Philippine couples dance before Virgin Mary for children

Fertility dance thought to be part of a tradition dating back before arrival of Christianity
Philippine couples dance before Virgin Mary for children

People dance in the streets of Obando in Bulacan with the hope that their prayers will be answered. (Photo by Jire Carreon) 

Every year for the past four years, Reynan Regalado, 31, and his wife, 29-year-old Michelle, have visited the town of Obando in the northern Philippine province of Bulacan to pray for a child.

They travel from another part of the province to pray and dance before the image of the Virgin Mary. Reynan could not hold back tears when asked the reason why.

"You feel different when you see people dance, especially when you also start dancing," he said. "I can’t explain it. It’s overwhelming."

Jo-anne and Bert Pascual, both 37, still participate in the annual festival held in the third week of May despite having already been "gifted" with a son.

The couple said their son is "proof and reason" why many childless couples bring their hope for children to the streets of Obando.

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"We were married for about five years before we were blessed with a child," said Jo-anne, who started attending Mass in Obando in 2015.

The couple were only able to dance during their next visit in 2016. That same year, Jo-anne became pregnant. 

From then on, she and Bert made the annual pilgrimage and continued to dance in the streets "to give thanks to the patron saints for finally giving us a child."

Merly Cerezo and her husband Richard came all the way from Batangas province on the other side of the country’s largest island, Luzon, in the northern Philippines.

After nine years of waiting and several visits to Obando, Merly gave birth to a son. 

People raise their arms in prayer inside a church during the annual celebration of the feast of the patron saints of Obando. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

 

Celebrated every year, the fertility rites conducted in Obando have been drawing people from all walks of life from across the country.

The Obando celebration is the nation’s only festival observed in triduum, or for three days, to honor saints Paschal Baylon, Claire of Assisi and Our Lady of Salambao.

The town’s fertility dance, however, is thought to be part of a tradition that dates back even before Christianity arrived in the Philippines.

The month of May, which falls during the harvest season, has always been a time for celebrating and the honoring of fertility idols.

When Spanish missionaries arrived in the Philippines, they convinced the natives to do their fertility rituals in front of images of saints instead of wooden pagan idols.

The dance is often offered to St. Claire, supposed to be the patron saint of childless couples. Others dance to pray that they may find a partner in life.

"The dancing is part of praising, like what St. Agustin said — when you dance, you pray twice," explained Father Gino Carlo Herrera of Malolos Diocese.

The priest said that St. Pascual Baylon would dance to express joy. The Spanish friar was known to be "a dancer in the kitchen." He was supposed to be responsible for a Franciscan monastery’s kitchen and orchard.

Like St. Isidore, the patron of farmers, St. Pascual's feast day falls at the end of the rainy season, so dances to celebrate harvest are performed.

When asked about why people believe in the so-called miracles, Father Herrera said "that is something that refers to faith."

"Faith isn’t something stagnant. It is not something that when you realize that God is there, it stops. Faith always grows," he said.

"When we hold on to God, there’s always something good that will happen in your life.

"The time will come that you can no longer explain the things that are happening in your life, [but] don’t let go of God. A miracle requires faith." 

For Jo-anne and Bert, and the many who believe in the miracle of Obando, they will continue dancing and honoring the saints for the blessing of the coming of their much-awaited children.

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