NAGA CITY, Sept. 22 (PNA0 -- No one can pinpoint the year the tradition of selecting 200 "elite male passengers," including priests, to ride the pagoda of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia or Ina, the Catholic’s patroness of Bicol, whose devotees continue to spread around the world.
But with the installation of the new archbishop of the Archdiocese of Caceres in 2012, the tradition of selecting "elite passengers" to ride the pagoda of Ina has been ended to allow ordinary folk to experience what it is like to be among the limited few given the privilege to be with Ina during the fluvial procession.
Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, installed in 2012 to lead the 1.18 million baptized Catholics in Camarines Sur, said dispensing with the "elite passengers" to accompany the images of Ina and Divino Rostro on Saturday is a way of making the Church more inclusive to ordinary folk.
Tirona said that in line with the principle of inclusiveness, they had opted to invite ordinary folk to ride in Ina’s pagoda during the colorful fluvial procession here via the Naga River on the culmination of the nine-day feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
This year, he said, farmers and fisher folk have been selected from the seven dioceses in Bicol and from the 35 parishes of the Archdiocese of Caceres to compose the passengers of Ina, a privilege once allotted to politicians, businessmen, technocrats, celebrities and civic leaders.
In 2010, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. made quite a stir riding the pagoda of Ina, waving to the crowd of devotees watching along the banks of the Naga River as fluvial procession winded down the three-kilometer stretch from the danlugan (wharf) at the western side of Naga City to the eastern-side wharf fronting the permanent home, the Basilica Minore.
Seen as affront to the celebration of the feast of Ina, local tradition dictates that only Ina must be the center of attention during the fluvial procession, with no one stealing the limelight from her.
Also a folk belief points out that the selection of only male devotees riding the pagoda, without female riders, ensures that Ina is the only female among the passengers to avoid competition in attention.
Tirona said he actually started last year selecting representatives from ordinary folk to ride in Ina’s pagoda, which was based on the feedbacks from the priests.
“It’s coming from feedbacks that I’ve been hearing a lot like 'sila na naman', he said, alluding to the same elite personalities who had been riding the pagoda every year.
The issue of who will ride the pagoda always crops up every year since his assumption as the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Caceres, Tirona said.
“I came from a small diocese. I am new here. Let’s make a fresh start and let’s change things,” he said.
Citing Pope Francis, Tirona said the Catholic Church now is focused to be inclusive to the poor, the sick, the lowly and ordinary folk who are marginalized.
“Last year, the practice of selecting the same elite passengers to ride Ina’s pagoda was shelved. We asked social development, and volunteer workers to ride the pagoda because we have the theme social development,” he said.
Tirona said he informed all the dioceses and development organizations in Camarines Sur and five other provinces in Bicol about the change in the pagoda passengers and invited them to send their representatives.
“Of course there was a backlash. There were reactions like that 'it’s our panata (devotion), but let’s give others a chance to ride with Ina,” he said. “We’ll, if they have their panata, they can still participate in the fluvial procession by riding in different boats to accompany Ina,” he said.
Tirona said the priests decided in a meeting to highlight the farmers and fisher folk in the celebration of the Peñafrancia fiesta this year, in the spirit of inclusiveness.
Introduced in 1710 by Padre Miguel Robles de Covarrubias to the natives here that the Spaniards called cimarrones for their defiance against their rule, Ina was carved from a santol wood and was darkened with the blood of the dog.
According to a legend, the dog whose blood was painted on the image of Ina died, but the bitch resurrected when it was thrown into the Naga River -- which was the first miracle attributed to the patroness of the cimarrones.(PNA)