Show of faith
Faith is on full display in the Bicol region, where the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is being celebrated and concludes today with a fluvial procession on the Naga River.
Devotees throng the ceremonies to venerate the ancient image, such as Emelita Bagamasbad, who has made the 6-hour journey for almost two decades to pray to Our Lady and seek protection for her loved ones. Interesting and poignant, the stories of miracles tell of simple people with simple lives on which blessings rain: Army Cpl. Edwin Sto. Domingo, for example, who believes that his prayer was granted for a second son, born during the week of Our Lady’s feast, or Lt. Col. Michael Buhat, who is sure that it was Our Lady’s intercession that saved two of his men from death in a battle in Camarines Norte. They consider these blessings rewards for their devotion, as do the pilgrims and especially the voyadores, the barefoot men who bear on their shoulders the carriage bearing the image of Our Lady for the 3-kilometer traslacion from the Peñafrancia Shrine to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.
Over 300 years of devotion to Our Lady has resulted in a hybrid celebration that begins on the first day with the traslacion and ends with the fluvial procession that brings the image of Bicol’s patroness back to the Basilica Minore (which is adjacent to the Shrine) over the Naga River, accompanied by voyadores in boats. “Viva la Virgen!” the devotees cry. Long live Bicol’s beloved Ina.
The striking history of the wooden image began in 1710, as traced by Inquirer correspondent Juan Escandor Jr. From accounts, a Spanish friar introduced Our Lady of Peñafrancia to the cimarrones (African slaves who had escaped their cruel Spanish masters and lived as outlaws) as a patroness to venerate. An artisan carved the image out of a santol tree, copied from an image of Mary and her Child Jesus kept by the friar. A dog was killed so its blood could be used to paint the image, for which the cimarrones built a chapel. The story goes that the dead dog was thrown into the Naga River, but miraculously came back to life.
Folk customs have inevitably been incorporated in the rituals to honor Ina, such as the traslacion that approximates the tumultuous January procession of the Black Nazarene in Manila, a heaving sea of men dressed in purple and fighting for the privilege of pulling on the rope that tows the carriage bearing the image of the suffering Christ to and from Quiapo Church. In Naga, Our Lady’s voyadores have developed a tradition of getting drunk before lifting her carriage on their shoulders, as though high intoxication were a requirement to commune with the divine. (The posting of soldiers and policemen has thus been deemed necessary to maintain order. A liquor ban has been put in place, as well as a gun ban. Other prohibited practices are the throwing of confetti and the use of water hoses on the voyadores. The carriage itself has been modified to make it easier and safer to transport the much-loved image—a modern touch that contrasts with the ancient traditions of faith that surround it.)
Also, in Naga as in Quiapo, the male devotees take the active part and the women are in the sidelines—doubtless as a precautionary measure, the ardor of faith often intertwined with the notion that vigorous physical participation, to the point of risking life and limb, is an act necessary to show deep faith for the grant of petitions.
Our Lady of Peñafrancia has become an inextricable part of the history of Naga, once named the Ciudad de Nueva Caceres and one of the first four colonial cities in Southeast Asia. A highlight of Naga’s history is the revolt in
Nueva Caceres, “which brought the proud Spanish government to its end in [Camarines Sur]” on Sept. 18, 1898, and “signaled the end of Spanish rule in the whole region,” Bicol historian Danilo Gerona said.
In 2010, Caceres Archbishop Leonardo Z. Legaspi said Ina had healed him of lung cancer. In his homily after the traslacion, the archbishop said: “It is almost impossible to speak of Bicol without referring to Ina. To be a Bicolano is to be her son or daughter.”
How admirable is a sincere show of faith. It becomes more so if it informs one’s daily life and moves one to aspire to be like the one being honored and revered: virtuous and devoted, merciful and compassionate, strong and committed.
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