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Dateline seattle: The changing face of Marian devotion

I have been an ardent Facebook user for many years now. Controversies are nothing new on Facebook among individuals who spouse different issues. Oftentimes most controversies lose steam after a few posts either for or against the issues being debated, leaving many users relieved, confused, angry, and sometimes thankful. A few weeks ago, I came across several posts on Facebook that caught my attention. Here are a few of them: “Viva la Virgen means no to the dictatorship.” “Viva la Virgen means stop EJKs.” “Viva la Virgen means respecting human rights.” “Viva la Virgen means no to Marcos.” “Viva la Virgen” is what many Bikolano devotees of the Virgin of Penafrancia shout as they express their love and devotion for the Blessed Mother during the week-long Penafrancia fiesta in Naga City every September. Ina (local word for mother) is how Bikolanos fondly and fittingly address the Virgin Mary. The posts that appear to show an intrinsic connection between social issues and how devotion to Ina should be appropriately practiced in today’s society did not gain a firm foothold among Facebook users. For one, tradition appears to be on the side of those who did not want to pursue the issue on Facebook. Perhaps what matters to them are the traditional religious rituals like the Traslacion, the fluvial procession and being able to kiss the manto (mantle) of Ina. But rituals are just symbolic actions that are devoid of meaning if they do not lead to action. Yes, these rituals are important. But something is missing if in our devotion to Ina we put her in a pedestal way above us and forget that she is one of us. Something is missing if we forget that she came from a poor family and chose to side with the poor and the marginalized just like her Son. Something will also be missing if we equally forget that her Son was a wanted person, considered a subversive and was persecuted by the ruling elite. It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to infer that she was in the thick of political dangers all the time because of her Son’s activities. If all this means anything, it means that Ina is deeply concerned with the present social and political conditions that affect her children because she is able to relate to our particular situations. As a mother, Ina must have felt the pain of all those mothers who lost their children through extra-judicial killings. Who wouldn’t? As a mother, Ina is probably worried about the possible return in our country of any form of dictatorship. Who wouldn’t? As a mother, Ina probably wants justice for all victims of human rights violations. Who wouldn’t? Ina can very well be an inspiration in the struggle for social justice. It is not farfetched to assume that Ina, like her Son, will not hesitate to take a position on issues with political consequences. It was Johann Baptist Metz, the noted German Catholic theologian, who once emphasized that there is a political dimension to faith. The Catholic Church teaches (from Wikipedia) that Marian devotion in Christianity is directed to the person of Mary, mother of Jesus consisting of external pious practices expressed by the believer. Such devotional prayers or acts may be accompanied by specific requests for Mary’s intercession with God. Requesting Mary’s intercession for any specific requests is very much part of any Marian devotion. There are those who pray for physical healing; others for financial gain. Some pray to pass a particular board exam; others for forgiveness. Strangely enough, there are those who pray to win an election, but only to end up corrupt; others pray for peace of mind. People’s requests cover a plethora of issues. In a similar manner, expanding and giving an added meaning to our devotion to Ina is not a form of deviation from Catholic teachings. Rather, it is in line with how Mary lived during her time. She did not live a secluded life away from everything happening around her, but instead faced the issues and dangers that her Son faced. We, Bikolanos, can also do the same. This, to me, is the changing face of Marian devotion.

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