I knew a lot of people — and I mean tens of thousands — go to Baclaran Church especially on Sundays and Wednesdays, when devotees pray the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It is to her that the church’s fame is attributed: an image of Mary in that title is housed there and is said to be miraculous.
Not lacking the need for miracles myself, I went there late Saturday afternoon. The first thing that caught my attention was how huge the church was. The tall pillars curving up to cavernous ceilings somehow reminded me of Barcelona’s Sacrada Familia. But I’m just talking about size, not necessarily architectural refinement. The facade was also not very spectacular. And the walls and floor as well. It was only the altarpiece that seemed to compensate for all the visual lackluster of the church’s interior. The image of our Lady has this amazing canopy that looks like a large cloth that falls and freezes, which is impossible because it’s made of concrete.
But then I knew right away the mystique of Baclaran Church is not so much its physical appearance. I imagine a zealous manang beating me to a pulp with her umbrella if she heard me say there’s nothing to see at Baclaran. She would exclaim, you don’t come here to “see” something; you come here to pray and — if God wants it and you’re good (not as you are right now) — have it granted. And she would be right.
I gazed up the image of the Mother of Perpetual Help. It’s a replica of one traditionally attributed to St. Luke (yup, the holy guy’s not only a gospel writer and physician, but also a painter!). It’s an image of Mother and Son and two angels behind them.
For a long time I thought one of the sandals of Baby Jesus was painted as slipping off to allow devotees to kiss his foot “unobstructed”. I thought the idea was funny and yet worthy of veneration.
And then a few months ago I heard a story about why the sandals were so. It’s said that the image is a picture of Jesus climbing to his Mother Mary, after the sight of two angels holding strange weapons scared him and he didn’t mind the falling sandal. I thought the idea funny…and now, worth meditating.
That’s what this place is for! People are scared of many different things, and they go to their heavenly Mother for refuge and strength — just like the little Jesus did. That is the phenomenon, the miracle, of Baclaran Church. It’s not so much the granting of miracles than the faith that precedes it.