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Popular flower festival returns in the Philippines

Baguio's Panagbenga floral fest, which gives thanks for the past year’s harvest, is back after a three-year Covid-19 hiatus

The annual Panagbenga festival procession in Baguio on Feb. 1

The annual Panagbenga festival procession in Baguio on Feb. 1.(Photo: supplied )

Published: February 03, 2023 06:26 AM GMT

Updated: February 27, 2023 11:49 AM GMT

With imposing hillsides teeming with gigantic pine trees, the city of Baguio in the northern Philippines saw hundreds of Catholics dressed in traditional attire venerating the Virgin Mary at the start of a month-long flower festival that began on Feb. 1.

“We want to honor Mother Mary through our floats because we believe, she interceded for our people, especially when our farmers had difficulty selling their crops due to pandemic-related restrictions,” Carol Vivar, a Marian devotee in Baguio, told UCA News.

The annual Panagbenga flower festival began in 1995 to celebrate the city’s life and flowers as a way to overcome the devastation of the 1990 earthquake in Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines. Thousands join to enjoy cultural shows, floats and street dances, mostly clad in flower-inspired costumes.

Although the origins of the festival were unconnected with Marian devotion, it now reflects elements of popular devotion in the Catholic-majority country.

As the festival began some 400 Catholics joined the festivities with flower-decorated floats, some with specific Marian themes. They made more than 50 floats with flowers to honor the Virgin Mary during the opening parade attended by hundreds of people.

Catholics walked behind each float, reciting the Rosary and scattering flowers along the streets to mark the season of bloom in Baguio — known as the country's summer capital.

Participants said enthusiasm is more this year as the event was being held after a three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

One float was decorated with white tulips and roses, depicting Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast is on Feb. 11.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Our Lady of Lourdes’ image was paraded in the city for healing.

“Our Lady of Lourdes is known for her healing powers,” Marian devotee Pia Halaen told UCA News.

“We were praying the Rosary while the parade stopped at the cathedral’s entrance. It was a beautiful moment … the air was filled with the smell of flowers,” Baguio parish priest Father Ronald Vistan told UCA News.

Farmers in the region attributed to the Virgin Mary the success in disposing of their harvest when there were pandemic-related curbs in the city.

In August 2020, tons of vegetables perished due to a lack of buyers, especially in the capital Manila where restaurants were closed. Farmers opted not to harvest to save on labor and cost.

“It was so painful because we were just letting our harvest rot. We did not have the market. if we harvested it would have entailed costs on our side also,” a vegetable farmer in Baguio, Louie Magansa, told UCA News.

However, Catholic foundations stepped in and bought their vegetables in bulk to sell them in big cities.

“The Jesuit Tanging Yaman Foundation bought our harvest so we have the capital to plant more,” Magansa added.

The civic administration is also part of the festival, which ends on March 5, with the theme, "A Renaissance of Wonder and Beauty."

Representatives of other religious denominations and Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong and lawmaker Mark Go attended the ecumenical prayer meeting at Panagbenga Park.

The city government is banking on the flower festival to revive Baguio’s economy.

Bishop Victor Bendico of Baguio reminded participants how prayers to the Virgin Mary during the pandemic helped them.

“I express my solidarity and blessing to all the participants. The Virgin Mary has always had a special role in our hearts,” Bishop Bendico told UCA News.

This story has been re-edited since its publication for factual correctness


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2 Comments on this Story
Of course not. Panagbenga was about the blooming of flowers! It had never been a Marian festival, except for Roman Catholic considerations. Marian devotees were in fact late-comers to the yearly festival of Panagbenga (panag-bunga).
Dear UCANEWS, The Panagbenga Festival is not a Marian Festival, neither is it even a religious festival. It is purely civic activity except that a mass or services are made part of the program, a very general character of most activity in Christian Philippines. You are putting Catholics in this area to ridicule because of this supposedly news item. Hoping this would be taken down or corrected. Thank you.

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