Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Holy Day of obligation for Catholics and an official Guam holiday. This year, the holiday is celebrated on Monday, Dec. 9, which is when the annual island-wide procession honoring Santa Marian Kamalen will be held. The Feast of Santa Marian Kamalen, the Patroness of the Marianas is celebrated as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. They are one and the same.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is recognized and celebrated as such throughout the world by Catholics. The Immaculate Conception is also the Patron Saint of the United States. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a large Catholic minor basilica and national shrine located in the nation’s capital. The shrine is the largest Catholic church in the United States and in North America, and the tallest habitable building in Washington, D.C. A replica of our image of Santa Marian Kamalen is enthroned at the National Shrine on a statuary pedestal to the immediate right of the main altar. I was privileged to attend that dedication with other members of my family. CHamoru people from all over the country now make annual pilgrimages to the Shrine to celebrate this special religious Holy Day.

A recent update in the Encyclopedia Britannica on Nov. 29 stated: “Immaculate Conception, Roman Catholic dogma asserting that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved free from the effects of the sin of Adam – usually referred to as “original sin” – from the first instant of her conception. Although various texts in both the Old and the New Testaments have been cited in defense of the doctrine, it seems to have arisen from a general acceptance in the early church of Mary’s holiness. Especially after Mary had been solemnly declared to be the mother of God at the Council of Ephesus in 431, most theologians doubted that one who had been so close to God could have actually experienced sinful acts.”

As the techa – prayer leader – of the nobenan Santa Marian Kamalen (novena to Our Lady of Camarin) at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña, I am often asked about this feast day. The most frequently used words in the novena we recite each night for nine days are those which speak of Mary having been conceived without original sin. I am also asked about what a novena is and about its purpose. Novenas are intercessory prayers, which are recited over nine days and usually tell the story of the holiness and faithfulness of the saint from whom intercessions are sought. In the same tradition that family members go to the mother in the family to intercede with either a father or others on their behalf, the people of Guam gather annually to appeal of Santa Maria, our Lord’s mother, for guidance and assistance. Novenas are also part of the great tradition of storytelling. Church doctrine and dogma are so difficult to comprehend without the necessary scholarly background that few people have. For centuries the cannons of faith have been taught through song and prayer. For most believers, this popular form of teaching religious doctrine and traditions has great value. As I recite the novena of Santa Marian Kamalen each night, I am fully aware that I am telling her story. A story that connects us time and again with generations past and present. I have come to understand that the ancestral role of the techa is intrinsically connected to storytelling.

Many Holy Days, like Christmas and Easter, have become holidays. The origin of the more secular version of the word is clear to those who enjoy exploring etymology. What disturbs me is that very often, the secular eclipses the sacred. In this case, however, on Guam, the Holy Day eclipses the holiday. In 1997 the Guam Legislature took Dec. 8 off the official holidays list. That year, a Category 5 typhoon with winds in excess of 180 mph pummeled Guam on Dec. 8th. In 1998, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was restored as an official island holiday. Interpretations about the significance of this catastrophic event unleashed by Mother Nature abound. Whatever you personally choose to believe, Typhoon Paka is indeed a part of our story of faith as devotees to Santa Marian Kamalen.

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