Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back to the Pilgrim City

I could have just waited another month for our semestral break and save all the money and effort in going back and forth to the province. But I've already allotted a part of my allowance for the fare and luckily enough, there wasn't much schoolwork for that weekend. So I pushed through with my plans of going home in Naga. It's September, you see. And on that particular September weekend, the fluvial procession of Our Lady of Pe├▒afrancia, lovingly called Ina by the Bicolanos and devotees, was scheduled to take place.

Festival at the Pilgrim City
My experience of attending fluvial processions of Ina is always unique every time. The first one was way back during my high school year. I was with Mama and Papa then. All three of us were new to the tradition and so we didn't know where to go or what to do. And so, we merely followed the flock of people. We ran (yes, feel free to imagine!) from bridge to bridge, hoping to catch a glimpse of Our Lady's passing retinue. Needless to say, the riverbanks and bridges were packed with people and we couldn't see a thing. Not seeing Ina can already be a reason to feel down, but there was just something about hearing all those people present shouting "Viva Divino Rostro! Viva la Virgen!" in unison while waving their handkerchiefs in the air which moved me. Clearly, it was the voice of faith, filled with conviction and passion. It was, then, that I became a devotee.

Viva La Virgen bands
Our party grew during the second time around--the original three companions and now with my sisters Elvy and Joy. Learning from the previous experience, we decided to be early and take our post at the Magsaysay Bridge after saying our prayers in the Old Pe├▒afrancia Shrine. True enough, there wasn't much people yet. We positioned ourselves at the third row. The first row nearest the banks was composed of a family seated in a long bench which they have brought, and the second was mainly a row of smaller groups who just happened to arrive earlier than we did. I was hopeful. I knew I'd definitely see Ina that time. Why, with that clear view of the river! Then came the announcement that the procession is about to reach our spot. For some reason, the density of the people suddenly rose and the next thing I knew, the family in front of us, those ones seated, stood up, blocking our view. I cannot explain my dismay. Instead of Ina's golden image, all I saw were rounded backs of people's heads. After Ina has passed, we headed to the Basilica along with the many other devotees. Everywhere was so cramped, we could almost exchange faces with each other. But I told you, nothing can discourage these people. After much skin rubbing and sweat sharing, we eventually reached the church. In an instant, as if to pay back for all the discomfort I felt that afternoon, Ina passed by the very ground I was rooted on, not more than five feet away. It was so much a glorious sight it made me teary-eyed. Ina would never disappoint her child, I thought. Not unlike my previous encounter, I was still touched by all the chanting and waving and singing. Unlike the previous encounter, though, I chanted and waved and sang along this time, with a passion.

And then we come to my most recent experience, a first with my Ate Yeth and niece Zye, and my second with Joy. We had no concrete plans that afternoon. It was only through our mother's coaxing that we finally prepared going to church. Our first stop was the cathedral and we arrived too late for the mass, but just in time to see Ina being brought outside to start the procession to the river.

View outside the cathedral
We decided then to follow the crowd. We may not have an available spot waiting for us near the riverbanks so might as well join Ina in her journey before she gets down to her pagoda. But we could only follow Ina from a respectable distance. We cannot go too close to her lest we want to get squashed by all the voyadores carrying her image. By the time though that we were nearing the plaza, Ate Yeth had this brilliant idea of overtaking the crowd and find a place near Starview Hotel. And so we did. Not only were we able to see Ina up close, we also got to witness the voyadores in action and the spectacular shower of confetti from the tall establishment. It was breathtaking!

Our Lady of Penafrancia

We walked further until we reached the riverbank nearest the market, exactly the place where Ina will be brought down to her pagoda and where the fluvial procession will start. And to think I haven't been in that part of Naga! We waited for Ina's arrival along with the many anticipating devotees. When at last Ina has arrived, people started cheering again and it didn't stop until the pagodas were out of sight. As the crowd receded, I pondered on how these people had been touched by the Patroness of Bicol for them to have so much faith. I need not look far for my heart holds an answer.

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