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Peñafrancia Festival-San Diego
By Alfonso B. Villamora

San Diego, CA. The MAYON Volcano, the “siling labuyo,” and religious piety are hallmarks of the Bikol people’s character and culture. The first two symbolize the character of the Bikolanos - fiery when provoked. Religious piety is almost a Bikolano preserve, considering that many of the Filipino clergy are Bikolanos and the First Filipino Bishop, Jorge Barlin was a Bikolano. In fact, the seeds of Christianity in Luzon were first planted by the friar-missionaries in Barrio Ibalon, Sorsogon Province, some four hundred years ago. Fr. Marcelo de Ribadeneira, an early 17th century friar-chronicler, commented that “any visitor would think Camarines as one big religious community” and testifies to the religiosity of the Bikolanos.

The Peñafrancia Festival is a week-long celebration in September honoring the feast day of the Virgin of Peñafrancia. It is Bikolandia’s famous annual religious event that draws hundreds of thousands of devotees every year. This occasion witnesses the multiplicity and variety of socio-religious activities by means of which Bikolanos express their piety.

In San Diego, the Bikolanos are no different from their brothers a nd sisters back home. For over thirty years, they have nurtured and have shown their devotion to their Patroness whom they fondly call “Ina”. Under the leadership of the Bicol Club of San Diego County, community celebration of the Peñafrancia Fiesta started in the early 1970’s and has perpetuated for decades. In 1994, with flourishing devotion to the Patroness of Bikolandia, the Bicol Club reached out to the other Bikolnon organizations in the area. Thus began the joint Peñafrancia celebration and the birth of Pag-Iribang Bikolnon (United Bicol). Pag-Iribang Bikolnon is an alliance of Bikolnon organizations whose common goal is to jointly celebrate the fiesta of their Patroness. This year’s festival is led by the Irigueños of Southern California. Other participating organizations are: Batoeños of CA, Camarines Norte Association USA, Libmanan Bikolnon, Nabua Association USA, Naga Ini, Tinambac Association of CA, Nabueños of Southern CA, and the Bicol Club of San Diego County.

This year’s fiesta celebration will be held again at Lake O’Neill Recreational Park in Camp Pendleton, Oceanside on Saturday, September 18. The day will be ushered in by a fluvial procession. The Pagoda, a decorated boat carrying the “Ina”, will sail around Lake O’Neill starting at around 9:30 A.M. followed by a land procession at 10:15, and Holy Mass at 11:00 A.M. Fiesta fare will be served at lunch in the hospitality booths of the participating organizations. Booth competition, entertainment and games will be featured in the afternoon.

One of the highlights of this year’s Peñafrancia festivities is the re-enactment of the coronation of the image of the Blessed Virgin to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of her canonical coronation on September 20, 1924 as Queen and Patroness of Bikol by then Apostolic Delegate of Pope Benedict XV, Rev. Msgr. Guillermo Piani. Along with this is the visit of His Eminence, Jose Cardinal T. Sanchez, a member of the Holy See Congregation in the Roman Curia. Cardinal Sanchez, a Bikolano and the first Filipino to become a member of Pope John Paul II’s official family of Administrators will arrive on September 15. He will be the Main Celebrant at the Eucharistic Celebration during the Peñafrancia Festival. He will also lead the re-enactment of the coronation of the Virgin of Peñafrancia.

Lake O’Neill Park is on the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. The festival site is the Peninsula, which is located 35 miles north of San Diego and about 9 miles off the interstate highway (I-5) through the Base’s main gate. The seven-acre Peninsula will be turned into a village, featuring beautifully decorated booths depicting familiar Bicol landscapes. Internationally known Bikol delicacies such as “Bikol Express” and “ginataang gabi” will surely delight one’s culinary cravings.

The celebration of the annual Peñafrancia Festival has not only attracted widespread attention to Bikolandia’s rich religious history and culture but has brought into focus the Bikolanos’ unparalleled show of unity during the biggest Marian celebration in the Philippines, if not around the world, where Filipinos of different political persuasions gather around their beloved “Ina” to pray and chant “Viva La Virgen!” Indeed the undying devotion to the Virgin of Peñafrancia continually serves as the impetus for unity throughout the world where Bikolanos celebrate her feast day.


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