Homily delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas during the Mass held on July 22, 2011 on the occasion of the declaration of the Shrine of Manaoag as an affiliate of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
Something is memorable about today. On this same day, the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene in 1587, the first Dominican friars arrived in the Philippines to start their mission to bring Christ to this part of the world. The first four Dominicans went right away to Bataan while six other Dominicans went straight to Pangasinan. Bataan and Pangasinan, blessed provinces indeed to have first heard the Good News from eloquent Dominican preaching! Other religious orders came to Pangasinan ahead of the Dominicans but abandoned the mission too soon. Against all odds, the Dominicans came, lived among us and have continued to live on. We gratefully stand on the shoulders of the great Dominicans down through the centuries.
That initial seed of faith has borne rich harvests for the Lord yielding abundant fruits of sanctity and martyrdom, heroism and statesmanship, excellence and magnanimitas. In this part of the country, the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Manaoag has drawn millions of pilgrims seeking healing for body and spirit, success and victory in their undertakings, peace and serenity in the midst of life’s troubles. The poor and the rich, young and old, men and women, powerless and powerful—they are all children of the Virgin of Manaoag. No one has gone to Manaoag and left the shrine the same. All of us have been touched by the Virgin’s loving presence. All of us have been spoken to by our Mother ‘s sweet voice. All of us have experienced what it is to be gazed upon by our tender mother. All of us have become what we are because Manaoag has been a blessing for us.
Today, you have every reason to be proud children of the Virgin of Manaoag. This shrine of our Lady is the first, and until now the only, church in the Philippines to be given the title “affiliate” of one of the four papal basilicas. This shrine, among all other shrines, has been honored by the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome with a special bond of spiritual affinity in perpetuity! The spiritual benefits that you can gain by visiting the papal basilicas, you can also receive by visiting the Shrine of Manaoag. The only one in the Philippines right now! Manaoag, you are blessed among all the Marian shrines of this country.
What is special about this affiliation with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore?
This basilica holds the relics of the crib where our Lord lay when He was born from the Virgin Mary. This same basilica is the oldest church dedicated to the holy Mother of God as a fruit of the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. According to Catholic pious tradition, the site of the basilica was personally chosen by the Blessed Virgin when during a summer month in Rome, snow appeared over the hill where the present basilica now stands. For some periods in church history, the popes also lived in this basilica. This is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. People of God: please realize that Manaoag has been deemed worthy to be linked to this rich history and immeasurable value of the papal basilica of the Mother of God! Manaoag is now a part of that historic papal basilica. How can we not be proud! How can we keep quiet when the grace of God is so admirably and incredibly shown to us! Like Charlie Brown, we say, it is very difficult to be humble when you are as great as Manaoag!
But as we celebrate with pride and joy this singular honor being given to the Shrine of Manaoag, we must not forget that even before the affiliation of these two great church buildings, we have long been considered affiliates of God himself. We are his sons and daughters. No honor can equal that of being called a child of God. The church of Manaoag is beautiful and historic, it is memorable and awesome. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is an even more magnificent piece of church art. But someday in God’s time, these churches that our eyes see will crush down and crumble. But you, you are destined for life without destruction, life everlasting, life without end. The church of Manaoag and the basilica of Santa Maria are beautiful but you are more beautiful than these churches. Men and women made these churches but you—God alone can make you. How beautiful you all are! You have been made only a little lower than the angels. You are awesome and beautiful to behold for you carry the imprint of God’s love in you. Ang gaganda nating lahat!
What does the affiliation of the Shrine of Manaoag with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore mean for us?
The Holy Father assures all the pilgrims who come to this revered sanctuary his apostolic blessings and the spiritual graces of the Church. In Manaoag, the voice of Our Lady will always be heard “Turn away from sin and return to my Son”. In Manaoag, the voice of the priests saying over our offerings of bread and wine “This is my Body…This is my Blood” will be heard, constantly inviting the faithful to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. In Manaoag, the rosary will be prayed without relent and vigil candles will burn day and night as a tribute of love to the handmaid of the Lord. In Manaoag, the Supreme Pontiff the Pope can always count on his spiritual warriors praying that the mission of Peter may continue in the church with loving children faithfully obeying him. In Manaoag, we commit to be proud of our Catholic faith, to defend it, to preserve it, to share it, to live it.
As you can see, our affiliation with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore speaks more of duties than privileges. This affiliation demands from us greater fidelity to the Lord and to the Church. It calls on us for more heroic obedience. It challenges us to be more vigilant against the attacks to our faith, to be more humble and to be more repentant, to be more zealous and to be more loving. Truth to tell, the real indulgence is really when all of us live as faithful disciples of her Son. Come to Manaoag not for the blessings you can get or for the indulgences you can gain. Come to Manaoag to renew your faith, to strengthen your hope and to increase your love. This is the real fullness of grace! This is how our Lady, full of grace, wants us to be!
Our Lady of Manaoag, you know my love for you. Help me to love you even more. Virgin of Manaoag, I heard your voice calling me to follow Jesus. Help me to follow Him as you did. Loving Mother of Manaoag, I am all yours, the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan is all yours, my life, my vocation is all yours. Take me into your arms and let me stay with you forever. Loving Lady, I love you. Amen.