8 Guadalupe pilgrims saved from rampaging river

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 April) —  Intercession from the Birhen sa Guadalupe may have saved eight pilgrims from the rampaging waters of Umalag River Thursday evening, devotees say.

The eight pilgrims from Barangay Bugo were washed by strong currents as they negotiated the third of nine river crossings en route to the Birhen sa Guadalupe Shrine at Igbalalay Hills in Barangay Balubal, on their way down at around 7 o’clock Thursday evening. Responding rescuers plucked them out of the river an hour later, as they were clinging on to rocks and tree roots at the riverbank. Three were rushed to the hospital with one of them needing confinement due to the severity of her injuries.

Tens of thousands of devotees flocked to the Shrine from Holy Wednesday evening to Good Friday.

The pilgrims start their trek in Purok Uno, Brgy, Tablon and cross the snaking Umalag River nine times before reaching the five-hectare Shrine and another nine times on the way down. Enterprising locals are offering rubber raft rides for P50 per person. Depending on one’s pace, the shrine could be reached in two to three hours. A typical pilrimage may take between five to eight hours, although many devotees and trekkers pitch their tents for overnight stay.

After the ninth crossing, the Pilgrims walk another 200 meters up the Birhen sa Guadalupe Shrine and offer their final prayers. Along the way, Pilgrims do the Station of the Cross, although a significant number of people trekking there during Holy Week are mere tourists and sightseers.

Heavy rains in Libona, Bukidnon,   the headwaters of Umalag River had elevated the water in the river and created stronger currents.

The pilgrims rushed to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) were April Tompong, Charmaine Pabatao and Melvin Bokingkito. Tompong had to be confined in NMMC. Their other companions who did not require hospital treatment were Christian Mae Cubillo, Mark Lloyd Alborla, Matt Edorot, Sweet Colayco and a certain Pedro.

Tablon barangay chair Romeo Bacarro said the eight were lucky and  the Birhen sa Guadalupe may have interceded to save them. “But angay gyud pod unta mag careful ang mga devotees, (But the devotees ought to take extra care also) Bacarro said.

All they could do, he added, is to advise the pilgrims to take extra care especially in the river crossing.

Hundreds of members of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office were deployed along the Guadalupe trek. Teams from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Oro Alert were also deployed morning of Good Friday.

Bacarro said that except for the Thursday evening incident, there were no other serious problems during the Lenten week observance. He admitted though that hosting a heavy volume of pilgrims is a major challenge.

The pilgrimage to the Shrine started to gain popularity in 2006. From a handful of devotees since its establishment in 1987, thousands and later, tens of thousands of people, have been flocking to the Shrine every Holy Week for religious devotions, personal petitions and for some, simply sightseeing.

Although a public address system near the chapel in Igbalalay Hill reminds the pilgrims and trekkers of the religious significance of the pilgrimage to the Birhen sa Guadalupe, a significant number are just loitering, oblivious to the solemnity of the rituals honoring the death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ which to Christendom is the act that saved humanity from the extreme punishment of sin. On the ground below the hill, is like a feast with food vendors, campers, tattoo artists, horseback riding enthusiasts and yes ukay-ukay vendors milling around.

The Birhen sa Guadalupe Shrine was established by Carlito “Brod Boy” Estoque on May 7, 1987. It is now managed by the Igbalalay Our Lady of Guadalupe Devotees Association.

Aside from the Holy Week pilgrimage in the Igbalalay Hills, a Holy Mass and celebration is also done every December 12, the Feast of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Shrine, however, is open all year round.

The devotion to the Our Lady of Guadalupe started in Mexico City with the apparition of Virgin Mary to a Mexican peasant in 1531.

Popular destinations for the Catholic faithfulsin Northern Mindanao are the Birhen sa Guadalupe, the Malasag Hills in Brgy. Cugman, the Divine Mercy Shrine in El Salvador City, Misamis Oriental and the Panaad Walk around Camiguin island. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)