By Joey Natividad
CITY OF NAGA, Bicol Region, 27Sept2013 (BicolToday.com) – Clamor for reforms in celebrating Peñafrancia festival here snowballed after Nueva Caceres Catholic Archbishop Rolando J.Tria Tirona announced other day that next year celebration will give more preference toward the poor and humble devotees.
Archbishop Tirona’s announcement refers to giving priority seats to humble devotees to escort the religious icon on the boat during the fluvial procession along the Naga River. Usually, only the “who is who” in Naga’s religious and affluent circles are privileged to escort the icon.
The fluvial procession, now escorted by colorful regatta of boats that attracts tourism, is the climactic event every third Saturday of September in this city’s weeklong festival whom hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and devotees pay homage to, while businessmen make fast cash by commercializing on the events.
This year’s celebration ended last Saturday where about a million visitors had visited the city to watch the parades, exhibits, girlie and gay shows, fairs, and lastly, pay homage to the religious icon.
The celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is considered the mother of all Catholic festival activities in the Bicol Region as the religious icon has long been considered “miraculous” in the history of the region.
“I am happy that preferential seats shall be given to poor devotees next year, as the usual seats are always given to the big donors and balikbayan patrons who ‘pay’ their way for the much coveted front seats,” said a religious devotee being interviewed over DWKM on Tuesday morning (September 24).
The devotee was referring to the Archbishop’s announcement that the poor devotees by next year shall be given preference to escort the religious image in the fluvial procession.
“But, the Church has not yet step forward to stop commercializing the religious event. I heard that replicas of the icon will be circulated, plus the religious processions that go with it, to accommodate those who did not attend the main September activity,” said the interviewee over radio.
“We want the ‘original’ Peñafrancia celebration be held only once a year, and not the ‘pirated’ activities to proliferate,” he said, giving hint that the ‘pirated’ activities always open doors for more contributions and donations.
The yearly event has drawn in sharp criticisms from the conservative sector of the Catholic community as the celebration has become more commercialized, and Church organizers give big donors preferential treatment on religious activities, while the poor, ‘masa’ devotees are reduced to mere spectators.
So far, the Church hierarchy in Naga has not yet step forward in implementing total reforms. Archbishop Tirona, who was installed in September last year, is making the first step toward reform. [BicolToday.com]