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ANTIPOLO, Philippines – Locals from different parishes across Rizal province have been bringing their respective patron saints and gathering at the Antipolo Cathedral since January 17 – and will do so until the 25th – as part of their historic “ahon” (disembark upward) and novena masses in preparation for a monumental occasion.
The 450-year-old National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, commonly known as Antipolo Cathedral, is set to be formally declared as an international shrine on Friday, January 26, in a solemn mass to be presided by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown.
The popular pilgrimage shrine, where thousands participate in its “Alay Lakad” every Maundy Thursday, will become the first international shrine in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and only the 11th worldwide.
The nine vicariates under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antipolo are expected to lead the novena masses. The Vicariates of St. Jerome, Our Lady of Aranzazu, St. Ildefonso, St. John the Baptist, and Our Lady of Light from the different towns in the province have already participated in the processions and masses in Antipolo since January 17.
In his homily during the first novena mass on January 17, Father Celso Bagabaldo Jr., Vicar Forane of Vicariate of St. Jerome, called on attendees to start their historic journey with “reflections and openness” and hope that the Virgin Mary will lead them to the right direction.
In a country where overseas workers are hailed as modern-day heroes, Antipolo’s Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is among the celebrated images, with devotees usually praying for safe travels in their journeys.
“If we start right with Mary, we end up right with Jesus and we’ll never be lost. We will never give up dahil nariyan kasama natin sa paglalakbay si Maria (because Mary will always be with us in our journey),” he said.
For Flora Latina, a 20 year-old member of the Social Communications Ministry of Sta. Ursula Parish in Binangonan, the “ahon” feels like a one big reunion where she sees her fellow faithful from different parishes coming together to celebrate the Virgin of Antipolo.
“With the entire vicariate coming as one, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event in the parish, cathedral, and diocese. It’s rare for each parish to come together,” she told Rappler in Filipino.
Expressing her gratitude to be part of the event, Latina also emphasized the importance of becoming a devotee of Mary for the current generation, since she observed how less youth are interested to engage in religious activities with some not recognizing Mary at all.
“It will be helpful if they pray and devote themselves to Mama Mary. Hindi naman magiging mabuti yung buhay (Life will not instantly become better), but Mama Mary will guide them no matter what happens,” she said.
‘Ave Regina Pacis’
The Diocese of Antipolo presented the theme, “Ave Regina Pacis” (Latin for “Hail, Queen of Peace”), for the solemn declaration of the cathedral as an international shrine.
“As a ‘Pueblo amante de Maria’ – a people in love with Mary – we recognize the remarkable
value of this celebration not only for the Diocese of Antipolo, but for the whole Church at large,” the diocese said in its celebration primer.
The celebration’s logo also featured imagery of the cathedral and the Virgin of Antipolo, and various symbols representing key teachings of the Church.
In 2021, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines endorsed the diocese’s petition to raise the Antipolo Cathedral’s status to an international shrine. The Holy See approved the petition in June 2022, with a papal decree being issued in March 2023.
The cathedral’s recognition as an international shrine took effect on March 25, 2023, which coincided with the anniversary of the start of the journey of the Virgin of Antipolo from Acapulco, Mexico to the country in 1626.
Lance Arevada is an Aries Rufo Journalism Fellow for 2023-2024.