EDITORIAL | Peñafrancia: The uniting force of Naga

Beneath the blazing heat of the sun, colorful flaglets flutter in the wind, quaint little stalls selling pastries and religious items line the streets, and a tuba from a marching band bellows from a distance. Truly, it is September again in Naga City.

However, it is not simply because it is September that the city of Naga blooms like an exquisite flower, but because it is, once again, the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, whom Nagueños fondly call “Ina.”

The Peñafrancia Festival, which is the biggest Marian celebration in Asia, is held annually on the month of September. Tourists and devotees from all over the world flood into the Heart of Bicol to partake in the activities and events, in honor of the beloved Virgin Mary. Anywhere in the city, everybody is brimming with festive spirit, and Naga bursts with life like fireworks in the night sky.

During the festivities, people from all walks of life participate. It does not matter whether you are the heir of a powerful businessman, or if you have barely enough to feed yourself three meals a day. Even during the Traslacion, individuals who are like droplets of water merge into a vast sea of people, and soon it becomes impossible to tell who is who, and what kind of life each one must have had. All that one will be able to see is a huge crowd, all fixated on the one thing that truly stands out – Ina, on her silver dome, her manto glistening in the sun.

Everyone works hard to make each year’s festival extra special. The church, the city government, schools, and other organizations hold contests and events. Strangers who have probably passed each other several times at Plaza Rizal before and have not bothered to give a smile or nod, find themselves cooperating on a task for the festival. Talented Bicolanos showcase their skills at concerts, parades, and pageants. An onlooker can only smile and feel genuinely happy in the “maogmang lugar.”

During the fiesta, every household prepares a number of savory, traditional dishes and serves them with the best tableware and the finest beverages. They bring out their karaoke machines and open their doors to family and friends, and sometimes even strangers who are hungry and tired from the festivities. In the churches, masses are held, and the sound of people singing the hymn to Ina becomes a beautiful chorus that echoes through the room and remains in one’s heart. People who were once indifferent individuals realize their roles as integral parts of the community. They are reminded that because everyone is a child of Ina, everyone is family.

In the end, the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia is a quintessential part of the life of the Nagueño. The devotion, which started in 1710, has significantly helped in enriching our culture and creating the traditions that we still practice today. It became the foundation upon which our ancestors built our hometown, and the material that held it together to this day, even through times of adversity. We became a solid community instead of just individuals living within close proximity. Through the devotion to Ina, Nagueños grew to become a strong, kind, and loving people. The festival is a strong reminder of this, our identity as Nagueños, as well as our identity as the children of Ina.