It was in 1989 when I first set foot in Manaoag, Pangasinan for a thanksgiving pilgrimage with my parents. I remember waking up disoriented in a bus station. It was early morning and still dark; we were in an unfamiliar place. My young mind could not fully comprehend our purpose for going there but I knew it was a special journey.
When light began to fill the day, we made our way to the Church. At the patio, I was panicked by the frenzy of vendors selling candles and religious articles, all rushing toward us and literally forcing their merchandise to whoever caught their attention. For a brief moment, I thought we were being mobbed.
But once we were inside the Church, I felt safer and more at peace. It was still crowded inside but at least there was order. My last memory was of my small hand touching the bejeweled dress of the image of Our Lady of Manaoag.
From the Lady who Calls
Almost three decades later, my wife and I, accompanied by our Mama, were on the same pilgrimage to Manaoag. The past year had been very challenging for us but it was filled with memorable events as well so we thought it was fitting to thank God for His unending guidance.
We left Quezon City early and passed through the three expressways (NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX) traversing the great expanse of Central and Northern Luzon. It was a long yet steady ride. Upon reaching Urdaneta City in Pangasinan, it was already a short drive to Manaoag.
The municipality’s name was derived from the condensed form of the local word Mantatawag which means “to call.” Local legend tells of a farmer who had a vision of the Virgin Mother, bathed in blinding light, and carrying the child Jesus. She appeared on top of a hill and told the farmer that she wanted a Church built in her honor, promising miracles in return.
The farmer told his relatives and neighbors about the apparition. Soon, word about the Virgin Mother spread and people began to make pilgrimage to the site of the holy vision. When asked where they had been, the pilgrims would say “Dimad Apo Ya Mantatawag” or “from the Lady who calls.”
Whispering a Prayer
A Mass was ongoing when we arrived. As we had expected, the Church was full, with almost every corridor brimming with attendees. Receiving communion almost seemed impossible at first but the lay ministers were considerate enough to go near the pilgrims to distribute the host. After the ceremonies, we went to the adoration room behind the altar. Here, we quietly uttered our prayers and personal intentions to the Holy Mother.
It has been the tradition of pilgrims to touch the garments of the image of Our Lady of Manaoag, either with one’s hand or a handkerchief, to receive Her blessings. Moreover, a visit to this venerated place is incomplete without offering candles to the Blessed Mother. Thus, we bought candles that are color-coded depending on our prayers and lighted these at the Candle Gallery.
Those who have purchased religious souvenirs may have these blessed by a priest at the area beside the Candle Gallery. The holy water is sourced from the well that flows from the ground where the Church stands. Pilgrims who also wish to bring home with them holy water may fill their containers at the nearby faucet at no cost.
Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Manaoag
The history of the present Church dates back to the 1600s when Augustinian missionaries established the Chapel of Sta. Monica (the old name of Manaoag) at the site of the present cemetery. The Augustinians, however, soon relinquished the administration of the diocese to the Dominicans.
During subsequent years, threats from neighboring tribes forced the friars to transfer the Church to its present site on top of a hill. Construction of a larger Church commenced a hundred years later in the 1700s, and was expanded over a course of two centuries.
Enshrined within the Church is the 17th century ivory image of the Virgin Mary carrying the child Jesus, bestowed with the title Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Manaoag. According to historical records, the statue was brought to the Philippines from Spain via the Manila galleon from Acapulco, during the early 17th century by the priest Juan de San Jacinto.
Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine Museum
Capping our pilgrimage was a visit to the Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine Museum. Here, statues of Our Lady of Manaoag in various sizes and garments are on display. One may also write prayers or thanksgiving notes to the Blessed Mother and drop these at the wooden box.
From the Church, we roamed around the roadside vendors selling religious statues, rosaries, blessed oil, food and souvenirs. It was nice to see that the place is now very orderly and disciplined as compared to my memories of it as a child.
We headed home soon after lunch, carrying with our hearts the gratitude for having been able to hurdle numerous challenges as well as for having experienced many joys.