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Redemptorists: Stewards of the Shrine
The Redemptorist missionaries are the honored stewards of the shrine. What does the Redemptorists bring into the Baclaran phenomenon? The Redemptorists’ main contribution to the Baclaran phenomenon is its missionary charism and Marian tradition.
The Redemptorist is a missionary congregation founded by St. Alphonsus de Liguori in 1732 in Scala, Italy. Alphonsus founded the Redemptorist to give mission to the poor and the most abandoned. The constitution of the congregation highlights this: The raison d’ etre of the Redemptorist congregation is the mission of preaching the Good News to the poor, to “follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor …” Thus, the main charism of the Redemptorist is preaching and evangelization: “Indeed Redemptorists have as their special mission in the Church the explicit proclamation of the word of God to bring about fundamental conversion.”
The Redemptorists came to the Philippines in 1906 to do exactly what their founder and tradition instructed them to do. In spite of the many challenges that the Redemptorist encountered at the beginning such as a hostile people due to the negative experience from the Spanish missionaries, a different culture, a hot climate, internal squabbles, the Redemptorist immediately buckled to do what they knew best—doing missions in the barrios. Along with proclaiming the abundant redemption in Christ, the Redemptorist set out to propagate the maternal care and guidance of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In so doing, the Redemptorists missions in the barrios complemented by the enthusiastic response of the people, sowed the seeds of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help deep into the country.
On the one hand, the Redemptorists missions laid the groundwork for the spread of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the country. On the other hand, the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help by the people sustained the mission even after the missionaries have left. Redemptorist missions helped in the evangelization of the Filipinos as well as sowing the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Baclaran phenomenon is a fruit of the complementary efforts of the Redemptorist missions and the warm response of the Filipino people to the missions. As the late Fr. John Maguire have said,
I believe that the Baclaran Novena is one of the greatest forces for good in the world but it is just one of the fruits of the continuing struggle of the Redemptorists to give Missions to the people wherever they are needed.
Maguire emphasized that despite the novena in Baclaran, missions were being simultaneously done in the nearby provinces. Even as the Redemptorists were kept more and more occupied with the teeming number of devotees flocking to the shrine, they never abandoned their original charism. Thus, throughout these years the Redemptorists assigned at the shrine have been going around the parishes doing parish missions. Through the missions, the Redemptorists were assisting local communities in Christian community building following the thrust of the Philippine Church. This is not a well-known fact about Baclaran but has been going on for years.
The impact of the Redemptorist missions on the Church and its evangelizing work among the people cannot be underestimated. Bishop Lino Gonzaga of the Diocese of Palo writing for the souvenir program in celebration of the 50 years of Redemptorists in the Philippines in 1956, said:
When the history of the church of the Philippines shall be written, it will surely contain a chapter on the work of the Redemptorist missionaries. But even as the chapters in any history book, it will only give an account of the events ‘in their cold external garment’. No history book can picture sufficiently the flame of apostolic zeal; no chapter can do full justice to the effects of God’s grace in a mission. Only when the Lord ‘brings to light what is hidden in darkness and reveals the secrets of men’s hearts’, only then shall we know the real worth and magnitude of the apostolate of the Redemptorist missionaries in our country.
This show that from the very beginning, mission and devotion were not separate. Devotion grew out of mission and mission sustained because of devotion. The mutual enrichment of mission and devotion culminated in the Baclaran phenomenon. As Manuel Victor Sapitula, in his dissertation on Baclaran, affirms, “Because of its missionary charism, the Redemptorists were able to expand the reach of the devotion’s significance in ways that resonated with structural changes in postwar Philippine society.”
The rich Marian tradition of the Redemptorists also contributed significantly to the Baclaran phenomenon. Marian theology and spirituality run deep in the Redemptorist tradition inherited from its founder, St. Alphonus.
I remember when I was a kid, I used to see the book Glories of Mary on the table of my father. My father was a very active leader of the Legion of Mary at our diocese in Bicol. He used to read the Glories of Mary a lot and used it in his talks to fellow legionaries. When I entered the Redemptorist seminary it was only then that I found out that the author of Glories of Mary was St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, the founder of the Redemptorists.
Many consider St. Alphonsus as one of the most prolific Marian saints; his devotion to Mary is profound and profuse. Evidence of this is his numerous books, paintings, and hymns, not to mention all the prayers, dedicated to Mary. Among his most popular works about Mary are: Prayers to the Blessed Virgin for every day of the week, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Glories of Mary. Alphonsus also wrote many other smaller treatises, sermons, letters, and articles in larger works. Likewise, he often writes a thought about Mary or a prayer to her in his works such as the Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ.
Saint Alphonsus consecrated himself to Our Lady “de la Merced” in an act of total conversion in front of the image of S. Maria dei Monti (Scala, Italy). Thus Mary became the helper not only for Alphonsus but also for his congregation, the Redemptorists, and through them to millions of people all over the world. According to Liguori, all graces of conversion and salvation are given us through Mary. She is the perpetual helper.
Mary has always been at the heart of Redemptorist life. From the foundation of the Redemptorists, there have been many popular images of Mary, each one significant at a particular time in the life of Alphonsus and history of the congregation. In sequence, they were: Our Lady of Ransom - at whose shrine Alphonsus dedicated his life, Our Lady of Good Counsel- whose picture Alphonsus kept on his desk and the Immaculate Conception - patroness of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Because of this Marian tradition, an essential part of the Redemptorist mission is the propagation of the devotion to Mary. This was given a significant boost when in April 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists, for public veneration with the command to “make her known” throughout the world.
When the Redemptorists came to the Philippines, they brought the Icon wherever they gave missions. Michael Bailey recounts the very first mission of this kind that was conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907:
The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by Our Mother of Perpetual Help that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.
More than mere patronage, Campos implies Mary as the primary missionary with the Redemptorists. Campos elaborates, “Mary arrives with the missionaries and her icon assumes a principal place ... She is the missionary who discerns and speaks in the interior of each heart, suggesting the responses of faith.” Thus, fields evangelized by the Redemptorists are also fields evangelized by the virgin of Perpetual Help.
The missionary and Marian tradition of the Redemptorist is evident when after every mission, Redemptorists usually leave behind to the people two things: The mission cross, and the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This mission strategy achieves two things: First, these symbols remind the people about the mission and this memory helped sustain the spirit of mission. Secondly, the people were inspired to become themselves missionaries by helping spread the lessons learned from the mission and the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The people, who have been missionized, have become themselves co-missionaries of the Redemptorists in spreading the devotion throughout the land. Through these, Mary continues to missionize the people and the devotion of the people to OMPH sustains the missions even after the missionaries have left. Thus, it is not farfetched to say that the devotion to OMPH in the early twentieth century in the Philippines was spread not only by the Redemptorists but also by the people themselves.
In 2016, Redemptorists all over the world celebrated the 150th Jubilee of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Jubilee recalls the great event of entrusting the icon of OMPH by Pope Pius IX to the Redemptorist in 1866 with the command, “make her known.”
150 years later, the icon is the most beloved and well-known icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the world. As Italian Redemptorist Fr. Serafino Fiore proclaimed: Yes, we can say with pride that ours is a global Madonna. We can be proud to have complied with the command of Pius IX: “make her known all over the world!”
Fiore pays tribute to the many Redemptorists who made known the icon in the past 150 years:
[W]e think of so many Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers, students and novices in formation and lay people who have made this “miracle” possible. We think of the many channels the Redemptorists have used: the popular missions, the perpetual novena, the folkloristic traditions, music, painting, pilgrimages, and more recently, social networks and web pages. We also think of the splendid basilicas, sanctuaries/shrines and welcome centers erected in honor of the Lady of Perpetual Help.
Fiore also points to the expanding and continuing influence of the icon today, even beyond the church herself:
Yes, ours is a global Madonna, and today we have confirmation in a fact: above all in Asia, it happens that before this Icon people stop, not only Christians, but also Hindus and Muslims. I dare to think that through the message of this Icon even atheists and agnostics are put to questioning.
Icon Pilgrimage Mission
In observance of the celebration of the 150th Jubilee of the entrusting of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorist, Pilgrimage-mission were conducted by the Redemptorist Communities all over the country. During the pilgrimage mission, the Redemptorist Communities brought the Icon on a pilgrimage to parishes in the Philippines, especially those parishes under the patronage of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
The pilgrimage-missions are an acknowledgment that the thousands of devotees have become partners in the propagation of the devotion to OMPH. The millions of devotees who received blessings and were transformed, through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, became inspired to spread the good news about the perpetual help of God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
The pilgrimage-mission celebrates and pays tribute to the Filipino people as Pueblo Amante de Maria. From merely devotees, the Filipino people were transformed to become missionaries - partners in mission. Just like Mary, the first disciple, Filipino devotees have discovered that the deepest challenge of their devotion is to be a disciple of Jesus. As their devotion to Mary grows, they become disciples of Jesus. On the other hand, as they become disciples of Jesus, their devotion to Mary becomes more meaningful. Thus, mission and devotion goes hand in hand; they become inseparable in the life of devotees.
The Challenge of the Jubilee
After 150 years, the icon has continued to grow in certain areas, but has diminished in other areas. The popularity of the devotion to the icon has moved from north to south, and from west to east. The biggest devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is now found in Asia and Latin America. Ironically, the mandate given to the Redemptorist which originated in Rome 150 years ago has become more apparent outside of Italy today.
This milestone event offers an opportune time to reflect and discern on the mandate given to the Redemptorists. What does “make her known” means to Redemptorists today, 150 years after?
First of all, the jubilee gives the Redemptorists the opportunity to experience the meaning, message and spirit of jubilee among themselves. The jubilee is an important opportunity to examine their lives vis-à-vis their own living of the devotion and spirituality of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is an opportunity for renewal of their community life and missions as well as the very essential ministry at their shrines.
Indeed, the first recipients of the command “make her known” are the Redemptorists. The command “make her known” is, first of all, addressed to them. They are the first beneficiaries. Redemptorists needs, first of all, to reflect on their own devotion to OMPH. The jubilee offers an opportunity to deepen and discern their living out of the spirituality of OMPH. They also need to discover more about the meaning and spirituality of the icon.
The Redemptorists can also learn from the devotees; the devotees can also evangelize them. Every Wednesday as they lead the thousands of devotees in the novena and liturgies, the sheer faith of the people continue to inspire them.
At the same time, the icon and the shrine was a noble gift which the Redemptorist have received but comes with a heavy responsibility. The command to “make her known” is a responsibility for the Redemptorists to nurture the devotion and religiosity of the people. This challenges Redemptorists to examine their ministries at the shrine: How have they nurtured the devotion of the 150,000 devotees that come to the shrine every week? How have they honored the devotees? How have they recognized and appreciated the power of the icon among the devotees?
Renewal of the mandate
The jubilee is an invitation for us all to renew the commitment of “making her known.” The call for us is how to (re)make her known amidst today’s challenges. This implies a remodelling of devotion. For this, we need new metaphors for devotees: missionary, disciple, pilgrim, perhaps. The greater awareness and appreciation of icon spirituality can help us in this renewal of the mandate.
It may also no longer be feasible to talk of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as mere devotional works of piety. Devotion flows into life and gives strength and hope to act, to confront the situation and issues in our world today. Devotion can be a powerful tool for change not just in individuals but also for society.