by John O’Connell
The Spanish missionaries who brought the one true Faith to the Philippines found fertile soil for the seed of the Gospel. The Philippines is the most Catholic nation in Asia and Filipinos have developed a great devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
At the end of the 16th century, the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines commissioned the sculpting of a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary. The statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, which would become known as La Naval, consists of the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus. The two figures have Asian features and are garbed as would be members of the royal court of Spain. The statue is made of hardwood but the faces and hands were carved from ivory. The Virgin holds the Infant Jesus in her left arm and her right hand holds a scepter and a rosary. Both figures wear golden crowns and their heads are canopied by a golden halo that has twenty-four stars. Over the centuries the faithful have donated many jewels to adorn the statue of La Naval in appreciation of favors received from the Blessed Mother. The statue was enshrined in the church of Santo Domingo in Manila.
In 1646, Dutch and English raiders threatened the Philippines. Five times that year a navy of Spaniards and Filipinos met in battle and repulsed the superior forces of the Dutch navy. The Spanish-Filipino forces suffered relatively few injuries in all these battles. Before each naval engagement the people of Manila honored Our Lady and prayed the Most Holy Rosary asking for her powerful intercession and protection.
After the victories, the faithful of the Philippines honored Our Lady of the Rosary in thanksgiving for her succor. Indeed, down through the centuries the Philippine people have continued to honor La Naval with religious festivities.
Less than a hundred years before, St. Pius V ordered the public recitation of the Rosary for a victory over the Moslem forces threatening Christendom. Our Lady of the Rosary had aided a Christian fleet in obtaining a great and decisive victory over the Islamic fleet at Lepanto. Now Our Lady of the Rosary, who is also known as the Star of the Sea, came to the assistance of the Spanish-Filipino navy to protect the Philippines from non-Catholic forces. Hence her title of La Naval.
In 1954, the statue of La Naval was led on a boat shaped carriage to a new shrine. And in the 1970’s, La Naval was officially acknowledged as the Patroness of Manila.
Our Lady of the Rosary has gained renown by protecting and aiding the Christian forces who have invoked her assistance in the fight against their enemies. She is, however, all the more ready to shield and to help those Christians who invoke her in their spiritual battles against the forces of darkness.
John O’Connell is the Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.