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Letter to INA (ng Penafrancia)

All roads will lead to Naga City this week. Many Bikolnon from far flung places will once again take respite from their work to come home and pay homage to you. They will come home to a place that has always been a place of succor.  Despite reports of increasing criminality in the region, Naga is ready to celebrate.  Banners are now prominently displayed in strategic places.  Police officers are noticeably present in every street intersection as workers and volunteers continue to clean and beautify the city.  People are looking forward to your feast day with renewed hope and excitement.  Not even the pork barrel scandal that has preoccupied the national consciousness can dampen the festive spirit of many Bikolnon.

Who can I turn to on an occasion like this? Not to my son, for I have none.  Not to my parents, for they are long gone.  Not to my daughters, for they might not understand. Not even to my wife, for she may be surprised. So I write to you because you are my mother in a true sense of the word.

I find it difficult to write this letter.  I know what to say, but I don’t know where to begin.  I also ask too many questions. That’s how I was trained.  Admittedly, some questions I have are not as important, like why you have so many titles or who your parents were?  But others are significantly important, like what precisely is your role in my salvation or are you a distraction from Christ?  There is even a feminist criticism that considers you as a construct of the “patriarchal mindset” that limits equal opportunity for women.

But this letter is not the place to resolve these issues.  It’s your feast day and I would rather focus on lighter stuff.

Having been raised to believe that you are my Ina is enough for me.  I accept you as my Ina, just like the many Bikolnon from way back.  What a nice feeling to know that, in a world replete with many mysteries, there is someone out there who, again, in some mysterious ways, presents herself as my mother.  At first, this did not make sense to me.  Short of driving me nuts, I have held on to this belief for years until I have realized that, just like with my natural mother, I need to establish a closer relationship with you for you to be relevant and meaningful.  The onus is on me, not on you.

In a sense, I feel lucky because my belief in you was reinforced by the many Bikolnon who treat you not just as an icon with magical powers, but a real mother who understands and cares for her children. Hard to believe, but it’s true as I heard simple stories of how you have interceded for so many of your children who have come to you for help.  I have no way to doubt their stories. I have no way to doubt what you did.

When I see the voyadores during the traslacion literally put their lives in harm’s way just to be near you or touch you because of a promise made years ago, it has an effect on me.  Each time I see their looks, their looks of love and affection for their Ina, regardless of their physical disposition, it takes me quicker than I care to admit that their personal closeness with you is real. If their closeness with you is real, you must be real.

Truth to tell, my relationship with you may not be as deep and effusive as that of the voyadores. But you continue to strengthen my confidence in you because of the things that you have done for me and my family. You and I know what they are.  I asked for your help on several occasions and you answered. I will not call them miracles. I prefer to call them proofs of your motherly love. I never doubted your goodness, although I am aware of the limits of what you can do.  And this I will not contest.

When I was young, you were an empty word.  Fear of punishment on earth, not necessarily of hell, was what motivated me to honor you. Now that I am older and a bit more experienced, I have finally come to realize some things about you that I now take to heart.

You are real.

You understand.

You listen.

 *INA – the Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia  to the devotees Bicolandia.