Sunday, March 31, 2019

Guest Blogger: Guia Lim Writes About Mary, Our Lady of Antipolo of the Philippines

Guia Lim shares her article about Our Lady of Antipolo. This is part of the book,  Magnificat: Mama Mary's Pilgrim Sites, Ed. Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, (available from Kindle). The book collects articles by Marian devotees who witness how their lives have been touched by Our Lady. ~ Cecilia

Our Lady of Antipolo
PHILIPPINES – Shrine of Our Lady of Antipolo

The Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage or Our Lady of Antipolo is located in Rizal Province, east of Manila, in the Philippines. The brown image of Mary was brought to the Philippines from Mexico in 1626. Enshrined in the Antipolo Cathedral, Our Lady of Antipolo has a huge following among Filipinos since Colonial days. Our Lady of Antipolo is known as a miraculous icon. Among the numerous pilgrims who visit the shrine are travelers who pray for a safe journey.

Legend has it that when the statue of Our Lady was going to be transferred from the Church of Antipolo to one in Sta. Cruz, the statue protested and was always found on the tree trunk of a tree called Tipolo which grew in the original site of the old church. Because of this, the Blessed Virgin was known as the Virgin of Antipolo.


by Guia Lim

IF THERE is a shrine of our lady in the Philippines or anywhere in the world that conjures both a sense of prayer and fun, it must be the shrine in Antipolo a city in the Philippines, east of Manila. The shrine honors an image of our lady, made of dark hard wood, with a long history behind it. The brown virgin, in ornately embroidered and beaded finery is enshrined at the Cathedral of Antipolo above the main altar. What appears like a full figure, about four feet tall is actually a bust with hands, clothed to simulate a full figure in a long skirted frock, with a cape and a crown.

The statue of Our Lady of Antipolo has had her share of adversity in her many travels. She was introduced to the Philippines as Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage at the time of the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco. The galleons were ships carrying goods and people that served as a means of cross-country transportation for two centuries, when the Philippines was a Spanish colony.

Knowing how treacherous sea travel was then, ships were normally dedicated to a saint or to one of the many titles of our lady in quest of her protection during the journeys. The statue of our lady was taken from a church in Acapulco and placed in a prominent place in the ship, prayed to and sang to most fervently during periods of trouble at sea. Mutiny, piracy, disease, bad weather, rough seas and fire were the dangers faced by every voyage. The voyages took months to complete but the voyages where the statue of our lady was honored were all successful. Troubles confronted were overcome with speed and peace. Placed in perspective, a third of the 108 galleons that plied the route were lost at sea. Such was the awe Our Lady instilled among her devotees. After the final journey of the galleon, the then presiding Governor General of Manila offered his troubled administration to our lady, by placing his cane in her hands. Today, all replicas of Our Lady of Antipolo, carry a staff.

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, a legacy of the more than 300 years of Spanish colonization. The statue came from Acapulco, Mexico, brought to the Philippines by then Governor General of Manila, Juan Niño de Tabora in the 1600s. In the early days, Antipolo was a Catholic mission where the statue of Our Lady was exposed for easy access by the simple folk in this hillside community. Folklore has it that at one time the statue was lost and miraculously found atop a Tipolo tree (breadfruit), the tree after which Antipolo got its name. The tale was believed to be Our Lady’s expression of preference for Antipolo to be her home. It is also said that a stand made from the tipolo tree was made, on which the statue then stood. The face of the statue of Our Lady bears deep scars inflicted by sacrilegious acts of vandals. She also withstood a fire meant to destroy her. Attempts were made at restoration but our lady’s face resisted repair. Her wounds seem to draw more devotion to her.

Our Lady of Antipolo is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception whose December 8 feast day is observed as the traditional annual fiesta. In 1926 by the papal decree of Pope Pius XI, the image of our lady was bestowed the traditional canonical crown in recognition of her antiquity, the enduring faith and devotion of many pilgrims in her intercession and the answered prayers of her devotees. In 1954, the Antipolo cathedral became a national shrine of our lady as declared by the Bishops of the Philippines.

Antipolo was placed on the Philippine map by Our Lady. The Cathedral is a shrine visited by tourists, both local and foreign. As I remember, May time is Antipolo time. Even during the early days, people would have to pay homage at least once a year in May. It meant waking up at early dawn to commence the trek, made long by the sheer number of vehicles on a narrow two lane highway, with limited road arteries to relieve the congestion. The main activity upon arrival was to hear Mass, but to be devout was difficult in the church made too small by the number of pilgrims. In the olden days, when roads were undeveloped and vehicles were non-existent, only the elite made the trip. Ladies wore their best and some were carried on hammocks. Because of the ordeal, the pilgrims stayed for a few days to complete novenas to Our Lady.

Today, with the onset of development, the roads are wider and the Church has had a few renovations to look better and larger but it is still too small for the numerous pilgrims in May even with some spillover to June. The devotion has not waned. The holy Mass is still the main event. The Cathedral as in the past is surrounded by crude stalls selling candles and local delicacies as roasted cashew nuts, rice cakes, native pastries, mangoes and other summer fruits. Food stalls selling hot meals also abound for a quick breakfast, brunch or lunch, depending on the time of day. No visit to Antipolo is complete without food souvenirs, for family members at home who did not make the trip. That makes the entire Antipolo experience well entrenched in Philippine cultural tradition, our lady being at the center of it all.

New expressions of devotion have emerged overtime. The new practices reflect changes in the environment brought about by the cultural and economic evolution of the country. What remains constant are people’s fervor in prayer and faith in our lady’s intercession. Here is to cite a few.

A visit to the shrine has become a pre-departure practice for travelers and migrants moving from the Philippines to other foreign countries. As millions of Filipinos now seek employment abroad, the practice of visiting our lady in Antipolo has become broad based. Filipinos come, before departing for countries all over the world, wherever employment calls. Our Lady’s intercession is sought, for safety during the journey, protection of loved ones to be left behind, and good fortune in their chosen pursuit.

For new car owners, of brand new or previously owned vehicles, the protection of Our Lady is also sought at the shrine. Both the vehicle and the driver are blessed for safety in all their trips. The memento of the blessing is a medal or a rosary, reciprocated by a small token to benefit the shrine.

At dusk every Maundy Thursday, pilgrims walk about 20 kilometers from various points in Manila.An uphill climb at the height of Philippine summer, that lasts through dawn. Final destination is the Antipolo Cathedral. The initiative is purely the pilgrims’ but what is noteworthy is the growing number of participants who undertake this relatively recent prayer phenomenon.

The statue of Our Lady is accessible to every devotee who will pay her a visit. People are shown the way to the sacristy behind the main altar where a staircase leads to the statue of our lady, giving the visitor a chance to touch her hand or at least her cape. Every first Saturday evening, before the anticipated Sunday mass, Our Lady is brought down from the main altar and shown around the church for the Mass goers to visually experience her presence at close range.

The practices observed in honor of Our Lady are too many to narrate but suffice it to say that the faith in Our Lady and answered prayers have kept the fire of Marian devotion burning. It would have been a disgrace for me to look away from this opportunity to give her tribute when after all these years, I have had proximity and easy access to her from my home in Antipolo.

The Cathedral retains its rural surroundings and the church goers remain simple folks, some dressed like one. Attending mass is like going back in time when churches were the dominant attraction in every town. The crowd at Mass can be unsettling at times and distracting in others but somehow it gives me a sense of peace and belonging. From all walks of life, we become one in our desire for a good life and spiritual peace, under Our Lady’s watchful eyes, always available and always comforting.

BIO: GUIA LIM is a banker, a career she built and nurtured since she got out of school. Her formative years were spent at St. Theresa’s College. She maintains a rest house in Antipolo, thus her openness to be a contributor to the Marian Site Anthology. She was Executive Vice President of Union Bank. She also worked for BDO .

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