Changes, stories and hopes of Peñafrancia 2009

(Homily delivered by Monsignor Gilbert A. Garcera, Bishop of Daet, during the Mass after the fluvial procession, on the theme "Pagbabahagi ng Kinabukasan ng may Pag-asa." (Sharing the Future in Hope) held at the Peñafrancia Basilica Pavilion, Naga City, September 19, 2009 at 6:00 in the evening)


What makes this year's Peñafrancia Fiesta different from all other fiestas that we have?

For the past two years, we have been preparing for the Tercentenary celebration of our devotion to Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia. The Archdiocese of Caceres, through the initiative of our Metropolitan Archbishop, Archbishop Legaspi  has set the spiritual and pastoral foundation towards a meaningful and fruitful 300 years celebration come  next year, 2010. You will recall two years ago, 2007, we were led to remember with gratitude to God, for the gift of this devotion to our Ina. Last year, we were challenged to renew our faith and devotion through Our Lady of Peñafrancia.  As we recall the many blessings we have inherited from what Fray Miguel Robles de Covarrubias had implanted in Bicol almost 300 years ago, that is, the devotion to Ina, we repeat the ancient words of thanksgiving: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures for ever" (Ps 118:1).  Our grateful hearts encourage us more to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence.[1]

But again we reiterate the question: what makes this year's Peñafrancia Fiesta different from all other fiestas that we have?

You will all agree with me that "change, innovations, newness and renewal" have been the distinctive marks of this year's Peñafrancia fiesta. Ang tatak ng ating kapistahan ay ang napakaraming mga pagbabago.

Last week I was in Taipei to attend a retreat on "Deus Caritas Est," sponsored by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. At the airport of Manila, on my way back to Bikol,  I happened to meet an old friend. So I asked him - what is new in Naga? (Ano ba ang bago sa Naga?) Alam ninyo iisa lamang ang sagot niya. Sabi niya: 'Bishop, sa Naga for the first time mayroon na palang Shoe Mart (SM).'

Tama nga naman.


But SM is not the significant mark of this year's Peñafrancia fiesta.

We have observed many changes in this year's fiesta. We all noticed the new andas of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro weighing 1,422 kilos each. These new andas of the Divino Rostro and Our Lady of Peñafrancia facilitated the orderly and early arrival of the procession.  We were all witnesses to the Traslacion procession last Friday that started from the original sanctuary of Ina, the Old Peñafrancia Shrine, to the Cathedral of Naga. The Traslacion procession started at 9:00 o'clock in the morning of Friday, instead of 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon. The Perdon processions were held for three nights, with some priests of bikol carrying the andas of the Divino Rostro. The religious zones contributed to the spiritual and prayerful ambience at the Cathedral, the Peñafrancia Shrine and the Basilica; and the formation sessions conducted to the members of the Cofradia de San Jose, Guardias de Maria and the voyadores.


All these changes and spiritual renewal activities have their own stories. Ang lahat ng mga pagbabago... ang lahat na nangyari sa linggong ito, sa kapistang ito ng Peñafrancia ay may kwento.

Subalit maitatanong natin: iisa lang ba ang kwento tungkol sa Birhen ng Peñafrancia? Ito ba ay tungkol lamang sa nangyari noong nakaraang Biernes? Ang tungkol sa isang lalaking nakasuot ng itim, at ang mga tanong ng mga taong nanunuod sa television kung sino 'yung  pari? 'Yun lamang ba ang kwento tungkol kay Ina? Sa lahat ng mga paghahanda natin para sa Tercentenary  celebration, 'yun  lang  ba  ang  kwento  tungkol sa ating pananampalataya at tungkol sa ating mga Bikolano... sa ating debosyon kay Ina? That story last Friday was sensationalized in the International, National and Local media. That story that created a negative image for us Bikolanos. 'Yun lang ba ang kaya natin ibalita sa buong mundo? Nakalulungkot at nakapanghihinayang na isipin na ang isa sa pinakamaayos na Traslacion sa Naga ay ikinuwento na parang walang ibang kinahinatnan kundi gulo.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, my dear devotees of Ina, you will all agree with me that the incident last Friday was not only the story. In fact that incident last Friday was so insignificant as compared to so many testimonies of faith.

Did you hear the story that happened last Friday when the Archbishop was celebrating Mass and a heavy rain poured down while he was delivering his homily?  Under the rain, thousands of people stood still to listen to the Word of God. Hindi umalis ang mga tao sa kanilang kinatatayuan, kahit malakas ang ulan, marinig lamang ang Salita ng Diyos at makibahagi sa Banal na Misa.  Kahit malakas ang ulan, hawak ang kanilang mga panyo, iwinawagayway ito at sumisigaw ng Viva la Virgen!  'Di ba napakagandang tingnan ang katatagan ng pananampalataya ng mga Bikolano?

Brothers and sisters, did you hear the story of so many children who visited the Cathedral to pray to Ina? Have you heard the many parishes, barangays, government and civic groups,  communities and business sectors who offered their tinagba, their dolot ki Ina? And the Tinagba were brought to the leprosarium or other charitable institutions in Camarines Sur like orphanages, mental hospitals, home for the aged and the dying, centers for the poor and street children, for the sick and the disabled? Have you seen the 7,000 youth from parishes and schools of Bikol who gathered for their Marian festival giving witness to hope and generosity of life?  Have you heard about our women religious and their collaborators who visited hospitals and shut in centers to bring the love of Ina to those confined in bed, bringing tears to people who were touched by such a gesture of solidarity?  Have you seen the initiative of schools who prepared artistic presentations which truly make us proud of our culture, with such passion and love for Ina?  Have you seen the hundreds of volunteers from different sectors of our community who have worked day and night to serve pilgrims and devotees? Have you heard about the thousands of devotees who come from all over Bikol and different parts of the Philippines and the world to pay homage to Ina?

Have you heard the story of an old woman who in her lingering sickness of leukemia had been healed by Ina?

Napakinggan 'nyo ba ang kwento ng mga Obispo ng Bikol at ang kanilang mga kasamahan - galing sa Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Masbate, Albay, Camarines Norte, Libmanan at Caceres - na sa unang pagkakataon  sumakay sa Pagoda? Kayo ay may kwento tungkol sa hirap at pagod sa paglalakad patungong Basilica upang masulyapan at mahipo ang Mahal na Birhen ng Peñafrancia. Ang bawat isa sa inyo, kayo na nandito ngayon sa Basilica, ang bawat isa sa inyo ay may sariling kwento tungkol kay Ina.

For us Filipinos, telling stories come so naturally to us.

Your stories are your best stories because they are about your experience. It is about your experience in Bikol... your experience in Naga. But most of all it is your experience with our Ina.

As I tell my stories, my fundamental life story is revealed.[2] Ang aking kwento ay isang pagkakataon upang makilala ko ang aking sarili... ang aking damdamin... ang aking pananampalataya... ang aking debosyon kay Ina. These stories are about who we are. But I realize, that as I tell you my the process of  narrating my story, the story is not simply about me. It is also about other people: my family, my community, my friends, the society, the Bikolano culture, including the food I ate, the temperaments of people, the hospitality and religiosity of Bikolanos. My story is not developed in a vacuum. I am what I am because I had been immersed in other people's stories and the stories of this present time. My personal identity is shaped by my interaction with the world, the details of which are consequently stored in my memory. We remember by telling stories. Memory is made of stories rather than mere chronology. Stories bring experiences back to mind.[3] By remembering, we realize that the past is not at all static. The past continues to mold us. Through stories we get in touch with the dynamism of transformation of personal identity: how much we have changed and how much more we have to change.

As Bikolanos, we have our own stories. Our experiences with Ina, the new innovations and the humble attempts for better expression of devotion to Ina, we hope, will assure us that the gift we received will be the gift we are most proud of to share to the next generation.  If I neglect or forget these stories I have no personal story to tell. If I disregard these stories, the future would be void of my memorable stories.  In telling my story, I share my love for Ina. Then, I make sense of the faith and devotion that Fray Miguel Robles de Covarubbias implanted in 1710  - here in Bikol.

Our stories during this Peñafrancia are stories of faith.

But, this year's Peñafrancia fiesta carries with them different tastes. The many changes that were introduced and observed for this year's fiesta are attempts to positively respond to what the Bikol Church consider as hindrances in the practice of the devotion to Ina. In a sense, we "decipher" and read the signs of the times, in order to hear what the Spirit is saying to us as a Bikol Church[4]. These changes and innovations are necessary for us to direct our thoughts to the future which lies before us.

As we prepare for the celebration of the 300 year anniversary of our devotion, we are not only inheritors of the past. We are all fashioners of the future. "We lived this Jubilee not only as a remembrance of the past, but also as a prophecy of the future".[5] As protagonists of this new millennium, we are challenged to make sure that the devotion...the faith is preserved. Truly, this is a gift and a special task laid upon our shoulders. This is the call for each one of us: "Share the future in hope" - "Ang pangangalaga ng ating debosyon ay pagbabahagi ng kinabukasan ng may Pag-asa."


What is the Good News for us this fiesta?  Our Gospel is not only a story of faith. It is also a story of hope.  A kind of hope that is not simply tentative but a hope which is certain.   You will recall that when Simeon came in the temple, he saw Joseph and the  Blessed  Virgin Mary bringing the child Jesus.  Simeon took the

Baby Jesus up in his arms and blessed God and said, "my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles,  and for glory to your people Israel." [6]

Notice that for Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the concern was 'the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to the people Israel.  The Salvation, the Light and the Glory is no other than JESUS.

Napakalinaw ang narinig natin sa ebanghelio  - ang hantungan ng ating debosyon sa Mahal na Ina ay walang iba kung hindi si Jesus. Blessed Virgin Mary brings us to Jesus, her Son. And as our Ina, the Blessed Virgin brings Jesus to us.

The Gospel also narrates how Simeon blessed the Holy Family and said to Mary, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

It must have been difficult for the Blessed Virgin Mary to ponder these words of Simeon. But Mary had to continue her mission.  The gift given to her - to be the "caregiver" of Jesus, must be lived out and shared just like a gift received and a gift to be shared-"Balaog inako, baloag itao."

For us in Bikol, the difficulty could be our lack of commitment to reciprocate the gift of devotion by allowing certain attitudes and activities that could weaken, erode and even destroy the distinctively Bikolano gift from God which is our devotion to Ina.

Full of hope, we pass on our stories to the next generation, trusting that the gift received will stay and will be shared to all. On this very special occasion, the third year of our preparation for the tercentenary celebration, I appeal to four groups who are the future protagonists of this devotion to Ina.

These groups will be the future story-tellers of Ina's goodness and generosity to humanity.

First, I appeal to our SEMINARIANS, our future priests in Bikol. Learn to nurture the gift of the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia.  You are our hope that will pass on without compromise the true nature of our devotion to Ina.

Second, I appeal to ALL YOUNG PEOPLE, the future of our society, to safeguard with vigilance the gift of devotion from the ideologies of materialism, technology, relativism and subjective religiosity.  Your personal stories as Bikolanos, are woven into the story of Ina, our Lady Peñafrancia. And we pray and hope that these will be shared to your fellow young people and to your future families.

Third, I appeal to the FUTURE MAYORS OF NAGA CITY AND ALL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES IN NAGA CITY - to facilitate a prayerful atmosphere for pilgrims during the month of September especially during the novenario to Ina and the Divino Rostro.  It's VIVA Naga because of Ina.  Without Ina, September will simply be another insignificant month in the calendar of the city.

For our information, Naga City is the Heart of Bikol being the geographic center of the Region. Naga was declared the Heart of Bikol through the Executive Order by the then Mayor Vicente Sibulo under resolution no. 23 series of 1971.

My fellow Bikolanos, it is not just the Executive Order that makes Naga, the Heart of Bikol. I say with conviction: 'where the mother is, there is the heart of the family' - 'Kung nasaan ang Ina, nandoon ang puso ng pamilya. At para sa ating mga Bikolano, kung nasaan si Ina, nandoon ang puso ng Bikolandia'. Ang Naga ay siyang puso ng Bikol sapagkat sa Naga naroon si Ina.'

In the name of all the bishops of Bikol, I reiterate my appeal to the future Mayors of Naga City, please take care of Ina, who continues to take care of the people of Naga and of the whole Bikol Region. And to all those who will be running for this coming election, please do not forget that there can only be real progress and authentic development when the deeply human, spiritual, moral and cultural values are safeguarded. If not, our people losses its soul.

And lastly, I appeal to ALL NATIONAL AND LOCAL MEDIA PRACTIONERS.  Give justice to the efforts of all Bikolanos to be faithful to Ina and to the true nature of the devotion.  Your stories reach millions of Filipinos here and abroad.  You have the responsibility to announce to the whole world the fervor of Bikolanos' love and devotion to Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia.  I know that many of you are also devotees of Ina. Do not distort Ina's image by partial reporting and by sensationalizing insignificant and isolated events.  You are our storytellers to the world.  Do the best you can to promote the devotion to Ina. I am sure that whatever you do for Ina, will be rewarded beyond your expectation. Ina will not be outdone in generosity.


As I conclude this homily, I appeal to all of you who are devotees of Ina, here and abroad: "Share the faith... share your story of your devotion to Ina."

Brothers and sisters, devotees of Ina,  - in the future, my story is no longer my own story.  It is OUR STORY OF FAITH. Our story is unique. This is the story we can be proud to relate and to share with others.  It is a story of how Ina has been with us in this journey towards Jesus.  Let us continue our pilgrimage, our "fluvial procession" with our Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Mother of God, as "Star of the Sea".[7] Let us share our stories of faith while on our journey, as we complete the third century of the new Millennium in 2010, with our Ina as a "star of  Hope."

With the love of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, our Ina, may we respond to this challenge to share the Future in Hope by loving and sharing our stories ...  sharing our love for Ina, like never before.


[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Inuente, #1.

[2] Cf. WOODs R., Good News: The story Teller as Evangelist , New Blac/iFriars 81 (2000): 206

[3] Cf. BAYUK R., Preaching and the Imagination, Bible TodtJy 38 (2000): 289, 292.

[4] Cf. Rev 2:7,11,17

[5] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Inuente, #3.

[6] Cf. Gospel for the Solemnity of OL  of Peñafrancia,   Lk 2:22-32

[7] Benedict XVI, Encyclical, Spe Salvi, # 49.