The sacred image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia being carried by devotees.
By GERALD O ENGUERO
NAGA CITY: Almost two million devotees trooped to this city to join the weeklong celebration of the Peñafrancia fiesta, considered the biggest Marian devotion in Asia, according to an estimate by the city hall-based Joint Operations Center.
Joselito Del Rosario, Naga City public safety officer and member of the JOC, made the observation after boarding a chopper and saw the mass of people on the ground during the Traslacion procession held last September 13, 2013 and saw more visitors coming for the 9-day novena that ran up to the climactic fluvial procession last Saturday, Sept 21.
Devotees from all corners of the country and even from abroad formed a portrayal of stars in the sky as they lighted up candles along the banks of the historic Naga River during the fluvial procession that brought back the sacred images of Divino Rostro and Our Lady of Peñafrancia from Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to its shrine in Basilica Minore.
People that lined the river banks shouted “Viva la Virgen” and threw confetti of flowers as the Virgin’s pagoda cruised the one kilometer fluvial route.
The pagoda, with about 200 male devotees and priests on board was tugged by hundreds of oarsmen popularly called voyadores who maneuvered some 40 wooden boats. Speedboats, inflatable vessels, and other small seacrafts also joined the procession to assist the pagoda and guide the oarsmen.
Fr Louie Occiano, head of Caceres Commission on Communications of the Archdiocese of Caceres said the devotees were organized through their color-coded shirts to maintain order and each group’s role in the procession.
Peaceful and successful festival
The Sangguniang Panlungsod of Naga last Tuesday approved Resolution Nos. 2013-245 and 2013-246 expressing the city’s appreciation of the efforts extended by the JOC and the Solid Waste Management Office to ensure the city’s peace and order situation and cleanliness before, during and after the Peňafrancia festival.
According to Vice Mayor Legacion, the members of the JOC showed their utmost devotion and love for Ina by working hard even during wee hours just to ensure that the festivity will be celebrated by the millions of devotees in a solemn and orderly manner.
“There were even volunteer groups from as far as Sorsogon and the province islands of Masbate and Catanduanes who helped us during the Peňafrancia festival. Indeed, in the name of faith and love for Our Lady of Peňafrancia, all the Bicolanos are being bound into one family with her as our mother,” Vice Mayor Legacion said.
The JOC, led by Mayor John G. Bongat, implemented various changes in this year’s Peňafrancia festival that beefed up security and safety in the areas affected by the Fluvial procession. For one, no vendors were allowed inside the premises of the Basilica Minore and the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.
Andrew Cost, a consultant from Melbourne, Australia, said that he participated in the Fluvial procession as a friend of his was very enthusiastic in inviting him to witness the said event.
“This is my first time in the Philippines, and I expected the Bicol region to be quiet, because it’s so far from Manila. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the thousands of people visiting for the Peñafrancia Fiesta! I’ve been to many religious festivals in Europe, but nothing compares to this event,” said Cost.
Horacio Jongko and his wife, Angelina, shared that it was the first time they were able to watch the Fluvial procession together as a couple.
Angelina, former resident of Barangay Sta. Cruz of this city, but has been residing in Cavite for over 30 years now, said she wanted to share the experience of Peñafrancia festival with her husband who is on vacation in the Philippines.
“I am working as a seaman abroad, and because it is not often to have a quality time with my family, I’m making sure that I will spend it in worthwhile activities.
“Seeing now the massive spiritual experience here in the Peňafrancia festival, I decided to return back next year, not only with my wife but also with my children,” said Horacio. – Bicol Mail