One of the first trips which the young missionary should make when he arrives in the Philippines is the pilgrimage to the church of the Virgin of Antipolo. Since such was the opinion of our Very Reverend Superior, Father P. Guistoo and I were escorted by Father Beck to the national shrine a few days after our landing in the Islands. We welcomed the opportunity to visit the famous spot and to give formal thanks to "Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage" for our safe arrival. At the same time we wished to ask her for a successful ministry in our new field of labour.
One fine morning we stepped into the Ford and were driven in the direction of a "blue ridge," range of mountains by our Filipino boy. "Antipolo," said Father Beck, "is right out in those mountains ahead of us!" They were a picturesque group of peaks covered for the most part with green vegetation of light and dark shades. The clouds hovered over them planting a sweet morning kiss upon their crests. What an inviting setting for a sacred place, I thought, as we sped on. And when once we began to Wind around those peaks and could view the locality from closer range I could not help admitting that this was of a truth nature's shrine of prayer.
Crowds in May.
There were not very many people living in Antipolo at that time, since pilgrims are not so numerous during the autumn months. They usually come in the spring time, especially in May, and then stay for a month or more. Then the town is overcrowded with people from all parts of the Islands who have travelled day and night to get to their destination. Since Manila is only about thirty-five miles distant, a good portion of its inhabitants change their residence to the city of Our Lady when the solemn ceremonies take place during the month of May; also world tourists who sojourn in the capital make it a point not to miss a visit to the shrine during the busy time.
.. Upon our arrival in the parish church we entered the rectory to meet Father Jose, the native pastor. He gave us a warm welcome and treated us to a cooling beverage. Then he guided us to the church of good old Spanish times and showed us the silver-plated altar above which stood the Virgin of Antipolo. It was an impressive sight, particularly Filipino, and we all knelt down to pray. After that he "took us behind the altar to view the beautiful statue at close range. There was a pretty crown on the head of the Virgin and a halo stood behind it. Out from under it hung dark brown hair in plaits covering the shoulders and back. The face of the Blessed Lady is Malay. And her dress was long and of elaborate workmanship. We were surprised when Father Jose told us that the crown was only an imitation of the true one which was kept in a safe, because of its rare gems.
Brought From Mexico.
Our guide then explained some of the main historical facts about this wonderful statue. He told us Don Juan Nino de Tabora on the how it was brought from Mexico three centuries ago by a certain frail galley "Almirante!" The boat made the trip safely in less than three months; storms and typhoon which commonly menace Pacific sailors, were absent on this voyage. Moreover, some powder which was scorched by flames refused to explode, thereby saving the lives of the sailors, who attributed the phenomenon to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. Since that first venture she has been the protectoress of numberless seamen.
The image was brought to the region of Antipolo for the new church of Santa Cruz. Tradition states that the statute, in protest, always went to an "Antipolo tree" i found to-day in the front of Father Jose's rectory. It, therefore, was not placed in the Santa Cruz church, but was put above the altar of the parish church of Antipolo.
About 1639 the Chinese of the neighbourhood rebelled and dishonoured the statue. They pierced it with their lances and threw it into the fire. But the image withstood the flames although made of wood. It was then rescued and placed in the window of a home overlooking Antipolo. When the Chinese attempted to attack the house they retreated because they saw, according to their own confession, a host of Spanish soldiers.
Another extraordinary occurrence took place in 1646 when the Dutch raided the city of Cavite on Manila Bay. The defenders in their despair of saving the city from sack and ruin had recourse to the protection of the Virgin of Peace. In a few hours the twelve Dutch ships were driven off, although days of fighting had not accomplished this before.
Many other wonders are told about the intercession of the Virgin of Antipolo but few miracles have been scientifically investigated. Some, however, were recorded when the Jesuits were in charge of the shrine. One of the physical wonders well authenticated is the saving of Bernado Jacinto who, when mortally wounded by seven stabs, jumped from a boat into Laguna Bay, promising the Virgin that he would serve her a year, if saved. He reached the shore in safety after a two hundred-yard swim and presented himself to the priest to whom he explained his promise.
Greater, however, to the eyes of faith are the many conversions of hardened sinners and lapsed Catholics which took place at Antipolo ever since the shrine has been erected. These are the miracles of grace which mean more to us than cures of the body.
Having performed our pilgrimage of gratitude and petition we drove to the other side of the mountain to view the Bay of Laguna mentioned above. We then turned homeward, better children of Mary than before, and well convinced that Our Blessed Lady chose a beautiful spot for her shrine. May she continue to have many devotees, and may every missionary coming to the Philippines have the same opportunity we had.
By Rev. Lawrence Bunzei, S.V.D.
MALAYA CATHOLIC LEADER, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2nd 1935. Pg 2