I’ve heard of the black image of Virgen de la Regla for a long time – I’ve always wanted to see it, my curiosity was if it really is black like the Nazarene in Quiapo. I was supposed to pay a visit last summer but for some strange reason I ended up somewhere else. Today, seven months later, I finally made it.
I went to Lapu-Lapu via Port 3 of Cebu City; a boat ride took around 15 to 20 minutes depending on sea condition, it could take longer. By jeep it will take longer because one has to take multiple rides coming from Cebu City. Getting off at Muelle Osmeña I saw the tower that was once the site of a post built in the 18th century. I’m not sure when the present tower was constructed but its foundations appears to be from the old post. From here there are cheap carinderias and souvenir shops, selling everything that has the image of the Lady on it. A ladder going up leads directly to the grounds of Lapu-Lapu city’s popular devotion site.
In terms of local devotees, Virgen de la Regla is among the most popular pilgrimage place, together with the Sto.Niño of Cebu City. Lapu-Lapu city celebrates their patrons feast from November 12 to 20. Once known as the town of Opon (local word for cogon grass) the city stages the grandest weeklong celebration in honor of the Virgin patron with a feast of native foods, wines and processions. Unfortunately, the local government has recently included pageants for homosexuals and beer drinking contest. Parang circo na yata ang gusto ng mga politico.
Another tragedy is the demolition of the old Church, originally built (and rebuilt…) by the Augustinian Fathers. During the 1960’s, works begun to modernize the structure of the parish, using concrete cement and iron grills it was transformed into a modern edifice, the Church today has no tangible connection to its ancient beginnings except the Virgin icon and what remains of the old convent. Justification was that the parish needed to expand in order to accommodate its parishioners. Sadly, without careful planning and consultations with experts, most expansion and reconstruction of old Churches ends in disaster. The practice has become unrestrained and at times scandalous (in Argao for example the parish priest demolished some portions of a wall so his car can park!); such activities are unregulated by the leaders of the Catholic faith, there seem to be no guidelines, no regulations in place. Priest that have been found responsible for ruining historical structures are left unpunished. These monuments of time, our heritage and our history, are constantly under threat by the very people that are suppose to look after it. Nakakalungkot isipin na karamihan sa ating mga Catolico , kasama na ang ka-Parian, ay mababaw ang pangunawa sa importansyang historikal at kultural ng mga Simbahang ito.
For first time visitors, many ask why “Regla”, since it’s the Filipino word for menstrual period. This according to a former professor was based in Spanish, because menstrual period follows a “rule” of dates. The word “sa Regla” actually refers to “of the order” or “ of rules”, sothe English name is the Virgin of the Rule but since locals refers to it as Birhen sa Regla, most tourist are left wondering what’s with the name. The second question is why is it black? The concept of a brown Virgin came from Hippo, where St. Augustine purposely made the Virgin dark because he was evangelizing Africans. The venerated statue of the Virgin in Opon church is said to be almost 300 years old and was formed after the likeness of the Saint’s “Virgin of the Rule”. A Friar from Andalucia brought the statue of the Virgin in the 1700’s; the painting on the other hand, was commissioned by a local man after the Virgin healed him from his illness. The crown of the Virgin was blessed by Pope Pius XII. The devotion of the Opon locals to the Virgin is truly inspiring, testament to the endearing power and love of the Virgin Mother of Opon to those who seeks her help.
22 Agosto 2009