “to be present in the heart of the world proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted.”
This is always a big challenge for the shrine–how to tackle and transform the indifference and individualism of the devotees’ piety. How do we cultivate the devotion towards a positive response to issues of justice and peace in the country and in the world? In addressing these challenges, the Icon and the Mary have actively inculcated among the devotees a missionary attitude and action for issues of justice and peace among the devotees.
Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon
Through the icon, Mary saw and heard the hunger and cries of the devotees for justice and peace. As devotees gaze on the icon, Mary invites them to contemplate the world where there is injustice and conflict and form a life of compassion and identification with the poor and the suffering.
Identification with the suffering is pervasive in the icon. Mary’s sorrowful gaze upon the devotees expresses Mary’s identification with their misery here on earth. Mary feels the pain and suffering that they undergo daily, exacerbated by the present order dominated by power, greed, and wealth. Thus, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an Icon of compassion. While her gaze upon us is a gaze of mercy and compassion, it is also a gaze that brings hope to the struggling, the poor and the most abandoned.
Like Mary who gazed upon the devotees with compassion and sorrow because of the misery and suffering they experience every day, the devotees are invited to open their eyes and see the hardships of their fellow poor, deprived and oppressed. So that they may see the poor and needy in the same way that Our Mother of Perpetual Help see them—seeing them with compassion and sorrow at their miserable situation.
As the devotees allow Mary’s gaze to enter into their souls, they are drawn into her power—the power of tenderness. Pope Francis meditates on this:
“[E]very time we look to Mary, we believe again in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong, who do not need to abuse others in order to feel strong” (Evangelii gaudium, 288).
Mary’s gaze, however, is not meant to draw the devotees to herself only. It is ultimately directed towards Jesus. Mary invites the devotees to follow the path of her son Jesus. Mary showed the devotees that Jesus is the true path towards liberation, justice and peace.
In the icon, the eyes of Jesus is not looking at Mary but on the cross, even beyond the cross. The eyes of Jesus is looking at God the Father through the cross 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. The symbol of the instruments of the passion carried by the two angels also symbolized the passion of humanity and passion of the earth today. Jesus’ impending suffering evokes Jesus’ identification with our own suffering. But the instruments that the Angels hold are instruments not of death and failure but of life and victory. The most sacred event of our salvation is the passion and the offering of Jesus’ life for our redemption. Through the passion and death of Jesus, devotees are called to identify with the suffering and offer their lives for each other.
Missio: Following Jesus with Mary
Mary, in her life here on earth, identified with the poor, the oppressed and most abandoned because she herself was poor. Mary of Nazareth belonged to the anawim. The anawim or the “faithful remnant” of Israel are the poor of God. In the Old Testament, the anawim were the poor of every sort—materially and spiritually: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. Robert A. Guelich summarizes the meaning of anawim as “those in desperate need (socio-economic element) whose helplessness drove them to a dependent relationship with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication. Both elements are consistently present.”
Mary is the epitome of an anawim. Mary is the perfect reflection of God’s own humility, for she indeed is the poorest and lowliest of people in her society: the anawim. In this way, Pope Francis paints Mary as an inspiration for justice and peace.
As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity.
Likewise, Mary is an inspiration in the work for justice and peace because Mary was considered a prophetess. Scholars have noted that Luke’s portrait of Mary, particularly in Lk. 1.26-56, characterizes her as a prophetess, although, the evangelist refrains from explicitly calling Mary a prophetess. We seldom think of Mary as outspoken and bold for justice but as quiet, passive, gentle virgin, meek and mild. For centuries, we heard of the perception of Mary as submissive which is paradigmatic for female lives on earth. Yet in the Canticle of Mary in Luke 3:46-55, we see a totally different Mary. Here Mary sings a song of praise to God who overturns the status quo, who lifts up the humble like her, and chooses her, rather than a queen or princess, to be bearer of God’s Son. Mary was not timid
Like Mary, devotees are called to be prophets today. As prophet they are called to proclaim defiance and resiliency against all social structures and systems that is contrary to the Gospel. They are called to announce the liberation from all forms of oppression and domination, and at the same time, pronounce alternative path of service towards the coming of God’s reign. As prophet, however, they recognize that ultimately their final destiny is beyond this world. Prophecy expresses the experience of eternal discomfort with the world where there is the tension of the already-but-not-yet realisation of the reign of God. As the pontifical document The “Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God” states, “[S]hrines stimulate us to live as a critical and prophetic ferment in these present heavens and in this present earth and they renew the vocation of Christians to live in the world, while not being of the world (cf. Jn 17:16).”
The life of Mary inspires the devotees to open their eyes to the reality of poverty around them, in the society and the world. Like Mary they are called to participate in bringing justice, mercy, and lasting compassion to those most in need. Just as Mary identified with the anawim and was not timid, they also ought to be bold and daring in proclaiming God’s justice and peace.
They who experience and receive the perpetual help from God through the prayer of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, is called to be channels of perpetual help of God. Help becomes perpetual as it does not stop with them. Help becomes perpetual through service to their fellow human beings especially the poor and most abandoned. They are called to be servants in their home, community, church and society. Ultimately the fruit of our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is to become like her through our unselfish and humble participation in the God’s work of building God’s kingdom.
Call to Action
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the life of Mary as a disciple and missionary has serve as an inspiration to the devotees in living out justice and peace today. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be enriched by the prophetic and transformative understanding and living out of Marian model amidst the signs of the times. Emphasis on the devotional aspect only is counterproductive.
Volunteer for mission to the poor whether in rural or urban area near you. For the more committed ones join missionary groups and organization who go to other countries or remote areas. Share whatever talent you have for the promotion of justice and peace both global and local.
(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)
 The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and, No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5)…..
“And when the angels said, ‘O Mary! Indeed God has chosen you, and purified you, and has chosen you above all other women of the worlds. O Mary! Be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those bow.’”
– Qur’an 3:42-43
Outside the shrine, there are many Muslim vendors selling all sorts of wares—clothes, electronics, housewares, even Catholic religious articles like rosaries, statutes, novena booklets and other religious materials. Most of these Muslim traders came from the provinces in Mindanao, the island in the south of the Philippines that has the largest Muslim population in the country. The Muslim traders began to arrive in the 1990s. In due course, some Muslim settlers invested in established stalls (puwesto) and matched medium-and-large-scale business enterprises owned by other merchants in the area. A considerable number, however, remained as street vendors due to lack of sufficient capital.
After the trade came the mosques. Four mosques were constructed within 500 meters from the shrine. The earliest mosque is the Masjid Abdullah, built in 1978; the next to be built is Masjid Rajah Sulayman in 1995. Masjid Al-Nur in Brgy. 79 of Pasay City came next in 1998, while Masjid Al-Wasat, located a few meters away from Baclaran Barangay Hall at the shrine’s northern part, was completed in 2009. At present, only three mosques exist. The Masjid Rajah Sulayman which sat on a reclaimed land on Roxas Boulevard just south of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, overlooking Manila Bay was demolished by the government in 2013. The government’s reason for the demolition was the tenants’ lack of legal ownership of the site and an ordinance to widen city streets and prevent pickpocketing and violence in the area.
The shrine has maintained a relationship of peaceful co-existence with the Muslim community in Baclaran in the past. Besides small attempts at reaching out, there was no substantial effort towards dialogue between the shrine and the Muslim community. I do not know why no substantial dialogue between the Baclaran shrine community and Muslim community occurred. Perhaps, both sides did not know where and how to begin.
Nevertheless, this will be a big challenge for both parties in the future. Because of the large number of Muslim community, the Baclaran shrine has the potential to become a center for Christian-Muslim dialogue. In this endeavor, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, can play a vital part in the dialogue with the Muslims. Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be a vital part because Mary is also greatly revered by the Muslims. I shall talk more about this later.
An interesting phenomenon in some countries in Asia where there are shrine for Our Mother of Perpetual Help is non-Christians praying before the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This is true in Singapore, India (Bombay), and the Philippines. In the Novena church in Singapore, for example, Singaporean Redemptorist Fr. Gerard Louis reports that 20 to 25% of those who attend the Novena are non-Catholics, people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Among all Catholic churches in Singapore, they only go to the Novena church. They only go for the novena not for the mass and other church sacraments and services. Some new Catholics, however, have come to faith and Baptism through the Novena Devotions.
Here in Baclaran, there is no exact figure or percentage of how many non-Catholics pray the novena. From time to time, though, the phenomenon has received some admiration from other Christian denomination. For example, Jullian Robin Sibi said that Baclaran is one of those spots where you have to go to even though you are not Catholic. Andy Dierickx, who identifies himself as a Protestant Christian, sincerely admires the devotees’ dedication despite the fact that he does not approve of every practice they do:
Let me preface my comment by saying as a ‘protestant Christian’ (for want of a better label) there are many things I don’t understand about the Roman Catholic church. Novenas, rosaries, praying to statuary and knee-walking are just some of the things I don’t comprehend. Lately I have been a bit outspoken on the subject and have offended loved ones in the process. On reflection I pray and ask forgiveness for that. I may never understand the rituals and practices, but I cannot question the devotion of the devotees of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church. They sit and sweat and kneel and sweat when they could be in SM or home in front of the aircon! If some of my fellow Christians could have half of that fervor it would be amazing. While I could never subscribe to the Catholic precepts and ideology I pay respect to the beautiful folk who gather at Baclaran each Wednesday. Next time I am in town I might just drop in and sweat with you.
Ben Hernandez, a non-Christian, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “I am not a Christian but, as l have said in my wall post, Baclaran Church truly reflects our Filipino culture, values and heritage.”
The latest novena does not have any prayer intention on ecumenism. Not surprisingly, the 1948 novena had a Prayer for the Conversion of Non-Catholics as one of it’s recommended private prayers. This reflects the prevalent antagonism towards non-Catholics during the time before Vatican II. This was removed in the 1973 novena. This reflects a changing attitude and the increasing desire for ecumenism towards non-Catholics.
Ecumenism is an important ministry of shrines as affirmed by the pontifical document, The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God. The document states,
“The intense experience of the Church’s unity which shrines provide can help pilgrims to discern and welcome the promptings of the Spirit that lead them in a special way to pray and work for the unity of all Christians … Shrines can be places where ecumenical commitment is strongly promoted, since there the change of heart and holiness of life that are “the soul of the whole ecumenical movement” is fostered and the grace of unity given by the Lord is experienced.
The Pontifical Council reaffirmed this in the Third Asian Congress on Pilgrimages and Shrines in Nagasaki, Japan in 2007:
Pilgrimages and Shrines are privileged opportunities and places of peace and reconciliation, even not in fullness of communion, where not only the Catholic faithful gather, but also believers of other religions too. Using Pope Benedict XVI’s recent words, “they become meeting spaces for unity while respecting legitimate diversity”
Ecumenism has affected families of devotees. Some families of devotees have members with different religions like Karen who wrote in September 23, 2014,
I am married now and thankful that 35 years of my life I bring my husband even though we do not have same religion he tend to embrace and respect what I believe. I know you have great plans for me and my husband. I am grateful and thankful.
According to Philippine Statistics Authority, 92% of the population of the country is Christian. The Roman Catholic Church is the predominant Christian denomination with 81% of the total population, while about 11% belong to Protestant Christian and independent Catholic denominations, such as Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Seventh-day Adventist Church, United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Evangelicals. According to national religious surveys, about 5.6% of the population of the Philippines is Muslim, making Islam the second largest religion in the country. Philippine traditional religions are still practiced by an estimated 2% of the population, made up of many aboriginal and tribal groups.
Despite that the Philippines is 80% Catholics, the ordinary devotee is exposed to other religious culture and expression of the faith. OFW’s working abroad are exposed to different beliefs and religious life style especially when they work in non-Christian countries. The exposure to other religions brings changes to their thinking and living of their devotion, not to mention, being converted to other religion. They bring this renewed religious thinking when they go back home to the Philippines.
We live at at time where there is a growing movement of dialogue among religions and faiths. The increasing calls and efforts for interreligious dialogue continue to break down walls of prejudice and intolerance. Fiore describes today’s global world as a 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. The world is heading towards greater openness beyond the religion we have grown into. There is no turning back, as David Tracy contended, “[T]here can be no return to a pre-ecumenical, pre-pluralistic, ahistorical theology.”
The interreligious milieu poses several challenges to the living of one’s religion. First, each one is challenged to have a clearer understanding and deeper living of one’s religion. As people are exposed to other religions they learn to see more the distinctiveness of their own religion and this help to clarify their religious identity. Alternatively, each one is challenged to learn from the other. Everyone is challenged to have a wider and deeper understanding of God that goes beyond one’s own religion. Finally, it provides an opportunity for mutual enrichment about God as each religion reveals a special facet of the truth about God. In this interreligious milieu, dialogue becomes a necessary attitude, a way of life. It challenges each one to learn the art of listening despite actual differences.
These developments affirm the church’s conviction in recent years towards continuous interreligious dialogue. Many church documents, especially after Vatican II, have affirmed that the seeds of the Gospel go beyond the Catholic Church. For example, Lumen Gentium says that salvation is possible for all people of goodwill whether they have explicit faith in God or not.Nostra Aetate declares that other than Christianity, there is a ray of truth that enlightens all men and women. And Gaudium et Spes affirms that the Holy Spirit in a way known only to God offers every person the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery.
Despite the climate of pluralism, multiculturalism, and ecumenism there is continuous religious conflicts and the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism in the world today. There are those who advocate for a return to exclusion, religious discrimination, religious fundamentalism and, religious extremism. In the Philippines, there is still a perceived mutual prejudice between Muslims, Lumads, and Christians. Many suffer from the continuous war between Muslims and Christians in the south.
Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon
There is a profound basis for ecumenism both in the icon and the life of Mary. Contemplating the icon throughout these years, the icon has instilled the seeds of ecumenism amongst the devotees.
Even as the icon is foreign, a Byzantine Icon which proclaims an Eastern theology, devotees came to love the Icon. Through the icon, devotees became exposed to the influence of a foreign theology–Eastern theology.
The icon is a product of ecumenism. In the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help East and West tradition and elements meet to deliver a profound meaning and spirituality. Italian Redemptorist Fr. Serafino Fiore expounds,
East and West met in admirable harmony, and our Icon shows the vestiges. If in this one the Eastern tradition speaks through symbols and themes that are proper to it, including the stylized face of Mary and the thread-like design of the hands, then the West reveals the influence of Italian art in the humanized figure of the child and in a new combination of colors.
Missio: Walking with Mary
Whatever religion one may belong and adhere to, Mary presents a refreshing model in the living out of one’s faith and religion. Mary is the archetype to how one ought to live religiously. Major religions, in particular, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have found in Mary an inspiration and model to living out one’s religion. Mary as Theotokos, virgin, mother/spouse, best represents humanity’s allowing the fullness of God’s grace into human life.
In this light, Mary is key to ecumenism. Professor Macquarrie contends that in Mary, Christian denominations may find resources for unity and reconciliation, rather than conflict. Macquarrie asserts that the theology of Mary will “throw new light on the truths from which it had been derived and will thereby strengthen the coherence and unity of the many elements which together constitute the Christian faith”. Archbishop Francesco Gioia contends that because of her special place in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Mary is regarded as a meeting point in interreligious dialogue. Mary serves as an opening for dialogue between religions. Charles Dickson, Lutheran parish pastor and author of two books on Mary, beautifully summarizes Mary’s special role to ecumenism,
A Muslim student in Rome asks to visit Santa Maria Maggiore Church and then explains the Muslim devotion to Mary. A Greek tour guide takes tourists through Eastern Orthodox churches resplendent with beautiful icons of Mary. And a Presbyterian minister writes a book on the Rosary and, as a result, incorporates it into his daily devotions. Perhaps it is no accident that in our world of harsh conflict and human insensitivity, people of many faiths should find a common meeting place in devotion to the tender Mother of Jesus. Perhaps she will bring her warring children together and teach them how to live as a family of peace. In the Blessed Virgin we find elements of all the world’s monotheistic religions.
Let us examine how Mary is an instrument of unity and reconciliation between different denominations within Christianity and between Christian and Muslims.
East and West
Both Eastern and Western church have a deeply rooted devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox Churches both share a deep love for Our Lady. John Paul II underlined “how profoundly the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the ancient Churches of the East feel united by love and praise of the Theotokos“ Dimitrios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch, has noted that “our two sister Churches have maintained throughout the centuries unextinguished the flame of devotion to the most venerated person of the all-holy Mother of God’, [Dimitrios I, Homily given on December 7, 1987 during the celebration of Vespers at St. Mary Major(Rome): L’Osservatore Romano(Eng. Ed. Dec. 21-28, 1987), p. 6.], and he went on to say that “the subject of Mariology should occupy a central position in the theological dialogue between our Churches … for the full establishment of our ecclesial communion.” [ibid., 6]
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help can serve as a bridge between the East and West church. Fiore cites the potential of the icon for dialogue with the Eastern church:
With our mutual love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, she can be an instrument of unity among our faiths. In this sense our Icon also has a role: to make us rediscover the Christian life breathing with two lungs.
Catholics – Anglicans
The Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was created in 1969 which seeks to make ecumenical progress between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. In 28 January 2004 – 3 February 2004 in Seattle, Washington, the ARCIC produced an agreed statement on Mary,”Marian Issues and Final Document”; “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.” The ARCIC offers this Agreed Statement in the hope that it expresses our common faith about the one who, of all believers, is closest to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The statement further declares the communion of the two churches regarding Mary:
Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, stands before us as an exemplar of faithful obedience, and her “Be it to me according to your word” is the grace-filled response each of us is called to make to God, both personally and communally, as the Church, the body of Christ. It is as figure of the Church, her arms uplifted in prayer and praise, her hands open in receptivity and availability to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that we are one with Mary as she magnifies the Lord. “Surely,” Mary declares in her song recorded in the Gospel of Luke, “from this day all generations will call me blessed.”.
We recognize in the event of the Incarnation God’s gracious ‘Yes’ to humanity as a whole… Mary’s fiat can be seen as the supreme instance of a believer’s ‘Amen’ in response to the ‘Yes’ of God.
Catholics – Protestants
Up to the early 20th century, Protestants look to the Marian devotion and tradition of the Catholic church with great suspicion. This is epitomized in the term “Mariolatry” which is a Protestant pejorative label for perceived excessive Catholic devotion to Mary. The Swiss Reformed theologian who is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, has said that Marian theology is the main heresy of Catholicism: “Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excrescences must be excised.”
In the second half of the 20th century, however, there was an emerging interest among Protestants in Mary. Byassee Many Protestants have taken a new look at Mary. Protestants heightened interest in Mary … suggest she could be an ecumenical bridge — or at least that the Protestant aversion to Marian devotion is eroding.Byassee contends that Protestants rejecting Mary have often thrown out the baby with the bathwater. The internationally renowned American evangelist and prominent evangelical Christian figure in the 20th century, Billy Graham admits that evangelicals did not give Mary her proper due. Reformed theologian Willie Jennings says, “Salvation begins with Mary’s yes.” But the Lateran theologian Asmussen still expressed some reservation: “We say yes to Mary the highly praised mother of God, and no to Marianism.”
Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson has focused on the ecclesial import of Mary, and advocated a Protestant recovery of the tradition of Marian prayer. Byassee recommended that to ask Mary for prayers is not un-Protestant. Another Lutheran theologian, David Yeago, invoked the long tradition of “Marian consciousness” in the church, and called upon Protestants to recognize and reclaim, on the basis of Scripture, the truth that every Christian’s relationship to Jesus Christ contains a relationship to Mary. Even further, he argued that Scripture supports the view that “Mary is present to the church and to the believer both as the proto-type and model of the church and the believer, and also as an active agent of the formation of the church and the believer”.
Catholics – Islam
Vatican II ushered a new attitude towards Islam: “Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem.” Nostra Aetate listed several reasons why the Church should respect Islam; it shows parallels between Islamic belief and Christian faith. Among these many common elements, Mary is clearly mentioned: “They also honor Mary, His [Jesus’] virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion.”
Love for the Virgin Mary runs deep in Islam. In the Qur’an, Mary’s name (Maryam) appears explicitly thirty-four times; in twenty-four of these references, she is identified as the mother of Jesus (Isa). Mary is mentioned more often by name in the Muslim scripture than in the Christian New Testament. One chapter of the Qur’an (Sura 19) is in fact entitled “Mary” and it narrates the events of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth: Mary is chosen by God and given divine favors; she is immaculately consecrated to God from her mother’s womb; an angel appears to her and announces the miraculous virgin birth of a child; Mary accepts, conceives Isa and gives birth to him. The very story of the birth of Mary, which the feast day commemorates, is found in the Quran: (3:35-36).
In the international pilgrimage shrine of Our Lady of Fátima, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the subtle connection with Islam. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children near the city of Fátima, Portugal, a place named after both a Muslim princess and the daughter of Mohammed. As Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fátima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.” Thus, not surprisingly, the shrine at Fátima, Portugal, has also attracted Muslims in great numbers. They go to see the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in a city named after one of their most highly revered women.
Thus, Mary can serve as a bridge between Islam and Christianity: It is certainly true that in her very person there is a meeting point, or at least a stepping stone, between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, as the Qur’an itself says: “To those who believe, God has set an example (“mathalan”) … in Mary, who preserved her chastity …, who put her trust in the words of her Lord and his scriptures and was one of the truly devout” (“Prohibition” LXVI:12).
Call to action
Mary and the icon has enriched devotion through understanding and appreciation of ecumenism. Mary and the icon can become starting point for dialogue with other religions and faith that can nurture and develop our devotion. Our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can become more productive and meaningful if we learn from other faiths and Christian denomination through Mary and the icon.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be a bridge between communities. Marian devotion can be an avenue for inter-faith dialogue with peoples of other faith traditions. The icon and Mary encourages interreligious dialogue. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help does not harbor biases against people of other faiths or people with different political convictions. The devotion can be an instrument of peace, mutual cooperation among peoples of different faiths towards common fight against poverty and violence.
Perhaps, Mary and the Icon can be the starting of a dialogue between the Muslim community and the shrine in Baclaran in the future.
(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)
 Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity: A Sociological Assessment of Popular Religion in the Philippines, 150.
 Ustad Samanuddin, personal communication, 2011: Sapitula, 147.
 The official name of church is St. Alphonsus but everybody calls it the Novena Church.
 Gerard Louis, “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Devotion in a Non-Christian Context: Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue,” in a Talk Given to the 150th Jubilee International Congress, Baclaran, April 24-27, 2017.