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Not all letters sent to Baclaran shrine come from lovelorn

/ 11:54 PM July 15, 2011

IN VERONA, letters of the lovelorn fill the cracks of Casa di Giullieta, fabled home of Shakespeare’s most recognizable heroine, Juliet.

In Manila, letters of the forlorn make its way to boxes at the iconic shrine of Mary, also called “Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” whose intercession is constantly sought by devotees of the country’s Catholic majority.

Devotees also seek answers to national issues, like the corruption issue that hounded the Arroyo administration in its latter years, said Fr. Victorino Cueto, church rector.


Nation’s future

“People take national issues seriously since it affects the future of the nation,” he said.

Some 140,000 letters seeking various forms of assistance were received from June 2010 to June 2011 at Baclaran Church, officially called the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist in Parañaque City.

“In many ways, the letters are a reflection of what’s happening in society now because these are the stories of almost every writer,” said  Cueto.

Apart from seeking assistance for personal problems, some writers include in their intentions pressing national crises like “the corruption scandal in the ZTE deal and even the past election,” he added.

“Public health is among the biggest social issues we have,” Cueto said, pointing out that a portion of the letters deal with petitions for recovery and wellness. “Health is not one of the top priorities in the country, yet it is also the most basic.”

Of the 140,000 letters, only 20,000 were thanksgiving notes, said the priest, but he isn’t worried about the gap that much. After all, various factors might have come into play when the letters were sent, he conceded, by way of explaining the disparity.

He said Filipinos are usually not expressive in showing one’s gratitude, even if “we are a grateful people,” citing the cultural trait “utang na loob (reciprocity/debt of gratitude).”


Some might also interpret the disparity as wishes not fulfilled, Cueto said.

“Other letters would show that it took the writers some time to say thank you,” he said, with the letter writers citing various reasons. He recalled that one person wrote it took him 10 years before writing back to say his petition had been granted.

No one knows how the practice of writing petitions and thanksgiving notes started,  but if the shrine archives are any indication, the oldest letter of thanksgiving kept there dates back to 1948.

The Baclaran novena also began in 1948 with  Fr. Leo James English leading the prayer for 70 persons. The group grew through the years until the Redemptorist fathers running the church expanded its structure to its present state to accommodate the devotees.

Noteworthy letters gathered every week in a year are separated and archived in the church library. The others are stored in a drum filled with water to dissolve the note papers before these are disposed.


Petitions through the years remain generally unchanged, as gleaned from the archived letters. A number of letters from the late 1940s to 1950s sought intercession for one’s health and family problems, while others asked for guidance in professional licensure exams.

“Some letters are about a person’s family, unfaithful spouses, anything under the sun,” Cueto said.

Every Tuesday morning at 11:30, Redemptorist priests and members of the lay community gather at a room in the convent to sort and read the letters collected from boxes around the church, and even the church’s official e-mail account.

One letter Cueto remembers reading was about the story of a son from a well-off family. When his father was struck by an illness, their lives crashed, the priest said.

The father recovered, and despite a disability that limited his movement, he managed to go to Baclaran every Wednesday, a move that puzzled the son.

“The son confronted his father on why he still went to Baclaran when God had  abandoned them. His father asked his son to let him be,” Cueto said.

First-time visitor

Later the son secretly followed his father to Baclaran, entering the shrine for the first time. For some unexplained reason, Cueto said the son eventually understood his father, and wrote back  that their family was slowly recovering from their crisis.

“I see Baclaran as a space where devotees bring up their lives to meet with God, real encounters between everyday people and God,” said Cueto.

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