After 2-year Covid suspension, Penafrancia procession draws thousands of devotees to Philippines’ Naga City

Fr Leonard E Dollentas

The Bicol region is based in the southern part of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. It is the adventure capital of the Philippines and is well known for its active volcanoes, tranquil whale sharks, secret beaches, and spicy food. In the month of September, Bicol becomes even more popular because of a Catholic religious festival, the Peñafrancia festival. During the entire month of September, tens of thousands of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists come to Naga City for the novena festivities in honor of Ina, or “Mother,” i.e. Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicol.

This celebration, which has been described as the biggest Marian event in Asia, is also considered a form of an opening salvo to the long celebrations of Christmas in the Philippines. It is the biggest religious event because it is not only held in Bicol, but in many other parts of the country. September 9 marks the start of the novena at Naga Cathedral. A fluvial procession is usually organized with a multi-colored pagoda carrying the images and icons of the Virgin of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro (Holy Face), which will pass along the Bicol River. The procession marks the return of the Virgin from the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to her home shrine at the basilica. Upon arrival, the Virgin will be received with formal religious rites by Roman Catholic dignitaries of the Bicol region, which is its home diocese, led by the Archbishop of Nueva Caceres.

The feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is celebrated on the third Saturday of September. With great love for the Blessed Mother, Filipinos at home or abroad, including those in Macau, gather to meet relatives and friends, share food, drinks, and prayers with them, and pay homage and make thanksgiving to the Virgin of Peñafrancia.

After two years without celebrations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year an estimated half-a-million devotees filled the streets on September 9 at the start of the novena prayers.  Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of Caceres said, “I can’t express my happiness enough. I’m almost in tears in this moment of celebration, when the Blessed Mother arrives at the cathedral after almost three years of waiting because of the pandemic. So who would not be overjoyed?” The Carmelite archbishop later emphasized in his homily during the Mass the importance of the communion of love in the family, with the inspiration of Mary, who exemplifies genuine attention, nourishment, and support to her Son.

Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia has been venerated in Naga City since 1710. Pope Benedict XV granted the image a decree of canonical coronation on May 13, 1920, and declared Our Lady of Penafrancia as the regional patroness of the whole of Bicolandia.

(Photo credit: Archdiocese of Caceres)