We were amazed at the thousands of people waiting to wave at Our Lady of Peñafrancia when she passed by on her barge being pulled by 200 boatmen along Naga River.
Devotees stood in the hot sun along the riverbank, from Naga Cathedral to Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, waiting to see “Ina.”
This was the fluvial procession on Sept. 17, bisperas of her fiesta on Sept. 18. In the basilica, a concelebrated Mass officiated by Nueva Caceres Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP, was the highlight.
Pablito Campos and I were lucky to reach the house of Anita Hidalgo, mother of Fr. Rex Hildalgo; it was hard to find a tricycle going to Barangay Lerma. But there we were, ready with our handkerchiefs to wave, and when “Ina” came at 5:27 p.m., we whispered prayers to her. Mrs. Hidalgo recalled that she started opening her house to friends and pilgrims in 1962 when Fr. Rex was only a year old.
Why do they come?
Why do they come year after year? The poor who crowd the grounds of the basilica do not mind sleeping outdoors. Sr. Christy Cervantes, DM and secretary to Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera, attributes the influx to the answered prayers of healing and other needs.
She recalls a young mother who brings her little daughter, now six, every year. She was healed by “Ina” of a serious disease when she was only two. In thanksgiving, she takes the bus with her daughter from Daet. When night comes, they sleep on the ground.
Fr. Wilmer Tria, CEO of Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal” Foundation (CCMF-Bikol), quoted Archbishop Legaspi—“They have their personal reasons to want to be here.”
Mila Dolores, author of the book on the Virgin of the Poor, had reason to walk the dawn procession of Sept. 17—the healing of someone she holds dear.
I went to Naga to say thank you for the blessing of having been able to go to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II and bring petitions of friends.
The Daughters of Mary (DM) convent near the basilica has been the home of pilgrims coming to Naga for the Peñafrancia fiesta. Sr. Jessica Militar, DM, the superior of the community here, told me their charism is catechesis and family apostolate. They run prep schools for poor children whose parents can only afford to pay P100 a month to help pay salaries of teachers.
Founded by Bishop Teopisto Alberto in 1966, the order works for the poor in West Indies and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Phoenix in Arizona; Louisiana; Magalang, Pampanga; and Tandang Sora, QC.
Cherish what God cherishes
Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon in his homily during his Mass at Naga Cathedral on Sept. 17 said, “Search for God is a human longing. Cherish what God cherishes. Cherish everything that God gives you. Mary cherished her suffering.”
Fr. Rogelio Barcelona, SOLT, on the other hand, said in his homily during the Sept. 16 Mass at 5 p.m., “What we need today is Mary who is full of grace because the Lord is with her.”
Msgr. Romulo Vergara, Rector of the basilica, agreed with me when I said this devotion is phenomenal. He said the devotion has spread to Europe and the United States where there are Bicolanos.