Ever since I was a child, the massive and cavernous national shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in nearby New Manila has always caught my interest and attention. Before it was heavily renovated in the late 90s, Masses in Carmel were very, very boring (the Carmelite Friars then were almost all Irish) and HOT. There were also so many vendors in Carmel that I remember one Visita Iglesia when my mama was already on the verge of doing another Jesus driving vendors away from the Church! They were literally right at the door!
However, ever since the renovations, the church and the parish in general, has greatly evolved and developed. It is one, if not, my most favorite parish. Its priests give very good, concise homilies and the spirituality of Carmel is also shared. The stained glass windows are one of the most exquisite in modern day Manila and the retablos are all brown (brown is of course the devotional color to our Lady of Carmel) and gold gilded. And most of all, they still use the traditional altar rails that makes the reception of Holy Communion more solemn.
My devotion to Our Lady of Carmel can be traced when I was in Grade 7. It was from then that I began my long standing and ardent devotion to Our Lady who gave the Brown scapular as well as the promises to all those who wear it with devotion. Likewise, I have also been a devotee of Carmelite Saints, namely San Juan de la Cruz, Santa Teresa de Avila, and of course, the Little Rose, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. They have served as my models and inspirations. I have prayed to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and her Carmelite saints ever since I developed my tenderly affection for her cult and never have they let me down. For a long time already too, I’ve been hearing weekday morning Masses in the “smaller” Carmel, the convent-church of the cloistered Carmelite nuns in nearby Gilmore. There, Masses are also very, very solemn since the church is small and the nuns’ high voices just lift the Mass-goer to the heavens.
One of the most intimate but powerful reflections I had on Our Lady of Carmel and the Carmelite Order was in my last trip to Europe. For the essay contest entry I wrote, I devoted it to Our Lady of Carmel and to the Holy Infant of Prague. Later, I was proclaimed the grand prize winner of that contest and I was able to go to Europe for free to my great joy. Throughout our stay in Europe, I never got the chance to hear Mass, be it in Notre Dame de Paris or Sacre Coeur. But lo and behold! The only place I was able to hear Holy Mass in Europe, and to give thanks to all the graces given to me, was in the original shrine of the Santo Nino de Praga in Prague, Czech Republic, which, I found out there, was owned by the Carmelite Friars. There, in the midst of images of the saints of the Carmelite Order, I was able to hear Mass and receive communion. I was so amazed and utterly inspired by the care of Our Lady.
I do not think it was mere coincidence. I think it is mere grace.
Last 16 July 2010, I was accompanied by my friends Gian and Benedict to hear the Fiesta Mass of our Lady of Mount Carmel. This church in honor of Mount Carmel was formally inaugurated in 16 July 1964, ten years after the corner stone was laid and blessed. It was the parish of New Manila, as well as Cubao and some of nearby San Juan’s mestizajeria, or mestizo families. Some of the notable parishioners of Mount Carmel are veteran actresses Gloria Romero, Amalia Fuentes, Pilita Corrales, the Madrigals, the Rodrigos, the Quezons, the Moratos, the Avancenas, the Madrigals, the Ortolls, the couple Danding and Gretchen Cojuangco, the Alunans and the Felicianos.
Though the cult to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Brown Scapular began in San Sebastian, this mother church of the Carmelite Friars was eventually proclaimed the National Shrine to the Lady in Brown.
To this day, there would still be a lot of beautiful ladies in their coiffeurs speaking Spanish in the church’s patios as well as manangs in their brown sack-cloths with matching gigantic scapulars hearing Mass here. It is a pretty good church to see how Old Manila moved in into the area known as New Manila, a suburb that was older and at par with Forbes Park before. It is also here where there are the most number of religious orders found in one area. That’s why many drivers who are not familiar with the place get creeped out whenever they see a lot of nuns walking in the middle of the night in the tree lined streets of New Manila.
However, most of the old families which used to occupy the grand compounds in New Manila have been replaced by condos and Chinese families, the emerging new money of the country.
Indeed, the cult to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, its Shrine in New Manila and that beautiful area there that has produced many statesmen, religious and notable people hicieron ayer.