Manila (AsiaNews/UCAN) - At the beginning of Advent, thousands of Catholics trekked up a historic mountain in the northern Philippines for their diocese's celebration of the Year of the Eucharist (proclaimed by the Pope last October) and for the Philippines' own Marian Year, which the Bishops' Conference organised to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
On November 27, some 15,000 students, priests, religious, lay Church workers and other Catholics gathered at the Shrine of Valor near the peak of Mt. Samat, in Bataan province's Pilar town, for mass at dusk. The liturgy formally launched the twin celebrations in Balanga diocese.
The diocese, about 130 kilometres west of Manila, serves the province of Bataan, the scene of battles between invading Japanese troops and Filipino and American defenders in World War II. The Shrine of Valor built on Mt. Samat is a memorial to Filipino and American soldiers defeated in the Battle of Bataan in the early days of the war's Pacific theatre.
Before joining the 7.5-kilometer procession, Bishop Socrates Villegas of Balanga blessed the faithful. Once on the mountain top, youths from Abucay town performed a Biblical pantomime before the mass the Bishop celebrated with the entire Balanga clergy.
In his homily, Bishop Villegas exhorted the faithful to remember the heroism the shrine stands for and to aspire for the holiness to which God calls them. The other side of love for God, he said, was "love for country."
He noted that the celebration signalled the start of Advent, the season that opens the Church's annual liturgical cycle.
The mass ended with the bishop lighting the first of the four candles of the Advent wreath. Young people then lit their candles, which they used to light the candles of others around them. Before long, thousands of flickering candles lit up the area of the shrine.