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“Behold your Mother,” says Papal Nuncio

By Myrna Bermudo


Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Charles John Brown, DD

Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Most Rev. Charles John Brown, DD, presided over the Eucharistic Celebration on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Peñafrancia after the fluvial procession along the Naga River on September 16, 2023. The Papal Nuncio, together with the Bicol Bishops, boarded the pagoda carrying the images of El Divino Rostro and Our Lady of Peñafrancia, from the Danlugan to the Dagsaan near the Peñafrancia Basilica. One hundred sixty boats in four lines were tied to the pagoda. The boats pulled the barge by the simultaneous rowing of the male voyadores wearing colored shirts. Devotees lined along the riverside were praying the rosary, waving their handkerchief and chanting “Viva La Virgin!” as the voyadores rowed and the pagoda passed by.


After the Fluvial procession, a concelebrated Mass was presided by Archbishop Brown, together with the Bicol Bishops and clergy. A throng of devotees attended the Eucharistic Celebration carrying lighted candles.


Caceres Archbishop Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD welcomed the Papal Nuncio at the start of the mass: “Together with the bishops of Bicol and the rector of the Basilica, I warmly welcome you, Your Grace, Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines. In welcoming you, Your Grace, we joyfully welcome His Holiness Pope Francis! Dagos po sa Bicolandia, welcome to Bicolandia; dagos po sa Ciudad nin Naga, Welcome to Naga; dagos po sa Harong ni Inâ, welcome to the house of the Blessed Mother!”


Below is the transcript of the homily delivered by Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines:


“Jesus, on the cross, tells his disciple, John, and Mary his Mother, he said to his disciple, Behold your Mother, here is your Mother, Mary.


Most Rev. Rolando Tirona, Archbishop of Caceres, Brother Bishops of Bicol, celebrating this magnificent evening prayer vigil before the glorious feast day of Nuestra Señora De Peñafrancia gives me so much joy to be with all of you on this feast of the Archdiocese and in other dioceses as well. I see many religious women gathered around this plaza. But most of all, you, the faithful people of Bicol.


It gives me so much joy to be with you this evening as the representative of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pope Francis loves the Filipino people very much. Pope Francis whom I will see, God willing, next week in Rome, I sure will bring the greetings of all of you here in Naga, on this glorious evening of this beautiful vigil.


Thank you for coming, thank you for showing me your love for your Ina, for your Mother. There She is.


For me, as Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, I come to you, this evening as I said, with joy and appreciation, but also coming in a long line of nuncios before me. Going back ninety - nine years, in September 1924, when the Apostolic delegate, Archbishop Guillermo Piani, came here, and graced the Pontifical coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.


Then in 1985, the Apostolic Nuncio, Bruno Torpigliani, came here and elevated this church to the status of a minor basilica increasing the closeness that you have with the Holy Apostolic See in Rome and with the Holy Father. (On the 16th of September 1999, the Archdiocese of Caceres celebrated the 75th anniversary of the canonical coronation of the Virgin. A Solemn Re-Coronation of the Virgin was done by then papal nuncio to the Philippines, Most Rev. Antonio Franco, DD, assisted by the former Archbishop, Leonardo Legaspi, OP, DD.)


And then, four years ago, my immediate predecessor, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, who is now the Apostolic Nuncio in New York in the United Nations, came here in September of 2019, to celebrate this mass with you. He re-recounted to me personally, how edified, how impressed, how amazed, how astonished he was to see the faith here in Naga. So, I come, in a long line of Nuncios. And it gives me so much joy to share with you, your faith, to share your love, to your beloved Mother, your Inâ, Nuestra Senora de Peñafrancia.


We have just participated in this wonderful Fluvial procession in the Naga River. In this beautiful procession, in which Our Lady and the image of Jesus, El Divino Rostro, carried in the pagoda down the river, with all of you in the side of the river rejoicing, praying, filled with joy to see the image of Jesus, the Divine Savior with a beautiful face, the face of the Lord, that St. Veronica captured when she wiped the face of the suffering Jesus, and of course, the image of Our Lady, Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.


The image of a boat is very important for us, the image of a ship, the image of barge. Why is it important? We go back to the Old Testament, when we read the book of Genesis, when we read about the boat of Noah, the ark of Noah, at the command of God, in which Noah’s family and all the animals of the earth in the ark when the great flood came and destroyed all life on earth. This incredible story of the boat of life which preserves physical life. The physical life of Noah and his family and of the animals on the boat so that life can continue - physical, biological life.


Then we go the New Testament, we see the images of the boat, we see Jesus at the shore of the lake, he gets into a boat and begins to teach, teaching people on the shore just like the banks of the river this evening, Jesus teaches on the boat. But which boat will you choose? Which apostle’s boat will you be getting into? The boat of St. Peter? The barge of St. Peter? Jesus asked St. Peter to be the leader of the apostles. To be our first Pope, first Holy Father. Jesus got into his boat. There is a beautiful comparison between the first boat and New Testament boat.


The first boat, Noah’s ark, preserved biological life, and the second boat, the boat of St. Peter has preserved our spiritual life. And that boat of St. Peter has a name, the Catholic Church, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. That is the boat of St. Peter and all of us, who was baptized and came out of the water and into the boat are in this boat of St. Peter, this boat, the Church, this the ark of salvation, not necessarily preserving the physical life, but preserving supernatural life, spiritual life, feeding us with the Sacraments leading us towards heaven.


This beautiful boat, which is the Catholic Church, and how significant was this evening for us, has been the boat with the image of Jesus, the Divino Rostro, the image of Mary, Nuestra Señora De Peñafrancia in the boat, with the Bishops, is a symbol of the Church! And all of us, you are all with the Church, of course, you who were standing along the river banks, in the shore lines. The pagoda and the boats were just for few people, and tonight all of them were male. The Church are not converting the male, believe me. I see also more women than men in this beautiful plaza, tonight.


But the boat is a symbol of the Church, the Bishops, Jesus, Mary going through times, leading us to the heavenly kingdom. What a great privilige to be Catholics, we are passengers on that boat. How fortunate for us to let children be baptized, to bring them out of the water in baptism and into the boat of salvation, the boat of St. Peter.


This is symbolized by the pagoda with the images of Jesus and Mary down the Naga River, tonight.


But you know, brothers and sisters, we are supposed to sail like the Catholic Church, with the boat of St. Peter, with the Pope guiding and all of us helping the Pope in this work of salvation. We need a point of reference. You need to know where to go in your boat.


Tonight, it was very easy to know where to go, to sail in the Naga River because there is only one direction, only one point of reference.


But, if you sail in the Naga River, or in the Bicol River and you keep going and you end in the Pacific Ocean and then there is no shore, it is a problem.


The sailors of the past know how to go forward, they have a point of reference. When they can’t see the shore, and they can’t see the tide, they look at the stars.


We can see the stars, tonight, above us. We look at the stars guiding us. And we realize that in the Catholic Church, we have a star guiding us. We have a Star of the Sea. We have a Stella Maris. And who is that, Stella Maris? It’s Our Lady! She is the one guiding us.


If we keep our eyes fixed on Mary, she guides us. She guides the Church. She leads us. She shows us her Son, El Divino Rostro, the Holy Face of Jesus. Because Mary is never calling attention to herself. Mary is always pointing to her Son, Jesus, our Way, Truth and Life.


So, if we want to navigate in the ocean of our life, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Mary, the Star of the Sea. One who guides us to her Son, Jesus. Showing us Jesus, pointing us to Jesus. Mary is our Mother. Mary is our guide. Mary is our Star of the Sea. We have no other star.


It’s so beautiful to be children of Mary, it’s so beautiful to be a devotee of Inâ. That is why, I and those who came before me, came to share your faith, to share your devotion to Our Lady. I asked her to protect you, and to listen to all your supplications. Mary is a guide but she also intercedes for us like a Mother.


Jesus gave to us her Mother. From the cross, when Jesus was dying, he said to St. John, Behold your Mother. He says that to us, tonight: look at your mother. She is the Star of the Sea. She will guide you. How beautiful that is. How wonderful it is to have and share our Catholic Faith.


So, 99 years after Apostolic Delegate Guillermo Paini came here sept 1924, it gives me so much joy to share your Catholic Church, to remind you that you baptize your children. And to remind you to remind your neighbors to baptize their children, to bring the children into that boat (of the Catholic Church), into that Ark of Salvation that fills us life in the Sacraments especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist which we are celebrating this evening.


As I said earlier, I have said that I will be in Rome and will speak to Pope Francis. I will tell him that you are praying for him. Please pray for Pope Francis. He always asks me to ask you to pray for him. He relies on your prayers.


Viva la Virgen! Viva El Divino Rostro! Viva Nuestra Señora De Peñafrancia!”


Before the final blessing, Archbishop Tirona announced the launching of one- year preparation to commemorate the coronation anniversary:


“By the Grace of God, and in the presence of His Grace, the Most Rev. Charles John Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, we are launching this evening the Year of Preparations for the historic celebration which will culminate on September 20, 2024, commemorating the 100th Coronation Anniversary of Our Lady of Peñafrancia as Siempre la Reina de Nuestra Region, Patrona de Bicolandia.”

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