One hundred seventy-five years today after the Medal of the Immaculate Conception was revealed to a Daughter of Charity, the world has known the wonders which the Medal has brought upon the lives of millions, and undoubtedly, has changed the course of Church history. From 1830 to the present time the Medal has become what it was, and is, meant to be: a symbol of silent and dedicated, humble service to God, a badge of sanctity and piety, and a shield of purity.
The Medal was meant to be propagated. This is precisely the wish of Mary in 1830 when she told Sr. Catherine Laboure: “Have a Medal struck according to this model. All those who wear it with faith and confidence will receive abundant graces…”
Over the years the Medal, which was very so known as “Miraculous,” has been an instrument of numerous cures, protection from accident, pestilence, calamities, dangers.
Wherever Vincentian missionaries and Daughters of Charity go, the Miraculous Medal is also propagated. With the arrival of the first batch of Vincentian missionaries and Daughters of Charity in the Philippines in 1862, the seedbed of the mustard seed – of the Miraculous Medal – was prepared.
Sometime in 1957, a layperson, Jose Chebat, approached Fr. Jesus Ma. Cavanna, then National Director of the Association of the Children of Mary in the Philippines, and suggested that the latter put up the Miraculous Medal Apostolate.
On August 15, 1957, feast day of the Assumption of Mary, Fr. Cavanna presented the draft of the Miraculous Medal Apostolate to the Council who, without the least objection, approved the establishment of the new movement. Thus, the Miraculous Medal Apostolate (MMA) was born. The date is significant, as it signifies that the movement will draw souls to God, through the Medal, thereby to enjoy the heavenly company of Mary in the glory of her assumption to heaven.
The Miraculous Medal Apostolate was formally launched during the Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at the St. Vincent de Paul Church in November 1957 with Jose Chebat as the first honorary perpetual member in recognition of his pioneering idea of the movement in the Philippines.
Barely six months after assuming the post of CoM Director, Fr. Teodoro Barquin took over as well that of the MMA following the death of Fr. Luis Angulo, C.M. Fr. Barquin had subscribed to the idea of holding a contest as initiated by Fr. Cavanna in promoting the movement which aims: 1) to spread devotion to the Immacualte Mother of God by means of the Miraculous Medal and, 2) to help in the education of Vincentian seminarians for the priesthood.
It was a grand plan – a sort of panavision – visualized in 1964: two magnificent buildings, MARIAN CENTER and the NATIONAL SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL would rise in a 5-hectare lot somewhere in Quezon City in the near future; two superb, modern structures in steel and stones proclaiming the glory of God.
But God writes in crooked lines. Phase One of the vision – Marian Center – was realized earlier, not on a five-hectare lot, but on some 400 sq. m. lot beside the 85-year old church of St. Vincent de Paul, also a Shrine of Our Lady, on the busy street of San Marcelino, Manila.
From 1964 to 1978 – 14 long years – Phase Two of the vision never got blurred in the mind of Fr. Barquin. It was temporarily relegated to the background, busy as he was in his numerous duties and functions. But in moments of personal reflection, especially when alone before the image of Mary, his thoughts would relish the vision, praying for the day when it would be realized.
The answer came unexpectedly. Sometime in 1978, a friend introduced him to a matron, Mrs. Estela Posadas, a Marian devotee herself, whose family owned the Posadas Village in Sucat, Muntinlupa. She said that her family decided to donate some 500 sq. m. lot in their subdivision with option to buy more at discounted price.
With the Deed of Donation already signed, Fr. Barquin contracted two prominent professionals: Jose Zaragosa, architect, and Eduardo Santiago, contractor.
And so, it was on July 19, 1979 that the first, red-letter day of the Shrine began.
Under the bright morning sun, hundreds of Marian devotees, promoters, students, seminarians of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, CoM members, Daughters of Charity, Vincentian priests, guests and notably the donor of the lot Mrs. Estela Posadas trooped to the site to witness the cornerstone-laying ceremony with Fr. Frank Vargas as Master of Ceremony.
After Jaime Cardinal Sin blessed the cornerstone, he signed the Act of Blessing and placed it in a brass cylinder together with other mementos: medals, rosaries, news clippings, copies of the Mary’s Army and the Newsletter and names of donors and promoters who responded to the appeal of Fr. Barquin for the occasion. The cylinder was then lowered by Mrs. Estela Posadas in the ground to the applause of the spectators – there to remain forever in the bosom of the Shrine.
Total cost of the Shrine would amount to several million pesos. The funding of the construction came from different sources: from benefactors and income from the Marian Store (thru donations and affiliation fees).
In retrospect, Fr. Barquin could not help believing that the construction, completion and blessing of the Shrine were truly under the guidance and inspiration of our Blessed Mother. Events bore witness to this. The laying of the cornerstone took place on the 19th of July, a day after the 18th, which in the history of the Miraculous Medal, is significant as it was on the 18th of July 1830 that Mary first appeared to St. Catherine Laboure.
The work on the Shrine went on smoothly and by July 1980 it was completed. Its inauguration and blessing was set two months later, September 7, eve of Mary’s nativity. Moreover, the year 1980 was declared the Marian Year, this being the 150th anniversary of the Miraculous Medal – the very Medal for which the Shrine was built and consecrated to propagate.
On September 7, 1980, close to three thousand Marian devotees and pilgrims, including guests, gathered to witness the Solemn Dedication of the National Shrine. The Vatican sent a telegraphic message, read by the very Rev. Rolando dela Goza, Provincial of the CM. The presiding prelates, their Eminences Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila and Julio Cardinal Rosales of Cebu, were preceded by two bishops, some thirty priests (Vincentian and priests from other congregations) as co-celebrants.
A special book containing the names of donors, sponsors, benefactors and promoters of the MMA was blessed by Cardinal Sin, assisted by Fr. Barquin, was placed in a niche at the foot of the statue of Mary, there to be prayed to over and over. The soft smile of Mary seems to give an assurance that all those who have laboured unselfishly for the realization of her home and all those who would come to visit her will have her guidance and protection.
What is the significance of the Shrine? What can a shrine mean to the man of today? Is it worth the millions spent in its construction?
Bishop Teotimo Pacis said, “The Shrine is a home for everyone: the poor and the rich; the lowly and the mighty; the believers and unbelievers; the sinners and the saintly. A home where the Mother of God prays for mankind. Surmounting the shrine is a tall and towering cross, so tall that the world may know that the salvation of the world is Christ, but through Mary. The Shrine beckons us to come to Christ through the loving arms of His mother – Mary, whose medal we wear as symbol of our faith, hope and love.”
He also declared, “It is true Fr. Barquin is not the founder of the Children of Mary Immaculate. But if the association is what it is today, with its national council and diocesan councils all over the Philippines, we owe it to Fr. Barquin.
“It is true he is not the founder of Mary’s Army. But if Mary’s Army is what it is today as a National Marian magazine, we owe it to Fr. Barquin.
“It is true he is not the founder of the Miraculous Medal Apostolate. But if the MMA is what it is today, modernized and streamlined, we owe it to the managerial expertise of Fr. Barquin.
“Go around the Philippines, and you will not find a shrine so modern, so beautiful and so artistic as this National Miraculous Medal Shrine, dedicated to Our Lady in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of her apparitions to St. Catherine Laboure. And we owe it to Fr. Barquin. To all the Marian devotees, to all Marian promoters, to all the Children of Mary Immaculate, this Shrine is the realization of a collective dream. But to Fr. Barquin, this is the climax and crown of his work as Apostle of Mary and promoter of the Medal these past 35 years.”
In 1986, Fr. Barquin said goodbye to his friends and loved ones to accept a new assignment as Director of the Editorial La Milagrosa in Madrid, Spain.
Excerpts from the book of Domingo G. Vargas, Touching Our Lives