MANILA, Philippines?The simple image of Our Lady of Fatima that helped embolden Filipinos to topple the Marcos dictatorship 25 years ago was once stored all but forgotten in the attic of a parish church in New Jersey in the United States.
The wooden Marian image is now enshrined in a glass case surrounded by other venerated icons in the Chapel of the Saints, at the basement of Valenzuela City?s National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. It has been there since 1999.
It was the very image hoisted by then Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile as they addressed the crowd on EDSA following their defection from the strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, according to parish priest Msgr. Bart Santos.
The striking scene was immortalized in a snapshot published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Feb. 25, 1986.
?The world may emulate EDSA I but it can never be repeated as is because there are things lacking in [the others?] revolutions,? Santos said.
He said peaceful revolts could never be achieved by mere shouting and waving of placards: ?We had a miracle [because of] the faith of the people and the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary?an instrument we have that other revolutions in other countries don?t have.?
The same Marian image was also present at the Manila Cathedral on Aug. 5, 2009, when Filipinos prepared to bid the late President Corazon Aquino a final and fond farewell, Santos told the Inquirer.
1 of 50 images
How did the statue of Our Lady of Fatima become a focal point in the Philippines? most critical times? This was how its previous and present caretakers pieced the story together:
The statue was one of 50 images of Our Lady of Fatima blessed by Pope Paul VI in Portugal in 1967 to mark the golden year of the Marian apparitions in the western European nation?s town of Fatima, according to Santos.
The 50 images were later distributed to Catholic nations worldwide. But somehow, the image intended for the Philippines was unclaimed and ended up in the attic of the parish church in New Jersey, where it remained for years.
In 1983, John Haffert, the late founder and president of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, informed Jaime Cardinal Sin, the late Manila archbishop, through then Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Dee that a Marian statue meant for the Philippines was still unclaimed.
This was corroborated by Carmela Borres, executive director of Bahay Maria Foundation, a Philippine-based Marian group that tended to the image when it arrived in the country.
?The image meant for the Philippines was never claimed until Cardinal Sin went [to New Jersey],? Borres told the Inquirer by phone on Tuesday.
When Sin returned from his trip in 1984, Borres was asked to claim the image in time for the Marian Year that began on Dec. 8, 1984, as proclaimed by the Philippine Catholic Church hierarchy.
Crowned as the ?National Pilgrim Image? at the onset of the Marian Year, the icon was taken on a tour of the Philippines, visiting parishes and schools to spread the devotion to Mary under her title as Our Lady of Fatima until the culmination of the celebration on Dec. 8, 1985.
The image?s arrival and its yearlong voyage at a time when the nation was under the yoke of oppression and militarization seemed part of a ?divine plan,? said Santos, who was a young seminarian during EDSA I.
?It was like the Fatima?the image of peace?was preparing the country [for something]; she was letting the nation feel her presence and was already giving a sign,? he said.
Only a few will recall the Marian image joining the multitude of Filipinos hungry for change on the evening of Feb. 23, the second day of the 1986 revolt, according to Santos.
He admitted that he learned of the image?s history and its role in the first peaceful revolution in the world only two years ago, when he became parish priest of the national shrine.
(From its original custodian, Bahay Maria, the image of the Virgin of Fatima was officially transferred to the care of the National Shrine on Oct. 17, 1999).
Borres recounted that on the night of Feb. 23, 1986, two members of Bahay Maria brought the image to EDSA in response to Cardinal Sin?s call for the people to provide a human shield to the rebel soldiers led by Enrile and Ramos.
Sign of protection
She identified the two young wardens as Vincent Arañas, a Dominican lay brother, and Benjamin Reyes, who has since passed away.
Having learned that Enrile and Ramos were taking refuge in a ?war room? inside Camp Crame, Arañas and Reyes brought the image to them, for them to find strength and comfort in the Virgin Mary.
?They felt the need to bring the image to Camp Crame ? because it was a sign of protection,? Borres said.
She said Ramos and Enrile had welcomed the statue and knelt and prayed before it.
Later, the image was seen standing between Ramos and Enrile on board a jeep as they made their way to the massive crowd gathered on EDSA, she recalled. The two men were shortly seen lifting the image as they spoke to the crowd.
At the National Shrine, the 43-year-old image of Our Lady of Fatima has been visited by a steady stream of pilgrims from all over the country. It also gets occasional letters from troubled and desperate devotees.
Image?s vital role
It will be declared Valenzuela?s patroness through an ordinance when the National Shrine celebrates its 50th year on March 7.
On Friday, the silver anniversary of the People Power Revolution, the parish will bring the image to the EDSA Shrine and hold a quiet prayer service before the grand celebration takes place, Monsignor Santos said.
?We don?t intend to be part of the big event?. The Fatima is a very simple image and [does not have] much of the glamour that other images of the Virgin Mary display. We will maintain that simplicity even in celebration,? he said.
Santos said the simple ceremony at the EDSA Shrine, which would include the praying of the rosary, was also in commemoration of the image?s vital role in the four-day uprising that shaped Philippine history.