Every devotee.. a missionary: Perpetual Help Visayas Congress, Cebu

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By Madrileña de la Cerna

The second day  (February 18, 2017) of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Visayas Congress started by looking at the novena texts of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Fr. Ramon Echica,  Dean of Studies of the San Carlos Seminary, Cebu City, made a thorough look into the novena texts with his presentation entitled “Novena Prayers for One Like Us.”

There are different ways of looking at the Blessed Virgin Mary depending on the cultural and  historical periods.  Ranging from the local scene where the Blessed Virgin is seen as a crying lady and a miracle worker to the worldwide scene where she earned so many titles in various historical periods including those where she became the subject of debate between Protestants and Catholics and at the Vatican II.  Why is it so popular as seen every Wednesday where thousands of devotees from all walks of life flock to the churches of Our Mother of Perpetual Help?

The novena texts reveal the feelings of devotees.  It seems that  most prayers to the Blessed Virgin  show the realization that death is near.  The petitions enumerated are scenarios of daily life, the daily concerns of this life.

Fr. Echica mentioned an objection to the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help as Anak nga sigeg pangayo (A child who always asks), meaning isn’t this making devotees dependent.  He clarified that we are dependent on God for not everything is in control.  He cited three petitions added in the texts, namely for the young, just pay for workers, and for the welfare of the country.

Solidarity with Mary is solidarity with the suffering, seeking social justice. Fr. Echica stressed that the novenas are not just struggles but they give strength to the struggle and with this they give triumphs.  He commended the ministry of the Redemptorists in their ministry of reconciliation and their mission in the peripheries, areas that are  not accessible.

For Fr. Echica, the strong points of   the novena is its adaptation to changing times.  He recommends that they be made more conscientizing like relating to the environment which includes climate change, fears of displacement because of global change; how can Christians erase biases against people of different faith; how to make the devotees instruments of peace among their communities; the proper use of social media; concerns for ongoing terrorism and extrajudicial killings.

Bro. Karl Gasper, dean of the St. Alphonsus Theological and Missions Institute in Davao City, discussed the “Historico-Anthropological Perspective of Marian Devotion in the Philippines in General and Our Mother of Perpetual Help Devotion in Particular.”  He narrated how people from ancient times have worshipped female deities even though most of them have been replaced and displaced by the creator gods as clearly seen in the history of ancient civilizations.

He explained that the veneration of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is popular because people are used to worship female goddesses.  Popular devotion is related to Filipino life, to justice.  With the present conditions, for Gaspar, true devotion is taking a firm stand against extrajudicial killings.  Devotion to Mary urges us to move against injustice.

Capping the sessions of the day was “DEBO(MI)SYON” or “Towards a Perpetual Help Spirituality”  presented by Fr. Ino Cueto, CSsR, director of the St. Alphonsus Theological and Missions Institute in Davao City.  Debo(mi)syon is a combination of the words devotion and mission and for Fr. Cueto, it is not just a word but part of our religious reality.

Some glimpses in understanding a devotee reveal that the devotee has time, a sense of fidelity, and a space in life.  The dedication is not personal but communal.  In the letters, the devotee puts language into his/her predicament.  The petitionary narratives put meaning and reveal a sense of transparency and the practice leads to the formation of desires which re-ignites hope.

Devotion is service or activity, mission is a call and a vocation.  In the OMPH Icon, Mary’s hand points to Jesus who is the Perpetual Help and she is the mother of Jesus —  to Jesus through Mary. A devotee is a missionary.  Devotion without mission only achieves a golden altar, mission without devotion is just like social work.  The Icon is sacred, it should be lived not just admired, contemplative –active.  Contemplation leads to action, devotion leads to mission.

Debo(mi(syon is Perpetual Help Spirituality.  Its triple dimensions are:  Motherhood (disciple of Christ), perpetual (always), and help (Mary is an Icon (Sacred Image).  With Debo(mi)syon we too shall become disciples.

Rey Julo Biliran, a CSsR formand and teacher at Sacred Heart School – Hijas de Jesus made a testimony on “The Influence of Mary in the Life of a Teacher-Seinarian”.  He narrated how Our Mother of Perpetual Help has helped him in going through the formation and guiding him in his discernment and making a decision to push through.  He also cited how Our Mother of Perpetual Help guided him in adjusting to the rigors of teaching, and the joy he is enjoying in teaching.

The couple Bob and Delia Baniel shared their testimony on the “Role of Mary in Our Family.”  They narrated how the family coped with all the crises that beset their family through their 48 years of marriage through their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

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