THE Nuestra Señora del Pilar Church in the southeastern town of Sibonga, Cebu is the Archdiocese’s only parish that has the Our Lady of Pillar as its titular patroness. Every 12th of October, the townspeople celebrate the fiesta through masses and prayer offerings.
However, the celebration is notably more low-key and subdued compared to the fiesta of the town’s secondary patroness, St. Philomena, celebrated with grandiose floats and nightly activities at the town plaza that culminate on her feast day, Aug. 10 of each year.
Sibonga holding two festivals annually may sound like a peculiar tradition. And this annual practice has virtually relegated the Our Lady of Pillar to a lesser place. “I’ve always wondered why Our Lady of Pillar is less celebrated here in Sibonga when she is the primary patroness of the town,” Rev. Fr. Agustin Abella, Nuestra Señora del Pilar parish priest, said.
A tradition passed on across generations, the more vibrant feast day celebration in honor of Saint Philomena continues to boggle the minds of church historians and keen observers. Even the town’s annual festival Bonga is timed to coincide with her feast day.
A candle vendor selling her wares outside the Sibonga church said her ancestors venerated St. Philomena more because they were able to witness her “miracle.” A story that has been retold over the years has it that she appeared before churchgoers in the middle of a mass. However, none of these accounts has been documented and validated.
According to the book “The History of Sibonga” authored by Noel Ponce, the town was founded in 1830 under the advocacy of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. In the mid-19th century, a secondary patroness St. Philomena was introduced to the town by the then incumbent bishop, Romualdo Jimeno.
Ponce said: “As per our research, the feast of Señora del Pilar on Oct. 12 was the town’s main fiesta up until the last years of the 19th century. By the early years of the 20th century, the town fiesta had shifted to Aug. 10 in honor of St. Philomena. It is the biggest confusion to us. We were not sure how the shift came to be. We interviewed old folks disclosing that St. Philomena is actually the patron saint of the Poblacion.”
Different versions of the story surfaced over the course of time, but Fr. Abella believes that the townspeople should celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Pillar with more fervor than that of the secondary patroness, St. Philomena.
To serve as a constant reminder of who the town’s titular patroness is, a replica sculpture of the Our Lady of Pillar was erected outside the parish convent. Leaflets of mass schedules with footnote reminders have also been distributed to further renew interest in the Marian devotion.
Now that the Our Lady of the Pillar’s fiesta is approaching, Fr. Abella, his assistant parish priest Fr. Sherwyll Mingo and the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) have lined up activities to ramp up the celebration.
Although there will be no grandiose activities this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Fr. Abella said there will be both in-person and online novena masses for the people to commemorate the Our Lady of Pillar’s feast day.
A motorcade on Oct. 2 with the icon of the Our Lady of the Pillar will kick off the nine-day celebration.
On the eve of the fiesta, there will be a mobile procession with the statues of the Our Lady of the Pillar and St. James the Great. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. James from a pillar. In her appearance, the Blessed Virgin told James to never give up and continue with his evangelization mission.
Novena Masses are scheduled every afternoon starting Oct. 2 and will be capped with the Pontifical Mass on Oct.12. Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones is the main celebrant. (PR)