May 7 was the feast day of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (or, Our Lady of Manaoag), patroness of Manaoag, Pangasinan. I can count with the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been to the shrine. Nonetheless I’m quite familiar with some of the more popular stories circulated by the locals about the Lady. Mostly, stories about being called to make the journey to the shrine in order to be healed. But I must say it’s only this year that I absorbed the meaning of the title ‘Our Lady of Manaoag’. When Archbishop Soc Villegas opened his sermon with ‘the woman who calls us’, my mind made the connection: Our Lady of Manaoag — the Lady who calls, the Woman who has been calling people toward healing! I shook my head to rid it of cobwebs — f** how in all those years did I not make the connection? I took it for granted that Mary was named after the town. On our return, I logged into the Net and I’m stunned to read that it’s history began in the 17th century!
The statue of Our Lady of The Rosary of Manaoag is a 17th-century Roman Catholic ivory image of The Blessed Virgin Mary with The Child Jesus enshrined at the high altar of the Basilica. It was brought from Spain via Acapulco in the early 17th century to the Philippines by Padre Juan De San Jacinto.
Documents dating back to 1610 attest that a middle-aged farmer walking home heard a mysterious female voice. He looked around and saw on a cloud-veiled treetop an apparition of The Blessed Virgin Mary, holding a Rosary in her right hand with The Child Jesus on her left arm amidst a heavenly glow. Mary told the farmer where she wanted her church to be built. A chapel was built on the spot where Mary appeared to the man and the town quickly grew around it.
It was my first time to attend the feast day. Although mother and persons close to me have made regular trips, it didn’t occur to me to go along. This year, the day was gloriously sunny, just the kind of day to be anywhere but inside the house. So at the last minute, the desire to go won out, and I said I’d tag along. At the end of the day, reflecting on this, I thought, maybe, I was also called, if only to get it into my head, first hand, the basic fact about the shrine. The heavens wouldn’t want people to be ignorant about their own religion, I guess. And it’s true what’s been said, there’s a right time for everything, the right time to know about something or someone. If I’d known the fact when I was a teenager, I’d have processed it as just another piece of information which would’ve probably went in one ear and immediately out of the other. But at this point in my life I could say that I’m well acquainted with the words ‘call’ and ‘calling’ in their diverse and spiritual meanings so that when I heard Archbishop Villegas that day I was more than ready to know, understand, and keep the information.
On the side, I went around the place a bit. It has changed since the last time I visited. In fact, I could only now remember what the main interior of the church looked like, which was pretty much the same. Going around, I took note of some interesting design details. Architecture and design transport me to heightened awareness and appreciation of the human being’s capacities. And, being a Catholic, beyond the human being is God; when I think about God, I think about my beliefs, practices, rituals. If I were a worker in an ancient church, I’d work on taking photos and cataloguing the histories of each of the architectural pieces (like, for example, the main doors — who did the design, is there any meaning to the design, what is it made of, how many times has it undergone renovation, etc.), which if the parish priest so like have it at the perusal of the visiting public.
Many secular Catholics are put off by sermons laden with messages of, say, silence in the midst of abuse, the sinfulness of men and women (as if there’s no hope), and hell. These messages offend because many Catholics are trying, day after day, to live out the Catholic values, but modernity and progress have significantly changed the playing field for Catholics. But the important thing is they do try. And can I add that these “embattled” Catholics are usually the ones who feel and think deeply about their faith? I think that the history and architecture of a church provide secular Catholics relevant information that helps them, after some rumination, (re)connect to their religion. Understanding the reality of these times, the clergy should I think also try to open themselves up to creative and relevant methods of nurturing, supporting, and calling back Catholics. I believe that this is among the duties of the Church, to call. The question is, how?