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Viva Iligan Part 1

September 28, 2007

It’s fiesta time in the city but we Protestants wouldn’t have anything to do with it, that is except for binging food* prepared by Catholic hands and enjoying the carnival.
I may sound like I go pamista during the season, but I do not. My first and last eating of fiesta food was way back in time. I don’t even know if I had started school at that time. A neighbor invited our parents, but they instead sent us there. To this day, I don’t know whether they were invited or not. Suffice it to say, we went to our neighbor’s house and ate the food. No prayer to God or whatever saint was offered. We just and chatted and ate. It was ironic to not that all the guests were all Protestant.
Growing up Protestant shielded me from the events of fiesta time. Studying in Manila did not good for any cultural observation. People there don’t seem to be interested in fiestas. I only knew that fiesta time equals holiday season, and so instead of going to school we stayed home. Sometimes, we go to the carnival, but we haven’t been there recently. I don’t even have plans going there. It seems to have lost its thrill. The religious aspect of the fiesta was none of my concern until now.
The patron saint of our city is San Miguel. Catholics add Sr. before the San in formal conversation. He is the Archangel Michael, protector the people of Israel. The reason why he became a saint is beyond me. The reason why he became a patron saint in my city is clouded in legend.
One legend states that the Spanish priests** couldn’t decide what saint to dedicate my city*** to. So they sent for saint statues to be presented before them. One of them got a blindfold and declared that the patron saint of the city would be the statue that he’d first touch. So the priest grappled for a while until he touched one of the statues. He got so excited he kissed the statue and exclaimed, “This would be our saint. This is our saint.”**** He only realized that he was kissing the devil at San Miguel’s feet after he removed the blindfold. Then by literal extension, we got San Miguel as patron saint.
Real Saint
Having been elevated as patron saint, the people started to pray to him. They asked***** him to bring them food, harvest, rain, mercy, and above all protection. My city is situated a few miles away from the Maranao capital of Marawi. Marawi was a stronghold of Islamic presence that the Spanish never seemed to be able to subdue permanently. San Miguel seemed to have answered their prayers. While the Maranao raided and kidnapped people from as far away as Manila, my city stood firm against them in its entire history.
Another miracle attributed to San Miguel is the protection of my city from the Japanese during World War 2. The story goes that the Japanese bomber planes could not bomb my city because the ground apparently disappeared before them. All they could see was water, water everywhere. To which a Protestant minded neighbor replied, “Why would the Japanese bomb this city? They have their airstrip here. Who would want to bomb their own airstrip?”
So at best, a Protestant response to San Miguel is disbelief at one end and indifference at the other end. Of course, what goes between mainly, the usual Catholic-Protestant debates still hold. But it’s for another post. And since I cannot in good conscience declare a Viva****** to San Miguel this season, I would instead say Viva Iligan!

*Some won’t even dare eat such “food offered to idols”. My opinon? See 1 Cor. 1:1-8, but it’s still a conscience thing.
** Filipinos were not yet allowed in the priesthood at that time.
*** Actually, it was still a tiny fort/town at that time
**** Get a Spanish dictionary. I don’t know Spanish.
***** Catholic theology would say that it would be more appropriate to say that San Miguel interceded for God. Yet the testimonies of San Miguel’s devotees sound like San Miguel himself answers prayers.
****** Loosely translated “Long Live” as analogous to “Long live the King”, but since San Miguel is immortal it would be more appropriately translated as “Hail”.

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