Sunday, June 3, 2007


HER CROWNING GLORY. Her Majesty Queen Grace I, Miss Mabalacat of 1950, paved the way for future Mabalacat belles who have made it big in national and international pageants like Digna Ramos (Bb. Pilipinas runner-up 1977), Marilyn Maristela (Mutya ng Pilipinas 1996) and Gizelle Viray (Miss Phil-Canada North America 2nd Runner-Up).

May is the traditional fiesta month, but for Mabalaqueños, festivities begin right after January—February 1-2, to be exact. The town fiesta is commemorated on the day of the Purification of our Lady, also known as Candlemas. There is a slight confusion over the real titular patron of the town, as the main altar of the church features not the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria ( represented iconically as a standing, candle-holding Virgin with the Child Jesus) but Nuestra Señora de la Divina Gracia (Our Lady of the Divine Grace). The latter representation shows a seated Virgin on a throne with the Child Jesus on Her lap, hands raised in blessing. Cura parocco Fr. Felipe Roque, who was responsible for refurbishing the altars of the church in the 1950s, was said to have been inspired by a similar image venerated in the Capuchin Church of San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Italy, the town where Padre Pio lived and died. An almost identical image also can be seen in a church in Popayan, Mexico. This particular devotion to the Nuestra Señora de la Gracia was propagated early by the Augustinians in Guadalupe, Makati City.

Documents exist though indicating that the Mabalacat parish was elevated to the Vicariate of Nuestra Señora de Guia—a very popular Recollect devotion—in 1836. One of the broken bells in the belfry however is dated 1846, bearing the inscription “Nuestra Señora de Grasia”, adding to the mystery. As if this is not complicated enough, the feast of Our Lady of Grace is listed on the 9th of June according to the Catholic calendar. There now seems to be a practical explanation for this date change as explained by oldtimers. They recount that in the old days, it was very inconvenient for people to travel through dirt roads to attend church service in June—the onset of the rainy season. A mutual agreement was reached between the town people and the parish priest to move the fiesta date to February 2, when the weather was better.

Mabalacat’s town fiesta is shared by parishes in Tondo, Paco and Silang, Cavite, where processions, High Masses and blessings of candles are held in Our Lady’s honor. Townsfolk are often encouraged to light a blessed candle on this day to boost morale in case of emergencies.

The fiestas of yore in Mabalacat, as in almost all Kapampangan towns, were celebrated with trademark pomp and religious pageantry. Days before the fiesta, carnival fairs took over the parish grounds, featuring a wild assortments of freakshows (as in Babaing Lawin, 7 Dwende, etc.), ferris wheel and bumpy roller coaster rides, betu-betu, karerang dagis and other games galore and baratillos (bargain stalls). In houses all over town, doors were flung open and food flowed freely for both drop-in visitors and even uninvited guests.

The fiesta morning was highlighted by a religious procession of Our Lady, plus marching brass bands accompanying the parade of town beauties along bunting-festooned streets. Fifty three years ago, Miss Gracia Hipolito captivated the judges with her winsome smile and personality to win the title of Miss Mabalacat 1950. Her Majesty, Queen Grace I, as her pretty picture proudly proclaims, wore a rhinestone-studded crown and sequinned satin gown with fancy butterfly wings at her coronation. Then, as now, Misses Mabalacat were expected to turn into social butterflies as part of their royal responsibilities, even for just the duration of the two-day fiesta!


(1 February 2003)

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