Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Fugitive Image

By Ma. Gracia N. Lumba
(reprinted from October 13, 1963 issue of Sunday Times Magazine)

The annual celebration of the feast of La Naval reaches its climax today with a procession of the faithful at Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City. Object of veneration is the image of Our Lady of the Rosary, about whom countless stories of her miraculous intercession in behalf of the distressed have been woven.

Interspersed with these stories are numerous accounts of how the image has survived-unscathed-earthquakes, fires, wars and other disasters. Perhaps, the most dramatic accounts took place during the early days of the Japanese attack on the Philippines, when our Lady (the image that is) became the "rescued" rather than the "rescuer".

But for a courageous group of individuals who undertook the rescue job, the yearly La Naval festivities would be less inspiring. The image with all her costly accoutrements, would not be there.

To Rev. Fr. Aurelio Valbuena O.P., one of the rescuers, 22 years ago seem only yesterday. At that time, this Dominican priest was prior of the 354 year old Sto. Domingo church in Intramuros. "When Cavite was bombed shortly before Christmas of 1941", Fr. Valbuena recalls, "we were alarmed. We immediately thought of placing the statue of the Blessed Virgin inside an underground vault. This vault, 4 meters by 3 meters, was the repository of our Lady’s tiara, crown, scepter and other valuable church articles. Noon of the 27th, Japanese planes rained bombs on Intramuros".

Sto. Domingo church was leveled to the rgound among other buildings. Survivors evacuated the walled city. Father Valbuena and company hurried to Sto. Tomas University on Espana, there to bide their time. Three days later, on the afternoon of December 30, the Dominicans went back to Intramuros, picking their way among the still smouldering ruins, to the spot of the underground vault.

The original rescue team consisted of 15 priests (including Fr. Valbuena), a lay brother and a layman. When they reached the spot, other persons volunteered to help, among them priests from other orders (Augustinian, Recollect, etc.).Letran students and other lay devotees of the Blessed Virgin.

"Some even felt slighted because they had not been notified of the rescue plan", Fr. Valbuena says. "But then the mission was fraught with dangers; the idea had to be kept to a minimum number of people".

Chief danger lay in looters who were roaming he place. There, too, was the possibility of another air raid, Manila having been declared an open city. Work had to be done fast, with maximum secrecy.

Laborers removed the big branches of trees that blocked the door of the vault. The work hit a snag when the combination lock of the outside door refused to budge. The bombing and the resultant heat had caused the steel to expand. A combination expert was summoned, but his 3 hours of trying were of no avail. The rescuers decided to bore a hole through the steel door with a pointed instrument found among the debris. The boring took another hour or so. Then somebody tied a piece of steel to the end of the rope and inserted it through the opening.

The group tugged and tugged with all their might, but still the door would not budge. When the group was about to give up, another hefty pull by the athletic Fr. Salvador finally did it. The inner door easily yielded to a turn of the key. The priests rushed into the vault, only to fall back because of the intense heat and humidity. After a long while, they went in again and lo! There she was with all her paraphernalia intact.

Under cover of darkness, an unscheduled procession wended its way through the rubble. Slowly, carefully, the rescuers carried the image to a waiting truck. Other vehicles driven by anxious devotees joined the motorcade to its destination in Sto. Tomas.

Three days later, January 2, 1942, the Japanese occupied the city. A Japanese soldier who had heard of the Blessed Virgin’s treasure came around looking for Fr. Valbuena. He threatened the good padre with death if the Dominican did not show him to the vault. The soldier was led to the place all right, but when he saw the broken steel door he might have deduced that looters had carted the valuables away. He left, and the matter was forgotten.

When a semblance of normalcy was restored in the city, the image was installed in a provisional throne in the UST chapel. Regular homage to the Queen was resumed by her thousands of devotees for the next 3 years, until the American liberation forces arrived. Again, the statue went into hiding. Another underground vault at the UST seminary served as her refuge. In the ensuing battles, the UST compound was caught between the US and Japanese troops. Miraculously again, she escaped the dangers of destruction. Stories have it that shells or grenades that fell near the place where the image was, did not explode.

In October 1952, the cornerstone for the new Sto. Domingo church was laid and blessed. Two years later, on the occasion of La Naval, about 200,000 devotees saw their Queen enthroned in her new home in Quezon City. She was arrayed in her finest raiment: diamond-studded tiara, golden crown and scepter, silk robe, rosary, rings, comb, bracelet and all—a glittering fortune (estimated at quarter of a million pesos) that might have been lost without the vigilance and daring of the statue’s custodians during the war years.

But above all, this tangible treasure that the rescue had preserved is the spiritual wealth that she holds for all those who seek her Son’s grace through her intercession.

Article Sent by : Mr. Alex Castro


mister said...

very inspiring story, I wonder why does most of the people today didn't know La Naval?
Kapag tinanong yung mga tao ngayon kung anu ang La Naval, they will simply tell, "ahhh, MANAOAG ng STO DOMINGO."
Unlike before that kapag sinabing La Naval, people considered it as Manila's Virgin Mary.

wilzv said...

Viva Birhen la naval... I myself has experienced the great love of our mother of la naval, at my very young age I have been through many suffering when it comes to financial and family matter... our mother is my refuge, she gave me what I want... I am now a born again christian but my love and faith to our mother is still here in my heart and mind... Mahal kita mahal na inang birhen, pakagabayan mo po ako lage...