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This Year’s Journey with Inâ

The Traslacion (Land Procession) over a week ago in the City of Naga was chaotic especially around the images of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro.  A newspaper editorial on the Voyadores’ conduct was unforgiving and termed it “disgraceful.” Clearly, many were offended by the vulgar display of disrespect towards these icons.

While many have noted on social media, the nearly one million people in attendance who witnessed the various religious and civic activities that come with the annual festival, didn’t go unnoticed. Undoubtedly, the visit of the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Charles John Brown had a multiplier effect to such huge attendance.

Overheard from a social media video was a woman devotee retelling the overwhelming presence of male voyadores surrounding the images that she “could not even come close to Ina.” Another commented about how grand the occasion was and how colorful the fluvial procession.

Watching the Traslacion coverage, it was evident that the procession started peaceful but along the way when the spirits of the glass start to engorge the veins and arteries and buoyed by the chanter’s cadenced tempo of “Viva la Virgen!” and “Viva El Divino Rostro,” that the fervor began overwhelming some of the participants. Ahead of the images placed atop the orbs, devotees lined up behind bands and majorettes represented a more calm and orderly progression.

There are several things to unpack here. First, let’s address the very object of people’s disdain and anger – the voyadores’ conduct. The unruly “sea of humanity” that surrounds the symbolic orbs disappointed many devout devotees who place an enormous honor and emotion on the images as if they’re the real thing – the symbolism of Mary and Jesus. “How dare they defile the very sanctity of such representation?” You could almost hear them say.

The idea and evolution of the andases to the orbis looking metallic object, really find its genesis in the early ‘90s when the image of Ina was disrobed during the Traslacion. The spherical andas was designed precisely, to prevent a repeat of such disrobing incident. As in previous misfortunes, the voyadores get the blame. Well, caught in flagrante delicto, how could one deny especially with multitudes of cameras trained on them for social media postings?

The orbs remind me of another holier orb that Jesus holds, the globus cruciger as depicted in ancient art. With the cross mounted on a globe and a band of jewels around it, it represents a symbol of Christ’s dominion over the world. Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) is Jesus holding the orb and the cross. I allude to such ancient symbolism to illuminate a human error. With the Divino Rostro on top of the orb, reminds us ominously, of Jesus’s triumph over the heavens. “He sits enthroned above the circles of the earth…,” Isaiah 40:22.

Whoever designed the orb knew precisely that people would attempt to climb it and hoped to grab the image. It has become, therefore, an invitation or a challenge to voyadores who clearly take such challenges seriously. The recent incidents at the last Traslacion are exhibits of such manifestations. By design, the Church unwittingly has become complicit to obscenity. Too, having priests (or seminarians) involved in catching, wiping, and throwing towels thrown at them, they too have become complicit.

The bigger picture of such obscenity is encapsulated by that lady’s commentary, “I can’t even come close to Ina.” I know that woman was speaking in literal or physical terms but, nevertheless, it underscores the shallowness of such devotional practice. She did not mention the Divino Rostro, just Ina - much like other devotees who place more emphasis on the Patroness versus the Face of Jesus because it is her fiesta.

The Archdiocese of Caceres constantly reminds devotees through its Facebook page that “the Peñafrancia Fiesta is a religious activity and not a town or a barrio fiesta. It is not a carnival or a mardi gras. It is not about street dances, variety shows, and (or) talent competition. Also, it is not a mere vacation.” The host city, however, disagrees in toto. “The annual Peñafrancia Festival is more than just a religious celebration to many Bicolanos. It is also a time for family reunions, carnivals, trade fairs, and various events celebrating Bikol arts and culture.”

The City’s understanding really goes back to how Bicolanos associated venerated images for successes and tribulations in life. They gathered and prayed as a community to their anitos, for deliverance or a bountiful harvest. The Europeans replaced their “ugly” images with better looking and life-size images that came with names. Perhaps, such duality is what allows devotees to conflate a cultural activity or tradition to that of a religious undertaking.

Bicolanos, from the get-go, celebrated these activities as an expression of freedom and presumed that the religiosity of which contained the absolute truth (Jesus). Bicolanos, by practice of the annual festival, regarded its own nature and norms in accord with divine nature and obedience to the truth. As Pope John Paul’s Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) enlightens us, that “finding God in this broken world” is not always easy” but that “life becomes possible in the following of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Perhaps, what we could discern from the Peñafrancia theme is the conclusion to VS – the Splendor of Truth, is that it “entrusts the moral life of the People of God to Mary, Mother of Mercy” (both sufferings and joys). Hence, the morality of these “Challenging Times” is left to the individual who has been gifted with the natural law in his heart. Veritatis Splendor introduced us to the importance of weighing good and bad aspects of action to determine proportionality (allow good intentions or good consequences) or reasonable balancing of values at stake in this annual celebration that outweighs “evil thoughts.”

Rev. Fr. Francis A. Tordilla published a short article, “Queen Forever,” in the Archdiocese of Caceres’ Facebook page asking the question, “now what” that the fervor and euphoria has subsided? Ina’s image is easily reachable in the Metropolitan Cathedral or the Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Why wait for the next fiesta?

Finally, God always works in mysterious ways. Maybe this time, God let loose those Voyadores for everyone to see the contrast between good and evil, and man’s folly. Yes, images are symbols of our faith, but we can’t be fanatics to feel the “pain” of these images. We cannot attribute to Mary or Jesus our own morality, emotions and disdain.


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