By Anna Valmero
NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR—More than inspiring devotion in and outside the Bicol region, the Virgin of Peñafrancia, known as ‘Ina’ and aptly called Mother of the Bicolanos, has galvanized thes tourism industry of Naga City by attracting pilgrims year-round.
Proof to the strong devotion to the Virgin is the presence of its replica at the main altar of all three major churches in Naga City : Our Lady of Peñafrancia Shrine along Naga River, Peñafrancia Basilica Minore and Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. There is also a museum dedicated to the image that depicts its long and colorful history.
Last September, the Archdiocese of Caceres in Naga City celebrated the 300th year of the feast day of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, gathering thousands of Filipinos, both from Bicol and outside provinces. It was only during this time that the original image has resurfaced after long years of being kept.
The annual “Feast of Feasts,” or sometimes called the biggest Marian feast in the country, begins with the festive and colorful translacion or the transfer of the image of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia from Basilica Minore to the Metropolitan Cathedral for a nine-day novena. The Cathedral was built to accommodate the influx of pilgrims during the September celebration, according to church records.
The translacion is said to have started in 1885, wherein the andas of the Virgin image is borne on the shoulders of male devotees all along the route of the procession. This is similar to the procession of the Sto. Sepulcro image during the Quiapo feast day in Manila.
The highlight of the month-long celebration is the fluvial procession along the Naga River on the ninth day of the novena. The image is returned aboard a pagoda to the Basilica Minore, which was established on May 22, 1982.
For the celebration, the image of the Virgin becomes a pilgrim itself when she visits parishes in Bicol, Manila and the United States where Bicolano communities and her devotees are located.
Aside from attracting tourists to the province, the image of the Virgin of Peñafrancia has become synonymous to the city itself that in every corner, one can find stores selling shirts, religious images, key chains and even novena booklets.
Towns surrounding Naga also gain a boost from the influx of tourists because they were able to build and revitalize local cottage industries such as the production of pili nuts or the “Filipino almond,” production of abaca fibers that are made into ladies’ bags, abaca mesh for wrapping gifts, chimes and custom-made hand bags and even the local dried and smoked fish industry in coastal areas, according to local vendors.
“Sa kultura nating mga Filipino, kapag nagpunta ka sa isang lugar, usually naghahanap ka ng ipapasalubong na pagkain o kaya items tulad ng t-shirts at keychain. Kapag dumayo ka sa Naga, hindi pwedeng hindi ka dadaan sa mga simbahan kung saan nandun ang Birheng Penafrancia kaya yung mga simbahan, meron na ring handicrafts (In our culture, we usually bring home pasalubong or items from the place that we visited such as local delicacy or items like t-shirts and key chains. When you visit Naga, it is inevitable to visit the churches which sell local handicrafts),” said Lanie, a caretaker at the Museum of Peñafrancia located nearby the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Shrine.
Religious stores located nearby churches and even stalls in hotels, the local public market and public bus terminal sell t-shirts, religious images, rosaries, novena prayer booklets and Bicol delicacies such as roasted and sweetened pili nuts as well as Bicol express and laing packaged in different flavors such as beef, pork and tuna.
To the uninitiated and less religious, the sight of the pagoda for the fluvial procession escorted by devotees and the crowd along both sides of Naga River shouting “Viva La Virgen!” may seem strange and the veneration too emotional. Nobody can actually explain the intensity of the people during that time except for the reason that the devotees are there to fulfill their “panata” to come back every year.
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