Pilgrims, not Tourists

By Julma M. Narvadez


The anticipation for this year’s Penafrancia Fiesta is understandably extraordinary. For Naga locals, the absence of the Traslacion and Fluvial Processions for the past two years left a void in the annual festivities. Now that health protocols are at a minimum, many are hoping they would once again witness the throngs of devotees who come with intense prayers and hearts on fire.


The city government of Naga has announced the schedule of the civic and military parades and is campaigning for participation. With the local Church of Caceres opting to hold prayer caravans instead of the traditional foot processions, tongues are wagging. The reason for the Ms. Bicolandia pageant is set prior to the Traslacion is again being questioned, as if this was not answered more than a decade ago.


The three-year preparation leading to the 300th year of the devotion ushered a communal discernment on how Naga City was “made special by God among all other cities in the country.” The moniker “Pilgrim City of Naga” was one of the fruits of the grace-filled journey towards the Tercentenary Celebration in 2010.


Resolution 2010-280 adopted on August 17, 2010 by the Sangguniang Panlungsod declared the city as “Pilgrimage City in honor of Our Lady of Penafrancia.” Proclamation No. 33 by the late President Benigno S. Aquino, III declared “the City of Naga and province of Camarines Sur as Pilgrimage Capitals…” effective September 10, 2010. The letter standee at the roundabout at Concepcion Pequena is a constant reminder of Naga’s identity as Pilgrim City.


Have these declarations become mere lip service in so short a time? Twelve years is a blink of an eye compared to three centuries. Interestingly, the calendar of events released by the city government conspicuously did not include the solemnity of Our Lady of Penafrancia on September 18. Certainly, the promotion of devotion is not within the mandate of the civil government. But if Naga is a pilgrim city, what is the pilgrimage for? Certainly not the parades and pageantry.


The pandemic did not cancel Our Lady’s feast in the past two years. There were none of the usual processions, no long lines of buses along Naga’s major thoroughfares. But novena prayers were uttered with the same fervor and the thanksgiving for blessings received through Ina was heartfelt as ever.


The Archbishop of Caceres, Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, declared that this year’s fiesta has the theme “Mary accompanies us in our journey towards a synodal Church” This is in keeping with Pope Francis’ call for synodality.


Truly, the Penafrancia Fiesta, said to be the biggest Marian celebration in Asia, is an invitation to follow Mary’s path and to step closer to her Son. “Mary is a model of discipleship. She lived this journey in a privileged way as she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus and His Church,” the Archbishop said in his circular.


As travel restrictions have eased, the Penafrancia Fiesta will once again be an occasion for pilgrimage. But how every Nagueno views the city’s guests will spell the difference. If the city would like to live up to its privileged identity as a pilgrim city, it must prepare for the influx of pilgrims, and not of tourists.