The Baclaran Phenomenon
The Baclaran Phenomenon is, first and foremost, the incredible number of people who come to the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran every Wednesday to make the Perpetual Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is estimated that at least 100,000 devotees come on regular Wednesdays, reaching about 120,000 on the First Wednesday of each month. The biggest turnout of the year is on Ash Wednesday. The crowd for that day simply defies estimate.
This novena began here almost 50 years ago on June 23, 1948. Not only has the number of devotees continued, it is still growing. Formerly, only during the 5 PM and 6 PM novena did people overflow from the church to the parking lot. But it is only 3 PM of an ordinary Wednesday as I look out from the balcony of the Redemptorist convento, and an overflow crowd is already spilling out of the church.
How the Perpetual Help Icon came to Baclaran Redemptorist priests and brothers have been in the Philippines since 1906. From the moment of their arrival, they introduced devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help through their missions and retreats. In their city churches, they usually directed the so-called Saturday Devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In Manila, the Redemptorists settled into Malate Parish in 1913 and had a small but popular shrine to Our Mother of Perpetual Help there.
When they transferred to Baclaran in 1932, the Ynchausti family who were old friends and benefactors from Malate, donated a beautiful high altar and insisted that it be a shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It took a while for the builder, Father Denis Grogan, to be persuaded, as he was devoted to Sta. Teresita whom he made the patroness of both the church and the convento. But when the church was opened, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the high altar became the focus of popular devotion.
During World War II, the Japanese took over the Redemptorist convento in
Baclaran and the community was dispersed. The Australian and New Zealand Redemptorists were interred at Los Baños, but the Irish superior, Fr. F. J. Cosgrave, was spared internment due to his nationality. Before leaving, the superior took down the icon from the main altar and entrusted it for safekeeping to a family living near La Sane College. Towards the close of the war, their house was burned down and nobody knew what happened to the Perpetual Help icon that had been kept there.
After liberation, one of the La Salle Brothers happened to go to the old Bilibid Prison on Ascarraga Street where the Japanese had stored some of the valuable articles they took from Filipino homes. He noticed a. picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and guessed it might belong to the Redemptorists.