I took a break from my Catholic faith in number of years that I could not, for my questioning conscience, make peace of the violent political history of the church. Yung systemic oppression. Yung individual behaviour ng ilang mga alagad ng simbahan at yung mga banal na manang. Yung news of abuse.

The only thing that remained unshaken, and the pathway that one day allowed me back to the church with a more reflective appreciation of its complexities — both as a human and a divine institution– is Ina, the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.

Together with my Manoy, pinanata ako ng Mama sa Peñafracia sa Naga. Ang mga Ate, pinanata sila sa Salvacion sa Tiwi. Naalala ko noon, the trip to Naga City during Traslacion was an event. I was asked to put my best dress to journey a long and nauseous trip. My Mama and I would snake our way into the crowded streets of Naga to catch Ina’s glimpse. Naamoy ko yung Johnson’s Baby Cologne sa panyo ng nanay, pinapahid sa aking mukha. Binibili niya ako ng Mello Yelo at sinisilid sa supot ng yelo. I would sit silently on the pew of the church, while Mama walked on her knees going to the altar. Her knees would bleed. Then she’d led me at the back of Ina to touch her hem.

I know now the words I would describe those experiences — natural religiosity. It could come across as shallow and ritualistic. But to me, a young boy, there was something intimate and primal about me being offered unconditionally by my mother to a higher feminine power she trusts, as if saying “Take my son, Ina. She is yours.”

Siguro yung idea na yung pilgrimage namin to Naga is one of the very few sacred memories that I could claim as my and Mama’s alone. It was a peaceful and comforting thought. The symbolic act of offering a child, an act that honors a mother’s vulnerability to let go, and the strength that comes in believing in the unknown power that, first and foremost, about a love that nurtures, that protects, that shows itself in your weakest to tell you that a greater force is lifting you up.

So when everything about the Catholic Church collapsed in my internal cathedral, my memory of Penafrancia stood solid. Si Ina ang natirang hindi duguan. I would be transported back as a boy watching her mother walked on bleeding knees. Naaamoy ko uli ang Johnson Baby Cologne sa panyo ng nanay, hinihilamos ang init at pawis sa aking mukha. Yung bigla mong naalala ang isang lugar at taong nagbigay kahulugan sayo what peace and comfort meant.

Slowly, the Catholic church became alive again but none of the idealization of perfection and fear of punishment of a vengeful patriarch. Yung nayayakap mo weakness ang niya, at hindi ka na nakakaramdam ng takot o muhi. I see the church as a wounded and broken being, but the light that comes through from those wounds are comfortingly familiar — grace, compassion, healing, protection, refuge, generosity, joy and most importantly, a calm and courageous love.

Without my mother and Ina, there is a big chance I am a non-Catholic now. Magiging okay lang din naman siguro ako, knowing na hindi relihiyon ang nagtatakda kung magiging mabuti o masamang tao ka. But I am thankful that some of my most spiritual encounters as a man was framed through restorative feminine powers of my “mothers,” in spite and despite the violent history of a male-centric Catholic church.

Happy Celebration Ina. Your love has shaped who I have become.


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