Religiosity, resilience reign in town’s fiesta

 

 

Yolanda wreaked havoc on the town of Sta. Rita in Pampanga. Seven months after, the annual fiesta here never ceased its religious fervor–with Saint Rita de Cascia’s intercession as residents’ blessing.

 

STA. RITA, PAMPANGA—This place isn’t like Tacloban City or the towns or cities of Eastern Visayas that typhoon Yolanda had swept. But yes, Yolanda also battered Sta. Rita.

Battered in the sense that there was also flooding and damage to crops, though devastation to property was not like Tacloban’s harrowing sights. Rice fields here were flooded; businesses went bankrupt; some public school infrastructure were devastated; and some residents became jobless.

But some seven months after Yolanda, there were nine days of religiosity that blended with not just fun, but with resiliency that this fourth-income class town’s patroness is remembered for.

An image of Saint Rita de Cascia during Sta. Rita, Pampanga's fiesta recently (photo from https://www.facebook.com/roseofsaintrita)

An image of Saint Rita de Cascia during Sta. Rita, Pampanga’s fiesta recently (photo from https://www.facebook.com/roseofsaintrita)

Saint Rita de Cascia is the patroness’ name, and this Italian is a 15th century nun. There was a nine-day “March for Saint Rita” recently, and Ritenians (i.e. residents here) prayed and lit candles to mix together devotion with fiesta galore.

The mix up of these facets of Ritenians’ annual fiesta, though, did not overshadow religious fervor, with Yolanda recovery on the background. After all, intercession from Saint Rita is the source of Ritenians’ strength and resiliency.

Throngs of people filled up a main street here, on the day of Saint Rita’s feast (May 23rd). Residents were armed with candles and the rosary, then walked around town. Yes, that was a fiesta, not the colorful, jolly usual Filipino fiesta that marks May in many rural areas.

It didn’t mean, though, it’s all prayer. A break from the nine-day novena was “Lakan and Mutya of Santa Rita” last May 20. A day prior to the nine-day novena that started May 14, Ritenians and tourists went there to ride Ferris wheel and the horror train. And when the nine-day religious-cum-fiesta sortie ended May 23rd, live bands jammed at the town plaza.

Msgr. Abelardo Basilio, the town’s parish priest, said Saint Rita is “well-loved”; go to many houses here and find a stature —even miniature ones— of this saint in households’ altars.

And if there are Saint Rita statues, of course a portion of her relics are here. Candles and voices of prayers —for miracles or for her intercession in residents’ aspirations and dreams— frequent the place where her relics are stored. Saint Rita is known to residents as the “saint of the impossible.”

No wonder Sunday Masses here are hits, says Msgr. Basilio, compared to other parishes in Pampanga he had been assigned to.

“The activities (during the recent fiesta) show how religious (Ritenians) are. When you say fiesta of Santa Rita people outside the town know it and they actually go here that shows that Saint Rita has a lot of devotees,” said Jeffrey Bonificio, the head of the parish’s music ministry.

Saint Rita de Cascia, the patronness of the fourth-class town of Sta. Rita in Pampanga (photo from https://www.facebook.com/roseofsaintrita)

Saint Rita de Cascia, the patronness of the fourth-class town of Sta. Rita in Pampanga (photo from https://www.facebook.com/roseofsaintrita)

As a young woman, the former Margherita Lotti (born in 1381) wanted to become a nun but then her parents forced her to marry a certain Paolo Mancini. She was abused by her husband. For 18 years, Rita bore his infidelities, physical abuse and insults until the husband was killed in a brawl. Rita’s two sons Giangiacomo (Giovanni) Antonio and Paulo Maria had also died.

After those tragedies, Rita wanted to become a nun but the Augustinian convent refused because she was a widow and they have a requirement that sisters who will enter should be virgins.

Saint Rita never gave up and continued her desire of becoming a nun and because of her devotion, the Augustinians let her enter the convent in the year 1413.

With the guidance of God and her beliefs, she made things possible even though they were so hard. For 15 years, Rita dealt with a deep wound that was caused by a thorn from the image of Christ’s crucifix and it never healed. She considered this as a gift of God —a sign of stigmatization and a union with God.

Saint Rita died on May 22, 1457 at Cascia, and many miracles that were associated to her were reported after that. Her incorruptible body lies and is being displayed at the Basilica of Saint Rita in Cascia.

Last August 17, 2008, Saint Rita’s first class relic, a part of the Saint’s skin taken from her hand arrived in Sta. Rita, Pampanga. People come to visit the relic often and pray for her guidance. Fiestas in this town of some 41,000-plus residents were never less devout since then. This year’s festivities, with rebuilding lives after Yolanda on the background, were no exception.

“People of Santa Rita were able to preserve their traditions. They give more importance to their patroness. When you look at their devotion as if Santa Rita becomes a goddess to them because of their faith,” Father Basilio said.

 

 

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