Bicolanos In Chicago Hold Penafrancia Fluvial Procession

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – Devotees to the Virgin of Penafrancia on Saturday (Sept. 15) in Chicago, Illinois replicated the fluvial procession in the Virgin’s original home in Naga City in the Philippines with one of their own on board a motorized sail boat that traveled a distance of 3.5 miles (5.6-kilometers) of Lake Michigan from north side of Chicago to the south side.

Escorted by a Chicago police motorboat from behind so as not to create tall waves, the privately owned sailboat pulled away from the Belmont Harbor in the north side at about 4:27 p.m. carrying 36 devotees, including this reporter.

Saturday’s was actually the 25th year that this annual fluvial pilgrimage on Lake Michigan has been held, according to Roger Odiamar, president of the Chicago-based Confraternity of Our Lady of Penafrancia.

As it is done in Naga, during the fluvial procession on Lake Michigan, the devotees on board the sailboat prayed the rosary (Divine Mercy, Holy Rosary, Novena) with the images of Virgin of Penafrancia and Holy Face (of Jesus Christ) also on board while the majority of the devotees, who could not make it to the fluvial procession, also prayed the rosary inside the Virgin’s home, the St. Matthias Church in Chicago’s north side, as they await the arrival of the Virgin’s image from the fluvial procession.

The devotees with the fluvial procession also prayed for the long life and blessings for the owners of the sailboat, who have been making available their boats for free for the devotees during the last 25 years.

The boat owner, Maria Donatela “Lily” Cruz (nee: Camaya), a retired nurse, and her husband, Dr. Jairo Cruz, a Brazilian-born cardiologist, and two of their three children, Mary Anne Dichoso, a Registered Nurse married to a doctor, and Junior, also a medical doctor, were on hand to act as crew of the 48-foot sailboat.

The elder Dr. Cruz acted as the helmsman as he guided the helm or the wheel of the 12-year-old sailboat that steered the rudder.


Mrs. Lily Cruz, a native of Ligao City in the Bicol region, and Dr. Cruz said they are willing to play host to the Virgin of Penafrancia for the next 20 or so years aboard their sailboat as they have done for the last 25 years.

Last year, their sailboat, St. Francis, was in the middle of Lake Michigan when it was whipped by a very strong wind packing 125 miles per hour but their boat could not move but was safe.

Aside from the Virgin of Penafrancia, their annual pilgrimage to deliver the “Cross San Damiano” to the nuns of St. Francis Assisi in Mackinac Island, 333 miles north of Chicago in Michigan, is another religious tradition the Cruz family observes.  When they take the pilgrimage, they also join in the race of sailboats every year during the last 20 years. They won second prize twice in the race and collected a plaque and a little trophy for the feat.

Starting from a shallow four-foot deep Belmont Harbor, the St. Francis boat maintained a speed of 6 knots (6.9-miles) per hour which is traveling slowly at a low speed. It negotiated the distance of 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) that has an average depth of 20 to 30 feet (the middle of the lake is as deep as 100 feet) and covered the distance for almost an hour.

Its speed is a far cry from the Naga River, where the image of the Virgin of Penafrancia is loaded on a boat that is pulled by other boats, being paddled, during the fluvial procession that inches its way that covers a distance of about three kilometers (1.8 miles).

Mrs. Dichoso said, “We take every precaution at keeping our guests safe.  Our boat is very strong, a 48-foot X-yacht, and is able to withstand carrying a lot weight, everyone had life jackets, we carry all the ORC (Offshore Racing Council) safety equipment on board, we had the Chicago Police Marine’s permission to carry our passengers, and the Chicago police marine followed close behind us the entire trip to add to our safety.”

The Bicol Madonna has been known to have performed miracles, from the beginning in the 17th Century when the Cubarrubias family from the San Martin de Comostela, Spain, immigrated to the Philippines with their son, Miguel, who became a priest despite his poor health.

Father Miguel was assigned to the diocese of Caceres in Naga City.  Because of his devotion to Our Lady of Penafrancia.  He had a Shrine built in her honor by the bank of the Bicol River.


From a picture of the image of the Blessed Mother found in the slopes of Pena de Francia Mountain in Salamanca, Spain that he brought with him, Father Miguel commissioned a sculptor to carve a statute. When the image was finished, it needed blood to color it as to closely resemble the original image in Spain. A dog was sacrificed for this purpose and the carcass was thrown into the river. To the disbelief of the people, the dead dog came alive, swam and returned to the house of its owner.

Word spread about the incident and many more miracles have been documented more so about healing of the sick, assistance in other difficult situations and in spiritual healing.

The devotion to Our Lady of Penafrancia, Patroness of the Bicol Region, has immensely spread not only in the region but also throughout the archipelago. Her feast is celebrated every third Saturday of September. The celebration starts by transferring the Image, referred to as “translacion”, from her Shrine at the Basilica to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Naga City, where novena prayers are said for eight consecutive nights. On the feast day, “INA” is brought back to her Shrine via a fluvial procession at the Bicol River and solemn festivities follow.

This is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over the country. The original shrine prior to building the present Basilica still exists and is now a parish.

Bicolanos overseas, including those living in Chicago, Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada, have relived the celebration and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Community activist Bobby M. Reyes said every year during the last 38 years, Bicolanos in Southern California hold their fluvial procession at a man-made lake in a park in Los Angeles.  Prior to the 2011 event and this year’s fiesta at the Lincoln Park, it was held at the Echo Park also in Los Angeles but the latter park is being reconstructed and closed to the public.  The fiesta is attended by 3,000 to 4,000 devotees, who are served complimentary lunch by about 28 Bicol-American town and alumni associations that occupy tents and booths.  Several canoes pull a temporary stand set on two to three other canoes take part in the procession while the other devotees walk around the park.  The Penafrancia Fiesta-Los Angeles is sponsored every third Saturday of September by the United Bicolandia-Los Angeles (UBLA).

According to Dr. Cyrill Mendez-Llaneta, the observance of the annual celebration of the Feast of INA started in 1975 in Chicago. But it was in 1986 that the celebration featured a “translacion” from her Shrine at St. Rose of Lima Church to St. Vincent de Paul Church, both in Chicago. (



Visiting Fr. Dennis Santos (extreme right) of Bulacan, Philippines leads the rosary (Divine Mercy, Holy Rosary, Novena) before the Virgin of Penafrancia on board St. Francis sailboat in the middle of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois last Saturday, Sept. 15, during the fluvial procession of the feast of Penafrancia. Photo shows counterclockwise an unidentified woman devotee, Virgilio Silva, Dr. Patricio Reyes, Miss Alice Llames and Roger Odiamar, president of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Penafrancia of Chicago. Shown standing and holding the helm (wheel) is the helmsman (boat captain), Dr. Jairo Cruz, owner of the sailboat. Note following close behind is the Chicago police motorboat escorting the fluvial sailboat. (jGLiPhoto by Joseph G. Lariosa)

Devotees and guests at the reception of the feast of Penafrancia pose for souvenir in the cafeteria of St. Matthias church in the north side of Chicago, Illinois after the mass following fluvial procession. Among those in photo are Evelyn R. Tolledo (sixth from right), president of the Bikol USA of the Midwest; Gina Ibardaloza (third from left), president of the Filipinos of St. Gregory, Carlos A. Cortes, Jr. (to Ms. Tolledo’s right), Gigi Cortes (second from left), Kirk V. Lariosa (to Ms. Ibardaloza’s left), Rolly Tolledo, Jun Delfin, Chit and Ben Ner and Emil Garcera. (jGLiPhoto by Joseph G. Lariosa)

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