Note: This is the summarized version of my article that will soon come out in the coffee table book about the 100 years of missionary presence of the SVD (Societas Verbi Divini) or the Divine Word Missionaries in the Philippines.
The Virgin of the Poor – Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay
THE APPEARANCE OF THE VIRGIN
Have you seen this image of the Blessed Virgin Mary? This is the Lady of Banneux or more popularly known as the “Virgin of the Poor.” On the 15th of January 1933 (24th death anniversary of our founder St. Arnold Janssen), a silent apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary happened to a young girl named Mariette Beco in Banneux Norte Dame, province of Liége, Belgium. In this apparition, the Blessed Virgin introduced herself as the “Virgin of the Poor” and it quickly spread like fire. Soon after, on the Feast of the Assumption of that same year, the chapel requested by Our Lady was blest and was attended by sixty thousand people. On August 22, 1949, the Bishop of Liége recognized the authenticity of the apparitions at Banneux.
THE POVERTY OF OUR BEGINNINGS
It was the poverty of our humble beginnings in the SVD Philippine mission that inspired Fr. Joseph Heuwagen, SVD to bring the first statue of the Virgin of the Poor to our country. From later part of the 1950’s until the 1980s, the German Secretariat of Banneux dispatched statues for their compatriots’ mission stations around the world. During Fr. Joseph Heuwagen’s visit to Banneux in the autumn of 1957, German pilgrims donated him a statue of the Virgin of the Poor. He brought the statue upon his return from his home leave. He wrote,
It is interesting that the customs in Manila released the statue on 15 January, anniversary of the first apparition…The statue arrived in February. As day of its blessing, I chose 2 March, the last day of the apparition in Banneux, so that I would have enough time to make the Virgin of the Poor known through sermons and public relations. (Jungfrau der Armen, n°3/1958, translated by Fr. Rudy Horst, SVD)
The site of the very first statue of the Virgin of the Poor in the Philippines was St. Joseph Parish, Claveria, Cagayan, some 600 km at the northernmost tip of Luzon. Fr. Joseph also reported that the attendance of the rosary has doubled! He added that his confrere was also surprised to see that never in the past two years so many people received Holy Communion during March.
Since then, many statues of the Virgin of the Poor were installed by the Divine Word Missionaries in various parts of the country.
Fr. Francis Kutscher, SVD donated a statue to the people in the town of Binmaley, Pangasinan in 1961. Eventually, the Virgin of the Poor became the patroness of the town’s municipal seat.
Fr. Herman Hermes, SVD also enshrined another statue of the Virgin of the Poor in the village chapel in Velasco, Tayum, Abra in 1962.
Bishop William Joseph Duschak, SVD also received several statues for the Vicariate of Calapan, Oriental Mindoro from 1960s to 1970s. He even encouraged that all people who come to Church must approach the Virgin and greet her first and say goodbye to her after the Holy Mass. One of these statues can be seen at the St. Augustine Major Seminary (SASMA) in Tagaytay City.
Fr. Victor Tunkel, SVD was one of the recipients of the Lady’s image from Bishop Duschak. He had it installed at the Blessed Trinity Parish in Baco, Oriental, Mindoro. When he became the director of Villa Cristo Rey in Christ the King, he procured another image for its chapel. The other image of the Virgin of the Poor beside the Shrine of the Divine Word in Christ the King was installed by Fr. Georg Heinemann, SVD in 1974. He was also the one who installed the Virgin of the Poor in Divine Word Seminary of Tagaytay.
Fr. George Koschincki, SVD was also a recipient of the statue in 1970.
Fr. Joseph Watzlawik, SVD also enshrined the Virgin of the Poor at the Sto. Niňo Parish in Guba, Cebu in 1971.
Fr. Bernard Pues, SVD offered another statue in 1974 to his good friends Feliciano and Thelma Magsakay in San Teodoro, Oriental Mindoro. The statue was transferred to the Magsakay Residence in Paraňaque in 1991 and since then, the statue has joined the annual procession on the feast of the Divine Mercy.
In 1976, Fr. Godehard Schaller, SVD installed the Virgin of the Poor near the tomb of Msgr. Antonio Buenafe, SVD, former rector of ST. Joseph Minor Seminary of Bangued, Abra.
Fr. Paul Scholl, SVD also reported a statue of the Virgin of the Poor at Sto. Niňo Parish in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro in 1984. That same year, Fr. Johan Glanemann, SVD also received a statue for the now Archdiocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Tigbao, Leyte.
In 1990, the SVD parish of the Risen Christ in Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila also received a statue of the Virgin of the Poor courtesy of Sr. Bernadette Winkel, SSpS. The ever-active Blue Sister spent her apostolate in the area.
Fr. Dino Ariola, SVD received a statue in 1996 and he had it enshrined at the Holy Name University (formerly Divine Word College).
Locally made images of the Virgin of the Poor also circulated. One of these is the one located at the SVD Retreat House in Tangalan, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. This image was installed by Fr. Erwin Thiel, SVD. However, this property has been sold to the Locsin family.
On the 50th anniversary of the recognition of the apparitions (1999), three of the four sites visited by pilgrims from Quezon City were related to the SVD and all three were in Tagaytay City: First, the legionaries went to the St. Augustine Major Seminary (once administered by SVD); Then, they also put the invocations to the Virgin of the Poor at the Lady’s grotto in Divine Word Seminary-Tagaytay, and; they also honored the Lady at the cloister garden of the Pink Sisters -Tagaytay.
THE SVD AND VIRGIN OF THE POOR TODAY
The intimacy between the Virgin of the Poor and the Divine Word Missionaries also extended to our co-missionaries. On year 2000, the DWST librarian Woody Mallari installed a local image of the Virgin of the Poor in the DWST library which attracted many seminarians, priests and visitors. Kuya Woody, as we call him, also helped in the propagation of the image.
Since 2006, SVD ordinands in Tagaytay received a statue of the Virgin of the Poor on the day of their ordination, courtesy of Lei Lopez, a good friend of the SVD. The Sangmithi Class was the first to receive on February 2006, followed by Yobel Class on February 2007; then, Dakit Class on February 2008, and Pantas Class on December of the same year.
This is a testament that the Virgin of the Poor continues to draw her SVD sons to herself, especially the younger generations to always connect us with the poverty of our beginnings and to constantly remind us to continue our mission for the poor.
Seminarista Pa Lang Ako Nito
— The author would like to thank Milagros I. Dolores, author of the book The Virgin of the Poor: A Tribute from her Filipino Children.
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