Wake Up, Philippines!

BACLARAN CHURCH: Mass attendance, petitions swell

By Manolita A. Gonzales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:52:00 03/16/2009

Filed Under: Churches (organisations), World Financial Crisis, Religion & Belief, Overseas Employment, Grants and Scholarships, Employment

(Editor’s Note: Times are tough. Let’s do something about it. Now. Share with us what you or other people are doing to get you through the rough times. If we are together, we can tough it out. Send suggestions to jsarmiento@inquirer.com.ph)

MANILA, Philippines—The tougher the times, the harder people pray.

At the popular “Our Mother of Perpetual Help” shrine in Baclaran, Parañaque City, people attending Wednesday novenas and Sunday Masses often spill over to the courtyard. Churchgoers used to peak at 120,000 on the first Wednesday of the month.

Now crowds fill the church to overflowing even on ordinary Wednesdays and Sundays. (The shrine holds 12 Masses and novenas every Wednesday.)

Prices have risen, but devotees are not scrimping on their donations to the church. In fact, Wednesday and Sunday collections in Baclaran have slightly increased.

The Baclaran shrine is a favorite place of solace for people seeking special favors from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and for any good Samaritan willing to help someone in need.

On the first Wednesday of the month, the shrine gets 3,000 to 4,000 written petitions. It receives 2,200 to 2,800 petitions on ordinary Wednesdays.

“Those are twice the number of letters we got five of ten years ago,” said Vivian Bersola, a lay missionary of the shrine for 19 years.

Devotees also write prayers of thanksgiving—around 500 are received weekly.

Petitions for jobs

While petitions used to focus on family and spiritual problems, recent ones are more work-related, such as prayers for landing a job in the country or abroad and for passing of job interviews and board exams, according to Bersola.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the country over the past few months because of plunging demand for exports like electronics and garments as the recession in the United States and other developed countries deepens.

The Philippines could lose up to 300,000 jobs in the first six months of the year, according to the labor secretary.

Other petitions include prayers for health and recovery from sickness (particularly cancer and other ailments needing surgery), peace in the home, travel abroad, release of housing loans and even divine intervention in the payment of tuition and credit cards.

“These petitions keep us grounded in the day-to-day struggle of ordinary people,” Fr. Ino Cueto said.

Redemptorist priests read some of the prayer petitions during Mass.

Mass for OFWs

Noticing that problems of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were a recurring theme in petitions and even confessions, the priests decided to hold special Masses for the workers and their families at 9:30 a.m. every last Friday of the month.

Shortly before the Mass for OFWs was to be held in January, the priests wondered, “Would people attend?” They were surprised when the whole church was filled.

When Cueto became shrine rector a year ago, he noticed that some 20 beggars would appear on Tuesday nights in anticipation of the Wednesday devotees.

Recently, he counted more than 50. “Most of them are old women,” he said. “We cannot prevent them from coming, but we are thinking of a more systematic and effective response to their plight.”

The Redemptorist priests are noted for their social programs for the poor, as well as their activism during the martial law years, when they were teasingly called “Redempterrorists.”

There seems to be less political activism now, which is true of the whole Catholic Church, but the social services remain.

“We used to get eight walk-in clients a day, but now we get around 15,” said Arlene Camua, social worker of the shrine’s Crisis Intervention Center.

“The more common requests are for transportation back to home provinces, medication for ailments such as diabetes and stroke, hospitalization and surgical operations.”

Clients who seek help come from Metro Manila and as far as Mindoro, Quezon and Leyte.

Eunice Barrozo, another social worker, said the Redemptorist Education Assistance Program got 55 applicants for college scholarships and continued to do so after the deadline ended last month.

The scholarship used to be open to students from any part of Metro Manila. Soaring costs of education forced the program to limit scholarships to Parañaque residents only.

Street children

The hard times are also sending more children to the streets.

Phen Mangahas, team leader of social services and director of the Sarnelli Center for Street Children, said the children the center gathered recently for street education sessions reached 100 from last year’s 60.

“Street children are now less willing to stay at our drop-in center,” she said. They prefer to be out in the streets to help parents by selling sando (plastic) bags or sampaguita (jasmine).

The three social workers noted that ironically, more clients were being referred to Baclaran by government agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Vice President Noli de Castro.

“Five years ago, we were able to get augmentation funds from the DSWD,” Mangahas said. “Now, these agencies say they really have no funds.”

Transparency, generosity

Baclaran shrine’s social services are sustained by donations—not only from wealthy patrons but also from ordinary people who share whatever they have.

Donors include those whose petitions were granted and those who want to share their blessings, say, lotto winnings.

One donor said she doubled her donations because she believed that “if you increase your donations, you will get more blessings in return.”

The devotees’ generosity is partly encouraged by the Redemptorist policy of transparency, especially now that people are fed up with rampant corruption, according to Cueto.

Monthly updates

The priests give monthly updates—announced before Masses—on where collections go.

According to the last quarter of 2008 report, a total of P1,461,552.86 went to medical assistance for 166 patients, such as 55 chemotherapy sessions, 51 operations, six cobalt/radiotherapy and medicines for 35 patients.

A total of P254,764.84 was used for transportation, medical, food and funeral assistance.

The shrine also supports 64 full and partial scholars and helps fund the social services of the other Redemptorist shrines in Lipa City in Batangas and Legazpi City in Albay.

“In our homilies, we try to help people see things in a bigger context,” Cueto said.

“The Lord does not want people to wallow in poverty. We want devotees to think, why does poverty persist? Hopefully, the shrine also helps people to realize that there are so many possibilities that we can attain as a people.”

He also expressed hope that “devotees will develop a sense of mission and service to respond to what is happening to the larger society.” Project Editor: Juan V. Sarmiento Jr.

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20090316-194376/Mass-attendance-petitions-swell

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: