From Pius IX to ‘Pio Nono’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

From Pius IX to ‘Pio Nono’

/ 02:22 AM January 09, 2015

All roads lead to Quiapo today for the feast of the Black Nazarene. The “Nazareno de Quiapo” is different from other images of Christ carrying the cross because of its dark complexion. According to folk tradition, it was originally white when it was made in Mexico but became discolored due to a fire on board the galleon that brought it to Manila in the early 1600s. Devotion to this image is so widespread that the mayor of Manila has declared the feast a holiday in the city because Quiapo and the route of the procession will be unpassable anyway.

Next week, all roads will lead to Rizal Park for the Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis. From the glowing media reports since his election, this pope is different from most, not only because he is a Jesuit who took a Franciscan name but also because he leads a simple, no-frills lifestyle that has put many status-conscious clerics in a bad light. We have had visiting popes before: Paul VI in 1970 and John Paul II in 1985 and again in 1995. But this visit by Francis is supposed to set a world record for the crowd that is expected to turn up.


As the Philippines prepares for the papal visit, it would be relevant to recall a priest named

Faustino Villafranca who set eyes on Pope Pius IX in Rome in 1869 and wrote about his experience in a travelogue published in Manila in 1870. The book had a kilometric title best translated from the original Spanish as: “Correspondence on a trip from the Philippines to Europe via Sicily, Naples, Rome, Paris, London and Spain, with a description of various places during transit including Canton and the stories of the round-trip voyage.”


Based on this book, the bibliographer W.E. Retana declared Villafranca “the first Filipino and the first Asian to travel to Europe and to describe his journey in Spanish.” During his voyage, Villafranca also encountered the then recently dethroned Spanish Queen Isabella II in Paris.

The original Spanish edition of Villafranca’s book used to be quite rare but is now downloadable online. Excerpts were translated from the original Spanish by Jun Terra and published in Philippine Studies in 1984.

Villafranca was a guest of the Dominicans in Rome when, on April 7, 1869, he was invited to Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva church for the feast of the Annunciation with Pius IX in attendance.

Villafranca wrote:

“The luxurious coaches of the military chiefs, the senators, the prelates and their excellencies, the Cardinals, arrived successively. The Cardinals were dressed in purple and each one, moreover, apart from his liveries, had with him on his magnificently gilded coach an ecclesiastic who assisted him, a page of cape and sword who bore his scarlet cap in his hand, and another page who was always the first to come down the steps of the coach.

The prelates also arrived with escorts, but were less ostentatious in their coaches and liveries. From afar one could distinguish them by the violet color of the plumes on their horses, and by the absence of a processional canopy. Some Cardinals arrived in their resplendent coaches with the coat of arms of their nobility and, three of these being princes, had an extra coach each. They were their excellencies, the Cardinals Antonelli, Bonaparte and Hohenlohe.”

In the midst of all this pomp and pageantry, in the midst of a riot of colors, Pius IX stands out in white. Villafranca describes everything in detail but the most relevant part of the narrative concerns the end of the service:


“[O]n his return to the sacristy, His Holiness stopped for the kissing of the feet, for that is how one pays homage to the Vicar of Christ. During this exercise the Father Prior took my hand and led me towards his Holiness. When we were nearing, His Holiness displayed a certain anxiety to find out who I was. The Father Prior told him I was a prebend from Manila, at which information he shared opportune remembrances of the Philippine Islands, and while we kissed his feet, he mentioned that the Bishop of Nueva Caceres (that is, Bicol) would be here for the centenary of St. Peter, to which the Father Prior replied that I was his disciple, adding that the Bishop would not arrive for the Council.

“We withdrew to give way to the others who wanted to have a word with His Holiness, but our short conversation with the Pope attracted the attention of this respectable assembly. From the time he dismounted from his carriage at his arrival, I noted that Filipino features aroused his curiosity because he looked twice towards the small viewing window where the Father Prior and I were looking out. Now, thanks to God, a native of the Philippines will no longer be something strange to him. Since [my arrival in] Sicily I have noticed that the Filipino type is completely unknown in Italy.

“Before his return to the Vatican, His Holiness mounted his coach quickly and graciously acknowledged the enthusiastic ovation of the immense crowds who threw flowers and cheered thunderously: Viva el Pontifice Rey! Viva Pio IX! And this cheering continued in all the streets as he progressed back towards the Vatican.”

Most Filipinos may not know or care that Pius IX was the last pope to be sovereign of the Papal States, or that he had the longest reign—31 years—from his election in 1846 to his death in 1878. But this beatified pope’s name is still current in the Philippines, where “Pio Nono” does not refer to Pius IX but to a popular type of sweet, fluffy cake.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: black Nazarene, Faustino Villafranca, Mexico, Nazareno de Quiapo, Pius IX, Pope Pius IX, W.E. Retana
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