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The Star of the Orient: Mary in the Philippines

    by Rev Fr Alfred Cruz

    Behold, your mother! (Jn 19:27). On the Cross, Jesus entrusted His mother to us, His disciples, represented by the apostle John. Through these words, Our Lord declared to the entire Church that Mary is our mother. How comforting it is to know that we have a mother in heaven! At the foot of the Cross, Mary became the mother of all who would follow her Son in the years to come. Since then, she has guided the entire Church, leading each member closer to Jesus Christ. The path to heaven lies in reaching Jesus through Mary. To Jesus through Mary. Although Mary’s motherhood has been evident throughout the history of the Church, it was not until the Second Vatican Council that she was officially recognized with the title “Mother of the Church[1].” Pope John Paul II affirmed this truth in one of his Papal Messages:

    “Mary is Mother of the Church because, through the Eternal Father’s ineffable choice and the special working of the Spirit of Love, she gave human life to the Son of God, for whom and by whom all things exist, and from whom the whole of the People of God receives the grace and dignity of election” (The Papal Message on the First Sunday of Lent, 1979).

    The truth of Mary’s maternal role in the Church is beautifully manifested through the filial devotion that Christians have shown her throughout the ages. Within the Tradition of the Church, people have turned to Mary in various ways, particularly through Marian customs and practices. The presence of our Lady in the lives of many Christians opens the pathway for expressing their affection towards the Mother of God. As obedient children, the faithful of the Church never cease to offer both great and simple gestures of love to Mary, . As the Church is a vast family scattered across the globe, diverse devotions to Mary have emerged. They reflect the identity and culture of each place. In the Philippines, we have our own unique way of expressing love for Mary, often calling her “Mama Mary.”

    According to the Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Catholic Bishops in 1975, our practice of religion has taken on a popular color and has a special sense of devotion that makes it specifically Filipino.  Certain traits of Philippine Christianity transcend the boundaries of Catholicism and are found with equal prominence in other groups of Filipino Christians. This reality does not mean that the Church in the Philippines deviates entirely from the universal way of living the faith. We belong to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. However, through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique expression of faith and love for the Christian mysteries, demonstrating the dynamic nature of the People of God journeying in this world. The same holds true for our devotion to Mary.

    Since the advent of Christianity in the Philippines, the Mother of Christ has held a special place in the hearts of the Filipinos. . Just consider the number of parishes with the Virgin Mary as their patron, not excluding the countless chapels and shrines dedicated to her. The oldest known statues of Mary in the Philippines are Nuestra Señora de Guía, venerated in the Ermita Church, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Manila, with origins dating back to 1571 and 1587, respectively. Two prominent titles under which Mary is venerated are the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of the Rosary. The first traces its roots as early as 1578[2] while the latter in 1587.. Marian devotion deepened over the centuries, as evidenced by the establishment of the first Filipino congregation for religious women: the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known as the Religious of the Virgin Mary[3].

    Every year, Filipinos have numerous opportunities to honor Mary through her feast days. During Christmas, she is presented alongside the Child Jesus in the Nativity scene or Belen. Throughout Holy Week, she is venerated as Our Lady of Sorrows, sharing in her Son’s Passion and Death on the Cross. In the Easter celebration, we encounter the special reunion between the Risen Christ and Mary, known as the Salubong. Likewise, the month of May is dedicated to Our Lady, with the famous Flores de Mayo celebrations. October is the month of the Holy Rosary, a widely practiced Marian devotion throughout the country[4]. Additionally, the various shrines built in her honor attract countless pilgrims who seek solace and pray to her as their loving mother.

    Our veneration of Mary extends beyond the communal level; it permeates householdsas strong family ties characterize Filipino culture. A home feels incomplete without the presence of Mary. Inside each house, a family altar adorned with religious images, including those of our Lady, can always be found. Typically, families have a specific devotion to the Virgin Mary, invoking her under one of her familiar titles. Filipinos learn this Marian piety through the family.. Intimate family devotions become fertile ground where love for Mary takes root. It is even touching to witness how some families name their daughters after Mary or one of her titles. The family environment nurtures an awareness of the ever-present presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, alongside Jesus and St. Joseph.

    Indeed, Mary cannot be separated from the piety and devotion of the Filipino people. This truth reminds us that Our Lady is truly the mother of all nations. Through her maternal intercession, she makes manifest the tenderness of God’s love in our world. A note of caution, though It is possible to reduce our dealings with the Mother of Jesus through mere external practices of piety. We could even treat these practices as end in themselves. What truly matters is how we grow in our love for Mary.  This love should affect the most ordinary aspects of our daily lives. Our Lady takes delight in witnessing our pious practices, but more importantly, she longs to see us live out our faith in our work and in our relationships. As her children, we bear the responsibility to emulate her life, particularly her life in the household of Nazareth. With a mother’s heart, we can always open ourselves to God’s presence and to those around us. Every aspect of our lives becomes an opportunity to encounter Mary, and in doing so, we encounter Jesus as well. As Filipinos, we are called not only to demonstrate our Marian devotion through our actions but, above all, through our love.

    [1] The Second Vatican Council, through the constitution, Lumen Gentium, proclaimed Mary the “Mother of the Church.”  See Chapter VIII: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church

    [2] Closely tied to Pope Gregory XIII’s decree dedicating the Manila Cathedral to the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    [3] The historical data come from the 1975 Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Catholic Bishops. 

    [4] Ibid

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