THE city’s main streets were adorned with colorful banderitas and several activities were already lined up for the celebration of the Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar festival. Devotees from all over were flocking to the miraculous shrine of the patroness to light candles and say a little prayer.
As the October 12 fiesta drew closer, it was noted that an increasing number of people were visiting the centuries-old shrine, to honor here and do some religious activities like praying her novena.
Curiously, devotees of the Pilar are not merely from the Catholic community but include many non-Catholics as well. And like the Catholics in their own way they visit the shrine to light candles and pray, too.
Hamprexy Vie Mohammad is 17 years old and whose father is a Muslim and mother a Catholic. Together with her classmates they visit frequently the shrine to light candles and say their devotions. She is one of those non-Catholics who believe and have faith in the Lady of the Pilar.
Hamprexy was baptized in Islam.
According to her she grew up adopting the Catholic customs and beliefs because of her mother and the social surroundings where she resides and had grown up.
“Nung bata pa ako dinadala ako ng nanay ko dito sa fort pilar, nagsisindi kame ng kandila at nagdadasal minsan nagrorosary din,” she confessed.
Although she is a Muslim, her father does not forbid her from going to church and Fort Pilar because he is an open-minded man and most of all he also believes in the Senora del Ilar, said Hamprexy.
She also surmised that no matter what religion people follow, they all worship one God.
“Pareho-pareho lang ang mga religion at iisa lang din ang ating Diyos” she said.
Hamprexy also revealed that she has a younger half-sister who is embracing the religion of Islam. They live under one roof but they are able to maintain harmony in the house because they show respect for each other.
The Fort Pilar shrine is located at Barangay Sta. Barbara where majority of the residents are Muslims.
Fr. Moises Cuevas, the Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar shrine administrator, said that this interfaith devotion is a manifestation that the Lady of the Pilar casts a bonding power over Zamboanga’s residents.
“It is a manifestation of our unity, how the Blessed Mother unites us no matter what our faith and our belief,” he said.
The administrator did not prepare activities along interfaith concerns but he is happy seeing many non-Catholics especially Muslims participating in the religious and non-religious activities in line with the fiesta.
A nine-day novena was conducted every afternoon in honor of the Lady of the Pilar and always followed immediately by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
In the history of Zamboanga, the Lady of the Fort reportedly performed miracles, one of which was when she appeared in the sky to stop tidal waves from the sea from hit destroying the city. This event according to legend was said to have been witnessed by local Muslim residents.