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BOTH PILGRIMS and local devotees of Our Lady of Peñafrancia filled up the grounds of the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral on Sept. l0 for the Pontifical Mass marking the Tercentenary of the devotion to ?Ina,? patroness of Bicolandia. Almost 400 priests sat facing the altar covered by a dome with stained-glass religious paintings by Pancho Piano. Cardinal Rosales officiated the concelebrated Mass with Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, SVD, and Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera.

When the 300-year-old image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia on an anda was carried by priests in black soutannas, the grand choir burst into song. The people rose and sang with them ?Himno a la Virgen de Peñafrancia,? while they waved their handkerchiefs. For the first time, the image passed through the newly built Porto Mariae, a three-story structure built by the Peñafrancia Devotees of Metro Manila Foundation, Inc., headed by retired general Salvador Mison.

When she passed by, photographer Anuar Medina and fashion designer Ali Rich Garcia reached out to touch the base of ?Ina?s? statue and felt goose pimples.

When she was near me, I whispered prayers while crying.

Her sons and daughters

In his homily, Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP, said, ?For 300 years, the Bicolanos have kept themselves within the embrace of ?Ina.? To be a Bicolano is to be her son or daughter. Devotion to her strengthens our faith.?

Little stories of faith

Resy Alvarez, a medical technologist of the Bicol Medical Center, has been going to her fiestas every year with his mother since he was a little boy. Now, as a young man, his love for ?Ina? has become stronger believing that she will always help him.

Nene Rodriguez-Sandico told me that her parents moved to Naga from Lucena in l954, so as a young girl she already knew about ?Ina.? Her father, lawyer Delfin Rodriguez and mother Ester became involved in the devotion. Nene remembers that in the ?80s, a priest hit a child on the street. The child died and the priest went to then Msgr. Sofronio Balce for help. Msgr. Balce gave him the manto of ?Ina?. The priest put the manto on the dead child and she came back to life.

Lilibeth Guysayko and her classmates (HS Class ?70 of Colegio de Sta. Isabel) have great devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Gathering at the flea market in the Ursua compound on Magsaysay Aveñue (across Bob Marlin resto) on the Saturday I was there, they recalled their experiences. They were Miriem Abogado-Ursua, Yoly Boñag-Gabrillo, Emma Legaspi, Lourdes Oliva and Aba Sanchez.

Porto Mariae

The Porto Mariae that now serves as gateway to the Naga cathedral is a great structure built by devotees of ?Ina.? Money was raised for the construction by the board members of the Peñafrancia Devotees of Metro Manila Foundation. The officers are retired general Salvador Mison, chairman; PC Supt. Tomas Rentoy III, president; Antonio Hing, vice president; Engr. Wenfredo Firme, corporate secretary; Jose Villamor Mendoza, treasurer; Atty. Manuel diaz Jr., corporate counsel; Antonio Aguilar Medina, Ronald Rodriguez, Henry Trillanes and Sigredo Rivera, members.

Porto Mariae was blessed on Sept. 9 by Archbishop Legaspi. On the third floor are the paintings of Pancho Piano and sculptures of Jun Vicaldo.

?Ina? in Metro Manila

A fluvial procession from Guadalupe Bridge to Jones Bridge on Sept. l2 ended at the Manila Cathedral where Bishop Nestor Cariño, priests and a thousand devotees welcomed her.

Organized by the Peñafrancia Devotees of Metro Manila Association headed by Dr. Charito Felipe, the celebration took place one week before the actual fiesta in Naga on Sept. l8.

Concelebrating the Mass were Msgr. Joselito Asis, Msgr. Jun Zurbano, Fr. Alan Dialogo, Fr. Ramil Tapang, SSP, and Fr. Pete Barrisoro, SSP. In his homily, Fr. Dialogo said that the devotion to ?Ina? is ?balaog inako, balaog itao.? This means that devotion to her is a gift that should be shared with everyone. Apparently, this is happening because of the thousands of devotees among non-Bicolanos who are going to Naga for the fiesta.

Fr. Dialogo also revealed that ?Ina? interceded for the miraculous healing by God of Archbishop Legaspi who was suffering from lung cancer.

A week before the start of the festivities, doctors confirmed that the cancer was gone.

National day of prayer

Prof. Gabriel Ma. Jacinto Lopez described Sept. 12 as a happy and blessed day for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Lipa. It was the National Day of Prayer for Peace and Sanctification of Priests. An estimated 5,000 devotees of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace, attended the concelebrated Mass presided by Cardinal Vidal outside the Carmelite Monastery at 3:30 p.m.

Professor Lopez said, ?The good news is there is now a positive move and openness in the Vatican to recognize the Blessed Virgin Mary?s apparition to former Carmelite postulant and now ailing lay visionary, Teresing Castillo, attended by showers of roses in l948 to be valid.?

St. Padre Pio feast day

Catholic Churches all over the world will celebrate the feast day of St. Padre Pio on Sept. 23 who died in l968.

Two significant shrines in the Philippines is the St. Padre Pio Parish and Shrine in Sto. Tomas, Batangas and Chapel of St. Pio Philippine Center in Bagumbayan St., Libis, Quezon City.

Imus Bishop Chito Tagle will confirm l,000 third and fourth year high school students of Girlstown and Boystown on Sept. 24 at l0 a.m. at the gymnasium of Girlstown in Silang, Cavite. The date of confirmation is scheduled near the birth anniversary of Msgr. Al Schwartz (Sept. l8) and when Bishop is available. Sisters of Mary are in charge.