Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day of Peace

"Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to men of goodwill." - Is the resounding message of the Angel to the Shepherds. While the people of God suffered under the yoke of the Roman Emperor, Christ came, obscured and unknown to many but He first revealed Himself to the Sheperds of Bethlehem who were wathcing the flock. Today Christ is also saying peace to those who will listen, and we who hear the word of God has the responsibility to do it. For Blessed are they who hear and do the words of God.

The Manger in our Family Living Room.

The Theotokus

January 1, 2009. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Dei Genetrix. Ora Pro nobis.

"All generations will call me blessed": "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship."513 The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration."514 The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.515

[From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par.971 Emphasis supplied]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mary Mother of the Church: Reflection # 4 My Personal Pilgrimage

If there is any heart more intimately linked with the heart of Jesus, it is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Simon the prophet told Mary that a dagger shall pierced her heart. What heart of mother shall not be broken to pieces to see the suffering of her Son. But Mary stood at the foot of the cross, full of pain and sorrow. She has surrendered her entire self to the will of God. Thus seeing her Son crucified must have created so much pain. But with a heart full of forgiveness she resigned her will to God. Like her Son she forgave and prayed for those who killed Jesus. Within her heart saying with her Son, "Forgive them Lord, for they do not know what they are doing." For as the heaven darkened as the Son of God expired on the Cross, the cloud of Sorrow filled her heart. The sword of sorrows thrust itself deeper into the Heart of the Mother of God. Christ, looking up to John the beloved disciple said, "Son behold your Mother..." then turning to Mary, "Mother behold your Son....." Saying thus ...."Son behold your Mother" Our Lord gave Mary to us to be our Mother. And today in various circumstances we behold our Mother. What great Joy would a mother have to see the resurrection of her Son. "Queen of heaven rejoice for the Son whom you bear is now risen.!" Mary Mother of the Church, pray for us.

Let me take you with me into one of the places I visited for this personal pilgrimage - The Caritas Marae Center of the Franciscan friars of Mary Immaculate in San Filipe, Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines.

The Image of the Pieta. The Sorrowful Mother taking her Son in Her Arms.

Its been a long time that I have not visited this convent. I use to visit this convent before when they still have the FM Radio Station. But the super typhoon that brought havoc to Bicol region destroyed the transmission tower of Caritas Mariae. The lat time I came here, this statue of the Pieta was not yet around. At the background is the Convent's Church of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces. The FMMI Convent in Naga City is located in San Felipe. People who want to visit this convent and if in Naga can take the jeepney with the sign "San Felipe".

The Caritas Mariae Center and the Friars' Convent. The FFMI are doing a very good apostolate here in Naga. Here they truly practice poverty and the spirit of St. Francis

It was December 29, 2008 that I visited this convent. The Friars were busy distributing gifts for the poor. I thought of availing the Sacrament of Penance. However, I thought that no one would be available. But one of the superiors gladly obliged when I requested for a confession. I am happy that in ur Church we have this sacrament that allows us to be reconciled to God and to know that with the authority of the Church as given by Christ we are forgiven and given the chance to be closer to God and mend our relationships.

The Image of Padre Pio, in the Church Mary Mediatrix of All Graces.

St. Anthony of Padua

Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary

The Sanctuary

Another View of the Sanctuary

The Choir in Practice

The friars Giving gifts to the Poor

Mary Mother of the Church: Reflection # 3 on my Personal Pilgrimage

One of the distinguishing mark of the ancient church is its devotion to the Virgin Mary. This is the reason why Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Churches has an enduring devotion to the Virgin Mary. In the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church declared Mary as the "Bearer of God" or in Greek Theotokus. Because Christ whom she bore is one person with two natures. And Christ is Divine. This assertion affirms the Divinity of Christ which in ancient timew were disputed by heretics who taught that Christ was not totally God or only part a man and part God. The council affirmed that in Christ there is only one person. Furthermore it also affirmed the Creed of Nicea. The term Theotokus was formulated by the Council to contradict Nestorius who called Mary the Christotokus. Our devotion to Mary must always be seen in the context of our Christology. Mary's significance is always connected to her Son as foretold by Genesis 3:15. There is only one Mediator and Savior - Jesus Christ. Mary by her obedience and submission to God's will cooperated in the plan of Salvation.

Let me take you again to one interesting place in Naga City - the Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Caceres: [Photos belong to Dr. Herbert R.]

The Statue of St. John the Evangelist in the Courtyard of the Cathedral. St. John the Evangelist is the Titular of the Cathedral Parish of the Archdiocese of Caceres.

Another View of the Massive, Fortress-like Cathedral

Another view of the Cathedral

Steel Gate of the Cathedral with Commemorative Seal of the Jubilee Year 2000

The Door of the Church with the Inscription indicating the Founding of the Diocese of Caceres in 1595. The Image of St. Peter Baptist carved on the Woode Door. St. Peter Baptist is the Principal Patron of the Archdiocese

Courtyard of the Cathedral, seen is the Minor Seminary of the Holy Rosary, Declared by the Philippine Historical Commission as a National Landmark.

Universidad De Santa Isabel. A University founded by the Vincentians, Asia's first Normal School. Orginally established as an all girls school. Dedicated to honor St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Across the Street from the Catheral is the Archbishop's Palace. Seen Flying from the balcony are the Flags and Embelms of the Holy See, the Philippines and the Archdiocese of Caceres.

Statue of St. Peter Baptist, principal patron of the Archdiocese of Caceres.

St. John the Evangelist

Pavillion at the middle of the Courtyard

The Cathedral

The Easter Pagoda on the Background is the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary

Mary Mother of the Church: Reflection # 2 on my Personal Pilgrimage

“Blessed are you among women and Blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus!”

The line quoted above was taken from one of the most popular prayers of the Church. Indeed a very ancient prayer intended to repeat the salutation the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary - "Hail! full of grace, the Lord is with you....." As I reflect on this pilgrimage that I have undertaken, I am awed by the thought that just as how many billions of times this prayer has been uttered by countless of the faithful, it has found its fulfillment in the lives of the Bicolano people. Today no one can speak of a Bicolano culture or identity without association with the icon of Our Lady of Penafrancia. The word Bicolano and Penafrancia have become synonimous. No one could speak of a Bicolano identity without the sillouhette of Our Lady's image at the back of the imagination of one's mind. The four hundred years of evangelization has wrought the drama of this rendevouz of the Bicolanos with the Mother of God.

The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Penafrancia, Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines

Its amazing sometimes to think that a Marian Devotion coming from a distant land such as Salamanca, Spain, will find its way in the Philippine Islands in Asia-Pacific. The story of how the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title Our Lady of Penafrancia is a love story between the Bicolanos and the Blessed mother. Many before thought that the devotion is French in origin. But it actually started from the mountains between Salamanca and Caceres. It seems that the whole story of this devotion was wrought with Divine intervention. Simon Vela a Frenchmen who inherited wealth after the death of his father and sister, afraid that the vast wealth he inherited may do him harm, sold them and gave the proceeds to the Church and to the poor and worked in a Franciscan convent. In a dream he was instructed by the Lady to go and look for her image in the mountains of Pena de Francia. Not knowing the place he searched for it for almost five years until he found them. The complete story of this can be read from this link Our Lady of Penafrancia. For almost five years he roamed the regions of Salamanca to look for the image. As the story goes [our readers can look for the link to the full story], Simon Vela found the image. And thus he exclaimed: "O Lady dream of my soul, the inspiration of men and women! My labors are now ended. Many years I have travelled far and wide to seek you and to drink in the beauty of your eyes! Do not forsake me: be my protection." [wikipedia]. Thus the true image of the Virgin was venerated not in France but in the region of Salamanca and Caceres in Spain. This is surprising that now the image of the Virgin is venerated by the Bicolano people and the mother Archdiocese of the Bicolano people is the Archdiocese of Caceres in the Philippines.

Pavilion in front of the Basilica intended for outdoor Liturgical Celebrations

The journey of the Lady to the Philippines and specifically in Bicol started with the story of Fr. Miguel de Covarrubias. A Spaniard born in the Philippines whose family came from San Martin de Castanar in Spain, in the town where Simon Vela got the hint where the mountains of Pena de Francia was. Miguel was a very sickly person and he had an ardent devotion to our Lady of Penafrancia. Whenerver he get sick he would press the image of the Virgin to the place where the pain was most severe and miraculously he would get well. Later he testified that perhaps the Lady delayed his cure in order to help him repent more ardently of his sins. When Miguel was ordained to the Priesthood, he was assigned to the Diocese of Caceres now in Naga City. And that was how the story began. You may link up to the web site of the Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia for more of this story or from the website of the Archdiocese of Caceres].

Nativity Scene in the Basilica

The Souvenir Shop and Restaurant inside the Basilica Compound offering refreshments for pilgrims

Just like many hundreds and thousands of Bicolanos devoted to the Virgin, I found this personal devotion beneficial. I have done this many times and I believe that the Virgin has been very good to me and has blessed me with her intercessions and prayers. Everytime I visit her shrine, I am enthralled to see her magnificent image togother with her Son Jesus. Indeed a mirror of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God and a sign of God's blessing for humankind. This touches my heart in a very personal way. As they say to those who believe, words are no longer necessary. For the unbelievers no amount of words will suffice. For God comes to our hearts in the most unusual and unconventional ways. But to those who believe nothing is impossible.

Marble Plaque commemorating the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to this Basilica

The Icon of Our Lady of Penafrancia Depicted in Stained Glass at the entrance of the Basilica near the Choir Loft.

Icon of the Divino Rostro [Holy Face]

The Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Penafrancia. Thousands of Devotees testify to answered prayers, ranging from mending of broken relationships, financial woes, success in education and physical healing of ailments.

The Shrine and altar. Despite being a shrine, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at the center.

The Road leading to th Basilica.

Veronica with the cloth containing the imprinted image of Jesus. Veronica means bearer of the true image. Veronica is a popular name among Filipinos.

The Fluvial Procession Depicted in Stained Glass.

The Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary Depicted on Stained Glass.

The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Penafrancia. Built in the 1960s to provide the Icon a bigger Church that could accommodate thousands of pilgrims. The design of the Church is traditional since the planning started during pre-Vatican era.

The Belfry of the Basilica

Mary Mother of the Church: Reflection # 1 on my Personal Pilgrimage

[Photos by Dr. Herbert R.]

Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. I listened intently on the homily of our parish priest. He posed one question for us all and that is: "What makes the Holy Family, holy?". A very challenging question indeed as we reflect on the importance of the family and on the Christian vocation to build a family. This is the main reason as to why we consider marriage as a Sacrament, because if prefigures the union of Christ and His Church. With Christ as the husband and the Church as the wife. Just as perfect love animates the relationship between the Holy Trinity [I am using purely human words to describe this relationship for want of an exact term. As humans we can never know the perfection of this relationships of the Godhead]. Christian marriage does not end with the ceremony,it is a lifelong quest. To bear children and rear in the faith of the Fathers. The CCC calls the family - the Domestic Church, where the father assumes a priestly role since he as the head of the family has the duty to lead the family [How is this made real in our families today? How many fathers lead the family in prayer?]. What makes the Holy Family holy? The answer is simple - the Love that animates them. Joseph caring for his family, Mary loving her child with her whole life and Jesus the God-Child being subject to his parents in obedience.

Three days from now we shall be celebrating the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. I have taken this upon myself to undertake a personal pilgrimage to the City of Naga in Camarines Sur province. Naga City is the Catholic heartland of Bicolandia. It is also the home of the Basilica Minore of our Lady of Penafrancia, the patroness of the Bicolano people. If some of my readers would like to know about this devotion you may visit the website of the Archdiocese of Caceres. On the 29th of December 2008 I went to Naga and visted its churches in order to fulfill a personal vow I made to our Lady and also as thanksgiving for the many graces received from God and from the intercession of Mary, Our Queen and Lady.

Let me share with you some of the photos I have taken. I hope that these pictures may inspire holy sentiments in us.

The picture above is the facade of the Church of Our Lady of Penafrancia. This church, before the Basilica was built, use to be the home-shrine of the Icon of Our Lady of Penafrancia. This where Fr. Miguel Covarrubias first established the Devotion to Our Lady as a fulfillment of his vow made to our Lady. He never realized that this devotion will be a blessing and a fulfillment of Our Lady's prophecy that someday from the distant land of the Iberian Peninsula, this devotion will be much received and be a source of blessing for the Bicolano People.

An Image of Our Lady of Penafrancia, Standing tall and graceful.

A painting of the original church. Fr. Covarrubias built a chapel made of wood and nipa palms to serve the cimmarones who requested the Bishop to build them a chapel so that they would not go far away from their villages. The cimmarones were the indigenous people inhabiting the highlands of Bicol.

Versions of the Church in later times.

Another painting from the social hall of the parish.

A small figurine at the corner of the garden. This figurine, the most unassuming looks almost neglected. This reminds me of the need of the holy souls in purgatory to be remembered. Let us offer them a short prayer each time we are reminded of them.

A view of the pastoral center attached to the church.

An alley leading to the back portion of the shrine where devotees have the chance to touch the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Cemetery at the Back of the Church. Should we not offer for them a prayer?