Tribute to Our Lady of Piat on her Feast Day: July 2, 2020
by Br. Aaron Veloso
The Philippine Church prides itself as a country devoted to Mary (un pueblo amante de Maria, as the renowned theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo SJ put it), and one would be hard put to find a diocese or province which does not have its own particular Marian devotion or a shrine dedicated to Our Lady. We see this in the lives and experiences of many Filipinos, myself included.
In my case, Marian devotions have been part of my faith-life formation since childhood, and has been a great source of consolation in many times of trials and difficulties. I became close to her under various titles: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat.
Today, I would like to share about Mary under the last title, since we celebrate today her feast day.
The image of Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat was brought from Macau to the Philippines by the Dominican Fathers in 1604. After some time in the Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros, the image was taken to Lallo, Cagayan (then the seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia), and from there to Piat.
The Itawes of Cagayan grew to love Our Lady, who promptly showed her maternal affection through the many graces she gave them. Many miracles were recorded – including protection from pestilence and the end of droughts, which are popular for the farming population of the region.
While liturgical inculturation was only heavily emphasized after the Second Vatican Council, popular devotions have long understood its power in teaching the faith and promoting a deeper relationship with the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. We see this in the iconography of Our Lady of Piat:
First, while the image is, in reality an image of Our Lady of the Rosary, the official title for the image is “Our Lady of Visitation”, perhaps an allusion to the pious oral tradition of Our Lady making visits to her children in the Itawes region during the evening, as evidenced by the presence of amorseco burs in the Virgin’s cape. Her feast then is celebrated every July 2, which is the feast of the Visitation of Our Lady prior to the reform of the General Roman Calendar after the Second Vatican Council.
Second, the papier-mâché image uniquely features the Mother and Child with a dark brown complexion, which appealed to the Itawes and Ibanag who accepted the Virgin as one of them, because they looked like her. Today, in the Ibanag language, she is affectionately called “Yena Tam Ngamin”, or Mother of Us All.
Finally, both the Madonna and the Child Jesus hold handkerchiefs. For generations of pilgrims, this handkerchief represents both Our Lady’s maternal comfort and love, as she dries the tears and wipes the sweat of those who call for her help. This is a moving assurance to the poor and the downtrodden that Our Lady, “as a true mother... walks at our side, ... shares our struggles and ... constantly surrounds us with God’s love.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 286) At the same time, it is an invitation to us all to imitate this example and commiserate with the sorrows and struggles of our brethren.
In recognition of the great devotion to Our Lady under this title, Venerable Pius XII approved the Canonical Coronation of the image in 1954, while Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the Shrine of Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat to the dignity of Minor Basilica in 1999.
Her feast is a red-letter day not only in the pilgrimage town of Piat, but in the entire Cagayan Valley and in the heart of all Cagayanos scattered throughout the world.
In today’s world where physical distancing has become the norm, our celebration today reminds us that Mary, our Mother, Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat, remains ever close to us, walking with us in this “valley of tears,” ever ready to wipe with her handkerchief the sweat from our brows and the tears falling down our cheeks. She beckons us to draw close to her, and doing so, find the greatest treasure she possesses and the grandest blessing she has received: the baby she carries in her arm – Jesus Christ.
Photos: Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat
Dominus Est Art: Clyde Nolasco