Sunday, September 27, 2009


Please pray for the victims of typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines. The whole of Manila was drowned in water yesterday. I am not kidding when I say that the volume of water matches, if not exceeds, that of Katrina. In a span of nine hours, it unleashed over 420mm of water, more than the amount for the whole of September. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and as of the moment, almost eighty people have been confirmed dead. Our own subdivision was flooded knee-deep with water. But there are other areas that have suffered much worse than us. I am quite thankful to be alive. Your prayers are very much appreciated.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Baclaran Wednesday

The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help only started in the twentieth century in the Philippines, but since that time, it has evolved to become of the most enduring devotions in the country. In Manila, one always expects traffic on Wednesdays and Fridays; the former, because of the thousands who troop to Baclaran church (Baclaran Wednesdays), and the latter, because it is the day of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo Fridays). Baclaran church is staffed by the Redemptorists; the church can hold an estimated 2,000 people seated and up to 9,000 standing. From midnight to the wee hours of Thursday, hundreds of thousands would have visited the church, walking on their knees as they approach the lofty image of Our Lady. The crowd is diverse; pimps and whores and lonely housewives and cheating husbands all beg the Lady's help. The photo was probably taken during one of the many Masses that always mark a Wednesday in Baclaran.

The Redemptorists brought the picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help to the Philippines in 1906. Forty years later, the Redemptorists introduced the Perpetual Novena to the nation. The honor of conducting the first Perpetual Novena in the Philippines goes, not to Baclaran, but to the Iloilo community, in May, 1946 in the Redemptorist Church of St. Clement.

That same year, the Redemptorist Rector of Lipa City in Batangas happened to be visiting Iloilo. He was present at the Novena devotion and determined to introduce it in Lipa. There it was started the following year. When the Rector of Lipa, Fr. Gerard O’Donnell, became Rector of Baclaran, his first thought was of the Novena which he began at 6.00 pm on June 23, 1948.

That same year, the Redemptorist Rector of Lipa City in Batangas happened to be visiting Iloilo. He was present at the Novena devotion and determined to introduce it in Lipa. There it was started the following year. When the Rector of Lipa, Fr. Gerard O’Donnell, became Rector of Baclaran, his first thought was of the Novena which he began at 6.00 pm on June 23, 1948.

Fr. Leo English conducted the first Novena in Baclaran. There were only 70 people present. The capacity of the church at that time was only 300. Within the next year, a second session had to be provided, and some extensions were made to the small wooden church. Before the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the Novena. The Wednesday of each week became a day of prayer to the Virgin of Perpetual Help throughout the entire nation.

The increasing attendance of the devotees forced the Redemptorists to consider a more spacious church. Fr. Lewis O’Leary, Superior at the time, assumed management of the massive construction. The bulk of the money that financed the building came from the small offerings of ordinary people. An appeal made from the pulpit was for ten centavos per person per week. This is why it took six years to complete the construction of the church. When the money ran out, the construction was suspended; when more money came in, the work began again. The old church continued in use as the new rose over it; the Novena continued as usual.

The foundation stone had been laid by Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney on January 11, 1953. On January 1958, the Philippine hierarchy officially declared the Baclaran Church to be the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help. And on December 1st, 1958, the completed church was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Santos of Manila, assisted by Bishops Antiporda and Shanahan.

The official opening ceremony was held on December 5, 1958. Archbishop Santos celebrated the Mass, assisted by Cardinal Agagianian and several other bishops. Since the day when the Shrine was opened, it has never been closed, day or night.

The Church’s architecture is described as Modern Romanesque. Cesar Concio, its architect, and Jesse Bontoc, his associate, had planned a higher church with a bell tower. But because of its proximity to the airport, civil aeronautic regulations prevented them from carrying out their plan in full.

The church has a seating capacity of 2000 persons, with another 9000 standing. On each Wednesday, seven sessions of the Novena with benediction along with three novena Masses and two sung Masses are held. About 120,000 devotees visit Baclaran each Wednesday to pray the Novena. Far larger crowds attend on the first Wednesday of the month. Devotees arrive from 4.00 am and are still entering the church past midnight.

Confessions are heard daily in the Shrine at almost every hour of the day. On Wednesdays, the Confessional boxes are occupied all day long. The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation makes the Shrine an important centre of spiritual renewal.

Every week, hundreds of Petition and Thanksgiving letters are received at the Shrine. Many are from foreign lands wherever Filipinos happen to be. The more significant Thanksgiving letters are kept on file.

The Feast day of the Mother of Perpetual Help is celebrated on June 27. A Novena of nine consecutive days precedes the annual celebration of the feast.

Learn more about the devotion here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rumble in the Penafrancia Procession

It is now the third week of September, and in the Philippines, this is a time of great fervor and devotion to Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia, the epicenter of which is in Naga City of the Bicol region. I have blogged about the Penafrancia procession before; you may read it here. Our Lady of Penafrancia is one of the most venerated icons of the Blessed Mother, with up to hundreds of thousands, if not a million, attending the grand fluvial procession in her honor.

I was bewildered and somewhat amused by the video above. Although it is in Filipino, i guess the flow of the story is easy enough to follow, but basically what happened is that one of the voyadores (the men who accompany the image of Our Lady in procession), clearly drunk, wanted to wipe the image's robes to venerate it; however, the priests guarding the image, already clearly pressed upon in all corners, tried to get the man off the processional platform. It was at this point that the drunken man punches an elderly monsignor, hitting him right in the head. His fellow priests, their anger aroused by such impiety, then respond by repeatedly punching the drunkard, and eventually getting him off the platform.

Some points: it is a common practice in many parts of the Philippines to perform a panata while drunk; whether it be flagellation or taking part in the procession of Lucban's Santo Entierro and the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, chances are, someone will do so while inebriated. Sadly, this is the reality of Belloc's all-too-cheerful 'Where the Catholic sun doth shine...' To be honest, I have always found that poem a bit naive, if not a little misinformed; and I think too many people see it through an optic very much, well, suburban in context. But Catholics, especially third world Catholics (i.e., the only ones that still bother to believe 'the hard way'), are not prim and proper Anglicans who enjoy their sherries so much. I really can't help but think at times whether those who cite Belloc's poem so frequently would be able to stand seeing Catholicism in all its shockingly revolting humanity.

Second point: it is refreshing to see that some priests can still throw a punch. Sometimes, I think there is no better catechism lesson than a good, solid punch to the jaw. Too many priests today, even in the provinces, seem to be focused solely on giving good PR for the Church-- and while this is never a bad thing, the priest is, foremost, a minister of God tasked to bring souls to eternal beatitude. The drunkard was certainly acting in a most scandalous manner; it is only fitting that he be rebuked.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Random Notes on the Iglesia ni Cristo

Some days ago, I was at the library poring through pages and pages of old newspapers from the 1950s. These were generally happier times for the Philippines; the country was rich and still glowing somewhat from its colonial experience under the United States. The Church, too, was healthier, having been invigorated by the Irish American priests, and finding a renewed confidence after the anti-clerical revolution that threatened it just half a century earlier. There was one article, though, that stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the advertisements for American soap, American clothes, and American cars; it was a small blurb about a fiesta gone awry, after a certain religious group crashed the party.

I am speaking, of course, of the Iglesia ni Cristo, a homegrown Arian sect which claims to be the true Church. The article described how a town procession in honor of its patron saint gradually became heated, after the priest and some of his acolytes were accosted by the INC ministers. The minister complained that the priest was always ringing the church bells whenever the Iglesia would gather in the plaza, which was always configured so that it faced the church. Of course, the priest countered that it was his duty to prevent the people from sharing in their perfidies and heresies; the article then went on to describe how an Iglesia member got boxed in the face by an acolyte, after which, the trouble ensued. The details are not clear to me right now, and I regret not being able to bring my notebook with me to jot down further notes about the story, but it is safe to say that the Iglesia members retreated, having been faced with a larger Catholic crowd.

The INC has been in the news recently, after their 'executive minister' Erano 'Ka Erdy' Manalo entered eternity eight days ago. The Iglesia is considered a 'kingmaker' in the Philippines; its members vote as a bloc, and their two to three million members are definitely a boost to any ambitious politician. Thus, practically all the pages in the dailies for the past week have had some message of condolence or 'pakikiramay' from some ambitious politico seeking reelection. This is definitely a far cry from forty or even thirty years ago, when whole towns would, under the leadership of the local government, even, try to repel any INC presence in their respective dominions. Church bells were rung whenever the INC ministers would proselytize at the plazas, ministers were physically removed from their homes and ordered to find somewhere else to peddle their wares; in some cases, INC members would also report having feces thrown at them.

Today, the level of antagonism has toned down somewhat, but there exists a certain level of caution, especially among older Catholics, when dealing with the Iglesia. As a pre-school student, I remember there being a poster showing the different religions of the Philippines in one corner of our classroom. At the very bottom of the poster was the Iglesia, and my teachers would reprimand me whenever I would look at it long enough. If I misbehaved, for example, they would tell me 'Ibibigay na kita sa mga Iglesia king 'di ka pa tumigil!' (I will give you to the Iglesia if you don't stop!). There was a certain menace associated with them; my grandparents would always tell me that the INC members worshipped Manalo as a living god, and that their ministers were violent people, who kept high-powered firearms in their sacristies (or whatever they called it). Last year, a former member of the Iglesia who had 'switched' over to join its rival sect 'Ang Dating Daan' ('The Ancient Path')was gunned down while on the way to Manila. Immediately, and perhaps instinctively, the ADD members 'knew' that the Iglesia was behind it.

As a Catholic, I guess I've always taken my membership in the Church for granted. Culturally, Catholicism is a force, a superstructure that one just cannot escape from, not in this lifetime, and not in the immediate lifetimes to come. It is too pervasive, too 'everyday' that to imagine a person growing up outside its sphere of influence would be almost impossible. Some Protestant sects in the Philippines, for example, continue to refer to the Blessed Virgin as 'Blessed Mary' or 'the Virgin Mary'; there are also Evangelical groups that follow the structure of Catholic Holy Week. But the Iglesia is simply different. For one, its Arian doctrines certainly place it outside the realm of traditional Christian belief. Their government is centered around the reclusive 'Executive Minister', whom they claim is the last prophet of God; I found it funny, though, when the remains of Manalo were brought into a gigantic structure in the INC's main compound which they called the Tabernacle. Natch, Manalo's body was placed in a tomb itself placed on an elevated area, with rows of chairs on both side for the ministers to keep watch over him.

I didn't watch the ceremony in whole, since I had a busy schedule ahead. I was intrigued, however, when a loud wailing escaped the throats of the congregated INC members. Whenever the pallbearers would move the body of Manalo, it was sure to be followed by a series of loud wailing and mourning. Perhaps, since the Iglesia do not believe in the communion of saints, and teaches that prayers for the dead are the Devil's work, this was the next best thing for them. Terribly cathartic. I finally switched off the television as I still had two papers to finish and an exam for which to study.

I am suddenly reminded, although as to the connection I am not exactly clear myself, of an incident that occurred at my grandparents' home some twenty years ago when I was but a few months old. Naturally, I do not have any recollection of the event, but I have always heard this anecdote being passed around by family. The story goes that my grandparents once opened up part of their home to serve as bed and board for some university students. One of them, however, always looked uneasy when entering that part of the house. They later found out that the girl was a member of the INC; so they made sure to give her special roles during the evening devotions, such as lighting the candles in the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and having her stitch some veils for my grandmother's church group. I honestly don't know if the girl converted to Catholicism, but I think it was a valiant effort. People used to believe in religion, and not just what religion can do for oneself. One really wonders why the Church has scarcely paid attention to this sect, since, as anyone can attest, a vast majority of the Iglesia's members are former Catholics. If anything, Manalo's death should remind us of that.