Our Lady of Remedies

My Grandpa's village is called Remedios, named for its Patroness, Our Lady of Remedies. It's a small-ish barangay that's home to a surprising, growing throng of rice farmers, tricyclists, market-folk and bus drivers, clustered around the busy two-lane highway that runs north through the province to more remote parts of the island.

My Uncle Rem is named after Remedios. It is said that when he was born, the midwives thought him sickly and likely to die within days. In desperation, Grandpa sent for the priest to baptize him quickly, and on such short notice, they couldn't think of a name, so they named him Remedio--since Remedios, after all, is a feminine name. Perhaps thanks to their quick-thinking piety, Uncle Rem in fact survived, and now drives a Tri-Met bus in Portland, the spitting image of my Grandpa, right down to his playful charm and unstinting appetite.

This past weekend was the Fiesta of Remedios, and the whole tangled cluster of reed shacks and corrugated hovels lit up with bare light bulbs strung across the roads, and lines of blue and white plastic streamers dancing over the rice fields. Parades of ragtag marching bands in shabby white uniforms and battered antique sousaphones march up and down the dusty highway, stalling traffic for miles. A small amusement park with crude gambling stalls and the ever-popular videoke stands light up the night. The town market spills out into the streets, teeming with fish and baked goods.

On Sunday night the sacred images of every nearby barangay led an enormous, growing procession of devotees through the boundaries of Remedios, through highway and beaten path and secluded grove and riverbank. At the head of it all was a small, brightly lit, blue-and-white statuette of Our Lady of Remedies, borne along by a crowd of sweating young men holding its palanquin high over their heads. Every turn of the procession was announced by frighteningly splendid homemade fireworks.

As the procession reached the parish church, the throng grew to unbelievable size, chanting, dancing, clapping and drumming their thanks for a bountiful year of the Patroness' protection. Children and young men swirled around me as the Image of Our Lady arrived, and the trumpets and drums struck up an ecstatic cacophony. Debris from spent fireworks clatter on the rooftops. I cannot rightly convey to you the magnificence of it all. Pictures I took on my father's digital camera show a blur of lights and crowds, to say nothing of the strong fragrance of lilies and sweat that clings even now to my clothes.

The Patroness was then taken into the church, and the vast crowd followed, everyone crowding for a chance to touch the hem of the wooden skirt, and cover Her feet with sacred oils. The oil clings to the hand, and brings good fortune and healing, especially if you rub the residue on your injuries.

My Grandpa was once the mayor of Remedios, and so this Fiesta holds even more meaning for my frail Grandma. She waited until the crowds melted away, and put on her best white dress that she wore for her 50th wedding anniversary. We helped her into the car and drove the short distance to the church.

It was already locked, everyone having gone to feast on roast pork and gin and sing soulfully bad renditions of Celine Dion. Luckily, the sacristan and his friends all remember the family well. They touch their foreheads to the back of Grandma's hand, and open the church for us quickly.

Inside, the church breathes lilies and exhausted night air. The Patroness sits on the tabernacle, and Grandma slowly kneels and prays. We help her to the wooden hem of Her skirt, and she covers her hands with holy oils, and performs the adoration.

Our Lady of Remedies, may She mend all of our broken hearts and bodies.

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