Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miracles in Torreciudad

Conversion and interior peace for many souls: these are mainly the spiritual graces that St. Josemaría Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, wished every pilgrim would receive upon venerating Our Lady of Torreciudad in Aragon, Spain. “Graces that the Lord will give to whoever venerates His Blessed Mother in Her sanctuary. These are the miracles I desire: conversion and peace for many souls”, he once said.

For the 235 OFW’s from Tarragona and Barcelona, who made a romería (pilgrimage) to this Marian sanctuary last Sunday, July 18, 2010, St. Josemaría’s wish came true. Everybody was captivated by the serenity and the prayerful atmosphere of this secular Marian dedication in Altoaragón, where an 11th—century Romanesque image of Mary with the Child Jesus on Her lap (an image also known as Mary, Seat of Wisdom), is venerated. This Marian temple, promoted by the Founder of Opus Dei, was opened for the cult since 1975 and has drawn thousands of pilgrims each year.

As the five buses that transported some 85 OFW’s from Tarragona and 150 from Barcelona started to escalate the winding road that leads to the sanctuary, almost everyone sighed at the sight of the bright blue-colored water of a deep pantano (a reservoir or lake for the purpose of irrigation) that serves as the perfect background of the temple that appears light-reddish under the rays of a noontime summer sun.

From the road, ruins of a medieval tower which stands over the Cinca river could be appreciated near an ermita or an old chapel where for more than nine centuries, pilgrims venerate the Marian icon. According to a medieval document, “Civitas” is the name Muslim invaders gave to the bulwark (a solid wall-like structure raised for defense) that they had which they used to defend themselves from Christians who wanted to recover their territories. In 1084, the Christians, once recuperated the Aragón area, enthroned the image of the Virgin Mary in the Ermita, beside what was then called “Turris Civitas” (tower city); hence, the name Torreciudad (in Spanish).

“Vale la pena venir aquí, eh” (It’s worth coming here!), said one mother, who came with her husband and two children. Getting down the bus, everyone could contemplate the picturesque view of a reddish temple against a bluish background, with a complement of some cumulus clouds above it. A refreshing breeze of a 20º Celsius temperature reminds everyone that they are 3-4 hours away from home. What was irresistible was the strong temptation of settling down in one place for sometime and contemplate the precious scenery. But the insistent voice of the pilgrimage guide prompted everyone to take their seats in the audiovisual room as a 20-minute video orients them about the place.

Somehow, the video orientation contributed a lot to the prayerful mood that the pilgrims maintained as they solemnly entered in procession to the sanctuary’s temple. Four men carried on their shoulders the statue of Our Lady of Antipolo, also known as Our Lady of Good Voyage. In front goes the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Tarragona Filipino Catholic Community, organized barely more than a year ago. Fr. Javier de Mora-Figueroa, the sanctuary’s rector, led the procession, accompanied by four Filipino priests, namely, Fr. Russell Bantiles (Davao), Fr. Allan Rodriguez (Davao), Fr. Elizar Cielo (Ipil) and Fr. Emil Larano (San Pablo).

Entering the temple, the pilgrims were mesmerized by a magnificent alabaster Retablo (reredos or altarpiece), designed by a famous Catalan sculptor, Juan Mayné, in the Plateresque-Renaissance style of Damián Forment. The 9.5 meters wide and 14.5 meters tall Retablo took three years to finish (1972-1975). It has eight groups of sculptures, following the classical iconographical criteria and some explicit indications of St. Josemaría and representing episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary, namely: the Betrothal of Mary with Joseph, the Annunciation of Gabriel, the Visitation of Mary to Her cousin Elizabeth, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Flight to Egypt, the Workshop in Nazareth, the Crucifixion of the Lord and the Coronation of Mary.

At the center just above the Crucifixion scene is the Blessed Sacrament adored by four angels. Below it is the Camarín of Our Lady, a little cubicle where the statue of the Virgin with the Child is venerated. The spiritual awe that the Retablo inspires was accompanied by the warm welcome of the rector.

At twelve noon, all the pilgrims went down to the Confession chapels located just below the temple for the administration of the sacrament. A total of 40 confesonarios (or confessional cubicles) are distributed in three chapels dedicated to various Marian advocacies like Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Loreto and Our Lady of Pillar. For an hour, various pilgrims received the Sacrament of Reconciliation administered by the five priests, in English, Tagalog and Spanish.

With Fr. Allan and Fr. Elizar – who just arrived from the Philippines a week ago to start their intensive Spanish language course – concelebrating, Fr. Russell presided the Holy Eucharist in Tagalog, which ended with the symbolic offering of children by their parents. This custom dates back to the famous episode in the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá.

In 1904, Josemaría was two years old when a deadly sickness struck him to the point that the doctors diagnosed he would not survive the next morning. His mother, Dolores, pleaded the Blessed Virgin and promise to offer the child in a pilgrimage to Our Lady if She would cure him.

The next day, when the doctors asked: “At what time the child died?”, they were very surprised upon discovering that he recuperated. Josemaría’s parents, then, brought him to the Ermita and offered him to Our Lady. In 1956, the founder of Opus Dei wanted to express his gratitude to this great favor and wished to spread the devotion to Our Lady of Torreciudad by constructing a sanctuary.

After the sumptuous lunch, the Tarragona pilgrims presented various folk dances and Filipino songs. After which, a video on the visit of Monsignor Javier Echevarría, the actual Prelate of Opus Dei, to the Philippines in 1998, gave the pilgrims some ideas on the apostolate that the personal prelature is doing in the archipelago.
The romería or pilgrimage ended at 6:00 PM with the meditation of one of the three parts of the Holy Rosary (two parts were prayed during the round trip) and the benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. A quick visit to the Ermita while enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way was worth the sweat. Everybody ended up dog-tired but with a smile on the face.

“We must do it again next year”, said one couple who live in Tarragona. “Ay, sayang, hindi ako nakasama”, (What a regret having missed the occasion!) said one lady, to which a cheerful señora retorted: “You don’t know what you’ve missed!”

FR. RUSSELL BANTILES is helping the OFW’s of Tarragona organize and form a Catholic community where all members could lead good Christian lives. Twice in a month, the community celebrates the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession in Tagalog, and receives catechism in the parish church of St. John, the Baptist. For a virtual tour to the Sanctuary, click this link: .

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"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.