November 8, 2022— On the first day of her novena, Nuestra Señora de La Salud is brought home to her grotto perched on top of a hill at Sitio Ansulag, Barangay Rizal, San Carlos City.
The Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Good Health is a gift of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno through Rev. Fr. Rommel Rubia, OAR, a Thomasian alumnus, Batch 1991.
La Salud Legacy
Being one of the numerous sitios (community cluster) of Barangay Rizal, Ansulag is set away from the city and parish because it cannot be accessed by public utility vehicles except for off-road motorcycles that locals call habal-habal. It has a mission chapel under the Diocese of San Carlos but the grotto of La Salud is the first and only of its kind in the area and among the other mountainous communities of Barangay Rizal.
One of the teachers even said that it was her first time to encounter La Salud since most of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s images devoted to by the laity in San Carlos are that which are under the titles of the Our Lady of Lourdes and the Immaculate Concepcion. “Karon ra gyod mi kakita og ingon ani nga Birhen,” the teacher told a CEDO volunteer, in reference to the dark-skinned La Salud all decked in gold, while they prepared the candles and flowers for her.
Colegio de Sto. Tomas-Recoletos Community Extension and Development Office (CEDO) brought La Salud to Ansulag with Rev. Fr. Joel Dequilla, OAR, vice-president for finance and administration, as the leader of the Thomasian delegation. In counterpart, Ansulag community built the grotto with bare hands and all from scratch. Parents, residents and teachers led by Larry Vincent Po, constructed La Salud’s home with meticulous attention to details such as materials, size and that she be placed under a sturdy mango tree—protection from strong winds that often blow against the hilltop.
Fr. Dequilla celebrated the Holy Mass right at the makeshift stage of the school and with the pupils, their parents and their teachers in attendance. Gerardo S. Limpio, public schools district supervisor of the Department of Education – Division of San Carlos, was also present. The enthronement of the Blessed Virgin followed the celebration of the mass. Ansulag pupils offered her freshly picked wild flowers and bananas grown from their own little farms and gardens.
Together with the image of La Salud, CEDO volunteers brought copies of the Blessed Virgin’s novena and prayers translated into Sinugbuanong Binisaya (the mother tongue) that were distributed to the school-community after a briefing on how it should be used.
Upon learning that La Salud is the Patroness of Good Health, the laity, especially mothers and grandmothers, expressed their gratitude to the Augustinian Recollects, through CEDO, for bringing her to their community. “Makaanak na gayod ko ani!” (This time, I will be able to conceive through her intercession!) Exclaimed one teacher who has been longing to have a child for six years.
Re-living the Missionary Life
For his part, Fr. Dequilla, who went up to Ansulag for the first time for the enthronement, called the journey a “re-living of his missionary life” just as he hopped on to the habal-habal that navigated the dirt track and the river all the way to the foot of the hill.
The Recollect priest was received with the warmth of the pupils’ shy smiles as he basked in the fresh mountain air of Ansulag. Fr. Dequilla served the OAR mission stations in Taiwan for 17 years. He greeted the teachers with congratulations and praises for their daily “heroism” of journeying up and down the mountains and slopes of Barangay Rizal to fulfill their mission of education for the Filipino children.
Marian Recollect Devotion
The Augustinian Recollect missionaries started the devotion to Our Lady of Good Health in , when its image was first brought to the Philippines from Mexico. In 2017, the revival of the devotion was in full swing and through a national tour of La Salud, she first reached San Carlos City. At that time, Fr. Rubia gave Thomasian students an introduction to the devotion and an historical perspective. Now, the oldest and grandest staircase and azotea of CST-R is dedicated and named after the Blessed Virgin—the Escalera de La Salud. Her feast day will be on November 17.
Story & Photos By Georgene Quilaton-Tambiga