FIESTA AIR is just around the corner in the City of Naga. And every Bicolano and devotees, too, from other places are once again preparing to pray and celebrate in thanksgiving for the graces they received from Our Lady of Peñafrancia, our Mother, our Ina.
But don’t you know that we, the Bicolanos, were the first Catholics in Luzon that our President scoffs about?
According to Ilocano writer Manuel D. Duldulao in his book, “The Filipinos, Portrait of a People,” Capt. Juan Miguel Lopez de Legazpi from his base in Panay in the Visayas, had sent expeditions to explore nearby islands for food and gold. One party had stumbled upon the seacoast of Ibalong (now Sorsogon) after touching base in the islands of Masbate, Burias and Tikaw (Ticao). Upon landing, the Augustinian chaplain set up a makeshift chapel in Sorsogon and a mass baptism took place. Moving inland, they founded Naga City (Ciudad de Caceres) in 1575 where the first cathedral in that Spanish settlement dates back to 1578.
The early presence of friars in Bicol, Duldulao continues, explains the region’s deep roots in Catholicism which keeps the Bicolanos in its thrall. Cathedral or chapel, it towers over his life as much as Mayon Volcano or Mount Isarog does, beckoning him to commune with the saints as he does with Nature. “Heredity and piety, tradition and religion, the soil and the altar, all bind him to a way of life that is as old as the Volcano he loves and in whose shadow he prays,” the author writes.
The Peñafrancia fiesta has been acclaimed as one of the biggest, if not the biggest Marian devotion ever in the Philippines, with simultaneous celebrations in the other four corners of the world, especially in Christian cities where there are Bicolano communities.
It need not be said that the fiesta is part of our culture. The Filipino fiesta must go on, through good times and bad times. In good times, we thank the Lord, through our patron saint, for the blessings, healings, and good harvest that we received despite our limitations to be good to him. In bad times, we seek for God’s forgiveness, promise to love Him more, and pray that He may grant us better harvest and a more comfortable, healthy life ahead.
For 308 years now, Nagueños – and Bicolanos in general – have been celebrating the fiesta in honor of the Virgin of Peñafrancia. Naga, known as Nueva Caceres then, may well be called as “El Pueblo Amante de Maria,” or a people in love with Mary. Large number of devotees, including those who are non-Bicolanos, have come to pray in generous display of gratitude and thanksgiving.
The miraculous Lady of Peñafrancia has since become the patroness of Bicolandia. It is amazing to know that almost six million Bicolanos from here and abroad are gathering together to celebrate the Bicolanos’ regional fiesta.
The fiesta is ushered in with a novena for nine days. On the first day, the image is brought from her shrine trough a barefoot procession known as the Traslacion to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, where a vigil or daily novena awaits. On its last day, the image is returned to her shrine through a colorful procession, her fluvial route illuminated by candles in the devotees’ hands who gather to witness her vessel’s passing by the Naga River. When the whole flotilla of boats accompanying her large vessel, known as ‘pagoda,’ reaches the wharf, the image is borne on the shoulders of the priests who finally install her in her altar at the Basilica for the High Mass that concludes her 9-day religious fiesta. The next day, Sunday, her feast day, food are once more served for the guests and visitors who have come from places near and far to be with Ina.
Viva la Virgen!