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Among the Bicolanos and other devotees in Vienna, September is a time of intense religious celebration organized around devotion to Bicol’s patron, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, who is endearingly referred to by her devotees as Ina, or Mother.
The Peñafrancia festival has come to be an important marker of the Bicolanos here as they celebrate the 17th Penanfrancia Fluvial Celebrations in Austria.
The theme for the 17th celebration of Peñafrancia Festival in Austria is “Doing Christ’s Mission with Youthful Hearts with Mary.”. It began as always with a novena—nine days of prayer—starting on September 14, 2019.
On Saturday, after the 9th day Novena, September 21, 2019, the traditional Fluvial procession on the Danube River took place.
As the ship MS Tegethoff carrying 600 pilgrims made its way from Vienna’s Schiffahrtszentrum to Dürnstein, Lower Austria, the organizers of the Feast together with the pilgrims prayed the rosary.
Continuing this long-held Filipino tradition, although far from their homeland, the Bikol Society-Austria (members of the Bicol region of the Philippines) and friends gathered together to pay respect and celebrate in this festival of religious and cultural activities. Attendees were blessed with a cool breeze and a clear blue sky.
After the procession from Dock 20 in Dürnstein going to Dürnstein Abbey, the congregation gathered inside the barock church for a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gilbert Garcera, a Filipino bishop serving in the archdiocese of Naga, Philippines.
During the Mass, which was filled with beautiful and impressive music rendered by the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Choir led by Choirmaster Ms. Ophelia Magistrado, the ornately decorated statue of our Lady of Peñafrancia rested next to the altar.
„The message of Penafrancia is directed to all Filipinos. First, be a good Filipino and be a good christian. We should always give good examples to others. Inspite of the problems we encounter in our everyday lives, don’t forget to smile,“ Archbishop Gilbert Garcera said in his homily.
Archbishop Garcera has the impression that kababayans in Austria are longing for sense of belonging with their fellow Filipinos. The bishop observed this from his interaction with Filipinos during the seven-hours trip to Dürnstein.
„I have the feeling that Filipinos here are longing for somebody who is really one of them, one who could understand them, and who could share the joy of being a Filipino through their food, culture and faith,“ Archbishop Garcera said.
Pilgrims and local devotees alike at the festivities said that they came because they knew that Ina would always grant their wishes and petitions quickly. Pilgrims who were interviewed came from as far as Salzburg, Linz,and from other neighboring provinces. Many said that they were fulfilling a panata, or vow, to attend the festivities annually. The fervor and testimonies of other devotees often played significant role in their decision to come for the first time.
Kim Navarro, an active Filipino civic and religious leader in Austria said that the festival brings people together.
„We are here to thank and pay respect to our lady of Peñafrancia. My wife comes from Iriga, Camarines Sur. This occasion is also very memorable for us because my son is the co-emcee during the fluvial procession. I am happy that we are together and be with friends and to show our devotion to our Lady of Peñafrancia,“ Kim Navarro said.
Peter Pinoy, an Austrian devotee looks forward to the festival in Austria each year.
“It brings people together, It also gives us an opportunity to meet new people,” he said.
“It’s important for us to do this so we don’t lose (the tradition) for our kids or our grandchildren. It’s important to know where we came from,” ome devotee commented.
Marizel Rojas, President of the Bikol Society in Austria thanked the devotess for their support and prayers.
The image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia
The origin of the name Our Lady of Peñafrancia (which means, literally, rocky hill of France) started when a French friar, Simon Vela, found an icon in 1434 believed to have been buried many years earlier, in 711. The image of Mary was excavated in a cave on a rocky (peña in Spanish) mountain along the French Way near the village of San Martin de Castanar, Salamanca, Spain. Peñafrancia is a version of Peña de Francia, designating the place where the precious icon was found.
In Naga City, hundreds of thousands gather each year to celebrate Our Lady of Peñafrancia, which is highlighted by a fluvial procession. Amid shouts of “Viva la Virgen!” men take the statue of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in a long wooden boat called a “banka” and sail down the Bicol River while praying the rosary.
In the Philippines, where 99 percent of the country’s residents are Catholic, the Our Lady of Peñafrancia celebration is considered the biggest and most popular religious festival. The event was sponsored here by the Bikol Society in Austria and the Filipino Catholic Chaplaincy.
Hector Pascua, ABS-CBN News, Austria