Monday, December 5, 2011

The Pinoy's Marian religiosity

In the 1900s, the 'war' among the religious was as to who should be proclaimed the patroness of the Philippines.  The Dominicans wanted Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (La Naval); the Jesuits favored the Immaculate Conception.  The Aglipayans insisted on Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Antipolo) because she's katutubo, a native of the country. (Source:  Lipang Kalabaw, 04 Jan 1908)

The rains yesterday, 04 December 2011, did not stop the grand Marian procession from the Manila Cathedral to wend its way around Intramuros, the walled city.  The annual event held on the first Sunday of December is an echo of the first procession held on 08 December 1619 to commemorate the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.

Thus, as photo-documented by the media, some eighty flower-bedecked and beautifully lit carrozas of Marian images, under an umbrella or covered by clear plastic, were pulled by devotees through the streets along the ancient walls of Old Manila.  Because of the rains, we could only recall the pleasure of photographing the event from various vantage points atop the walls during the last two processions.

The images invoke the many titles of the Virgin Mary.  Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (La Naval de Manila), Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Our Lady of Antipolo) are some of the more popular ones, and they happen to have figured in intense religious arguments in the early 1900s, more than a century ago.

We found two issues of the satirical weekly Lipang Kalabaw in 1908 heckling the Dominicans and the Jesuits because of their un-holy war on who should be Patroness of the Philippines.  The Dominicans were rooting for Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and the Jesuits, the Immaculate Conception. In one of these satirical illustrations (04 Jan 1908), Gregorio Aglipay was depicted arguing for the Our Lady of Antipolo.

A perplexed Marian devotee asks a Dominican friar and a Jesuit priest on who should be the patroness of the Philippines.   

The Dominican tells her to stop this nonsense when told about the Jesuit claim, that it's thedevotion to Our Lady of the Rosary that's most profitable being the patroness of these unhappy islands. He calls the Jesuits rogues.

The Jesuit tells the woman that the Holy Father has not yet resolved the issue, but the Immaculate Conception is the official patroness. He admonishes the woman to honor the La Purisima if she wants to save her soul.

Since she doesn't know who to believe, she thinks she will just go to the [Philippine] Assembly.  (Source:  Lipang Kalabaw, 30 May 1908) 

The Dominicans and the Jesuits had very strong historical arguments for their respective Marian titles.

The Immaculate Conception was invoked in 1578 by Pope Gregory XIII with the construction of the Manila Cathedral, and in 1595 by Clement VIII with that of the Nueva Segovia and Caceres cathedrals. 

The image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary arrived in the Philippines in 1587 and has been honored ever since with the La Naval procession in October every year. To her has been attributed the incredulous Spanish naval victories against the Dutch invaders in 1646.  The image was canonically crowned on 07 October 1907.

The Antipolo image also had its own history.  It was brought to Manila in 1626 from Acapulco, Mexico and was placed in the San Ignacio church of the Jesuits in Intramuros. Tradition has it being transferred to a new church where it disappeared twice to be found in the branches of a tipulo (breadfruit) tree.  The Antipolo church was built near this site. This popular lore and its dark color could have made Aglipay to claim, in the words of Lipang Kalabaw, that Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is a katutubo, a Philippine native, and therefore the right patroness.

We can imagine this debate among the clergy and the Marian devotees that rankled for years until the Vatican stepped in.  First it was Pope Pius XI who declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Philippines in 1935. However, seven years later in 1942, Pope Pius XII declared the Immaculate Conception as the country's principal and universal patroness of the country.  Thus today, Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered the secondary patroness. 

The pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in 1975 entitled "Ang Mahal na Birhen. Mary in the Philippine Life Today" spoke of "over 100 of the parishes honor[ing] the Immaculate Conception, over 60 are dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc." ... and "some of the shrines dedicated to Mary have won nation-wide popularity either as focal points of national pilgrimages or as well-known centers of devotion [like] Our Lady of Charity and Our Lady of Badoc in Ilocos, Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan Valley, Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, Our Lady of Salambao in Obando, Bulacan, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo, Rizal, the Purification of Our Lady (or La Candelaria ) in Mabitac, Laguna, Our Lady of Caysasay in Taal, Batangas, Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, Nuestra Señora Virgen de Regla in Lapulapu City, Our Lady of the Pillar in Zamboanga, etc."

The Marian religiosity of the Filipinos was the subject of that pastoral letter, which was addressed to "the people of God in the Philippines, especially the clergy, religious men and women, and members of the mandated organizations" so as to encourage them "to continue fostering a fervent and authentic devotion to Mary."

The CBCP acknowledged "that the cult of Mary and the devotion to her image have helped many simple people to remain Catholics" but it called for "reform and renewal" with regard to the "aspects of the devotion [possibly deflecting] from genuineness and purity."

We wonder how Marian devotees with their images, medals, scapulars,and novenas, and organizers of Marian processions, Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan events, take to heart paragraph 85 of the pastoral letter: "Above all we wish to emphasize that all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator.  Mary's dignity is the most exalted among all the saints because of her divine maternity and hence she is worthy of special veneration as the Mother of God.  Her place and role in the economy of salvation is to be clearly proposed to the faithful, as the Second Council of the Vatican has expressed.  This, we think, is a very important point and, if wrongly understood, is the root and source of any ill-advised form of Marian devotion." 

The next time we visit our churches, let's check if the parish priest remembers this particular instruction of the CBCP:  "We cannot approve, for instance, of the presence of several images of Mary in the same house, chapel or church -- even parish churches -- with their devotees extolling the power of their statues over the others as if they were rivals." 


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