Annually, various nine-day novenas were scheduled in Catholic Churches attended by the numerous Bicolanos in the Los Angeles area. Some of these Churches were: Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, St. Cyprian in Long Beach, St. Anthony Claret in Anaheim, St. Martha’s Catholic Church in La Puente and several other churches around.
This author’s Bicolano friends informed us that they celebrate the Feast of Peñafrancia due to the numerous miracles that happened not only in their region but in the “slopes of Sierra de Francia , a mountain range situated in Spain’s’ two famous provinces: Salamanca and Caceres.”
Coincidentally, while the “primitive image of Our Lady was found in Caceres, Spain, a similar image was also found in Nueva Caceres, in the Bicol region of the Philippines.”
History has it that Simon, the sole heir to a rich French family who found the image, turned his back on his wealthy life to serve God by entering the convent. While at the convent he showed exceptional devotion to the Blessed Virgen Mary, and in his sleep one night, he heard a divine voice telling him to go to Peña De Francia, the “area where the sun sets and there he will find the image.” And so, he ventured as a pilgrim for five years and went to the western part of France. In his futile search, he again heard the divine voice telling him to search along with some companions as witnesses, whom he did and when they reached San Martin de Castanar on May 19 1534, at the foot of Pena De Francia, they removed a large stone and they found the image of the Virgen of Peñafrancia.”
The discovery of the image brought “miracles to Simon and his companions: his (Simon Vela’s) wound in the head was cured; Pascual Sanchez’ defect in the eye disappeared’ Juan Fernandez ‘got rid of his ten-year old stomach trouble; Antonioo Fernandez who was deaf began to hear and finally, Benito Sanchez’s finger which was defective from birth recovered its normal stage.” Thus, it was reported that the initial and subsequent miracles were documented and archived by the Notary Public of San Martin de Castanar “to bear witness to the past in order to enable the present and future generations of devotees to learn the veracity of the miracles.”
Similarly, way back in the 17th century, a Spanish family from San Martin de Castanar came to and stayed in Cavite, Philippines. The husband and wife had a son named Miguel de Cobarrubias. This child was a very sickly kid, but he always carried the picture of the Blessed Virgen of Peñafrancia from his grammar school in Sto. Tomas, where he took Theology. Whenever he is ill and recovered, in his own words, “so many are the miracles wrought on me by the Virgen of Peñafrancia. I have no tongue to relate them nor paper to write them on, nor numbers to count them but all I could say is that I am the miracle of her miracles.”
While a student of Theology, he was summoned by Msgr. Andres de Gonzales, of the Dominican Order to be with him in Nueva Caceres. However, on his boat trip there, a storm developed and the ship was almost sinking, but by praying to his Patroness, the Virgen of Peñafrancia, the storm subsided and Miguel and his companions reached their destination.
Miguel was conferred to the sacrament of priesthood by Msgr. Gonzales after a few months and subsequently became Parish Priest of Nueva Caceres (which is now Naga) and he eventually became the Vicar General of the whole Diocese.
His first mission as a Parish Priest was to build a church which he did out of nipa and bamboo. The present church which is currently made of stone was built “more or less in the same place where the first one was constructed.” Some months after the completion of a stone church, in 1723, Miguel passed away but left a legacy of devotion to the Virgen of Peñafrancia which to this day, is acknowledged by all the Bicolanos in the region.
To all our Bicolano friends interested in participating at the various Peñafrancia celebrations around, please call the Catholic Churches mentioned in your neighborhood.