Manila, Philippines, 24 May 2023 (although written one year earlier) -- It is almost midnight and sleep does not come. It could be due to the coffee I had when I took my medicines. It could be the adrenaline working on overdrive because of the excitement of the day that is about to end.
My mind goes back to October 4, 1993. A mass was celebrated during the wake of Corazon, one of my aunts. When informed that the celebrant was a Salesian, Tiya Loleng (Dolores Lara Salvador), the godmother of the deceased, asked me to request the Salesians to get the statue of Mary Help of Christians from the bodega of Our Lady of Loreto Parish and bring it to her shrine in Better Living, Paranaque. It is the original image brought to the Philippines by Msgr. Piani in 1922 and was taken to Loreto for safekeeping during the war. Tiya Loleng had been an ardent devotee of Maria Auxilladora, as she fondly called her. She was dismayed by the fact that the image had been relegated to the parish bodega; hence, the urgent request. I remember her very persistent calls, and finally after almost a year, the journey of the image to her shrine materialized.
I saw the image once during a Marian exhibit held at the ground floor of the former Salesian Provincial House adjacent to the shrine. According to a former secretary in that office, the image is made of a delicate wood variety that needs a special cleaning agent: MILK. No, it is not a joke. That’s how special it is.
In the meantime, there had been some reports that there were attempts to take back the statue, but to no avail since everything had been done properly.
While still quarantined during the second year of the pandemic, I received some text messages inquiring about the story surrounding this particular image of Mary Help of Christians. After a while, there were no longer any communications and I surmised that whatever was being planned must have been put on hold.
Then, a surprise: 28 years after the image was enthroned in the shrine, I was informed that the pontifical coronation would be held on May 24, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. I received the invitation to be the bearer of the scepter during the celebration. Filipiniana attire was also requested. Of course, I immediately accepted the invitation – a special grace, indeed.
Then, a bigger surprise: the celebration turned out to be very solemnly grand with every move done with precision.
Formal invitations with tickets for designated seats inside the shrine and meal stubs were sent to guests. However, chairs were provided outside the church for those without the invitations.
The guests received dark blue souvenir kits stamped with the Pontifical Coronation logo. These contained, booklets of the Eucharistic Celebration with the Rite of Pontifical Coronation and DevotioManila, Philippines, 24 May 2023 (although written one year earlier)nal Prayers, a medal, her stampita with the Entrustment of the Home to Mary Help of Christians and a small handkerchief with our Lady’s image printed on a corner. The handkerchief was meant to be waved to welcome the image as it entered the church.
The beautiful and colorful flowers of May were in full bloom. Pastel shades dominated the tasteful arrangements around the sanctuary while the throne of the image to be crowned was laced with more colorful blooms.
The scepter, the halo with twelve stars and the crowns were mounted individually on special black velvet, gold fringed pillows.
At 3:00 p.m., Mary 24, 2022, the rites commenced. The century-old image of Mary Help of Christians brought to the Philippines by Msgr. Guglielmo (William) Piani was carried in procession amidst singing while the whole assembly waved pink, white and blue handkerchiefs. I was teary-eyed and filled with awe as I watched how she was seemingly floating over the heads of all the people gathered to give her a truly warm welcome on a very warm afternoon.
The main celebrant was His Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila. In his homily, he spoke of the three significant qualities of the Blessed Mother: communion, motherhood and charity. After his homily, the coronation rites began. The Decree of the Pontifical Coronation was read, first in Latin, then in English and finally in Tagalog. It must be noted that towards the end of the mass, the Act of Coronation was also formally signed.
As bearers of the regalia, we were assisted by white gloved altar servers; we slowly walked down the aisle at the end of which were honor guards with their sabers drawn. The scepter, the halo with twelve stars and the crowns were blessed by Cardinal Advincula and were then turned over to the bishops designated to place them on the venerated image.
Permit me to explain the criteria in the choices for the regalia bearers. Having obeyed the task assigned to me by Tiya Loleng on October 4, 1993, I was given the privilege to be the scepter bearer. Mr. Jojo Cabinian, bearer of the halo with the twelve stars, experienced physical healing seven years ago in answer to his fervent prayers to Mary Help of Christians. The crown of Our Lady was borne by Fr. Danilo Torres who along with the late Fr. Vicente Cervania was responsible for bringing the image to the shrine from Our Lady of Loreto Parish in 1994. To recognize and respect her previous home, the current Parish Priest of Loreto was designated to be the bearer of the crown of the Child Jesus.
While we waited for the cue to start our procession, I took the liberty of gently touching and kissing the scepter. I really felt very emotional as I walked down the aisle with the symbol of our Lady’s God given power to help us. It was almost a miracle for me to be walking unassisted since I had been struggling with some health issues for more than a year. I was thinking of Tiya Loleng whose persistence triggered this whole celebration. I remembered Fr. Vic Cervania who took the initiative after I informed him of the story of the image in Loreto. His eyes used to twinkle whenever he spoke of the experiences he and Fr. Danny went through in order to bring the image to the shrine. He never got tired of sharing his side of the story.
Perhaps, I will also never get tired of telling these same stories of October 4, 1993 and May 24, 2022. These are beautiful memories to be treasured along with the cheers and applause that still ring in my ears.
For Tiya Loleng who is now with the Auxilladora, this grand celebration is more than a wish granted.
A post script: my own trivia -
Some of my friends noted that my blue Filipiniana terno perfectly matched the occasion. My choice was really a no-brainer because of the two that I have, it is the only one that fits me well now. It also has a history of its own. The first time I wore it was during our 5th General Assembly in July 2001 followed by the Salesian Family gathering in Canlubang where I hosted the program in honor of the former Rector Major Pascual Chavez, SDB during his visit. The Pontifical Coronation then marks its third appearance in a Salesian Family gathering in 21 years. Perhaps, a confluence of events? I should call it now: my Salesian terno.