More than a hundred images of the Blessed Virgin Mary were paraded around the old walled city of Manila on Dec. 1 ahead of the observance of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8.
Thousands of people from all walks of life joined the religious procession, one of the much-awaited and most spectacular gatherings of Marian images in the country.
For the past 40 years, the annual event has been organized by the Confradia de la Immaculada Conception Foundation with the help of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The 129 extravagant carriages flaunted revered images and titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary from across the country.
Many of the devotees braved the horrifying Manila commute to attend the celebration, while others came from the provinces days ahead of the event.
Brother Eric Esguerra, who started his devotion to the Virgin Mary in the 1980s, joined the procession on a wheelchair.
“I’m partially blind, but I want to prove that one’s disability is no reason to be distant from the Lord,” said Brother Esguerra, a dialysis patient who suffered a mild stroke.
He said his “extended life” is just one of the many things he is most grateful for the Virgin Mary
“I shouldn’t even be here because of my condition,” he said. “But I told the Virgin Mary that I really want to see her today,” he said.
Marcelina, who joins the procession every year, has been bed-ridden for the past six months but decided to get up and attend the celebration.
“I was just lying in bed and I didn’t eat. If it’s God’s will for me to be alive, then let be it,” she said. “My hope was just in the Lord and Mary and through His mercy, I was healed,” said the woman.
In 2017, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law declaring Dec. 8 of every year, a special non-working holiday in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Grand Marian Procession is an annual celebration held every first Sunday of December. This year’s procession lasted more than six hours.
The first Marian procession held in Manila on Dec. 8, 1619, lasted for 15 days.
During the Spanish colonial rule, that lasted for 300 years, the annual procession, which was supposed to promote catechism, varied between the days when the procession was held.
Today, the procession has become a showcase of the most prominent Marian images in the country.
The annual Feast of the Immaculate Conception is one of the traditional “Holy Days of Obligation,” meaning observing Catholics should attend Mass and avoid any nonessential work, to commemorate the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.
The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the birth of Jesus, but rather the birth of Mary to her mother, St. Anne.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed that the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, “from the first moment of her conception… immune from all stain of original sin.”