Whenever I go to the hometown of my mother in Pangasinan, I am reminded of the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag, a minor Basilica, which is situated in a nearby town. My mother's place goes to the right, after the town of Binalonan, and the shrine on the left going to the town proper of Manaoag.
Filipinos by nature are ardent devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They pray for her intercession in asking special favors to her son, Jesus Christ. In Manila, we have the church of the Lady of Perpetual Help where Marian devotees flock, especially during Wednesdays. It is a pilgrimage site where people from all walks of life congregate to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin.
The Shrine of the Lady of Manaoag, however, is considered as a place of miracles. It is replete with stories and anecdotes about the Holy Mother. Many have been written in various journals ,and among my favorites are stories that were told firsthand, by my own mother.
She often says that the Virgin is miraculous. During the Japanese era, the Blessed Mother is known to show herself to local farmers whenever there is danger or pestilence.She is a beautiful lady with a shining face who talked placidly with the natives. A farmer who saw her in the fields, was surprised to see her image in the church.
Several people claims to have seen here walking around. As of result, the pilgrimage to the site grew in numbers. Devotees came from all parts of the Philippines, and some of them are from other countries like the United States and Europe.
When I went there a few months ago, I saw the same number of people flocking around the church. The entrance was full of vendors of : rosaries, replica of the Virgin and the Sto. Nino, kakanin (sweet bread), tupig (sticky rice with coco strips and charbroiled), fruits, and native bags and decors. The church was basically the same as when I last saw it and the lines going to the Virgin at the altar is still long as ever.
There are several stores managed by the church where I bought a few floating candles, calendars, and a t-shirt for my kid. It was a religious experience and I could have finished hearing the mass had I not been distracted by the commerce that were all around me.I saw several ladies selling ginger juice in different sizes of bottles. I wondered what that has got to do with the veneration of the Virgin. But I let go of the ill thoughts and went to the small pool to float my candles. These candles were said to be for special favours and I lighted ten of them.
I stood there transfixed with the Blessed Virgin gazing down at me. I asked for forgiveness from all the distractions that must have shaken my unwavering faith in her. I then sense a sudden calmness that must have meant, that she has forgiven me. I left the site with a feeling of contentment and inner peace.
Onli in da Pilipins: A Writer's Journal
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