If you look to your right going to Cebu’s south on its east coast, you will notice this hill from the road in the first time you pass in Carcar City. A larger-than-life statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands on the peak, her hands clasped in prayer.
Pilgrims come here each year to celebrate the Lady’s fiesta under her title “Mother of God.” The feast falls on the first day of the year.
A low rise leads you to the foot of the hill. After a few paces, you come to a forked road, a winding one to your right for vehicles, a steeper incline to your left.
I chose the left path, a blacktop lined to the east by a row of freestanding reliefs depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life starting with the Last Supper.
It was the first day of the year, when roads are quiet and houses seem abandoned after the midnight revelry of welcoming a fresh set of twelve months.
Skies were turning milky white to stormy grey, heralding the approach of Agaton, 2018’s first tropical depression. Still, at the bottom landing of the stairway to Mary the God-bearer, Theotokos, the ever-victorious concrete statue of Saint Michael the Archangel welcomed visitors, his sword-wielding arm poised to strike a fallen Satan whose defiant head the archangel pinned down with his left heel.
Colossal images of shepherd children knelt before the Virgin at the top of the staircase. Pope Francis had canonized two of them in 2017, a hundred years after the Virgin appeared to them six times in Fatima, Portugal.
The two are siblings Jacinta and Francisco de Jesus Marto. The miracle that led to the recognition of their sainthood involved the healing of a Brazilian boy who sustained severe injuries after falling from a window. The boy’s parents, Joao Baptista and his wife Lucila Yurie prayed for Saints Francisco and Jacinta to obtain from God their son’s recovery.
The third shepherd girl lived to be a centenarian Carmelite nun. Last week, I read that proponents of her canonization gathered 15,000 pages of testimonies about the holiness of the third seer, Sister Lucia de Jesus Rosa dos Santos.
“When lovers are together, they spend hours and hours repeating the same thing: ‘I love you!’” Sister Lucia once said. “What is missing in the people who think the rosary monotonous is Love; and everything that is not done for love is worthless.”
To the ones for whom loving is difficult, the Virgin provides a remedy on this hill in Perrelos, Carcar: a well of water flowing from her shrub-draped pedestal. Turn on each of seven taps and wash your hands in a rite to triumph over the seven capital sins — lust, gluttony, avarice, acedia, wrath, envy, pride.
You can then look seaward, the direction of the gaze of Mother Mary, she whom choirs throughout the ages have sung of as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. The view is like a gift from her, a horizon vast, mysterious, waiting to reveal though wrapped in dark clouds.
Inside the church, the Christmas tree glowed with the light of dozens of star-shaped lanterns. There was poetry in the decoration. The tree was made of hundreds of dry twigs stripped of their bark.
Yes, just when you think something is but dead and dark, it enables you to behold the shining of stars.