Shrine of Devotion, Shrine of Mission
History | About
The Shrine that Our Mother of Perpetual Help Built
When the Redemptorist came to Baclaran in 1932, Baclaran was a small desolate village of grassland near the sea. Little did they imagine that someday, the small wooden chapel would transform into the biggest shrine in the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Little did they imagine that someday, Baclaran would transform into a booming town and an international pilgrim center.
The phenomenon exploded after the Redemptorists began the novena in 1948. Only 70 people attended the first novena. After a week, the number of devotees doubled. After several weeks, it came to a thousand. After a few months, it came to several thousands. The rest is history!
The phenomenon was not abrupt. It passed through several stages to arrive at where it is now.
Forty years after Pope Pius IX commanded the Redemptorists in Rome in 1866 to make known the icon throughout the world, the Redemptorist brought the icon to the Philippines in 1906. Following tradition, the icon was a significant dimension of the missionary work of the Redemptorist in the Philippines in 1906.
It is worth noting that after every mission, Redemptorists usually leave behind two things: The mission cross, and the icon of OMPH. The local people also eagerly bought pictures of Our Lady as mementoes of the mission. These pictures were sought-after since these were of exquisite print, having been obtained abroad.
The two images of Mary as Mother of Perpetual Help and Jesus Christ as Redeemer, where “In Him, there is plentiful of redemption” have been the two major images which shaped the form and nature of the life and work of Redemptorists all over the world. In whatever ministry that Redemptorists do—whether it be BEC organizing in the barrio or urban squatter area, or imparting God’s healing mercy in the confessional or preaching in the pulpit, in the giving of retreat or catechesis, or in the streets alongside the basic masses or in the endless meetings—people often find Redemptorists passionately proclaiming these two images. In return, these two images helped nurture the image of the Redemptorists as missionaries of the poor.
This mission strategy achieves two purposes: First, these symbols help remind the people about the mission and this remembrance help sustain the spirit of mission. Secondly, the people were inspired to become themselves missionaries by spreading the lessons from the mission and the devotion to OMPH. Even after the missionaries have left, Jesus and Mary continues to missionize the people and the devotion of the people sustain the mission.
The spread of the icon of OMPH, therefore, was not only due to the Redemptorist missions but also to the warm response of the locals. It was not only the Redemptorists who spread the devotion to OMPH in the early 20th century in the Philippines but also the local people.
The Move to Baclaran
From the Visayas, the Redemptorist expanded to Luzon. The Manila Archdiocese gave the Redemptorist the parish of Malate in 1913. The Redemptorist was reluctant all along as they were keener on giving missions to the barrios of the Southern and Northern Luzon region. Bailey describes the sentiments of the early Redemptorist about Malate as “good as a parish apostolate but as a mission to Filipinos it was in many ways as ill-fated as its origins were compromising.” Sapitula explains that the reticence of the pioneer Redemptorists regarding Malate was because they deemed it “too urban.” Instead of an urban parish, the majority of the pioneer missionaries preferred a mission base far removed from the exigencies of urban life. Thus, it was not long after that the Redemptorists negotiated with the Archdiocese to leave Malate and transfer to a place more suitable to their purpose. The Archbishop offered them a piece of land further away from the center of Manila to the rural village of Baclaran. The land was a donation by a devotee of our Blessed Virgin Mary. The Redemptorist immediately began the process of transfer from Malate to Baclaran in 1929.
The Redemptorist found Baclaran an ideal location for a mission station, one that they were longing for, ever since they sat foot in Luzon. In 1929, Baclaran was an unknown small rural fishing village of Manila, Perhaps in 1932, people would have asked: Is there something good that can come out of Baclaran? Ironically, this is the reason why the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran—it is outside of the city center, poor and rural.
The Redemptorist built a small convent and church in the middle of grassland near the seacoast where the fisher folks used to anchor their small fishing boats. Before World War II, the waters of Manila Bay used to come up to the refectory of the monastery especially during high tide. After the war, the water used to lap the shore along Roxas Boulevard. Now the sea is about two kilometers from the front of the Church.
From the very beginning, the early Redemptorists conceived of Baclaran as a mission station where they can hold missions to distant barrios. There was never a plan to make Baclaran a parish. The Redemptorists settled at Baclaran primarily to give mission. The small wooden chapel will only cater to the local community around the convent. This chapel fits the ideal preconception of a rural mission church that the pioneer Redemptorists favored. Built with wooden frames and rather small, the shrine and monastery suited the predominantly fishing village landscape that Baclaran exemplified.
The entry in the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community, dated March 21, 1932—the day Fr. Denis Grogan, the man who built Baclaran Monastery and Church left the Philippines—perfectly captures this missionary intention:
“The Redemptorists now had a Monastery where they could live as religious and get on with their main work of learning Tagalog to give Missions to the Filipino People wherever they were needed.”
The Explosion of the Novena
It took 16 years before anyone in the Redemptorist community thought of having a Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. When they did, Redemptorists were wondrously taken by surprise at the amazing growth of the novena. The phenomenon went way beyond their expectation and imagination.
Sapitula asserts that “The introduction of the Perpetual Novena devotion in 1948 was the single most significant development in the transformation of the shrine from a local chapel to a pilgrimage site of national proportions.” During the first novena, there were only 70 people present. The following week the number doubled to 150. Before the year ended, the Redemptorists added more novena sessions since the original chapel was good for only 300 people. By the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the novena, and many others were following it from the parking area.
On November 16, 1949, someone decided to find out how many people were really attending the Novena. The Chronicles states: “Several of the Fathers after a careful attempt at counting, estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 people are now attending the novena every Wednesday. Although this figure seems colossal, many say that it is an understatement of the reality.”
It is worth noting, however, that there were novenas to OMPH already published even before 1948. In fact, the earliest extant of the novena was in 1926. There was another novena published in 1936. These novenas, however, were more for private than public devotions. The novena to OMPH already began among individual Catholics using either the 1926 or 1936 editions. These novenas must have contributed to the awareness of the people about the novena. The novena to OMPH, therefore, was not totally unfamiliar to the people living in Manila when the novena began in Baclaran. Just how widespread the individual novena is, we do not exactly know. We will discuss more about the novena in Chapter .
Maguire emphasized that despite the novena in Baclaran, missions were being simultaneously done in the nearby provinces. Redemptorist never abandoned their original charism. Thus, throughout these years the shrine have been going around the parishes of the local Diocese doing parish missions, assisting them in Christian community building in line with the thrust of the Philippine Church. This is not so much known fact about Baclaran but has been going on for years.
Spread of the Devotion All over the Land
The Baclaran phenomenon catapulted the spread of the novena to the whole nation. After the explosion of the novena in Baclaran, the Perpetual Novena spread so fast to the extent that when Redemptorists established their houses in other cities in the 50s to 60s the novena was already taking place. In Legaspi, Davao, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Iligan and Tacloban, the Wednesday devotion was already popular in the nearby parishes before the Redemptorists arrived to set up foundation there. The diocesan clergy initiated and administered these novenas. Families and individuals likewise had devotions to the Mother of God; some families even had chapels built in her honor.
Mansueto describes that the devotion was already widespread in Davao when the missionaries arrived there in June 1952. In fact, the Redemptorists would have wanted to dedicate the Davao foundation to St. Joseph but instead the bishop requested them to place it under the patronage of Our Lady. This was also the same case in Iligan. When the Redemptorists arrived there in October 5, 1959, they immediately found a place to serve as their temporary church. The temporary house of worship was no other than the chapel of St. Mary’s College, which was also dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The same story happened in Bicol. Fr. Dave Clancy recounts that “In the Bicol region, they did missions in several provinces, namely Sorsogon, Camarines, Masbate, Albay, etc. Besides, they used to go on home visitations and there they have observed the picture venerated in almost every altar.”
Thus, Redemptorists cannot claim all the credit for the spread of the devotion to the Mother of Perpetual Help and the novena. Besides, the Perpetual Novena was also prevalent in parishes where the Redemptorists did not conduct missions. The efforts to spread the devotion came from below and the top of the church. From below: the common people, the devotees and from above: the promotion of the novena by the clergy. By popular demand, the devotees asked their parish priests to introduce the Perpetual Novena in their parish churches and the parish priests happily obliged.
The thousands of devotees who prayed with the icon became themselves the most instrumental evangelizers of the icon. After receiving blessings from God and transformed through the intercession of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, they became inspired to spread the good news about the perpetual help of God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help.