by : Myrna Aquitania
At the culmination of the nine-day novena to the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, LA Bicolanos led by the Granada sisters, Evelyn (Enriquez) and Linda (Sabah) attended last Sunday afternoon’s five o’clock Mass at St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church in Long Beach. This was followed by a healing service done by Fr. Efren Borromeo who joined the celebration, coming all the way from Bicol.
The annual Peñafrancia fluvial procession which caps the nine-day novena, has always been attended by millions of pilgrims and devotees who flock to Naga City during the celebration.
Celebrated during the third Sunday in September, the Nuestra Señora de Penafrancia or Virgien of Peñafrancia was founded by Simon Vela, the heir to a wealthy French family in the slopes of Sierra de Francia, a mountain range located between Spain’s provinces of Salamanca and Caceres.
According to a number of my Bicolano friends, history relates that the arrival of the of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in the Philippines can be traced back to the 17th century (1712) when Fr. Miguel de Covarrubias, who was then a theology student at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and who came from San Martin de Castanar in Spain, had settled in Cavite. Fr. Miguel was a sickly priest but due to his devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, he witnessed countless miracles brought upon him by clinging to the picture of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. He promised that once cured, he would construct a chapel by the banks of the Pasig River. To his surprise, he was miraculously cured of his illness and he was ordained a priest not in Manila but in the Ciudad de Nueva Caceres, which is now Naga City. The word spread throughout that Fr. Miguel was the “miracle of Peñafrancia’s miracles.”
Out of gratitude, to fulfill his vow, Padre Miguel who became the first diocesan priest ordained in Naga, mobilized the natives who lived along the slopes of Mt. Isarog to construct a chapel made of local materials. He also requested a local artist to carve an image of Our Lady patterned after the image he always carried with him. Once built, miraculous stories have spread not only in the Bicol region but throughout the world.
One distinguished miraculous story told was that of a dog being killed, so its blood could be used to paint the newly carved image of Our Lady. Apparently, the dog was dumped in the river but he came back to life. This incident was witnessed by the townspeople and the news spread far and wide.
The official coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia as Patroness of the Bicol region took place on September 20, 1924, officiated by the Rev. Msgr Guillermo Piani, then the Apostolic Delegate of the Vatican. In May 22, 1982, the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia was installed in the beautiful Peñafrancia Basilica and is currently enshrined at St. John the Evangelist Metropolitan Cathedral of Naga.
The LA Bicolanos who participated in this year’s celebration at St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church ended up with a reception at the Community Hal. The sumptuous Bicol food served included numerous delicious coconut and pili ingredients and delicacies. Noticeable were the table of Kapangpangans who graced the occasion such as Dr. Carlos & Connie Uyan and Baby Gonzales. United Bicolandia personalities were also there such as Sery and Zeny Sabocor. Entertainment was provided by Mon Concepcion, Malou Toler and her daughter.
This devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia makes us all feel that the love story between Our Lady whom we all call “Ina” and us, her children, will never end.