by ROWENA OREJANA
More than 750 devotees of the Our Lady of Penafrancia celebrated the 25th anniversary of
their arrival in New Zealand with a procession around Our Lady of Assumption Church in Onehunga.
The suprema, or leader of the devotion, Mrs Mayette Villanueva, said: “We can only be so thankful to all these devotees and supporters who always come to share this journey of
faith with us. In Our Ina’s [Mother’s] love we have experienced so many challenges that only the believers can overcome with such trusting, hopeful courage to move, no matter what.”
Mrs Villanueva and her husband, Fred, who is the supremo, arrived in New Zealand in 1987 with
a framed photo of Our Lady of Penafrancia and a firm faith and devotion to her. A couple of years later, friends and a group of Filipinos from Bicol region called UragoNZ joined their novena, and the devotion grew.
“We started praying the novena in our house with our friends. Later, we had to move to the
[Immaculate Conception] Ellerslie church hall because the house was too small to accommodate
the devotees,” said Mrs Villanueva.
The devotees held the novena there for a year then moved to St John Vianney Church in Hillsborough.
They stayed there until the number of devotees again grew too large. Four years ago,
they moved to Onehunga.
“Our Lady of Penafrancia is known for her miraculous intercessions,” said Mrs Villanueva.
“Some have heard of the miracles that can happen when they pray to Our Lady. Some have
borrowed the cape of the Blessed Virgin’s image to place it on people who are sick and heal them,” she said.
“She still makes some miracles that many can see and share with others, the Faith in our Ina
that transcends all hopes, even when others see no more reason for hoping,” she added.
Mrs Villanueva said the devotion and word of miracles had spread to other ethnicities. “We had
some Samoans, Tongans and Indians who came to celebrate with us,” she said.
She had experienced little miracles in her everyday life. “When we first came here, there
were days when we didn’t have food or money to buy dinner. I would pray before the Blessed Virgin before I leave the house. One time, I won a basket of food,” she said with a laugh.
Our Lady of Penafrancia is the Patroness and Queen of Bicolandia, a region in the Philippines.
The Penafrancia shrine built in 1750 in the province’s capital, Naga, attracts more than five
million devotees a year. It is known as one of the biggest Marian pilgrimage sites in the world.
The Penafrancia Basilica Minore built on the outskirts of the city in 1981 houses the
304-year-old wooden image of the Lady.
In the Philippines, the festivities begin with a nine-day novena ending on the third Sunday of
At the start of the festivities, barefoot male “voyadores” carry the image from the basilica
around the city streets to Naga Cathedral. On the last day of the novena, the image is brought
back to the basilica through a procession on a river. A pontifical Mass caps the celebration.
Lutgarda Albao, another devotee, said their commitment is to spread the devotion. “Last year,
we started visiting other churches in Auckland with Ina. We went to churches during Filipino
Masses,” she said.
“We would like to encourage people to pray to her and seek her miraculous intercession,” she
said, “because we know that she brings all our concern to her beloved son, Our Lord!”
by ROWENA OREJANA