By Meanne M. Mijares
Baclaran houses the famous and biggest shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the world and its revered icon. It is one of the most popular and phenomenal Catholic devotions in the country, next to Jesus, the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila and aside from the Holy Rosary. The church is filled to the brim with so many people hearing mass at every hour, attending the weekly Wednesday novena, lighting assorted candles at the candle chapel, praying in quiet corners holding their rosaries, novenas and stampitas, crying while others are walking towards the main altar using their knees withstanding the pain through it all not to mention touching the tabernacle. I have seen devotees, rich and poor, famous celebrities and ordinary folk, board exam takers, writing their petitions and dropping them off in a big box while some are putting letters of thanksgiving in another box as well. This scene would always come to mind as I recall visiting the shrine with my family in 2002.
It is the only shrine in Metro Manila that is open 24/7/365 or 366 to its fervent devotees, including its Adoration Chapel. In most Catholic churches and homes, there is an image of the Mother of Perpetual Help and copies of novenas which are being held every Wednesday.
The faith of the devotees is amazingly strong indeed. People within or outside Metro Manila come in droves for their panata or vow to visit the shrine every Wednesday or any other day to express their thanksgiving for the answered prayers they have received while others are confident that their requests (spiritual and temporal) will be granted by Our Lord through His Mother’s intercession. The Shine receives 1,432 petition letters and 232 thanksgiving letters on a monthly basis. The number of devotees visiting the shine kept on increasing by the day, even reaching up to 500,000!
I remember my late grandmother taught me to pray this novena and practice this devotion while growing up, which I still do even to this day. What piqued my curiosity is the icon. I was strongly drawn to it. The story behind the miraculous image is very fascinating. I kept on bugging my Lola Meding (Remedios) about it. But she kept on telling me to have recourse to our Lady in all our needs. Before she passed away in June 23, 1988, she gave me a copy of the novena which I will always cherish though I have purchased a new copy. Our Lady was kind enough to help me find out to know the back story and the description of the icon which I now share it with you.
A merchant from the island of Crete got the picture of the Blessed Mother from one of the churches there and hid it among his personal belongings and embarked on a sailing vessel. During the voyage, a terrible storm arose and raged so fiercely that the ship was in danger. The sailors, unaware that the miraculous picture was on board, prayed to God and the Blessed Mother to save them. Their prayers were answered and the boat safely reached the port.
A year later, the merchant went to Rome with the picture. He suddenly became very ill and asked his Roman friend who hosted him for a final request. He told him about the picture that he had taken from a certain church. The merchant explained where he had hidden the picture and instructed the Roman host to place it in a church so it could be venerated. After the merchant’s death, the Roman got the picture and took it home. His wife saw the painting and told him not to part with it. He placed it in their bedroom where it remained for almost a year. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him twice and asked him to bring the image to a more honorable place but failed to address Her request. For the third time, She appeared to the Roman and asked him the same thing and warned him that if he did not take heed to Her request, he will die. The man got frightened. He told his wife about the vision and begged her to take the picture to a church. But his wife refused and allowed his wife to have her way. For the fourth time, Our Lady appeared to the Roman and told him that since he has preferred to obey his wife instead of Her, he shall die, that She may find a more honorable place. With this warning, the Roman suddenly fell very ill and died after a short while. The Blessed Virgin then appeared to the six-year old daughter of the couple and told her, “Go to your mother and grandmother and say to them, the Holy Mary of Perpetual Help bids you to take Her from your home, otherwise you will both die suddenly.” The child’s mother got frightened when she heard this message and since she had a similar vision, she realized that she had been the cause of her husband’s death. A neighbor, who saw her weeping because of her disobedience to the Holy Mother of God told her that it was foolish to believe in such things and advised her to burn the picture. That same evening, the neighbor upon returning home was suddenly attacked by a strange malady but because he repented, she was cured immediately.
For the second time, the Blessed Virgin appeared to the little girl and told her to tell her mother to put the picture to St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in the one dedicated to St. Matthew the Apostle. Now finally convinced, the widow saw the miracles she had seen brought the picture to the said church and was taken care of by the Augustinian friars.
The day happen to fall on a Holy Wednesday-a day which special indulgence could be gained by visiting the church, so many people were present to see the holy image brought to the shrine chosen by the Blessed Virgin Herself. On that very same day, a man whose right arm was paralyzed touched this same day, was instantly cured. With this miracle, confidence in the Mother of Perpetual Help was immediately inspired.
Since then, on a daily basis, large crowds flock to the Church on the Esquiline Hill and there a tablet beside the miraculous picture they read how the Blessed Virgin Mary Herself had chosen the sanctuary of Her shrine and gave Herself the title of Holy Mary of Perpetual Help. Nobody knows what the title of Miraculous Picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help.
The name of the image has spread throughout the entire Christian world. Practically unknown in the 1800’s today it is seen and loved and venerated everywhere and in our days have been granted by Our Lady when invoked under this title.
When the Redemptorist Fathers came to the Philippines in 1906, they put up Her shrine in Baclaran, Manila. Here, they have an authentic copy of the miraculous picture in Rome.
DESCRIPTION OF THE ICON
The original picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is painted on a gold background. It is very impressive and must have been the work of a devout and skillful artist. The style, which is Grecian or Byzantine proves that it must have come from the East. Experts agree that it must have been painted in the 13th or 14th century. The painting shows our Blessed Mother in a half figure holding Her Divine Son with Her left arm and drawing Him closer to Her to assure Him of Her protection. Our Lord Jesus, in full figure, is afraid and tightly holds her right hand with His two little hands. Our Blessed Mother’s eyes are gazing upon the devotees with a loving but earnest expression and seems to express her soul’s anguish at the suffering of Her Son, Jesus. Inscriptions are written on either side of her head. There are four Greek letters which are the first and last letters of the Greek words, Mother of God. Our Lord Jesus as an Infant has one of His sandals on while the other hangs loose. Over His left shoulders are seen the letters ICXC the first and last letters for two Greek words means Jesus Christ. Two angels bearing the instruments has the initial letters in Greek which means Michael the Archangel, presents the lance, reed and sponge to the Holy Child which signals His future passion and death on the Cross, while the one on the left holds up before His gaze, four nails and a Cross, with two beams as well as the tablet of the inscription; above him are the initials in Greek which stands for Gabriel the Archangel.
Loving Mother, help us and pray for us!
To know more about the history of the miraculous icon, you may check out this link:
Here are lists of to-do’s for the devotees while they are visiting the shrine:
Here is some trivia to add a little flavorful spice to the Baclaran phenomenon:
Here are some of the testimonials gathered from the devotees that are truly worth sharing: