(Excerpts from EDSA Shrine: God’s Gift, Our Mission Edited by Bishop Soc Villegas)
In the middle of elevated highways and towering skyscrapers of downtown Pasig City in Metro Manila, Philippines is EDSA Shrine standing as a monument of peace. This Shrine of Peace seems to be a contradiction in this setting of unrelenting hustle and bustle of urban life – vehicles rushing in so many directions with urgency, people preoccupied with work, with commerce, and with returning to home and hearth at the end of a busy day. This memorial of the peace won by millions of Filipinos massing in the highway with the serendipitous name Epifanio de los Santos (Epiphany of Saints) to force the end of a dictatorial regime in 1986 and a corrupt administration in January 2001, has become, over the years, a haven, a home, a community, a challenge as well as a mission.
The millions of Filipinos who massed on those days in February in 1986 and the hundreds of thousands in January 2001 longer assemble in this place all at the same time as they did on the days of revolution. In their place, countless people have come to the Shrine, at different times, to seek peace and to give peace through prayer and action.
The Shrine began as a massive structure of granite and stone, of bronze and marble and of murals that depict the history of two peaceful revolutions. It is an imposing structure, not because of its size, but because of its character and the statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace atop its dome with her big welcoming hands spread wide to welcome all who seek peace.
Today, people come to pause for a breather from the fast-paced life to pray, celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, receive the Holy Communion and receive other sacraments. The Shrine serves as the conscience of the Filipinos’ longing and love for peace — serving as the venue and forum for people to express their sentiments on social issues, with unfettered vigor and force.
Former Pres. Corazon Aquino describes the EDSA Shrine as about Prayer Power and People Power. “It is about remembering the thousands of men, women and children who prayed as they had never prayed before and who were filled with tremendous courage so that they dared challenge the tanks of a dictator. It is about expressing the Filipinos’ gratitude to Almighty God for helping restore freedom, democracy and morality in the Philippines.”
The EDSA Shrine stands at an historic intersection. On these crossroads in 1986 and 2001, the Filipino people manifested the inheritance that had been handed down to them through the centuries: faith and heroism.
People Power I
In 1983, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, coming back to the Philippines after a long exile in the United States, was felled by assassins’ bullets right at the airport tarmac. It was a lonely and tragic death that could come only from the fear of people so greedy for total power. Ninoy’s assassination reawakened the Filipinos’ inherent love for truth and freedom; and they poured out in the streets, first in grief and mourning, and later in anger with fists clenched in protest against a regime that had overstepped its bounds and had finally broken their patience.
Three years after Ninoy’s death, the people’s revolutionary spirit would give vent to decisive action. At the call of His Eminence Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, the Filipinos filled up the avenues and roads that traversed through two military camps that held two top government officials who dared defy a dictator. With their images of Our Lady, rosaries, flowers, zeal, faith and love for peace, they stood their ground for three days, until the hardened hearts of soldiers carrying long firearms and manning tanks melted into surrender.
Thus, on February 25, 1986, the fourth day of the People Power Revolution, the miracle happened. The dictator was ousted in a very peaceful and non-violent manner. Thus the peaceful revolution brought an end to the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Corazon C. Aquino was proclaimed the rightful winner of the Presidential Elections and was sworn to office by Chief Justice Teehankee of the Supreme Court in the presence of Cardinal Sin and thousands of Filipinos at the Club Filipino in Greenhills. Seven coup attempts were staged by the military all through 1986 – but were never successful. Hard work and prayers brought Mrs. Aquino until the end of her term in office.
People Power II
The Filipinos repeated the People Power phenomena when they ousted another leader strongly perceived to be lacking in competence and moral leadership in January 2001.
Scandals have constantly hounded the administration of Joseph Estrada since he assumed office in 1998. The Philippine media were able to gather and document data on Estrada and his families’ extensive business interests and real property holdings, which cost far exceeds his declared assets. Estrada also repaid political debts to his patrons that financed his campaign by giving out companies, contracts, franchises, and government positions. In the midst of extreme poverty in the nation, he lived a life of wanton luxury and showed little interest in even the most basic tasks of governance.
All these found confirmation in the revelation of a close friend and drinking partner Governor Luis Singson that Estrada regularly received protection money from illegal gambling operators and of pocketing a large portion of excise taxes, meant for poor tobacco farmers. All these plus the deteriorating economic situation under his helm of leadership have contributed to the erosion of the public trust in Estrada’s capacity to govern the nation.
Estrada was eventually charged of bribery, graft and corruption, violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust before the Senate acting as an impeachment body.
Throughout the trial, EDSA Shrine once again became a venue for numerous groups and individuals to pray and seek divine intervention for the country’s sufferings. When vital evidence in the trial was suppressed, Filipinos perceived that their constitutional process of last resort was sabotaged. For three days beginning January 16, thousands and thousands of people gathered at EDSA Shrine to pray and demand Estrada’s ouster. On the fifth day, with the resignation of most of his cabinet members, Estrada abandoned the presidential palace and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took her oath as new Philippine president at EDSA Shrine at the foot of the big statue of Our Lady of Peace.
The two EDSA revolutions are seen as the flowering of the Filipino Catholic faith, the blossoming of Filipino heroism. And the whole word saw them fighting the battle for freedom and peace with food, songs, flowers and prayers, with priests and nuns at the forefront. The world was puzzled and surprised.
EDSA Shrine: An Inspired Work of Art
The idea of a shrine of peace to serve as a memorial of the People Power Revolution came as an inspired thought to His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin two days after Marcos fled to Hawaii.
The Cardinal was riding in the car together with Bishop Gabriel Reyes, then auxiliary bishop of Manila, en route to Camp Aguinaldo where they were to celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass. They came upon the intersection of EDSA and Ortigas, and Bishop Reyes pointed it out to the Cardinal as the spot where intrepid but gentle nuns and young men and women stood in front of the tanks and offered flowers to the soldiers.
At that corner, on an empty lot, had stood two huge billboards of the Family Rosary Crusade, featuring the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the slogans: “The Family that prays together stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace.” The felicitous coincidence could not but evoke the reality of Our Lady’s presence at EDSA during the Power People Revolution.
Realizing this, the two could not help but recall the story of “La Naval de Manila” and the Battle of Lepanto, which was fought on October 7, 1571. At this historic battle, Don Juan of Austria, with only a few ships, defeated the Muslim Turks, who ships had outnumbered theirs. Had the Turks won this battle, they could have overrun Europe, making the entire continent Muslim. The miraculous victory of the Christians was attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother to whom the people of Rome prayed unceasingly with their rosaries and processions, asking for help to win the battle. To thank the Lord for the victory, Pope St. Pius V in 1572 instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory. A year later, Pope Gregory XII changed the name to the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The feast of La Naval de Manila was also instituted in thanksgiving to the Lord for another naval victory. During the Spanish times, the Protestant Dutch tried to conquer Manila.
However, the Spanish fleet manned by Spaniards and Filipinos roundly defeated the far-superior naval force of the Dutch. This naval victory was attributed to our Blessed Mother of the Most Holy Rosary because as the naval battle was raging, the people of Manila continually prayed the rosary. This is the origin of the Feast of La Naval de Manila, which is celebrated (in a very special way in the Sto. Domingo Parish in Quezon City) on the first Sunday of October.
The EDSA Revolution felt as significant as the Battle of Lepanto or the “La Naval de Manila.” Thus the idea of a memorial structure to thank the Lord and the Blessed Mother for the peaceful EDSA revolution came to mind.
Cardinal Sin then set into motion a series of steps to turn his idea into reality. Then owners of the land, the Ortigas and the Gokongwei families, were approached and they donated the prime corner lot. The architectural design for the church was undertaken by Architect Francisco Mañosa with preparatory work from National Artist Architect Leandro Locsin and Architect William Coscolluela.
Architect Mañosa designed the Shrine to evoke the freedom of movement and celebratory spirit of the original EDSA revolution. The Shrine is to open out to the streets with the image of Our Lady Queen of Peace, as sculpted in bronze by the late artist Virginia Ty-Navarro, forming the apex of the structure. The promenade is accessible through cascading stairs and ramps from EDSA and Ortigas Avenue. The center of his plaza faces the convergence of the two main roads and has become the site of the Eucharistic celebration held each year to commemorate the People Power Revolution.
Various works of art symbolize the spirit of freedom and peace at the Shrines promenade area. At one end is the “Flame of Freedom,” a sculpture done by artist Manny Casal of three hardy men bearing a cauldron of frame over their shoulders, representing the Philippines’ three major islands, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Throughout the plaza are the 14 Stations of the Cross as rendered in a bronze by national artist Napoleon Abueva.
At one corner are the carillon bells, which were crafted by some friends from Holland from the bullets of cannons of the Second World War. At given intervals during the day, the bells chime familiar patriotic and religious tunes, mostly evoking sentiments of the People Power Revolution.
The main chapel spans the breadth of the entire intersection and is accessible from either avenue. At each side are chapels, one the San Lorenzo chapel, and the other the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. Natural lighting is obtained from all sides, except the main altar wall, which draws light from the skylight above. This skylight is diffused by a stained glass ceiling designed by artist Eduardo Castrillo.
Within the main chapel, a floating glass sculpture of the Risen Christ by Ramon Orlina overlooks the main marble altar also created by Abueva. The upper walls are muted murals that depict and interpret the four-day revolution by 15 artists from Angono, Rizal led by Nemi Miranda. The art works “Doves of Peace,” also by Casal, rest gently on the holy water fonts by the entrances.
At the chapel of the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is dramatically exposed through the monstrance-sculpture done by Castrillo. At the other side chapel named after the first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, there is a wall mural depicting the saint’s life painted by artist Ben Alano.
These works by Filipino artists – architects, sculptors, and painters – form a unique collection that pays tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Filipino people. These works inspire, elevate, comfort and cheer, and in their unifying purpose, bring the people who visit, pray and celebrate in the Shrine closer to God, the source of peace.
The construction of the original Shrine was almost complete by late November of 1989. It was inaugurated on December 8, 1989, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Today, the EDSA Shrine embodies a debt of gratitude of the Filipinos who have experienced the overpowering love of God in those fateful those of February 1986 and January 2001 when He “gave us back our land” in a bloodless, peaceful People Power Revolution at EDSA. The EDSA Shrine is a monument to mark the continuing triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, as she had promised at Fatima.
Bishop Socrates Villegas says when he began his ministry at the EDSA Shrine on December 16, 1989, he only had one friend to attend the liturgy. But the flock of churchgoers increased after only one week, he had to move to the bigger church to accommodate the growing community. The number of Masses has since increased, the number of choirs has multiplied along with the readers and altar servers, volunteer doctors and nurses, counselors, social workers and community organizers.
He writes in his ‘EDSA Shrine: God’s Gift, Our Mission’ book: “Our growth at the EDSA Shrine has led us to faith, deeper faith and trust in God. It is God who makes everything possible for us. It is God who makes us grow. Unless the Lord builds His house, they labor in vain who build it, says the Holy Scripture. People change. Structures change. Buildings change. Appearance change. But the Lord remains unchanged in His love for all of us.”