By now, most Naga locals have gone back to our daily routine. Although the energy from the influx of devotees has leveled, this does not mean the devotion has ebbed. After all, even without the revelry, one’s prayers remain as intimate as a mother’s love for her infant.
Masses and procession will not lose their meaning if there are no endless parades and elaborate floats. The fiesta would be boring and forgettable, opportunists may say. But tell that to a son praying for his cancer-stricken father, or a mother struggling to make ends meet. They came for Ina, not the marching band.
Ina, our hope and refuge, is not a trophy-topper. We venerate her, we love her. Her image is unlike a gold cup or a bronze miniature of a bald man called Oscar. One does not kneel, make the sign of the cross and offer prayers in front of citations, plaques and trophies, no matter how multi-awarded one is or hopes to be. Well, unless one is deranged or so full of himself.
Neither is the replica of her sacred image a substitute for Disney princesses or Marvel superheroes. Lighted candles do not make the most adorable fondant cake a religious altar.
Holding the Marian Youth Congress earlier than usual is not a license to promote pageantries as “official” activities of the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. So no, let us not exploit the Marian Youth Congress to convince ourselves that all events henceforth are in honor of our beloved Ina. What is Marian in sashaying in swimsuit and stilettos, or strutting with greasy torso?
Not so long ago, beer was relentlessly sold and consumed along the city’s major streets, every night, with rock bands to boot, in the name of the Peñafrancia fiesta. We have since realized that pandering is an insult to our celebration. We have since learned to be more respectful of pilgrims, rich or poor, who come from far and wide
But almost ten years after the tercentenary of the devotion, are we slowly neglecting our solemn duty? Are we sliding back to commodifying Ina’s sacred feast? Or, are we mutating into something else, like salivating wolves in sheep skin, angling to yank an unsuspecting prey?
Many opine our Senate has become a circus. Deplorable, but in fact, not surprising. The carnival begins when we pledge loyalty to a farce. Similarly, the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is not a festival of sights and sounds, even if “Peñafrancia festival” is printed on thousands of streamers and posted on social media a million times.
If God had chosen another place to become the seat of the devotion, what else have we got? The healthcare professionals on alert for medical emergencies, the police officers ensuring our safety and security, the octogenarians who kneel for hours on end, the parents who carry their young children on their shoulders - will shouts of Viva la Naga Na move them to intense supplication and profound thanksgiving?
Will Jesus be pleased by how we nurture our giftedness as a chosen people? We say we are Pueblo Amante de Maria but how do we live up to this identity? Certainly, brandishing the moniker “Pilgrim City” is not enough.
The Mother of God is in our midst. We are her devotees. We do not, should not, lose sight of our Heavenly Mother’s love for us. We are caretakers of a three century-old devotion. How the future will honor the Blessed Virgin Mary is in our hands.