ALIAGA, Nueva Ecija, Sept 15, 2016 – The community of the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary (ICMAS) of Guiguinto, Bulacan held on Sept. 8 its annual Marian Pilgrimage to the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Nuestra Señora delas Saleras in this city in celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
ICMAS seminary rector Fr. Emmanuel I. Cruz, together with the Formation Team, celebrated Mass for the ICMAS community. In his homily, Cruz noted the importance of celebrating the Marian pilgrimage, “a pilgrimage of faith.” According to him, with the community united with the Church during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it is now a “pilgrimage of mercy”.
‘Critic of society’
The priest also noted an important characteristic of Mary as “a critic of society,” with her message in the Magnificat of uplifting the poor and the oppressed. He also stressed the primacy of Mary’s mission as shown in the image of the Mother of Perpetual Help, which shows her hands and her entire body pointing towards Jesus. This, Cruz said, emphasizes the call to be one with Mary in following Jesus.
Arriving at San Isidro Labrador Chapel in Bucot, Aliaga at 7:30 a.m., the community began their pilgrimage with a sharing from one of the college seminarians who emphasized Mary’s witnessing as “a woman of great faith”. From the chapel, the three departments of the major seminary, Propaedeutic Year, Philosophy and Theology – the Formation Team, as well as other devotees of the the Virgin Mary, the Vessel of Salt, proceeded to the second station, the Black Nazarene Chapel in East II, Aliaga.
Another seminarian, this time from the Theology Department shared how Mary is “not only the Mother of Vocations but the Mother of Life,” the mother of all who strive to be faithful to the calling to holiness. He stressed that in the same way Mary loves Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the faithful ought to respect human life, whether it be that of an unborn child or a drug addict. From East II, the community headed to the shrine of Nuestra Señora delas Saleras in the town center, in Gen. Luna St., Brgy. Poblacion Centro, Aliaga, Nueva Ecija in the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
The Vessel of Salt
Nuestra Señora delas Saleras, The Virgin Mary, Vessel of Salt, according to Fr. Robert Dela Cruz, parish priest and shrine rector, is the only image of Mary with this title in the country, and probably in the whole world. The original image of the Virgen delas Saleras came to the town from the Augustinian missionaries who attributed a miraculous event to to the Virgin’s intercession.
According to oral and written records, this image of the Virgin Mary was at first carried aboard a Spanish ship that sank due to a heavy storm at sea on its way to what is now known as the Philippines. However, when the storm passed, the ship’s crew tried to salvage valuables from the wreckage. To their surprise, the image of the Virgin was standing erect amid the ruins with her gown filled with salt, which dried up from the sea water on the Virgin’s robe and glittered in the sun.
This image was then brought to Aliaga on April 26, 1849 to become the patroness of the newly-established parish. The town of Aliaga was established months earlier, on Feb, 8 of the same year, changing its name from “Pulong Bibit” meaning the “place of the dead”, owing to the bodies of the slain left in the area in those times.
Many of the faithful believe Aliaga was protected through the Virgin’s intercession from various natural calamities, especially when heavy floods came to Nueva Ecija. As part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Diocese of Cabanatuan in 2013, the two parishes of Aliaga, St. John the Baptist, famous for its “Taong Putik” Festival, and the Virgen delas Saleras were elevated to diocesan shrines, a double blessing for the people of this town.
(Kendrick Ivan B. Panganiban / CBCP News)