Having to have grown elsewhere other than Naga gave me a new feeling of culture. It’s not relative to having a ‘culture shock’ since Sorsogueños (from the Sorsogon Province in Bicol) like me are devoted to a few saints and to Mary as well. But since being familiar with how Naga is devoted to Ina, through media exposure like dedications for TV shows or internet buzzes about Naga, it is still different when you are there in Naga City, witnessing people, young or old, being inspired and driven by Ina herself.
Ina, as all Filipinos would recognize, is a literal translation of the word, ‘mother’ in Filipino. And surely, Mary, the mother of Christ, is recognized around the world with countless titles such as the ‘Our Lady of Fatima’, ‘Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal’, ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’, and the list goes on. Nonetheless, she is a mother to our Lord, which makes her our mother as well.
But the center of the topic would be the famous Ina of Naga City, how the people living here, for years or less, have been changed by their devotions forever.
An Image of Miracles
To make the history of how the image of the Virgin of Peñafrancia short, a man named Simon Vela, an heir to a rich French family was in Spain to escape the ‘turmoil of the world’ to dedicate himself to the church and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It all happened in the 17th century. In a peaceful night during his sleep, he dreamt of hearing a voice telling him to search for an image of Mary that will soon be known to the world, in a place where the sun sets, ‘Peña de francia’. Immediately his search took him to a realization that it was to be in the western parts of France, however, after 5 years or so of no luck and temptations to give up, he eventually found information from a farmer of a place called Peña de francia from a farmer as he walked back in Spain along paso Frances (or the French Road). He immediately followed the farmer and went there to search and rest, a divine voice called to him again to not give up on the search and say that before he would tread the mountains in search for the image, he must be accompanied by a few men to serve as a witness as he would find the image. Following the divine orders given to him, he brought along four men who seem to have illnesses of their own. As they tread along the mountain sides to search, they lifted a big rock where, under it, an image of the Virgin Mary was molded perfectly. Four of his companions were healed through the image’s presence, the deaf one started hear, a man with his left eye blind could see, the defected finger since birth of one of Simon’s companions was restored to a normal state and the rest was cured. Not so long after, word about Simon’s discovery and new found devotion spread throughout Spain, with his four witnesses to justify this miracle. After that, the image found its way to the Philippines.
Miguel Cubarrubias and his family stayed in Cavite after living in San Martin de Castañar. He has an image of the Virgin of Peñafrancia with him from San Martin de Castañar. While studying in the University of Sto. Tomas, he was struck by pain and illnesses. What he does is to put the image to the part of his body that pained him the most, and he gets healed miraculously. To cut it short, he became a priest and was then called out by a higher authority of their priestly order in Nueva Caceres (now Naga). Later on, he became Vicar General of the Dioceses and was asked by local priests to build a small place to perform religious practices, bearing the image he brought from Spain. As months (or years) went by, people inside and outside Bicol started to devote themselves there after hearing the first miracle of the dog that was sacrificed to use its blood to paint the replica of the Virgin of Peñafrancia and lived again after being thrown in the river, swimming to the banks and returning to its master. Dn. Miguel says beforehand that “it will be the first miracle of the Virgin Mary in Nueva Caceres”. Since then, a chapel was built that soon became a stone church that held the image of the Virgin of Peñafrancia. Along with its history was Bishop Gainza who wrote everything about Ina.
Naga’s Burgeoning Devotion
What came since Miguel’s dreams of having the Virgin Mary known to the Philippines, are more devotees and more miracles that came to be that has been said to have come from the intercession of the Virgin of Peñafrancia. The city’s devotion increased so greatly, that not one Nagaueño is not familiar with Ina.
Along with the city’s devotion, came annual festivities that last one week starting the second Friday of September, complete with the image of the Ina traveling to religious places in a sequential order. Along with that, human barriers when the voyadores come to protect the image from the crowd much like a scene in Quiapo during the same kind of occasion held for the Black Jesus of Nazarene. People would kneel and bow their heads as the image would pass by them. There are more to mention regarding what happens during this one week of absolute devotion. People from all walks of life, inside and outside Bicol have come to know and respect the image of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, as well as the people who have their faith tied tightly to Mary, our divine mother.
My Experience of Ina
I have no big experience of Ina…yet. But still, I have visited Naga before and had an encounter with her while praying at the Basilica for an hour. I wiped my handkerchief as everyone did, but as crazy at it may sound, I was a bit hungry and tired then, when I prayed behind the altar (where a space for prayer was located), I seemed to have recovered from my hunger that I almost didn’t want to eat lunch, and I feel like I could do 50 push-ups. Somehow, she restored my strength. But I do want to devote myself since I’m having to have my college studies here in Naga city. Eventually, I’ll have more encounters. I am glad and proud of the unwavering faith shown by the Bicolanos here. Hopefully, in the next month, I’ll be part of it, I’ll be part of a kind of faith shared by millions around the world, because, MAMA MARY, has been a mother to me in more ways than one.