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    Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Piat

    Driving became much more difficult as we neared our destination. The peddler's stalls that lined the roadside, fronted the very edge of the carriageway, this slowed traffic to a walk, and even made passing oncoming traffic a tedious task. Hawkers, many of them dressed in festive costumes, jogged alongside the slow moving line of vehicles offering food, refreshments and souvenirs, adding a carnival atmosphere to this annual religious pilgrimage.

    For over 400 years, pilgrims have journeyed to Piat to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Piat at the Basilica Minore. The Pilgrimage, is a devotional and spiritual journey to the Shrine of Our Lady of Piat to venerate the Blessed Mother of Jesus, to ask for her intercession, or to thank her for favors received from God through her intercession. The event takes place once a year, when a huge number of pilgrims gather from around the world to pay homage to Our Lady of Piat, and possibly witness the drops of blood that are reportedly shed from the statue's eyes in the small hours of the morning of July second.

    Piat BasilicaA security guard directed our driver away from the entrance to the basilica courtyard as we approached, and there was no option but to turn down a side road adjacent to the church grounds. As luck would have it, we found a parking space for our jeepney not far from the stairs that lead up to the church courtyard, and just across from a small park that afforded us some shade while we freshened up.

    The amount of activity in this and surrounding streets is absolutely astounding. Peddlers selling their wares from the footpath or makeshift stalls, offer a huge array of goods ranging from raw tobacco leaf, tools, hardware, clothes, food and artifacts. Hawkers push barrows containing ice cream, cold drinks and candy, while others carry their goods and present them to passers by attaching them to bamboo poles, which are slung across their shoulders. The sound of bells, whistles and horns fill the air

    Originally, the statue of Our Lady of Piat was called Nuestra Seņora del Santissimo Rosario by the Dominican friars. The statue was manufactured in Macau, under the supervision of the Dominicans, who brought the icon to the Philippines in 1604. Eventually, the statue was installed in the church of Sto. Domingo at Piat only to be moved to Tuguegarao some years later. Finally, the statue of Our Lady was returned to Piat and installed in the present sanctuary in about 1624. From that time, many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Piat including an end to a massive drought that threatened the Cagayan Valley with famine.

    The Piat Basilica Minore stands on a large rocky outcrop that provides a commanding view of the Cagayan Valley and the surrounding country side. The church is surrounded by a large courtyard that is a hive of activity during the festive period. Hawkers abound, selling religious memorabilia, souvenirs and rosary beads. Outside the presbytery, priests are busy blessing some of the pilgrims vehicles and a large crowd queues at the entrance to the adjoining museum. Market stalls surrounded by a mass of visitors clog the entrance to the church grounds, and no matter which way I turn, business of some sort is being conducted.

    Piat, The Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley is indeed big business

    Our Lady of PiatMy companions and I enter the church, which I found to be well appointed and quite ornate, from the attractive floor tiles to the decorative curved ceiling. Stained glass windows are set high in the walls and briefly depict the story of O.L.P., as well as some of the miracles she has performed. There is a mass in progress at the moment, so I sit quietly and take in the surroundings while I listen to the up tempo music that is being played by a 24 piece group of musicians. I find it to be a refreshing change from the mournful music that accompanies religious services in my home country.

    A group of boys broomed the church floor after mass, and I took advantage of the break to take some pictures of the interior of the church, and of course the venerated statue of the Blessed Mother. The church soon filled with people again, to celebrate the next mass, and I went outside to be besieged by peddlers, as I try to amble around the church courtyard.

    The back wall of the courtyard is lined with rows of candles, lit by the faithful in order to seek an indulgence from Our Lady of Piat. At the corner of the wall there is a gap that provides me with a view of the Chico River, winding it's way through the lush valley below, on it's way to the Cagayan River. The view is magnificent, and on a clear day, I reckon that one would be able to see over to the coast.

    I returned to the church as the mass finished and queued with the congregation to get a close up of the Blessed Statue of O.L.P.. As people filed past the statue, each paused to say a quick prayer, touch the statue or stroke it with a kerchief. I admired the statue, and after hearing so much about it over the years, I got a warm feeling of satisfaction when I actually touched it. I then stood on a vacant pew that faced the statue in order to get a couple of good pictures. On close inspection, the statue of O.L.P is a work of art and indeed, an object of beauty that emits a powerful feeling of peace to the faithful observer.

    As the day drew to a close, the driver took our jeepney up to the church courtyard for a special blessing, which incurred a small donation. Afterwards, an attendant directed us to the exit ramp, which has a really steep decline, but leads us down to the road that will eventually take us back to Tuguegarao.

    During the return journey, each of us reflected on the day's events, and remarked on the incredible number of pilgrims that descend upon Piat to enjoy the carnival atmosphere that prevails. We were also mindful of the blessings that we had received, when we filed past the statue of Our Lady of Piat, pausing to silently seek some favor.

    Who knows, one of us may be the subject of the next miracle, performed by Our Lady of Piat.

    La Hunter