Updated: December 22, 2011 06:15 AM GMT
Naga City is bracing for the arrival of an estimated three million people as the northern city prepares to conclude its year-long commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the pilgrimage of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Father Luisito Occiano, director of social communications for the diocese, said at least half a million people have already arrived for the novena ahead of the main celebration. “Tomorrow we expect at least 1.5 million devotees to join the fluvial [river] procession” to be held at 4pm. Tourism officials in the city said total attendance could reach three million with the addition of tourists. The weeklong celebration is highlighted by the river procession, whereby the image of Mary is transported from her shrine to the centuries-old Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. President Benigno Aquino said in a proclamation that the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia “for the past 300 years has become an epic historical event that has become part of our cultural heritage.” The Marian image is to be returned to her shrine before a closing Mass at the cathedral on the eve of the feast day on September 17. The Marian statue in Naga is a replica of a statue reportedly found by Simom Vela in Salamanca, Spain, at the foot of Peña de Francia hill on May 19, 1434, and later brought to the Philippines in the 1700s.