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Pastoral Letter

ARCHDIOCESE OF CACERES

Office of the Archbishop

Pilgrim City of Naga, Philippines


Se Siempre La Reina

Pastoral Letter on the Centenary of the canonical coronation of the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia


My Dear Sons and Daughters of Ina,


Up and down the centuries, the Church has honored the Blessed Virgin Mary as a queen. Mary’s queenship, as many other attributes, springs from her Divine Maternity (Ad Caeli Reginam, 34). Along with our belief that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised savior from the royal Davidic lineage is our homage to the Queen Mother. She is queen not as an entitlement but as a reward for accepting the invitation of God to be the mother of the King of all kings. In most Near Eastern cultures, the woman ordinarily honored as queen was not the wife of the king, but the mother of the king. The queen for the Israelites was therefore not an empress of vain power or a figurehead but a loving mother who counsels her son and pleads for her people. St. Athanasius explains:“ If the Son is a King, then the Mother who bore Him should be looked upon as a queen and sovereign.”


This ancient articulation of faith has been translated into beautiful art and vibrant piety. One of the most visible and appealing practices was to crown “images of the Virgin Mother of God which were already outstanding by reason of public veneration” (ACR, 33) by no less than the Pope himself. In his absence, he sent papal emissaries to do it on his behalf. In recent times, we called this Pontifical or Canonical Coronation of images. This is granted to images of the Blessed Virgin Mary that have enjoyed a long history of devotion and are attested by stories of miracles and prayers granted.


The Bicol people have been blessed with a rich devotion to Our Lady that goes back more than three hundred years ago. We recall how on September 20, 1924, during the papacy of Pope Pius XI, the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia was crowned as Queen and Patroness of Bicol by the Apostolic Delegate Most Rev. Guiglelmo Piani, at the Cathedral Grounds. It was the previous bishop, the Most Rev. John Bernard McGinley, with the help of the Asosacion de Peña de Francia who petitioned the Holy Father Benedict XV for the Canonical Coronation. Having fulfilled the two requirements of antiquity and miracles, a decree was issued by the Chapter of St. Peter’s Basilica that favorably approved the petition on May 13, 1920. However, the actual coronation happened four years later when Bishop McGinley was already assigned in California. The diocese of Caceres then was sede vacante and so Fr. Franciso Reyes, as Diocesan Administrator, and Fr. Casimiro Lladoc, spearheaded the celebrations.


One hundred years later, we reflect on and celebrate the Centenary of the Canonical Coronation of the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. We are guided by the solemn theme, “Siempre la Reina, Pamanang Banal: Atamanon, Padanayon, Palakupon” (A Divine Inheritance: Nourish, Preserve, Share). Let us delve into the richness of the devotion handed over to us by being transformed by it. Let it move us to accept the tremendous responsibility of handing this down in its best condition to the next generation. It is not a time for vain pomp and glory but a time for genuine prayer, assiduous reflection, and collective responsibility. When Mary was chosen by God, the angel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1: 28) sent her into a mission of charity and mercy in the hill country of Judah. Much like the Kingship of her Son, Mary’s Queenship means service. Her song of praise “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Luke 1: 48) did not stem from conceit but from sincere gratitude that the Almighty has looked upon His handmaid’s lowliness. In her weakness and humility, the Glory of God shined forth. As stewards of the devotion, it is our hope and prayer that the centenary be a solemn act of thanksgiving and a resounding pledge of commitment to Mary, our Queen and Mother.


To harmonize our efforts, I have formed an executive committee which I personally head. I am assisted by our vicar-general, Fr. Wilfred Almoneda, and the heads of the committees in the three-fold task of creating lasting memorabilia to commemorate this shared milestone, a formation program that would nurture and preserve genuine devotion to Ina and a formidable social service ministry for the poor.


I invite every one of you to look back and reflect upon the same hymn to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, composed by Fr. Maximo Juguera, CM, on the occasion of the coronation of the image in 1924. We often skip the singing of the third stanza yet it is the verse that captures the role of the Queen Mother:


The poor and the mournful look for you with faith. They gaze at you with tears and you gaze at them too. Soon their tears become well and we see them return home filled with joy.


In every Peñafrancia Fiesta, Ina asks us to remember the weak and the voiceless. The pageantry, commercialism, and merriment must not distract us from our mission. The mark of a meaningful fiesta celebration is the fulfillment of our duty as devotees. Mary, the mother of Jesus, came from the Poor of Yahweh. Her heart is one with the suffering. Mary’s coronation is not merely a heavenly spectacle. It is a call to mission. May our devotion be measured not by the length of the prayers to Ina but by our identification with the mission of her son to the poor who compose the majority of the members of our local church in Bicol. I enjoin all parish priests and civic leaders to collaborate, within your capacity and territory, to implement sustainable programs for the poor and to introduce reforms of unjust structures. We are all stewards not only of material resources. We are also stewards of the liberating mission of Jesus.


Mary’s Magnificat reminds us of her loving gaze on the humble and the burdened as she, too, was the recipient of God’s merciful gaze. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46-55). Our devotion to Ina should expel from us the desire for power and entitlement. I encourage that the conduct of the traditional Pagsungko or visit of Ina shall serve as an initial step to organize Saradit na Kristyanong Komunidad which we have identified as the pastoral thrust of the Archdiocese. The SKK continues to be the privileged method of promoting Synodality and the realization of the Philippine Church’s vision of a communion of communities of disciples.


As we commemorate this momentous centenary, may our sharing of time, talent, and treasure bring us closer to her Son, Jesus. He is after all God’s primordial inheritance to the world. May He turn all our tears into joy as we honor His Queen Mother.


Viva la Virgen! Viva la Reina de Nuestra Region!


Given at the Pilgrim City of Naga, on the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation, on the 2nd of February 2024 in the year of Our Lord, in the 11th year of my episcopacy.



+Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD

Archbishop of Caceres


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