Originally published on Free Press,
12 December 1953, pp. 59-61
Pulilan is a town in Bulacan some 46 kilometers north of Manila. San Francisco is a small barrio of Pulilan.
Every first Sunday of Lent, throusands flock to San Francisco. From Pampanga, from Nueva Ecija, and provinces farther north come the celebrants. Manila faces are to be seen. They come to celebrate the feast of “Mahal na Birhen ng Biglwang-Awa”, that is “the Holy Virgin of Instant Mercy”.
The Biglang-Awa Virgin is an oil painting about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long. It is brought down from a small wooden house, then placed on an altar. People, young and old, kneel around the altar, praying.You can see the crippled, the sick, the blind, the pregnant women, the desperate. Another group sit in front of the kubol reading the Book of the Passion.
The procession starts. The Virgin is mounted o a small carriage. The devotees and a band follow. After the procession—the feast begins. All the food is contributed by people who believe in the Virgin. There are sacks of rice. Nearly everybody eats from banana leaves. A big plate is passed around. People give money.
This happens every year in barrio San Francisco. Not even the Japanese occupation stopped the feast of the Biglang-Awa Virgin.
This is the story of the”Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang Awa", according to Claro Plamenco, whose family takes care of the image.
“Legend says that the painting as found many, many years ago. It happened like this. A group of Chinese were sailing in a big boat. Suddenly, a sharp object pierced the bottom of the boat,making a big hole through which the water gushed. Then the Chinese looked up to heaven and cried, “ Biglang-Awa! Biglang-Awa!” (Instant Mercy, Instant Mercy!). And the image appeared from nowhere, sealed the hole in the boat and saved the lives of the Chinese. Hence the name “Mahal na Birheng Biglang-Awa” or Holy Virgin of Instant Mercy.
“Mang Claro,” I interrupted, “ you said that the Biglang-Awa Virgin is miraculous. Now what miracles can you tell me that the Virgin has performed?”
Mang Claro told me about the old woman who came all the way from Gapan, Nueva Ecija. The woman was afflicted with a dreadful disease. She said that the Virgin appeared to her one night in her faraway town. She prayed in front of the Virgin. She rubbed her body with the coconut oil from the lamp of the Virgin’s altar. Then, she took a bath at a nearby well.
“Did the sick, old woman get well afterward?,”I asked Mang Claro.
“Oh yes!”, Mang Claro said.
“Has the Virgin performed miracles for your family?”
Mang Claro said that his children slept in the room where the lighted altar of the Virgin stood. That his children were constantly awakened at night by the “knocking” of the Virgin. Whenever the light of the small oil lamp was put out by a gust of wind---the Virgin “knocked”. The Virgin kept on knocking until one of Mang Claro’s children got up and lighted the lamp again. The Plamenco children testified to this “miracle”.
The image is painted on the surface of thin wood. The Virgin’s head has a crown of gold and is circled by eight small, shining stars.She holds on her right knee the Holy Infant. The edge of the Virgin’s mantle has a wide line of gold paint. TheVirgin and the Child are between two lighted candles. In the distance are Spanish galleons of old. The brush strokes are fine, the colors well-blended. Hues of red and brown dominate the painting with touches of flesh ochre.The paint is cracked, a sign of age. The artist? I could not find his signature.
On November 3, this year, I went to Bambang, Pasig, Rizal. There, I found the owner of the Biglang-Awa Virgin. He is 52-year-old Pedro Joson. I confronted him with the declaration of Plamenco about the Virgin and her miracles. Joson denied the miracles.
“I do not know of any miracles. Ask the people of San Francisco.”
“Is it true that the left-overs after the feast of the Virgin, the food and the sacks of rice, go to you and your family?”
Joson admitted this but defended himself by saying, that as the owner of the Virgin, he was entitled to certain privileges.
“Look at me. Look at my family. Look at my house. We are poor. Many people made money selling images of the Lady Mediatrix of Lipa City.Many people are making money selling images of Our Lady of Perpetual Help of Baclaran. Me? I will never commercialize the image of the Holy Virgin of Instant Mercy. I would be rich if I did so. I am still a low-paid government laborer. I have seven mouths to feed.”
The Virgin gives him food.