Magnifying the Lord
By Fr. Joseph Echano, CSsR
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” declares the Blessed Virgin Mary during her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46). These are the opening words to the song of Mary, “The Magnificat” or “The Canticle of Mary.” Mary, whose soul magnifies the Lord, epitomizes the grandest and holiest of the rejoicing of the human spirit about the goodness of God.For seventy years, the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines has helped believers strengthen their devotion to God and deal head on with the realities of life
Mary’s utter rejoicing perfectly captures the spirit of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines, also known as Redemptorist Church and colloquially as the Baclaran Church. Every Wednesday, at least 100,000 devotees congregate at the shrine. Throughout the year, five to ten million devotees, visitors, pilgrims, and tourists flock to the shrine, not just on Wednesdays but throughout the week. Truly the exuberant devotion of these Mother of Perpetual Help faithful magnify the Lord.
At the shrine in Parañaque, a city in the southern part of metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Marian devotion is in full display with its uplifting kaleidoscopic warmth. I’ve been privileged to witness this outpouring of affection to Our Mother of Perpetual Help during my nearly ten years of ministry at the National Shrine in Baclaran. I’m constantly amazed by the unshakable faith and hope of these devotees. Enduring sweltering temperatures and rain, traffic, pollution, and irksome vendors, they make their way to the shrine to pray the novena, touch the icon, and celebrate the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation.
The “Baclaran phenomenon” began after the Redemptorists launched the first novena on June 23, 1948, with seventy people in attendance. After one week, the number of devotees doubled. After several weeks, counts reached 1,000 and grew to several thousand within several months. This rapid growth precipitated the need to build a bigger church. By the end of 1949, more than 50,000 people were regularly in attendance. It quickly became apparent that the second church would not sufficiently accommodate the growing number of devotees, so the building of a third church began in 1954 and was finished in 1958.
To accommodate the incessant influx of visitors, the shrine is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Indeed, it’s a shrine that never sleeps. It has never closed, not even when martial law was enforced from 1972 to 1981 under the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. The Vatican granted permission for the shrine to remain open all the time once officials received assurance from the shrine of adequate security.
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