LIPA City, Oct. 4, 2011?One of oldest parishes in Batangas was declared Asia’s very first Catholic shrine in honor of St. John the Baptist last Aug. 29 during a Mass to commemorate the saint’s martyrdom.
The declaration was held in the town of Lian at the Parish of St. John the Baptist, which now bears the name “the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. John the Baptist.” Even before, the parish has already been known to house the old life-size image of San Juan Bautista (as the patron saint is locally known), which the community regards as miraculous.
Because of this miraculous image, faith is strengthened in Lian—this is acknowledged in the official declaration: “By reason of special devotion, this parochial church is frequented by the faithful as pilgrims.”
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles cited in his homily the age-old tradition of hosting San Juan, by way of his image, during special occasions.
“St. John the Baptist regularly visits those whose faith in God is strengthened further through his intercessions,” Arguelles said in Filipino. However, the archbishop reminded devotees that the religious icon is still a representation, but stressed just the same that it stands for a person of high esteem.
“That image is miraculous because St. John [the Baptist] is close to the Christ,” he explained, urging Catholics to emulate the loyalty of San Juan, who was a layman. “Not only priests are called to be holy.”
In the Catholic faith, St. John the Baptist is highlighted as a prophet who came before the Christ. But what is more important was his standing up to what he
believed was truthful and humane, even if that resulted in his death in the hands of King Herod.
Legend has it that San Juan’s image—standing almost at five feet: the face, a wooden old mien with a plated metal body—is imbued with graces from the heavens.
One may ask the locals of Lian about the origin of the icon only to find out no definite answer as regards to where the image originated, who made it, and when it was made. But one thing is for sure, San Juan and his image have been wandering around Lian and its neighbouring towns for a long time now. Even the older parishioners who frequent the church would tell: “Nandiyan na siya nang magkamulat kami.”
Good harvest, good health and even good grades in school are attributed to his intercessions. This might be the reason why the faithful of Batangas considers it an honor and blessing to host “Santuhan” in their own homes. In fact, the list of families or individuals, who have requested to sponsor the traditional religious affair, reveals that invites for San Juan has reached schedules up until 2013.
Now that the image of San Juan is more apt to stay at the shrine, replicas have been made to accommodate the requests of the devotees as well as to continue the tradition of honoring the patron saint.
Aside from taking the image of St. John the Baptist into the homes of the devotees, “Santuhan” also includes the Rosario Cantada, which is sung in chorus by the townsfolk. Special prayers are recited exclusively for the holy rituals of this tradition.
Old church buildings
As early as 1807, Lian was already under a parish; its church edifice was said to be a granary house, which was rebuilt by the Jesuits after an uprising in 1745. However, official sources declare the chapel, which first stood in the present site of the shrine, was only created in 1870.
The chapel, which had undergone multiple reconstructions and remodelling, only lasted until 1950. But on the same site, where it was located, a new edifice with a “more modern look” was built. This building is currently being renovated to improve the facilities, especially to accommodate the pilgrims.
‘Avoid folk religiosity’
For Fr. Eriberto Cabrera, the lone parish priest of the new shrine in Lian, the church needs to continue to guide and evangelize the people.
“Of course, the Church must be vigilant, for [the devotees] might fall into folk religiosity,” he stated in an e-mail.
“The affection of the devotees of St. John the Baptist has manifested not folk religiosity but the practice of a tradition,” the priest said. “This is
considered as an approved popular devotion that has no contrary principle to the teachings of the Church.”
In fact, this affection was the reason why the request to have the parish elevated into a shrine was approved: “By reason of the special devotion to St. John the Baptist, our patron saint, we asked the approval of our archbishop for the declaration of the parish as an archdiocesan shrine,” Cabrera added. (Levine Lao)