From May 17 to 19 each year, San Pascual Baylon Church in Obando, Bulacan holds a three-day feast that draws people from throughout the country. These tourists participate in masses, long dancing processions through the streets, and frenzied devotion inside the church. Also, many couples participate because of stories of people who were finally blessed with children after dancing in the feast.
History of Obando Fertility Rites
The fertility dance is seems like a Christianized version of a pre-Christian fertility celebration called Kasilonawan. It is where local babaylans danced as an offering to the deities of nature. A god named Linga was the center of the Kasilonawan ritual.
Three Patron Saints
Saint Paschal (celebrated on May 17)
During the 18th century, the Franciscan missionaries built the town church and introduced Saint Paschal Baylon. His surname, Baylon, means “one who likes dancing”. Ultimately, it derives from the Spanish baile, meaning “to dance”. He is the patron saint of fertility, wealth, and abundance.
One anecdote tells how a childless couple from the neighboring town of Hagonoy met a youth selling crabs. The young man told the couple to visit Obando and participate in the Rites to help them with their condition. Upon entering the Obando Church, the couple was amazed by the sight of Saint Paschal’s image. The face of the Saint looked exactly like the young man.
Saint Claire of Assisi (celebrated on May 18)
Santa Clara de Asis was a 13th- century Italian nun. She was the oldest saint and patroness of Catanghalan (the town’s former name). St. Clare became the patroness of good weather because her Spanish name, Clara, also referred to clearer skies after a storm. This started the Filipino custom of offering chicken eggs to St. Clare. Moreover, this custom ensures good weather. The devotees even hold the eggs while dancing Pandango.
Our Lady of Salambáo (celebrated on May 19)
On 19 June 1763, the image of Our Lady of Salambáo, was the last saint whose cults was introduced to Obando. Legend tells of three fishermen named Juan, Julián, and Diego dela Cruz caught the Virgin Mary’s image in their salambáw (a fishing net).
From Malabon, they decided to bring the image to the neighboring town of Navotas, their boat suddenly grew heavy and immobile. When they eventually decided to bring the image to Obando, their boat quickly lightened and became easy to paddle. Furthermore, they took it as a sign that the Virgin wanted to be enshrined in Obando Church. Till now, she is still venerated as the local patroness of fishing and good harvests.
Consequently, the procession usually includes grateful parents, curious tourists, and local fishermen. The swelling population of Philippines could just be a direct result of Obando Fertility Rites. So whenever you are in the Philippines in the month of May, make a point of attending this festival.
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