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2020 Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia: A Time for Introspection, Part 4 (Final)

San Diego, California. Having presented the other symbols in the 2020 Peñafrancia logo, brings us to the central image, that of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Mary picked people in history to serve a purpose for this devotion to take root in the mountain top of Peña de Francia in Salamanca, Spain; travel across vast oceans, and eventually at a newly established city of Nueva Caceres as a gift to Bicolanos and multitude of devotees.

History would tell us that devotion to Ina is not just something we feast on. Mary left us historical clues for us to understand a deeper dimension of her life. Some examples are Simon Vela’s ordeal and hardship. Father Miguel Covarrubias’ illness. The Cimarrones’ struggles with society being poor and colored people. Events such as the stolen original image, the collapse of Colgante Bridge followed by Martial Law were painful experiences that burdened us. Through it all, we were liberated. And now, we are burdened once more with the global pandemic.

Every Marialis Cultus (Marian Devotion) including that to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, are almost always marked by unique beginnings, dark periods albeit some painful or mysterious. As painful and burdensome as they are, Pope Francis reminds us that the Virgin Mary through it all, “walks at our side, shares our struggles and constantly surrounds her devotees with God’s love.” And for that, we chant, “Viva la Virgen!”

But, to what extent and depth should these points of liberation enlighten us particularly in the year of the pandemic? Perhaps, our introspection can begin by understanding better our roles as devotees. We are all voyadores embarked on a journey. Rowing the boat is not only physical, like we do during the fluvial procession. As voyadores, we are trusted with protecting the image of Mary. Not only in the physical sense, but as we journey and row in life, we must imitate Mary.

A true voyador, therefore, is more than just those acts of linking arms, waving handkerchiefs, touching the image, or grabbing the flowers on her andas. Our daily grind should embody a form of Marian spirituality that transcends far beyond the devotion and more to the realm of true devotion for the glory of God – and not of men, which is perhaps a tall order. How do we do that?

First, we look back to 15th century Europe with examples cited above and fast forward to the present day, to see these inflection points in history as points of liberation from oppression, from the burdens of devotion. These burdens have been given clarity during the pandemic. If it is not clear to you reader, that is because you probably have been singing the Resuene (and the Bicol version) with great fervor but not understanding what the lines imply.

The Bicol version of the Resuene has these lines:

“Maski an kasalogan (Even the rivers) Sambit an si'mong ngaran (Mentions your name) Maski an kabukiran (Even the forests) Ika an rokyaw.” (Hail you)

These lines seem to be simple terms and words that are easy to remember but in reality, this is a rather complex stanza that can be better understood if given context. Such context can be found in the Spanish version on the third strophe which runs as follows:

“Los pobres y tristes te buscan con fe, (The poor and the burdened seek you with faith)

Te miran llorando les miras tambien. (They gaze at you with tears and you look at them too)

Al punto sus lagrimas se truscan en bien, (Your own tears blend with theirs)

Y a casa gozosos les vemos volver.” (and they return home filled with joy).

This third estrofa is perhaps the most melodious albeit a sophisticated part of the “Himno.” To help us reflect on the meanings or exhortations of these songs, we must understand the infliction points in history that Fr. Maximo Juguera (Spanish author/composer of Himno a La Nuestra Senora de Peñafrancia or Resuene Vibrante for short) was alluding to in 1924 when he wrote the song for the canonical coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

Juguera’s cryptic narrative was not cryptic after all if one looks back to the history of the devotion. Particularly in Bicol, the poor Cimarrones or Remontados of Mount Isarog were the ones to whom Ina’s preferential gaze belonged. She cried with them. She is crying again with what is happening in America and other parts of the world.

Despite their social status, Mary picked them to receive the gift from God – not the upper class or elites. By adding the verdant rivers and forests while hailing Ina’s name, the song implies a plea for Mother Mary’s help in protecting them. The pandemic (and Mary) is reminding us as devotees, that waters and air can be free from pollution if we let the world heal and refrain from polluting them; that social justice is attainable if it involves the oppressed liberating themselves.

The Cimarrones are symbolic of the poor and burdened of today, of those needing liberation from oppression. The covid disease is a form of oppression and we must do our part to alleviate our sufferings. Oppression, racial tension and divisiveness gripping the nation on varied topics like income inequality, poverty and hunger, climate change, environmental degradation, police brutality, immigration, refugees and drug addiction among other social issues. Ina provided plenty of guidance on how devotees can transform the world by walking with her.

We often bewail efforts to transfer the devotion to the young people but despair aloud for the youth’s failure to grasp the essentials. Perhaps teaching them these songs and explaining their meanings and relevance to life might actually get their attention to embrace social justice and to take up environmental activism as something Jesus and Mary had done here on earth.

Songs of praises to the Blessed Mother is another way of getting to know her and to help us with inter-religious dialogue and dialogue with the community in general. If sung from the heart, one might discern a commonality among these Bicol compositions – love is written all over it, and that is through Mary, that devotees become Apostles of Love.

There are also other ways to understand the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia like through songs of faith that have become staple during the annual novena for the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. “Ama Niamo,” Bicol’s Lord’s Prayer was an immortal classic until it was replaced with a recited version. This song was a casualty of the Church’s revision of the Latin version of the prayer. Because it is in the dialect, some old timers still prefer this song for its emotional impact. The dialect's powerful doxology to the Lord’s Prayer, “Huli sa saimo an Kahadean, saimo an Kapangyarihan, asin Kamurawayan sa panahon nin daing kasagkoran” makes one feel inadequate, that God reigns supreme over all things.

“Pakiolay ki Ina” is a prayer that is sung. “Pakiolay” has found widespread acceptance as an integral part of the novena to Inang Peñafrancia as a devotee’s way of having a conversation with the Blessed Mother. The song’s theme is similar to the “Prayer to Our Lady of Peñafrancia” and that is for protection, consolation, and above all, for intercession before her son Jesus for acceptance to heaven. Both of these prayers recognize that ultimately, it is the son Jesus who determines our faith (“I am the way, the truth and the light. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”)

Another melodious song is “Reynang Langitnon” (Queen of Heaven). “Langitnon” is a very inspiring song as it extols the beauty and virtues of Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven. “Tara magayon, na Ina! Pano ka nin kaogmahan! Pano kaning kamurawahayan. O Reyna, nin kalangitan!” pierces one’s soul in recognition of her role when she said, “I will” to the Father, for all of us.

Another song of praise in the dialect is “O Maria, Parasurog.” “O Maria, Ina ni Jesus. Ika an samong parasurog” similarly reinforces the recognition of God’s omnipotence and Mary’s role as our protector being the Mother of God. As children, we always run to our mother when we are in trouble. “Parasurog” is a plea for help as her children – “Sa gabos ming pangangaipo. Nagtitios nin kahaditan. O Ina mi, kami sorogon.”

As we continue to struggle with COVID-19, the hardest question to overcome or answer is how to measure our devotion? Are we just fair-weather devotees who loves cavorting with lechon during the fiesta? Pope John Paul II – himself an avid Marian devotee offers an authoritative response through his personal motto, “Totus Tuus” – meaning, “Totally yours.”

“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother," said the pope.

“Conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ,” is easy to understand but hard to follow. Hence, after 60 some years, ecumenism is still a work in progress. Maintaining one’s focus to God alone and the importance of Mary’s role in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church are very challenging tasks. The pandemic distraction is a perfect example. But unlocking the revolutionary concept of true devotion to Mary is something every devotee should strive for and present it as a way of life.

When we recall these points of liberation, we must also remember that the Blessed Virgin herself went through a similar point in her life. She walked the talk. God burdened her with a fiat to be the Blessed Mother for her son Jesus Christ. What happened to Mary here on earth after her fiat was completed was no longer relevant once she has fulfilled her role.

Finally, recall the annual Peñafrancia fiesta themes of recent years. “Walk with Mary, Imitate Mary, Growing in Catholic faith with Mary,” and so on. “With Mary at the service of social transformation” (2013 theme) reminds us more than ever in the year of the pandemic, that our faith is not a private treasure to be hidden in our hearts but must be shared and acted upon to have a transformative effect in our society. Viva la Virgen!

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