By Tin Bartolome

Posted at Oct 02 2015 08:04 PM | Updated as of Oct 03 2015 04:04 AM

Every third Saturday of September, Bicolanos from Naga City pay homage to the Virgin of Peñafrancia. On the first day of the week-long festival, a fluvial procession transfers the image from the shrine to the Naga Cathedral.

Like most Filipinos abroad, expat devotees who have made Rome their second home also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. We happened to join the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Tuscolana Filipino Community fluvial procession. Our hosts, Mr. and Ms. Stefano and Marie Lami introduced us to Ms. Mary Manaog who heads the group.

My first taste of the Peñafrancia fluvial procession was in Rome! I did not really know what to expect when we walked into the Villa Borghese, Rome’s central park. After a short prayer, we were asked if we wanted to join the procession. The cold morning air made me even nervous because I was afraid the boat would capsize and I would freeze! But Ms. Mary said, “Trust in the Virgin!” and I did. So I prayed as loudly as I could.

I was overwhelmed, not only by the strong faith these Bicolanos had, but also the energy and determination to honor the Virgin in the way they knew best. It just had to be a fluvial procession! After the rosary and before the litany, they were singing the Peñafrancia song and were shouting “Viva La Virgen!”

We were to catch the Frecciarossa to Milan in the afternoon, but Mr. and Mrs. Lami insisted that we join them for lunch. I was beginning to feel homesick and was looking forward to coming home in three days. Perhaps this experience will keep my mind off the children I was missing at home.

Indeed, it was a true Filipino gathering as Pinoy food was served: lechon, menudo, pancit, dinuguan, laing and many more. Song and dance numbers were also performed. We were told that fundraising events were held for the benefit of Filipinos at home: Yolanda victims, Elsie Gaches Village and many more.

Some found better lives in their adoptive country but many had to work hard, yet they all found joy in helping kababayans back home—even if many of them no longer had close relatives in the Philippines. I was humbled by the way they showed pride in being Filipinos, by trying their best to remain Filipinos.

I told them that it is ironic that many of these Filipino expats who have settled in Rome have proudly remained more Pinoy than those of us who never left the country but point out how shallow we are, how damaged our culture is or how they say they hate being Filipinos! The time we spent with them was so precious as it made me feel I was back home because everyone in the room had a part of the Philippines in their hearts. For a brief moment, I was no longer homesick!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.