75 YEARS: The Dawn of a New Era
This day, February 15, we celebrate a Redemptorist presence in Baclaran over the past 75 years. As a permanent reminder of this day, we have illustrated what this day means for us. The Southern Cross in the deep blue of the night yields to the rising sun. A new day is dawning.
The deep blue of the night with the five stars that form the Southern Cross, characteristic of both the National flags of Australia and New Zealand represent the Australian and New Zealand presence in the pioneering missionary work of Baclaran.
The pioneers of Baclaran lived for the day when their Filipino confreres would take over the mission begun with such enthusiasm 75 years ago.
The yellow of the sphere moving ever nearer the centre suggests one of the predominant colours of the Philippine National Flag. At this dawn of a new era, The character of the Redemptorist Vice Province is added a new lustre as the Filipino component assumes stewardship.
The process is depicted as circular. As night yields to day smoothly and seamlessly, so does the transition taking place in the Vice Province.
The New Era
A new face
Now the laity has assumed its rightful place in the pastoral ministry of the Church, by proclaiming the Word, and complementing and continuing faithfully the work of the pioneers.
A new method
The proclamation of the Word is both supplemented and enhanced by drawing upon the manifold resources of modern information technology.
Baclaran 75 Years After
Hello from the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. We are members of the Redemptorist family. We are celebrating. And for good reason. For 75 years ago today, seven of our brothers arrived on a tiny plot of land in the village of Baclaran on the shores of Manila Bay to begin the foundation.
With them the Baclaran story begins and…. what a story it is.
Today we thank God and his Blessed Mother for all that has happened over the past 75 years. For the stories that show God’s hand visible in all that has taken place here. Surely we can believe that He chose the spot, remote, and unpretentious. The men who began here in 1932 could never have imagined how their work would develop. Today, this remote spot has been turned into a place of miracles that has become famous throughout the world. Join us then and celebrate with us as we touch on just a few of the high points of Baclaran’s history.
In 1732, when Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, he chose a place known as Casa Anastasio to be the location of his first foundation. Two hundred and seventy five years later, when the Redemptorists selected a place for their first foundation, their eyes fell upon Casa Anastacia, a block of land on a forlorn-looking beach in Baclaran. Vda Anastacia, finding no use for it herself, had bequeathed the land to the Blessed Virgin. It was currently in the hands of the Archbishop of Manila. When the Redemptorists offered to set up a church in his diocese, he gave them the land formerly owned by Vda. Anastacia.
Who would have thought that the remote place along the shores of Manila Bay would one day become the site of one of, if not the largest, churches in the Philippines, and one of the largest in the world?
On that barren plot of land now stands the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help to which millions of people have come over the years to pray the Novena in honour of their Mother.
Sta Teresita and the Fish Pond
The man who prepared the place for the arrival of the first Redemptorists was a crusty, dynamic Australian, Father Denis Grogan. A devotee of Sta. Teresita, he wanted to hang her image of over the altar of his tiny church. But the poor man was out-maneuvered.
Enter Mrs. Ynchausti, a friend of Fr. Grogan from Malate days. She had other ideas. The Mother of Perpetual Help should claim that honor. This good woman had donated an image of the Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists and had selected the very spot it would occupy inside the church. And so in fact her wish was granted. Finally Fr. Grogan would give way. The image of the Perpetual Help that is the focus of all eyes inside the massive church today is the gift of Mrs. Ynchausti made in 1931 to the people of the Philippines. Who knows what would have been the outcome had Fr. Grogan’s plan prevailed? How wonderfully the designs of God surpass the designs of men and produce fruits beyond their limited imagination?
Teresita was displaced, but not to be beaten; her statue still stands in the patio before the Church. Surrounded by a fish pond. Now it is not produce of the baklad, the fish traps that once dotted Manila Bay and from which Baclaran takes its name, that is collected here, but pesos thrown by the people into the pond, which are used to finance the Shrine’s outreach to the poor.
Baclaran is known around the world as the place of miracles, the place where the Novena in honor of the Mother of Perpetual Help has been conducted continuously since 1948.
What, we may ask, was happening in Baclaran during those years before the Novena was begun? 1932 to 1948 is a long time. The pioneers were not idle during those 16 years. Once again, the name Grogan holds the spotlight. Fr. Grogan was a missioner. He came to the Philippines to give missions. He had attempted this work in Malate in the early part of the century. But the demands of the parish of Malate stifled his efforts.
He must get out of Malate if he were to realize his dream. In 1928 he left Malate with the community and returned to the Visayas. But when the opportunity arose for a new start in Manila, Fr. Grogan sailed north to open the foundation in Baclaran.
Within a few months, his companions had begun the mission work for which they had been prepared. All through the thirties, they gave missions in Manila, in Bulacan, in Batangas and in the most remote barrios of the Tagalog region. No rivers seemed too wide to cross, no mountains too high to scale. In the chronicles that were written at the time, the word “barrio mission” becomes the staple stuff that feeds the in-house chronicles.
World War II interfered with the work. Redemptorists were forced to join over 1000 foreign missionaries in the concentration camp in Los Banos. Stories emerge that speak of the heroism of the Fathers and Brothers. After the war, the work was resumed with an injection of new blood and raw courage.
Came the time when it was first suggested that a Novena could be started in Baclaran Church. Already in Lipa the Novena was up and running. Ought not Baclaran to take up this new challenge?
Considerable discussion ensued. In the community, there were those in favor and those who resisted. Put simply, the main sticking point was this: to engage the energies of the missioners in the work of the Novena may blur the missionary focus.
A decision was taken. Those in favor of the Novena won out. Baclaran Novena was now a reality of life. Surely the decision favoring the Novena was taken in Heaven The Novena grew in ways that could never have been anticipated. A great church began to take shape to replace the existing structure that had long become too small to accommodate the thousands of devotees.
A New Zealander, Fr. Lewis O’Leary, took charge of the planning and construction. A dynamic figure, he gathered around him a team of lay folk who watched the church grow metre by metre of concrete and steel every day over a period of four years. All along, it was intended that the work of the church should retain its missionary flavor. And as if to comfort those who had opposed the Novena, the church became known as the “Church of the people” and the work conducted there as a “perpetual mission”.
Whenever the confreres gather, inevitably their conversation returns to the stories of missions of yesteryear. The names of Paco and Tondo receive honorable mention. The work done in these two areas represent developments in the missionary practice of the community. Today, the mission staff has seen diminishing numbers, but the missionary zeal remains. At this dawn of a new era, the Redemptorist lay missionaries have joined hands with the Missionaries of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to take over where the aged paring misyonero left off.
Missions conducted in most of the towns and barrios of the Tagalog and Bicol region and throughout the Visayas and Mindanao introduced the Filipino people to the image of the Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help. It has often been said that the seed of devotion to the Mother of Perpetual Help bore fruit in the spread of the Novena devotions throughout the entire Philippines.
In 1958 when the great church of Baclaran was blessed and opened, the image of the Mother was already well known. The Shrine’s opening seemed as it were to be the culmination of all the missionary activity that had taken place over the years. Fr. Grogan, the devotee of the Saint of the Missions, Teresita of Lisieux, who had overseen the beginnings 75 years ago, must have been celebrating in Heaven.
We say “culmination”. But not the conclusion. Because this celebration of 75 years will usher in developments in ministry and mission that at the moment are already taking shape. What other great missionary enterprise awaits discovery under the guiding hand of the Mother of Perpetual Help?
Early in the 70’s Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow in Poland, said Mass in the Shrine of Baclaran. Later in 1981, and now Pope John Paul II, he was to revisit the Shrine at his own request, and there dedicated the peoples of Asia to the Mother of Perpetual Help. The current political unrest in the Philippines, long enslaved by martial law, moved him to speak directly to the President about the urgent need for change in the life of the nation. The country was beginning to lose hope. Baclaran, keeping pace with the people, provided a platform for all engaged in the struggle for freedom.
The Comelec computer technicians, in protest against fraud, fled from the PICC and took refuge in the Shrine. Evelio Javier’s dusty, blood stained body found peace before the icon of Mary. Cory Aquino celebrated her election by offering a thanksgiving mass in the presence of thousands of Filipinos and the world media, replacing the dictator as legitimate President. After three days of Peoples’ Power, the words of John Paul had come true. Marcos was history.
As millions marched in the streets with their religious symbols, in the forefront on lavishly decorated carosa, La Naval, Antipolo, Carmel, Guadalupe and a host of others traveled with them. Where was the image of the Mother of Baclaran? She remained in her shrine, keeping watch over her children, the taong bahay of the nation.
A Place of Miracles
The Novena opened on June 23 1948 with 70 people. Since that time, over the past 60 years, millions of people have passed through the doors of Baclaran Church.
That is a miracle in itself. That the numbers show no sign of diminishing is an even greater miracle. And greater yet; the Novena devotions are held throughout the length and breadth of the Philippines. Surely God’s hand is visible here. Surely this cannot be explained in purely human terms!
As one devotee put it: “When I enter the Shrine, I feel that I am coming home.” The miracle is above all that prayers are answered. Thousands upon thousands of letters of thanks are proof of that. For many others, simply to pay a visit to their Mother and kneel before her image is enough. Like Mary their mother, they keep the manner of God’s dealing with them in the silence of their heart.
Confessions are heard many hours each day. The confessional room becomes a refuge within a refuge. The penitent’s bell is a summons to help; that glimmer of red above the “box” a star that guides the weary traveler to his true home. The murmured exchange between priest and penitent unleashes the merciful power of God. The penitent rediscovers that peace of mind and heart that has eluded him. Recovering self understanding, he begins to see that the universe has not descended into chaos, that the laws of men and nature still hold sway, that life does have direction and purpose, that sin, and guilt, its persistent companion, has been taken out, and he is once again made whole.
Some of the stories heard in Baclaran are long and complex. The narrator needs more time and care than the priest can afford. In that case, trained counselors from the St. Gerard Family Life Center can provide a listening ear, and point out avenues that the troubled person can follow to regain peace of mind.
Thousands of people attend the Novena every Wednesday. That their prayers have been answered does not prevent them from returning to Baclaran in weekly pilgrimage to pay their respects to the Blessed ‘Mother.
The Shrine has long since developed into much more than a pilgrimage centre. No apostolate it seems can exhaust the zeal of the company of priests and sisters and lay volunteers who are associated with the Shrine. The Shrine comes complete with a medical and dental clinic, financed by the donations of grateful devotees of the Blessed Virgin; made available for the relief of the truly poor, deprived and oppressed.
So while the ills of the spirit are attended to directly by Mother and Son, the physical needs of a legion of poor are not neglected. Such diversity of apostolate gives a richer meaning to the title of the Mother in whose name the Shrine was erected – she who is ready, whatever the need, spiritual or temporal, to extend a helping hand to all.
Sarnelli home houses street children. Hundreds of children are rescued from the streets and given the luxury of sleeping in a bed for the first time in their young lives.
And then there are candles….Candles lit from the flame of devotion help to keep the Church and its multiple services afloat. The construction costs of the mammoth Church were covered mostly by the ten centavos of the devotees. Some have said that the church continues because of the candles, millions of them, that are made available freely. But…..Is there a Filipino who is so lacking in piety and love for his mother that would not hesitate to make a donation, however large, however small, to light a candle before his mother? The widow’s mite and the millionaire’s gold are of equal value in this church of the people.
Let us take a closer look at this Church. We refer to the Shrine itself as 24/7. Take a look at the design of the building. It has more than 50 doors, half of which are never closed. The unique design originated with a Redemptorist who had long suffered working in the heat of the churches seen so frequently around the Philippines. Fortress-like, these were built according to Spanish style where windows are at a minimum. It may have been to spare our staff the arduous duty of closing the doors, all 50 of them at night and reopening them in the morning, that decided the Shrine’s custodians to keep the church left open all night.
Or perhaps nearer the truth, in Mary’s shrine in Baclaran, there is no need to knock. When mother is home the door is always open. The mother is ready and willing to listen to each and all of her children.
Grace, like a crisis of conscience can strike any time of day and night. For many a seafarer, a bar worker or GRO, for many who have just lost their way, for the heart broken and the defeated, relief is within reach when they enter the Church in the early hours of the morning and see the image of their Mother holding in her arms the Child Jesus. When they see all that, then they know that they are home. The Mother who reaches out to them is truly the Mother of permanent assistance, of permanent help.
With all this unfolding before our eyes, could anyone not think that we have cause to celebrate? Today we stand on sacred ground, in a place that is known as “the Church of miracles”.
Let’s give the saintly and venerable Msgr. Jovellanos, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Manila the final word. While the new church was being built, he told the people. “Baclaran has become the greatest single factor in the renewal of faith in post-war Philippines.”
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). May the word of the psalmist accompany us in these days. We believe that the experience of the past 75 years will contribute to a renewal of the Church in the years to come, to a greater transparency and maturity of her members. The Church has suffered over the years. The country has suffered grievously, but we believe that the Mother of Perpetual Help and the indomitable faith of the people such as we have seen and heard and felt it in Baclaran will help the Church to be faithful to the Gospel and bring solutions to our problems. With Mary in her place in her Shrine, “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well” here in our beloved Philippines."