The Guadalupe Shrine: A Tale of Destruction, Rebirth and War

By Arthur Policarpio

The story of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Makati, Philippines, is no ordinary tale. It is a story that is reflective of human life in general: a tale of birth, creation, tragedy, destruction, re-birth and re-creation.

Aside from being ravaged by earthquakes, it is, interestingly, perhaps the only church in the country that has been used as headquarters of British, Filipino and Japanese soldiers during war (hence its repeated devastation). Perhaps, this story of war is a portent of a greater war to come in the Philippines in the present age, one in which the shrine will take center stage: the war to protect the life of the unborn, the less privileged, the disadvantaged in life.

And yet, despite major calamities, more than 400 years after it was first built by Augustinian missionaries in 1601, the church still stands today strong and proud. Wherever the Augustinian missionaries went, they usually built both a shrine and a monastery – Guadalupe was no exception. Originally dedicated to “Our Lady of Grace,” the shrine was re-dedicated in 1603 to the Virgin Mary as “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” upon the request of Spanish and Filipino authorities based in Manila.

A History of Calamities and War

A cycle of destruction and re-birth characterizes the shrine. It seems every time the shrine was repaired, it would be followed by years of glorious existence and flourish in devotion, only to be tested once again with scores of calamities.

In 1658, a massive earthquake (one of the strongest to ever hit the country), caused considerable damage to the church.

In 1762, it was desecrated by war. British soldiers, during their attempts to invade the Philippines, made the church and its monastery the seat and the center of their occupying forces. The church was defiled as images were destroyed and the property stripped of jewelry. (It was not uncommon in the olden days for rich families to endow with, or bequeath to, their parishes the family heirlooms.)

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – a special replica of the original image in Guadalupe, Mexico – was spared only due to the timely intervention of an Irish official who was a Catholic. He took the image, had it guarded and brought to Pasig where it was kept until 1764 when the hostilities ended. The image was then returned to its church in Guadalupe after the war.

After the British forces’ failed invasion, the church was once again re-built, only to be completely destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1880. The Guadalupe church was left in ruins, and the image of the Virgin lost forever in the wreckage.

Ravaged by Americans, Destroyed by Filipino Soldiers

One of the consequences of the 1898 Treaty of Paris (whereby Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States) was the growing animosity between Americans and Filipinos that eventually escalated into the 1899 Battle of Manila.

Filipino soldiers positioned themselves in Guadalupe Church. Under General Lloyd Wheaton, American forces advanced and attacked the Filipino forces garrisoned there, subjecting the church-cum-Filipino headquarters to heavy artillery fire.

Unable to squelch the American advance, Filipinos troops led by General Pio del Pilar retreated, but not before burning down their “headquarters” – the shrine and the monastery of Guadalupe. It was the final nail in the coffin – American soldiers battered Guadalupe with heavy artillery fire; Filipino soldiers reduced it to ruins.

After the Filipino-American war, the Guadalupe church and monastery became nothing more than a deserted ruin of stones, tall trees and grass, and foreboding silence. The remaining walls and stones were eventually sold by the Augustinians and turned over to the Archdiocese of Manila, which later rebuilt it.

And so, like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, Guadalupe Church was reborn…

War Again!

Then came the Second World War…

Japanese occupiers, bracing for the coming of the American liberation forces, tried to prolong their “stay” by positioning themselves in hills and mountains, and using churches and convents as fortresses. Again, its hilly location proved useful and the Guadalupe Church was used once more as army headquarters, this time by the Japanese.

Superior air power and artillery allowed the Americans to eventually overcome the Japanese fortresses and headquarters in Guadalupe. However, in the process, the church was once again razed to the ground.

Resurrection Again!

In the late 50s, the Archdiocese of Manila decided to demolish what was left of the monastery: its walls. However, the walls of the church were spared and preserved, allowing a new church to be reconstructed.

On 29 June 1970, when the Augustinians were recalled to the Philippines, they re-claimed jurisdiction over the church. That same year, after decades of neglect and desolation, the church was finally re-built, then re-dedicated to Our Lady, this time under the title of Nuestra Señora de Gracia (“Our Lady of Grace”).

In 1951, a new church in Guadalupe Nuevo was built by the Archdiocese of Manila, located just a few blocks away from the church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia. It is this new church dedicated to “Our Lady of Guadalupe” that was tasked to carry on the torch that was effectively “left” by its predecessor – the 400-year old center of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe that is now known as the church of Nuestra Senora de Gracia.

In 2010, this new church in Guadalupe Nuevo was declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A Greater War

After hundreds of years of being the headquarters of various forces at war, the shrine today finds itself once again at the center of another, much bigger, war. It is the war to protect LIFE.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is traditionally given the title of Patroness of the Unborn and Patroness of Life. This is primarily because in her image imprinted in the tilma of the visionary-now-Saint Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe shows herself as a pregnant, young mother.

When the CBCP appointed the Guadalupe Church as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it bestowed a major honor on the church – a rare honor that is only given after extensive investigation by authorities. The primary reason for elevating Guadalupe Church to a National Shrine is that the Philippines is currently in the midst of a major struggle to defend life. Envisioned as the seat of the Pro-Life cause, the Shrine aims to be a center of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe – patroness of the unborn, the sick, the dying, the defenseless.

Many Filipino congressmen are pushing for the passage of House Bill 5043 or the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. The bill pushes for (among others) the widespread use and distribution of artificial contraceptives, mandatory early childhood sex education as early as the 3rd grade, even mandatory inclusion of artificial forms of birth control by companies and corporations as their “obligation” to their employees. The bill has punitive measures for institutions, groups or entities that refuse to implement such activities. Because of this, House Bill 5043 lays the groundwork for more DEATH Bills dealing with Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total population control, and Homosexual unions (i.e., same-sex marriages).

With the Philippines as one of the last countries left standing in the pro-life crusade, the battle is indeed a crucial one. The future of our children depends on it. Will it be a future where children discover their sexuality at the proper time, primarily through their parents? Or will it be a future where children are indirectly encouraged to be sexually-promiscuous because they “have the right to a safe and satisfying sex life”?

Will it be a future where the life of the unborn, the disabled and the dying is protected? Or will it be a future where it is a legal right to deprive those who have been deemed by society as “useless” of their right to life?

The National Shrine of Guadalupe is facing what is probably its heaviest, biggest and deadliest war: the war for the soul of an entire nation. Perhaps, just like in its previous battles, the Shrine – and the Cause it represents – will suffer massive attacks and many casualties.

And yet, we must never forget that despite the tragedy or violence that colors its history, in the end the Guadalupe Shrine always rises from the ashes – it always wins, it always conquers. The story of the Guadalupe shrine – one not just of war and defeat but more so of hope and victory – is a beautiful symbol for the war being waged now in the Philippines to protect the sanctity of life.

In hoc signo vinces. “By this, be victorious!” With the Guadalupe Shrine as their spiritual fortress, may Pro-Life warriors hold high the banner, the standard of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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