The Philippines

The Philippines: National history and Mary

The first missionaries arrived in the Philippines in 1565.

A Filipino wrote, "We can say that one of the key factors in the rapid spread of Christianity in the Philippines was the devotion to Mary. The Filipinos are an affectionate people and were immediately won over to the love of the Virgin. This opened the way to a general acceptance of the truths of the Catholic faith"[1].

As of 2019, Roman Catholics represent 86% of the population.

This is why the Rosary is an important prayer in the Philippines:

  • The Rosary was the first adhesion of faith and unity for Christians in the northern islands that had not seen missionaries for years.
  • In 1646, just off the shore of Manila, two small Catholic galleons (Spanish and Filipinos) were fighting against Dutch Calvinist forces, 15 squadrons strong. Before the battle, the Catholic sailors recited the Rosary, and continued to pray it individually during the battle. At the height of the battle, they pronounced the "vow of La Naval" pledging to celebrate a feast in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary if they were victorious… and they obtained victory! This vow committed them to celebrate only one Mass of thanksgiving, but the country adopted it and established a recurring feast day, taking place on the second Sunday of October. On 9 April 1652, the victories in the five sea battles were declared a miracle by the Archdiocese of Manila after a thorough canonical investigation, giving rise to the centuries-old festivities of Our Lady of La Naval de Manila.
  • In 1974, "Rosary blocks" were created, gathering families who pray together in individual homes[2].

Devotion to Mary and the fall of the dictator Marcos in the year 1986

Marcos’ fall was the culmination of a long process in which Marian devotion played an important role. In 1975, the Episcopal Conference issued a pastoral letter on Mary. The bishops stated:

"We rarely associate devotion to Mary with the social dimension of Christian living … but they point to a reversal of the social order in the Kingdom of God… Devotion to Mary shows itself in works, and the works which we needed in the Philippines today are the works of justice and freedom from oppression"[3].

“The process that preceded the fall of the dictator Marcos was accompanied through and through by the use of the Rosary. When, in 1983, Benigno Aquino was assassinated, he had just finished praying the Rosary. During the election campaign of his widow Corazon Aquino, many of the people raised their rosaries in support. During the decisive events of February 22-23-24, 1986, two million people gathered in Manila without bloodshed. People came out into the streets with the statue of Mary, sang and prayed the Rosary, offering food and flowers to the soldiers. The power of the people was the power of Mary, and the victory was the victory of Mary” [4].

Filipinos tend to show Mary’s presence in visible, concrete ways. For example:

The Christmas Novena includes a religious procession that “accompanies” Mary and Joseph in their search for lodgings in Bethlehem.

The faithful walk the  Way of the Cross on Good Friday, behind a statue of Mary, and again they bring her out to stage and celebrate her meeting with the Risen One on Easter morning[2].


[1] J. Riou, S.J., Le culte de la Vierge aux Philippines (in Maria - études sur la Vierge Marie - Volume V, p. 667

[2] See Attilio GALLI, Madre della Chiesa dei Cinque Continenti, Ed Segno, Udine, 1997, p. 435-443

[3] Mary in Philippine Life Today, A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, February 2, 1975

[4] Cf. Filippine and the Rivoluzione del Rosario, in "Madre di Dio", issue #  2, febbraio 1995, p. 1. Clodovis Boff, Mariologia Social. Il significato della Vergine per la società. BTC 136. Queriniana, Brescia 2007. Biblioteca contemporanea, p. 219.