THE CATHOLIC Church cannot confirm if the image of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria in Jaro, Iloilo City has indeed grown bigger over the years.
But what is certain is that the faith of Marian devotees grows stronger every year, especially during the celebration of the Jaro fiesta.
Today, thousands of pilgrims all over Panay are expected to pay homage to Our Lady of Candles, which is enshrined at the historic Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral.
Shaira Castillon, 20, of Valderrama, Antique is among those who visited the Shrine and lighted candles a day before the fiesta.
A fourth year Nursing student at the West Visayas State University, Castillon said her devotion to the Lady grew over the years – initially out of habit, and eventually out of faith, which became more fervent after more than eight years of pilgrimage to the Shrine.
“Sang una, ginapasimba lang ko sang parents ko, ni Lola ko, daw habit na every year nag-kadto diri to honor Nuestra Señora de Candelaria,” she said.
Castillon believes that in the present era where it is easier not to believe in God, faith cannot be imposed.
“Ang faith, indi na ma-impose, sa tao na siya kun matuo siya o indi,” she said.
Apparently, Shaira’s belief in God and religiosity is nurtured in the years she spent in Catholic schools.
“Sang nag-college na ko bisan sa public school, daw nadala ko na bala,” she added.
Popularly known as “Jaro Fiesta”, Fr. Ryan Teves, Jaro Parish Media Affairs head, said the Candelaria is “a celebration of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness in providing graces to us.”
“It is also a way of acknowledging the continuous help of God through the intercession of the Virgin Mother,” Fr. Teves added.
He encouraged everyone, particularly devotees of Our Lady of Candles, to look at Mary as a model when faced with tribulations.
Amid the present day’s haste and chaos, Fr. Teves encourages everyone to self-reflect.
“The message of the Church is to change first ourselves before we look at the faults of others. So, we can be better versions of ourselves, better Christians, and in doing so, we become better citizens,” Fr. Teves concluded.
This year’s celebration is themed “Year of the Parish: Communion of Communities”.
Msgr Higinio Velarde, Jaro Parish priest, stressed in his message the giving of importance to small church communities, like the Magagmay nga Kristianong Katilingban (MKK).
“Ang parokya indi isa ka lugar, indi isa ka grupo sang mga tumuluo, kag indi man isa ka estruktura ukon edipisyo. Ang parokya isa ka komunidad nga ginatapuan sang mga tumuluo nga may lain-lain sing huyog, may nanuhaytohay sing panimuot, may ila kaugalingon nga panindugan, kag may pinasahi nga mga kinahanglan,” Msgr Velarde said.
Despite the differences, the faithful are united in the parish through one faith and mission, he said.
“The faith and mission erase the division, instead strengthens the unity among us through love,” he added.
There are more or less 150 MKK members who take part in the Fiesta by selling the popular “Perdon” or blessed candles.
Jaro Archishop Angel Lagdameo urged the faithful to seek the maternal embrace of the Blessed Mother.
“Humbly ask her to intercede for all of us that we may truly become a worshipping community, a witnessing and an evangelizing community and a servant community as we journey towards communion of communities,” Lagdameo said.