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Priests call for sensitivity as pageant features Mary’s costumes

By Rhayds Barcia

ALBAY, Philippines – Local Catholic leaders appealed for religious sensitivity on Wednesday, May 17, following a public backlash against beauty pageant candidates who wore garments resembling revered religious icons.

The clergymen made the statement after two candidates of the Daragang Magayon Festival, Jessabel Zuniega Cending and Thiara Marie San Pablo, wore garments and crowns associated with those of the Blessed Virgin Mary during a costume competition in Tabaco City on Tuesday, May 16.

On the same day, the Binibining Pilipinas’ official Facebook page published a photo of candidate Paulina Marie Labayo from Naga City wearing the vestments and crown of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, while another candidate from Cebu province, Joy Dacoron, wore a Santo Niño costume. The photographs were greeted with mixed reactions.

Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon described the acts as “inappropriate” but stopped short of considering them blasphemous.

“While it borders on that, one cannot say, however, that this is an act of blasphemy. I believe it was not done to mock or disrespect the Blessed Mother. But, still, it was done insensitively,” Baylon said.

The costumes worn by Ending and San Pablo during the Albay competition were met with criticism from many Catholic devotees in the province, similar to the case of the Binibining Pilipinas candidates, who faced a public backlash for wearing garments associated with the Santo Niño and the Virgin Mary.

The ongoing Daragang Magayon Festival, a two-week celebration, received funding from the provincial government.

Tiwi town in Albay, which has a predominantly Catholic population, houses the revered icon of Our Lady of Salvacion, the grand patroness of the province, while Naga City is home to the icon of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the grand patroness of Bicolandia.

‘Jesus, Mary, and our devotion to them cannot be reduced to cultural and natural expressions. These are universal and supernatural expressions of faith,’ says the head of the Bicol Association of Catholic Schools

Father Wilmer Tria, president of the Bicol Association of Catholic Schools, criticized what he called the “ridiculous” acts of beauty pageant contestants, saying it indicated a ”crisis in education, culture, and evangelization.”

Tria, a clergy member of the Archdiocese of Caceres and parish priest of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Pili, Camarines Sur, lamented what he described as the “blatant misuse” of religious garments in beauty pageants.

While noting that the Virgin Mary never wore such during her simple life, Tria emphasized that Catholics use statues, garments, and crowns to honor religious figures, and turning these into pageantry costumes reflected a “lack of maturity in faith and devotion” and confusion between religious and cultural icons.

“Jesus, Mary, and our devotion to them cannot be reduced to cultural and natural expressions. These are universal and supernatural expressions of faith. We need to intensify our efforts to enlighten and prevent further confusion,” Tria said.

Other Catholic priests in Albay, including Father Rex Paul Arjona of Saint Roch Parish in Taysan, Legazpi, and Father Joseph Salando of Joroan Parish in Tiwi town, said they agreed with Tria’s view that mixing devotional practices and pageantry was inappropriate. –


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