AFTER MORE than a hundred years of existence, La Naval de Manila continues to draw and inspire thousands of people, but this dedication to the Blessed Virgin, a Thomasian tradition seems to be wavering.

Thomasians are aware of October as the Rosary month but not many know what happens in the second Sunday of this month – the Feast of Our Lady of La Naval.

Associate Prof. Richard Pazcoguin, assistant director of the Campus Ministry, said though there is still consciousness among the students, student participation is not as fervent as before citing two factors – the new breed of Theology professors and the multi-sectarian population of the University.

“Professors who graduated from other schools were not able to carry over the Thomasian tradition and culture of the Feast of La Naval,” Pazcoguin explained. “They [professors] who are not alumni of UST are not aware of how deep-seated it is in the Thomasian culture.”

The image of our Lady of La Naval has played a great role in the University’s history. UST served as a home to La Naval for 12 years when the old Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros was bombed during the World War II in 1941.

In addition, Pazcoguin said the population of non-Catholics in UST are given due respect for their religion.

“We cannot oblige them [non-Catholics] to attend the procession, we just enjoin them,” Pazcoguin said.

In a positive note, he said some students and Thomasian alumni still practice the tradition of the La Naval by joining the grand procession of the image in culmination of the feast.

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It has been five years for civil engineering student and member of the Thomasian Volunteer Raymond Manzano to participate in this tradition. Introduced to him by the Campus Ministry, attending the La Naval feast has become his devotion.

“At first, I just wanted to attend this procession because my friends and co-volunteers are going to attend, until it became a devotion,” Manzano said.

He said his participation has brought him the “sense of belongingness and closeness to God.”

“I have become more reliant to the power of prayer,” Manzano said.

Still paying homage

To keep this Marian devotion alive, students participated in the culmination of the feast last October 11.

A UST contingent joined the procession rites and marched behind the image of St. Thomas Aquinas led by different student religious organizations, College of Fine Arts and Design, high school students and faculty members to show their support and devotion to the tradition that has been a significant part of the Thomasian culture.

The University also made its contribution as the Golden Corps of Cadets and Lady Sponsors escorted the ornamentally decorated carriage of Our Lady of La Naval with the Holy Child in her left arm, along with the carriages of Dominican saints and martyrs during the procession.

Following the solemn procession rites, the highly-venerated image was re-enthroned with the Act of Consecration led by members of the late president Corazon Aquino’s family.

The naval victory of the Filipino-Spanish forces over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 was attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother through the praying of the rosary. Since then, the devotion to the La Naval de Manila has earned a historical significance among Filipinos.

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Queen’s motherhood

Following the usual lineup of activities, this year’s feast was a celebration of the motherhood of the Blessed Mother.

“In relation to her roles as Mother of Christ, Mother of priests, and Mother of all, the celebration was centered on the role of Mary as a mother,” said Dominican priest Fr. Jessie Yap, O.P. “This year is also devoted to the priests so the theme as Mother of priests was included.”

Pope Benedict XVI has declared June 2009 to June 2010 as the year devoted for priests to call for their sanctification and to commemorate the 150th death anniversary of the Patron of Priests, St. John Mary Vianney.

In addition, the celebration has been observed with the thematic year for prayer and work for peace-building and lay participation in social change. Launched by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines last April, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo called on all church groups in the country to focus on “peace-building and genuine reconciliation through dialogue.”

The 11-day event started with the traditional enthronement of the miraculous image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval last October 1 at the Sto. Domingo Church followed by the nine-day novena masses led by different religious groups and sectors.

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