My dearest Ina, I love you!

“When will this pilgrimage end?”, Rev. Msgr. Zosimo Sañado asked on the people of God on the third day of the Novenary masses held in honor of Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia. They say we are born of our mothers. God gave us the breath of life but we wouldn’t be brought into existence if it were not for our mothers. Because of them, we partake in the beauty of life. Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Our devotion to her binds us all together, despite of religion, ethnicity and culture.

I have known Ina for quite some time now. Growing up with a pious and religious mother, it wasn’t difficult to know her. But that knowledge of her remained as it were. And all I could ever remember of her when I was still young was that she was the Lady Simeon Vela found in Peña de Francia, introduced to us by Fray Miguel de Covarrubias and is now the Lady people are ready to die for- the priests who protect her during the Traslacion and Fluvial processions, the devotees who fight with each other just to touch her and the voyadores who travel on foot to bring her home safely. Thus, it goes without saying that I have witnessed the Traslacion and the Fluvial processions a couple of times, prayed her novena almost yearly and visited her in her sanctuary at least once a year. But none of those activities actually made feel closer to her until the Tercentenary Celebration.

Spending half of my life in the Pilgrim City of Naga, it is ironic to say that I haven’t really learned the Bicol dialect at all. I have always spoken in my own Filipino language (by own, I mean barok) and have always written in English. Thus, my experience of Ina took its humble beginnings in front of one of the greatest barricades in my life, the language barrier. Still growing up with a pious and religious mother, I joined the Penitential Dawn Procession of El Divino Rostro for the first time in 2010. Having the mass celebrated thereafter in Bicol, I hardly understood a thing at all. During those times then, I would sit quietly and talk to Ina. I would tell her everything I carry in my heart, especially those I keep from everyone else. Gazing at her image at the Basilica Minore de Peñafrancia, I would always feel a certain kind of peace wash over me. And by the time the mass is over, I feel like I wouldn’t want to leave her. That went on for the succeeding days and little did I know that I have embarked on a special journey with her.

Steve Jobs once said, “We cannot connect the dots by looking forward. We can only connect them by looking backwards.” Looking at how the events turned in my life after a couple of months, I realized that we were bound to be close and our unifying factor was the one thing that transforms us all- love. She came to me first during the filming of Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig. But I didn’t hear her voice back then. I only heard my own, so I never came despite her numerous invitations. Come September, I was the one who came to her. Apart from talking to her in the wee hours of the morning, I began to actively participate in most of the activities of the Archdiocese. I documented one of the best local plays I’ve ever seen, Ang Manto ni Ina, and even without a pass, I tried to take pictures of her during the processions. But I never really noticed how I much I’ve gone closer to her until I found myself frequently visiting her in her sanctuary. I didn’t take notice how much of me has already been attached to her until I always seemed to look for her at the most difficult and challenging moments of my life, just to talk to her and spend some time with her in silence.

Through prayer I found her, but it was her patience and love that waited for me to come home. With loving arms, she greeted me, comforted me and carried me thru. The pendant I bring with me everyday stands as a reminder, and its giver- a living sacrament, of how much I am cared for, of how much I am loved by her.

Today, as we celebrate and come to close the Tercentenary Celebration of our devotion to her, we see a rich mixture of cultural, religious and entrepreneurial activities that color our festive occasion. Parades, processions and healing masses, as what has been said in the film, Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig, vye for our attention. And the list goes on to include the vendors, the traders and the night markets that paint the city streets with jewelries, fashion and souvenir items during the entire week. Gigs, beauty pageants and concerts are held to entertain visitors, pilgrims and devotees. Because of this rich mixture, it has also been said that these activities compete for everyone’s attention.

But looking at the situation more closely, walking the vibrant streets at night, and trying to participate in all the activities there are to be a witness of, one would realize that there is actually no competition at all; for by however we choose to celebrate the festive occasion, our priorities in life will always surface by how we participate in the activities we choose to support and create for ourselves during this brief period of time. We may paint the town with joy and delight, sing at the top of our lungs, walk under the heat of the sun, stand in the pouring rain, and push each other just to catch a glimpse of her, to touch her and feel her; but what will always remain and what will always resurface is what is in our hearts.

“When will this pilgrimage end?”, Rev. Msgr. Zosimo Sañado asked.

As we close the Tercentenary Celebration of our devotion to our Beloved Ina, let us ask ourselves this question. Let us examine what is in the depths of our hearts. Did we respond to the challenge, Monstra te esse filium? Did we show that we are truly the sons and daughters of Mary? With all the destructions around us, have we remained steadfast and faithful to our devotion?

Today, as we celebrate the solemnity of Ina, let us be reminded that more than the flowers, more than the shoving and pushing aside, more than the long lines, what is truly important is that we live knowing and believing she is always around us. It doesn’t matter to what pilgrim Church we go to as long as we carry her in our hearts. It doesn’t matter which image we see, the original or the replica, as long as we live by her example. And it doesn’t matter if we don’t get the chance to touch her as long as we greet our neighbors with love and respect; for by this we allow others to see her in us. Thereby carrying her in our hearts, in our souls and in our lives.

“When will this pilgrimage end?,” Rev. Msgr. Zosimo Sañado asked. “How long should I be a devotee? How long should I serve her?”

“As long as you receive, give. As long as you are helped and cared for, reach out. Until your last breath, live as her children and love one another.”

Happy Fiesta to all of us!