There is no doubt that the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is Bicol’s runaway religious celebration.
It is just as grand and equally moving as the celebration of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, as it draws thousands of pilgrims and tourists from all over the country and beyond.
For another, the feast is celebrated not just in Naga City but also in some church parishes all over the country with their own versions of the Traslacion (fluvial parade).
As observed in the past many years, the celebration begins with the Traslacion, where the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is transferred from her shrine at the Basilica Minore to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.
An awesome sight is the procession accompanied by thousands of barefoot male devotees who carry the image as a symbol of humility and penance.
Indeed, a testament to the deep religious fervor and rich cultural traditions of the Bicolanos, the 2023 spectacle of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is a celebration not just of faith but also of the culture and socio-economic inroads of the City of Naga.
This year, 2023, the annual Traslacion Procession was held on September 8. A Fluvial Procession followed on September 16, culminating in the celebration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Peñafrancia on September 17.
A local news agency reported that more than 600,000 devotees attended this year’s traditional Traslacion. It started at Basilica Minore and ended at the Naga Cathedral, which highlighted the nine-day novena.
Lt. Col. Malu Calubaquib, Naga City Police spokesperson, said that 2,316 police personnel were deployed to man security during the month-long Peñafrancia Festival.
GROWTH OF NAGA CITY
History has it that Don Miguel Robles de Covarrubias initiated devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, venerated in Pena de Francia, Salamanca, Spain, in the early 18th century.
In 1710, the inaugural Peñafrancia Festival was held to commemorate the installation of an image revered throughout the region for her miraculous feats. The festival continues to this day.
The celebration soon covered other aspects of the growth of Naga City.
Part of recent celebrations are the exhibits and trade fairs where local artisans, craftsmen, and businesses display their products, handicrafts, and delicacies to generate income for the local economy.
The cultural aspects cover music competitions and marching and choral competitions in schools and universities.
How the Virgen of Peñafrancia affected its devotees was the touching highlight of the last film of National Artist for Film Marilou Diaz-Abaya.
The film was Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig, which had its world premiere in Naga City in 2011.
A big revelation was that the film has a sweeping and dramatic footage of Marian devotees completely in awe of the Virgin of Peñafrancia which is just as powerful and gripping as the yearly procession of the Christ of Nazarene in Quiapo.
This religious footage overwhelms, such as it is, but filmmaker Abaya goes beyond this by weaving an interesting story around it. In the process, it gives us another choice on how we can all cope by turning to someone in total control of our destiny.
SLICE OF LIFE
One’s reservation about this film is that it may turn out to be the usual devotional output of a Marian devotee.
But as the film progresses, you get a slice of life of an ordinary family coping bravely with assorted moral and temporal crises.
On the other hand, the family profile is complex, such as it is. The husband (Nonie Buencamino) has a second family, the daughter (Ina Feleo) is a single mother, and the matriarch (Shamaine Centenera) puts up a brave front but is really hurting inside. For obvious reasons, the matriarch’s source of strength is the priest-son (Marvin Agustin) and this special attention unsettles the daughter (Feleo). Moreover, her grandson (Yogo Singh) provides another loving source of courage.
The big come-on of this film is the sensitive and powerful performance of the cast. Nonie Buencamino and Shamaine Centenera turn in contrasting and well-nuanced acting as the estranged couple. Marvin Agustin as the ailing priest is the composite profile of what a priest ought to be—a dedicated, passionate, and hardworking shepherd. For once, Jomari Yllana gets to play a doctor and the father of a love child, and delivers a far more human and complex performance that shows a growing indication of maturity in his evolution as an actor. Even Singh, who plays the precocious grandson, manages to match the powerful performances of the adult cast.
Even more revealing is the performance of Ina Feleo as the video editor coping with a hectic work schedule on top of her being a single mother. Hers is the kind of acting that flows spontaneously, and it is amazing how she has improved over the years. The transition of her character from hardworking single mother to a concerned sister confronting the tyranny of hospital bills even as she copes with the hassles of the work-a-day world is what gives us one of the many clues on how divine intercession works.
EPITOME OF TRUE LOVE
Director Abaya is in full control of her material, and she has made sure that she didn’t turn off even the non-believers. True to her credentials, she was able to get the best from her artistic team.
The music of Nonong Buencamino has a contemporary feel and gives us the best writing for the cello (Renato Lucas) in the film’s emotionally wrenching moments. The cinematography of David Abaya has many good things going for it: it avoids the trite shots and makes sure the images of The Virgin doesn’t overshadow the domestic drama of a family in crisis. In this young cinematographer’s hands, The Virgin acquires a human and contemporary look, avoiding shots that may convey unnecessary “miraculous” effect.
Produced by the late Most Reverend Leonardo Legaspi of the Archdiocese of Caceres, Ikaw ang Pag-Ibig portrays The Virgin as the ultimate epitome of true love as it should figure in ordinary lives. Here, you see the lost and rekindled love between parent and daughter, between man and woman, and their love child actually re-examines love in many complex but insightful levels.
Like it or not, the film is a true gift for believers and offers open spiritual choices for non-believers. Happily, the film doesn’t preach; the characters don’t spout Bible passages, the cinematography doesn’t evoke pious scenes from religious films, and the music avoids the predictability of worship melodies and doesn’t try anything resembling passages from an oratorio.
Here, Director Abaya shows us that we are on Planet Earth, with all its worldly cycle of earthly cravings.
PIETY OF BICOLANOS
Ikaw ang Pag-Ibig offers us another chance to re-examine our dormant spiritual life and to re-evaluate our mundane existence.
Come to think of it, the Abaya film is a classic movie package that encapsulates the true meaning of piety.
Understandably, the Bicolanos came in droves and cheered the film during its world premiere at the Sta. Isabel College Auditorium in Naga City in 2011.
Abaya died a year after the world premiere.
Before she passed away, she said that being an artist was not about money and that living was just another phase in her early life. She said she was well-prepared to leave her earthly body for a new phase in her spiritual existence. Her final words: “It is easy to let go of all earthly concerns when you remain basically a child of God.”
On the whole, the Abaya film is a tribute to the piety of the Bicolanos.
On the year it was shown (2011), the film was a fitting offering to the Tercentenary of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
JOURNEYING WITH INA
The Most. Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, Archbishop of Caceres, said the themes of this year’s dual celebration should be clear.
Celebration for El Divino Rostro is a renewed church journeying with Christ through Christ and in Christ.
The theme for solemn fiesta is “Journeying with Ina in deepening our relationship with God in these challenging times.”
The ultimate reminders: “As devotees, we must not forget that the Peñafrancia Fiesta is a religious activity. A pilgrim must have a sacred experience during the celebration. It is not a typical town or barrio fiesta. It is not a carnival or a mardi gras.”