It was a day on the brink of autumn that came with ribbons of mist under an impossibly blue sky.  Clear and temperate burnished it as a perfect day to celebrate the 42nd Penafrancia Eucharistic celebration in honor of Our Lady of Penafrancia at the Lincoln Park lake. The great gathering unleashed a kind of controlled religious anarchy (3,000,000 have people gathered to pay homage in the Philippines), at a time of national crisis.

The United Bicolandia Los Angeles (UBLA) — headed by president Lanie Berrei and volunteers Bernie and Rey Ganon — toiled without much fanfare. What they have is abundance in energy, a cohesive camaraderie and the drive to make things happen in a labor of love. Others simply call it the Bicol mystique.

What makes them tick?

Reviled by myth and malice, the overrated sensuality of Bicolanos as volcanic creatures (years back, if statistics were accurate, they have the highest birth rate in the country) is summed in the sardonic clincher “Bicolanong.”  It never fails to hurt and injure, but does not seem to lessen the fact that they do indeed thrive on hot dishes, for everything that swims in coconut milk, burning pepper and a fistful of “siling labuyo.” Yet, Bicolanos are deeply religious.  For years it gave the biggest contribution to the priesthood. Each city has its own religious festivals and even its fiestas trace their origins to the deeply rooted devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The feast is the grandest and the most celebrated fluvial festival; here in Los Angeles, the UBLA has had an ongoing project since 1983 — a shrine for the Lady of Penafrancia.  Bound together by parallel efforts and a common goal, this year’s 42nd anniversary and celebration is the most revered as the main celebrant of the Holy Mass is the Blessed Mary or “Ina,” the Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia, the Patroness of the whole of Bicoloandia.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles attests to this special affinity honoring her with the title of Our Lady of Angels.

“The celebration of this annual feast with mass, novena prayers and fluvial procession serve as the sources of inspiration and great opportunity to foster the spirit of  solidarity and unity as a faith family,” said his Eminence Archbishop Arturo M. Bastes of Sorsogon.

He also reminded us that every gift that we receive from God we should share.  “Balaog inako, Balaog itao (a gift received is a gift shared).”

Consul General Adelio Cruz and Mrs. Cruz were obviously happy and content with the camaraderie among the fellow Bicolanos that they stayed the entire day exchanging pleasantries and breaking bread.

The food extravaganza was a huge production of nourishment set on tables. You would groan, as there was food as far as the eyes can see — just gazing gave you bad cholesterol. But hospitality and goodwill filled the air all that merriment is said to have surpassed the 42 past celebrations.

Berrei had outdone herself with her sincerity and kindness. Her labor of love is said to have enhanced the glorious celebration as fellow Bicolanos bestowed support on her selflessness.  She thanked everyone, each entity for their great support. The UBLA executive members with Bernie and Rey Ganon and the sponsor, donors and advertisers.  Benefactors and all that the UBLA president had dearly acknowledged with overflowing gratitude not discounting the presence of the communities, like the best among the brightest lensmen, who were there to flittering and moving about.

Sorsogon was the most popular booth, where most of the VIP converged.

The colorful “sakay” where food was offered and served to everyone, the Bicol organizations that laid out their booths laden with delicacies, “the velada,” and the musical program were the most fun-filled gaiety in the celebration of the Fiesta.

Here in the United States, Filipinos especially the Bicolanos  render honor due to the Blessed Mother by celebrating the beautiful spiritual and cultural traditions which play a play a big part of this Feast day to show that a gift received is a gift shared.

From UBLA President Lanie Berrei to each and everyone, “Mabalos!”


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