Pilgrims, unvaccinated residents barred from Ina Poon Bato feast in Zambales | Inquirer News
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Pilgrims, unvaccinated residents barred from Ina Poon Bato feast in Zambales

/ 04:45 AM January 18, 2022

PRAYER JOURNEY The image of Ina Poon Bato is taken to the Zambales provincial police office in the capital town of Iba on Jan. 11 during the Lakbay Dasal (prayer journey) to allow local police personnel to offer their prayers ahead of the feast day of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Jan. 24. —PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ZAMBALES PROVINCIAL POLICE OFFICE

SAN ANTONIO, Zambales, Philippines — Nonresidents and unvaccinated devotees have been prohibited once again from joining the annual celebration of the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Botolan town on Jan. 24 as the province imposes stricter restrictions due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Only vaccinated residents of Botolan were allowed to enter the Loob Bunga resettlement area to attend the 10-day feast and Mass celebrations that started on Jan. 15 at the shrine of the wooden image of Ina Poon Bato.

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Fr. Hanival Brucelas, parish priest of Botolan’s Sta. Monica Parish Church, said local residents must show identification cards and proof of vaccination at various checkpoints set up in Loob Bunga.

Mass gathering has been banned at the shrine as part of the safety protocols, Brucelas said in a Jan. 8 letter to the clergy and parish pastoral councils under the Diocese of Iba.

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At least 94 new COVID-19 cases were logged in the province on Sunday, its highest single-day tally in the past four months, raising its active infections to 369, records from the provincial health office showed.

Brucelas had asked parishes in the province to hold their own novena prayers and feast day Masses to allow devotees to join the celebration.

‘Apo Apang’

Before the pandemic struck in 2020, the feast had drawn thousands of Marian devotees from different parts of the country.

Last year, the municipal council also placed the Loob Bunga area on a 14-day lockdown to prevent devotees from converging at the shrine during the feast day as precaution against the spread of COVID-19. The novena and feast day Masses were instead streamed live on social media platforms.

Before the pandemic struck, pilgrims would camp out at the bottom of the hill near the shrine as early as Jan. 22 to beat the crowd on its feast day.

The original wooden Marian Image is hosted by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, or the Aglipayan Church. Also called “Apo Apang” (Little Queen) by the Aeta of Zambales, the image was replicated and kept at Sta. Monica Parish and was later called Ina Poon Bato.

Both of the images had been drawing pilgrims, many of whom would offer bottles of oil to the statues believing this would cure ailments.

—JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT
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