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Saturday, May 21, 2022

El Circulo Zamboangueño de Cagayan de Oro celebrates 61st Fiesta Pilar

Luis “Chito” Potenciano, one of the head coordinators of the over six decades old association of families who originated from Zamboanga, then known as “The City of Flowers,” said the Circulo also held the traditional nine-day novena for Nuestra Señora Virgen del Pilar de Zaragoza, the city’s patron saint at the  Immaculate Conception Church at Aluba Village Subdivision, Barangay Macasandig.

As has been traditionally practiced by El Circulo for the past 61 years, a Comida Comunal followed the celebration of the mass at the Our Lady of Manaoag Chapel, near Shopwise, Limketkai Center,

El Circulo Zamboangueño de Cagayan de Oro was organized in 1957 by Carmelita Willie Larabaster, Gloria Atilano-Rivera, Ester Causin and Col. Manuel Jaldon (Ret.)


“The first gathering was at our residence then at Del Mar corner Carmen streets where Gazebo is now (present day Don Apolinar Velez and Mayor Gaerlan streets),” recalls Jose “Sonny” W. Larabaster, Carmelita’s son, during the 61st anniversary gathering. “I was 6 years old at that time, “Our old house burned down a long time ago.”


He remembers Col. Jaldon as an Olympic celebrity at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games who later became police chief at Zamboanga City at age 25.


Also present was businessman Nonie Rivera, son of one of the original Circulo organizers, Gloria Atilano-Rivera, who shuttles his time between Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro.


Approximately seventy five Zamboangueños and their kin attended the fiesta celebration held at Alavar’s Seafood & Grill, one of Zamboanga’s iconic restaurants which was brought over to Cagayan de Oro by Tessie Alavar, who originally concocted the famous sweet, mildly spicy, aromatic Alavar Sauce, and gained a nationwide following through their branches in Manila, Cebu, Iligan and now, Cagayan de Oro.


Among those who joined this year’s fiesta celebration were Dina and Raul Rodriguez; Titing and Alexandra Morales; Baby Escudero, Glor Delado, Jun & Julie Chee Kee; Edwin, Judith, Julienne & Erick Amik; Mike, Gardy and Leon Baños; Rhia Sebastian, Jonathan Fernandez, Emil Santos, Sam Xavier Kumar, Carmelia Namoc, Emilie Apdian, Reeno and Cherry Cabato;  Manny, Manjo & Marca Aliñabon; Thomas & Eiya Pupos; Isidro & Juana Audal; Nonito P. Emilio, Chito, Dulce, Angelo and Luigi Potenciano; Paul and Joy Paladio; Ana Bella Patiño, Art & Krista Surdilla; Absin Sebastian, Natz, Mae, Beth & Kaye Jumangit; Emmanuel Sebastian, Queenie Sabastian, Bobby, Annika & Arlyn Enriquez.

The veneration of the Lady of the Pillar as Zamboanga City’s patroness is closely tied with its historic Fort Pilar.

Perhaps no other institution has played as big a role in shaping Zamboanga City’s Christian Hispanic Heritage as Fort Pilar, and has made it the sole city in Asia that can rightfully lay claim to the moniker of “Asia’s Latin City.

Started in 1635, it was built at the instance of Jesuit missionaries and Bishop Fray Pedro of Cebu to ward off Moro pirates. Originally called Real Fuerza de San Jose (Royal Fort of Saint Joseph), its cornerstone was laid by the Jesuit engineer Fray Melchor de Vera, on June 23, 1635 on orders of then Spanish Governor of the Philippines Juan Cerezo de Salamanca.

This event marks the founding of Zamboanga as a city, formerly known as Samboangan. However, subsequent events related to the construction of the fort have sealed its place in the Chabacano heritage of the city which it unique among similar local cultures in the Philippines and Asia.

Renamed the Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar Zaragoza (Royal Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza) in honor of the patron saint of Spain, Our Lady of the Pillar, it was also the venue of many Marian apparitions, most notably on December 6, 1734 when she appeared to a soldier, and again on September 21, 1897 when she appeared over the Basilan Strait and saved the city from a tsunami following a strong earthquake.

Tradition reveals the Virgin Mary appeared to a soldier on December 6, 1734, at the gate of the city. Not recognizing her, the soldier asked her to stop. Upon recognizing her, he fell down to his knees. A relief of the Our Lady of the Pillar was subsequently placed above the eastern wall of the fort making it an outdoor shrine with an altar for praying. 

Old folks said the image actually mysteriously appeared in its present site after a pirate attack on the fort while a procession in her honor was being held. 

On September 21, 1897, a strong earthquake struck the western region of Mindanao. According to the people who witnessed it, they saw the Virgin Mary floating in mid-air over the Basilan Strait, with her right hand raised to stop the onrushing waves, and saved the city from a tsunami.

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