Updated: June 29, 2016 10:13 AM GMT
Performers dance during celebrations of the 150th jubilee year of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila on June 27. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
On June 27, Norman Daza skipped work to celebrate what he considers one of the most important days of his life, the feast day of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
It was in the late 1990s when the 53-year-old had his first encounter with the "Lady who delivers prayers to Christ."
"I was jobless, and my wife told me to pray a novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help," Daza says.
For weeks, Daza patiently waited for his prayers to be granted as he continued attending daily Masses and reciting prayers at Baclaran Church in Manila, the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Then the good news came after three weeks. Daza received a call from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Aside from the job that made his family survive hard times, Daza claims he also received "unexpected gifts" from the Lady of Perpetual Help.
"Friends whom I did not see for a long time helped my family overcome our financial problems during my first year abroad," he says.
"I owed everything to her the Virgin Mary," says a teary-eyed Daza who attended the 150th jubilee celebrations of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila.
'Lady of Perpetual Succour'
The Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as the Lady of Perpetual Succour, is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary as represented in a celebrated 15th-century Byzantine icon.
The icon has been in Rome since 1499 and is permanently enshrined in the church of Sant'Alfonso di Liguori, where the official Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help text is prayed weekly.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, this artistic iconography is known as the Virgin of the Passion or Theotokos of the Passion due to the instruments of the Passion of Christ present on the image.
In 1865, Pope Pius IX appointed Redemptorist priests as custodians and missionaries of the icon. The image has since become popular among Catholics and has been copied and reproduced.
The Redemptorist congregation is the only religious order currently entrusted by the Holy See to protect and propagate a Marian religious work of art.
The icon arrived in the Philippines in 1906, where reproductions are displayed in homes, business establishments, and on public transportation.
Redemptorist priest Joseph Echano described the devotion to the icon as "phenomenal."
"Every day, thousands of Marian devotees come to the shrine to seek help and to offer gratitude to the Holy Virgin for blessings received," says the priest.
The Redemptorist church in Manila's Baclaran district is one of a few churches in the Philippines that have been allowed by the Vatican to open 24 hours since the 1950s.
Filipino devotees pack the Redemptorist Church in Manila's Baclaran district to mark the 150th jubilee celebrations of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. (ucanews.com photo by Mark Saludes)
The mission of devotion
In his homily during the jubilee celebration on June 27, Cardinal Antonio Luis Tagle of Manila, called on devotees "to be like Mary … who does not think of herself but of her child who is on the cross."
"Mary would say, 'It is not me but my son, Christ,'" said the cardinal, urging Catholics to follow the path of Mary's faith.
"If we will understand Mary's life, she has always been a fountain of mercy and a person who understands," Cardinal Tagle said.
The prelate said Mary knows the struggle of poor families who cannot afford decent health services because Mary was denied accommodation when she was about to give birth.
"The Virgin Mary understands the burden of being a refugee … of being displaced, because she and her family were once displaced and denied of their rights," Cardinal Tagle said.
The Manila prelate, who also heads Caritas Internationalis, told the gathering of thousands of devotees "to be missionaries and proclaim God's mercy especially to the poor, marginalized, and to those who are in the peripheries."
He said that an estimated 65 million refugees around the world "need our mercy, understanding, and action."
For Daza, who claims to be forever grateful to the Virgin Mary, his devotion will never end in front of the altar.
Since he "witnessed God's mercy" some 20 years ago, the former migrant worker says he has opened his door to people who need help.
"I have been in their shoes. I know what it is like and how it feels," he says. "But I never waiver in encouraging others to pray to Our Mother of Perpetual Help."