IT IS almost impossible to begin to fathom the message of Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval de Manila.
It would help to realize that the diamonds, the gold thread, the beaten silver panels, the wall-shaking organ music, the precision marching, the harmonious polyphony, even the scientific researches, the studied photographic angles, the tedious restoration, the detailed recordkeeping, the hushed prayers, the exuberant “viva,” the hastily eaten pack lunches, the meditative trudging—all these and more form an accumulation of tangible and intangible riches with layers of meaning. These are the stuff Pope Francis refers to in his section on cultural ecology in his Encyclical “Laudato Si”:
“Together with the patrimony of nature, there is also an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony which is likewise under threat… There is a need to incorporate the history, culture and architecture of each place, thus preserving its original identity. Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense… Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment.” (Pope Francis, encyclical on care for our common home, “Laudato Si,” n. 143)
With so much brilliance, can this “La Naval patrimony” really be under threat?
Pope Francis wisely counsels us to be aware of “rapidification” that diminishes the quality of life; of a throwaway culture that wastes paper without recycling it; of an information overload that prevents us from hearing the great sages of the past, “from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously” (ibid., 47).
Lack of encounter with the poor leads to a numbing of conscience, which results in a global inequality. Our heritage of values—as embodied in the image of Our Lady, a masterpiece of Filipino-Chinese artistry—may be under assault without our sensing it.
Pander to materialism
What do our youth learn when they see us pandering to too many earthly awards, marching on klieg-lighted ramps, hankering for whitened underarms, continually manicuring our image, or scrutinizing foreign philosophies while disregarding our own homegrown wisdom?
We broadcast our not-too-good voices in street-deafening karaoke. With so many churches, why do we still have so many cockpits?
Faced with this scenario, I cannot but feel a sense of an infernal enemy actively undermining our cultural ecology.
One attack is by fossilizing our heritage such that meaning is eroded with each repetition of a tradition; mechanical prayer masquerades as piety.
Another attack is to erase heritage altogether through oblivion, destruction, being overpowered by a hostile environment, or being rendered illegible.
Dangerously, these actions are legitimized in the name of progress, or simply by the “lack of a law.”
When we kneel in front of Our Lady in all her finery, let us look beyond the surface sparkle and thank her Son for our Filipino-ness. Let us be grateful for the gift of so many varied cultures, as expressed in about 100 languages (not just dialects). Let us be thankful for the privilege of saying “Aray!” or “Aguy!” instead of “Ouch!”
Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval de Manila, champion of countless battles, protect our cultural ecology and our identity as a Christian people. Bring us to mend our prideful ways. Make us responsible custodians of our inherited riches, tangible and intangible, towards the realization of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Regalado Trota Jose is archivist of University of Santo Tomas and former commissioner of National Commission for Culture and the Arts.