I didn’t know about the Marian Shrine in Simala, Sibonga town until relatives of my wife Edizza asked both of us to go with them there. That was a couple of years ago, a few months before my mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer. We went there Sunday morning and brought with us food for lunch. We used two vehicles for the trip.
The shrine is in Upper Lindogon, a hilly area that can be reached using a gravel road that branched off from the national highway in Simala. You know you are near the shrine because of the people. Then you espy the cathedral-like structure on a hillside. The road does not reach the shrine, so you have to walk some 100 meters to reach it.
Where the popular places of worship are, expect business to be brisk. Near the entrance of the shrine a convenience stores and eateries have sprouted, and they are not the make shift ones that mushroom during rural tabo (market day). A vacant lot has been designated by enterprising people as pay parking area. Around it are nipa huts for rent.
The Marian Monks of the Eucharistic Adoration are doing well in “selling” the place to the faithful. A billboard a few meters from the entrance tells the story of the “miracle” attributed to the Marian image in the shrine. I could not recall the details of the story, but I think it was about an epidemic whose spread the Marian image prevented.
An article in a Manila daily erroneously attributed the popularity of the “Birhen sa Simala (also, Our of Lady Lindogon) to a claim that it “shed tears of blood.” I don’t think such incident happened. Rather, word-of-mouth stories about illnesses cured, petitions given, etc. attracted devotees to far off Simala (Sibonga is 48 kilometers from the city).
When we went there, the hillside structure looked complete from afar. But once inside, I found that it was still a work in progress. What the monks did was expand what I thought was a Marian chapel. But the expansion work was immense. Scaffoldings were visible at the sides. That didn’t bother people forming a line to get to the Marian image.
The project is big, so this must be where the monks poured the millions of pesos they have received from donors, some of them from abroad. The pathway leading to the shrine (one uses a concrete pathway and has to cross a bridge) is landscaped and has gardens that are well-tended. That means the monks were doing their work that time.
I am not easily swayed by “miracles” (the cynicism comes from my Marxist past), but the faith of the devotees was amazing. The saying of the novena (the monks could not celebrate mass) was continuous, as newly arrived devotees replaced those who left in the pews. A monk interrupted the prayers to allow a woman to give a healing testimony.
I no longer joined my wife and her relatives when they went back to Simala months later to accompany to my already wheelchair-bound mother-in-law there. I had to tend to the kids who had to be left behind by their mother. It must have been a difficult trip for my very ill mother-in-law but I reckon that her faith strengthened her resolve.
My mother-in-law was deeply religious and she leaned on the power of prayer until the end. (She had one of her daughters bring an image of the Virgin Mary to our house where she breathed her last). That is why I consider it unfortunate that the monks in Simala are embroiled in a controversy. It is a disservice to people whose faith in the Virgin Mary is genuine and boundless.
(I wrote this for my September 25, 2009 column in Sun.Star Cebu)