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All about the Peñafrancia

Caught on CCTV, a half-masked middle-weight man in a gray jacket with a big black tote bag casually walked inside a trading store along Panganiban Drive in Naga City on a fine early morning of September 5. In less than two minutes, he took all the money he could grab from the cash register in front of a scared sales clerk and casually walked away as when he entered. That happened in broad daylight while the city folks were en route to their jobs, and the cars, jeepneys, and tricycles routinely passed by the establishments that were starting to open to operate for the day.

Video footage of the masterfully executed store heist quickly spread like wildfire. A day before, two cops reportedly lost their cellphones to a robber who got away without a fight. After horrendous incidents of rape, killing, and robbery in the past months, one barangay started sending out its Tanods every morning with their megaphones in full blare warning about curfews and securing one’s homes and families for safety. A millennial working in Naga City took that as a pun. “If they want people to go home fast and safe, then have easy transport available to all,” she complained about going through long queues for a ride home after office hours.

The annual Peñafrancia festivities are just a day or two away. With a million people- pilgrims, tourists, and other visitors-- expected to flock to Naga City beginning September 7, the issue of safety and security becomes a cause of worry, especially for the city residents. A week earlier, the city’s Public Safety Office, Executive Director Renee Gumba announced more CCTVs and body cameras for PSO men to ensure public safety. It is already a formidable challenge to assemble them in Naga City for a week of festivities.

Despite the perceived fear, the prevailing mood among many devotees and residents as the Feast of Peñafrancia approaches is excitement and hope. The reason is as deep as the ocean. Manay Barrameda’s devotion dates back to her ancestral family’s roots as Marian followers who told stories of getting well when sick after praying to the Peñafrancia. My late mother, Eliza, spoke of the miraculous INA whose small image she held in her hands when the vehicle she was on with our late Uncle Bening as driver turned turtle along the dangerous Bituka-ng-Manok winding zigzag road from Camarines Norte to Pagbilao, Quezon. She thought she would have died without “Mama Mary by her side.” Christians generally attribute miracles to deep praying. It is at the heart of the Christian faith and tradition.

Cultural, historical, and social

The much-awaited Penafrancia Festival in September starts with the nine-day Novena with the Translacion to transfer the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia to Naga Cathedral. Then, back to the Basilica on the ninth day in a fluvial procession along the Naga River. Young Voyadores (devotees escorting the images) in colorful shirts paddle their boats and canoes fast while shouts of “Viva la Virgen” from alongside the riverbanks are a sight to behold. Another well-applauded part of the festivities is the exhibitions and competition on the Corps Parade and Drum and Lyre, the Bicol Regional Military and Drill, and the Band and Majorettes, where the Mariners contingents from Canaman and Legaspi City constantly performed exceedingly well.

The Feast has a deep cultural, social, and historical significance for the Bicolanos, particularly the people of Naga City. Church chronicles point to the Marian image discovered in Peña de France in the 14th century by a generous man of great wealth named Simon, who gave away his riches to the poor and was said to have had Marian apparitions. In another narrative, a Spaniard, Miguel de Covarrubias, traveled from Spain shipwrecked near Naga City with a statue of Mary among his belongings. In gratitude, he set up a chapel at the foot of Mount Isarog to house the Marian image where profound devotion to the Our Lady of Penafrancia began. The Archdiocese of Caceres has since led the yearly Peñafrancia festival to remember the historical past and promote timely life advisories. This year’s theme is “Journeying with INA in deepening our relationship with God in these challenging times.”

The Peñafrancia is not only a religious celebration; it has now turned into a festival, part commercial of week-long multi-faceted events - processions, dance, song, music, competitions, parades, games, arts, painting and, now with a carnival and open dining. According to the organizers, the theme “Kaiba si Maria asin Kristo sa pagnegosyo asin pag-asenso” of the 13th Bishop Francisco Gainza Trade Fair with the DA, DTI, LGU of Camarines Sur, CSCCII and Robinson’s Naga is a clear expression of support for local products and their producers, the MSMEs and Social Enterprises.

I would like to believe that the Peñafrancia is a cultural legacy struggling to break free from a colonized past. Viva La Virgen! Long live the Virgin! is a collective desire to live well amidst a life of scarcity and want for the many devotees from marginalized sectors -farmers, low-income producers, workers, and entrepreneurs. With that framework, it promotes safe and fair business.


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