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The Evangelizing Power of Popular Piety

Updated: Feb 17

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Solemn Declaration of the International Shrine

of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, Antipolo City

January 15, 2024


Your Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila;

Your Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Archbishop-Emeritus of Cotabato;

Your Excellency, the Most Rev. Ruperto C. Santos, Bishop of Antipolo;

You Excellency, the Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio David, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP);

Madame First Lady, Marie Louise Araneta Marcos;

brother bishops, concelebrating priests, male and female religious, brothers and sisters in Christ, devotees of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage:


It is a huge joy and a privilege for me, as your Apostolic Nuncio to be with you this morning in Antipolo, for this solemn declaration, and I must say, sumptuous liturgy, in which this beautiful shrine is elevated to the status of an international shrine, an International Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage here in Antipolo.



Our Lady of Antipolo and the Filipino People

As all of us know, the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage arrived first here in the Philippines almost 400 years ago, in 1626. She has an intimate and important place in Filipino history. Indeed, it was in 1868, that young Jose Rizal was brought here by his father, Don Francisco, to pray in thanksgiving in front of this image, for having, in his case, Jose’s safe delivery when he was born. Then, in 1926, as we heard, she was canonically crowned by the Archbishop of Manila. Seventy years ago, in 1954, this shrine was declared a national shrine in testimony of all of the privileges and blessings that have been bestowed throughout the years, to all the people who have come here to pray to Our Lady. So, that was seventy years ago, 1954.


Now here we are, 2024, in which this shrine is now elevated to the status of an international shrine. As we heard in the decree of the Section for Fundamental Questions regarding Evangelization in the World, from the Dicastery for Evangelization signed by Archbishop Fisichella (H.E. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, Pro-Prefect, Section for Fundamental Questions regarding Evangelization in the World).


I'd like to mention three things this morning which come to my mind and reflect on this beautiful image of Our Lady, and her role in the history of the Philippines; and indeed, her role, her place in Philippine Catholicism.





Evangelizing Power of Popular Piety 

The first is the phenomenon of popular piety, of popular religiosity. The religiosity of the masses, of everybody. The wonderful popular piety which is so evident here in the Philippines. Indeed, it was only last month that all of us were gathered for the Simbang Gabi Masses in anticipation of Christmas — a beautiful example of your Philippine popular piety. Then about two weeks ago, we had the Traslación in Manila, the Black Nazarene, the Nazareno Negro. This amazing, incredible procession of Jesus carrying the cross which was witnessed and participated in by literally millions of people. Last Sunday in Cebu, we had the Sinulog-Santo Niño Festival, which was also attended by millions of people. Here in Antipolo, and indeed in Manila on April 30th and May 1st, you have the Alay Lakad Procession, the wonderful pilgrimage on foot here to pray to Our Lady. All of these are examples of the richness, the patrimony, the treasure of Philippine popular religiosity, popular piety.


I am here to tell you that for me, as a non-Filipino, who has lived here for three years, it is so edifying and so wonderful to see this evidence of the popular piety of the Filipino people.


Pope Francis, whose representative, of course I am, here in the Philippines has spoken about the evangelizing power of popular piety. In his “programmatic” Apostolic Exhortation published back in 2013, the famous Evangelii Gaudium, he says the following: “Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on” (EG #123).


“Embodied in a culture” — that is exactly what we see in the Philippines. Faith, embodied in a culture manifested in popular piety. A faith that arrived and was received here 503 years ago, which has penetrated the culture, the minds, the hearts, the history of the Filipino nation. All those examples that I just recited to you, the Simbang Gabi Masses, and so forth. You think also of the Santacruzan phenomenon, the kind of beauty pageant connected to the finding of the Holy Cross. This beautiful, intimate relationship between your culture as Filipinos and the Catholic faith.


Pope Francis wasn't the first Pope to note how important popular piety is. In fact, next year in 2025, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of another Apostolic Exhortation that was published by St. Pope Paul VI, back in December of 1975. So next year, as I said, will be the 50th anniversary. Pope Francis quotes from St. Pope Paul VI, when he's talking about popular piety. St. Pope Paul VI said this about popular piety, and it's something written 50 years, 49 years ago but is still so important for us today in the Philippines.



Speaking about popular piety, the Pope said.

“Above all one must be sensitive to it, know how to perceive its interior dimensions and undeniable values, be ready to help it to overcome its risks of deviation. When it is well oriented, this popular religiosity call be more and more for multitudes of our people a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ” (Evangelii Nuntiandi #48).


“A true encounter with God in Jesus Christ” — that's what we have in Our Lady. Our Lady always directs us to Jesus as we heard in the Gospel today (Jn. 2:1-11). Words that are written in Latin here in your beautiful shrine: Quodcumque dixerit vobis facite. “Whatever he tells you, do it.” That's what Mary is doing: directing us to Jesus.


Popular piety, it has incredible richness here in the Philippines, a precious resource for your church. (We were reflecting on that just this week in Manila, in the Philippines Conference on New Evangelization. Indeed the 10th such conference.) Popular piety is a manifestation of people's connectedness to the faith.


Now certainly, all of us want Catholics to participate fully in the Sacramental life of the Church. That's our goal as priests and bishops — to bring people to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church, to receive God's grace through the sacrament.


Popular piety can be a link, a connection to many people who may not be practicing their faith by coming to Mass every Sunday, but still have this wonderful, beautiful connection to the Church and have faith.


So, for us as Catholics, it's not a matter of choosing sacramental life of the Church versus popular piety crosses Catholics. There's never a question of choosing one. Catholics are never really saying “sola”, not really saying “sola scriptura”. We say, “scripture and tradition”, we say, “God and man”, we say, Mary is “Virgin and Mother”. Also, with popular piety — sacramental life of the Church, yes, and the popular piety, both “and”. They reinforce one another, and one can lead to the other.


That's why we need to appreciate [and] love popular piety. It’s also a way in which people can come to a greater understanding of the beauty, and richness of sacramental life in the Church.


Synodality

My second theme this morning is synodality, which we've heard so much of in these days, and expressed so beautifully this morning here in the Shrine of Our Lady here in Antipolo by more than eighty bishops, gathered here in this beautiful shrine. Together, we bishops, are devotees of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage — we come to share in the popular piety of our people. We know that Jesus says in the Gospel, “I praise you, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children” (Cf. Mt. 11:25).


That thirst for God, which the poor and the simple people have, it is so beautiful; and for us as bishops to participate in that, to walk with our people, to listen to our people. That is the reason why we are present today, and so many people are inside and outside the shrine praying with us.


Pope Francis’ expressions of popular piety have much to teach us. It has much to teach us, we who are bishops. There has to be in a spirit of synodality, that reciprocal listening, listening one and another. Pope Francis also says, he gave this line, this quote, when he was participating in the Synod in Rome last October. He said this, “When you want to know what Holy Mother Church believes, go to the Magisterium. That is, the bishops. Because it's their task to teach it to you. But when you want to know how the Church believes, go to the faithful people.”


“Go to the faithful people.” That's what we as bishops are doing this morning. We're all crowded together, in and outside the shrine with our faithful people — to listen to them, to observe them, to see their faith, to be edified by their faith. Because “faith comes from hearing” (cf. Rm. 10:17a). We, in a certain sense, hear the faith of the people by being close to them. We listen to their faith and they listen to us. As you’re listening to me, preaching this morning. This beautiful reciprocal listening, which is the essence of synodality.




Migration and the Our Lady of Good Voyage

Third and finally, we have the theme which is so important here in this wonderful shrine: migration. Our age here in this Millennium, the beginning of the third Millennium, our age is really characterized by massive migration, a phenomenon of international migration. That's why it's so appropriate, so perfect that in this year, your shrine is elevated from the status of a national shrine for the Philippines to be an international shrine, for indeed, all of Asia, and indeed the whole world. Because today's world is international, globalized, as we like to say.


That's especially true for Filipinos. I think overseas Filipino workers, OFWs officially are numbered at about 2 million, but there were something like 12 million Filipinos living outside the Philippines. Indeed, a majority of overseas Filipino workers are women. So, we have this amazing phenomenon of migration. So, the fact that this Church and Our Lady as the Mother of Peace and Good Voyage, is connected with migration is so important for us in our time.


Think, brothers and sisters, how many people have come here to pray in front of this image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage? How many OFWs have come to pray to her before setting out on their journey, their voyage to the Gulf States, or to Europe, or to America? How many, even mothers with tears in their eyes, entrust their children and their family to Our Lady’s care and protection as they leave to go to work overseas? Our Lady looks with compassion and love on those people. She is here to be a mother to them.


We are here, as bishops and people in political life, to protect our overseas Filipino workers. Be sure that they are treated with dignity and respect in every situation.


Migration in the Philippines is also, I must say, “an experience of evangelization”, as the Pope likes to say. Because Filipinos are bringing the faith of the Philippines, the Catholic faith, all over the world.


Indeed, we have the joy this morning to have among our concelebrants, and Auxiliary Bishop-Elect from no place other than Philadelphia, State of Pennsylvania, USA, the Most Rev. Efren Veridiano Esmilla, who was, I think was richly from Laguna; and on March 7th will be ordained a Bishop and Auxiliary Bishop in Philadelphia.


What a wonderful sign of the internationality of the Catholic Church of the Philippines. You have then, truly, as we said back in 2021, you have been “Gifted to Give”, and you're giving that gift all over the world. Our Lady here in Antipolo is really the mother of that gift, because that gift is Jesus. That gift is Jesus whom we are bringing in every corner of the world.


Conclusion

So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you can tell for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, it gives me a lot of joy, and a little bit of emotion actually, to be with you this morning for this wonderful declaration of your shrine as an international shrine. This elevation in recognition of the internationality of Philippine Catholicism.


We pray with our hearts filled with gratitude for everyone who will come here to the shrine to ask Our Lady, to present to Our Lady all of their petitions, knowing that Our Lady will look on them with compassion and love, and present those petitions to Jesus and listen to the words of Our Lady about Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5).



Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

Photo credit: The Antipolo Cathedral

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