Recoletos de Saipan celebrates feast of Nuestra Señora Bithen de los Remedios


(Article from North Star, Publication of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands)

SAIPAN—October 14, 2018 marked a significant event for Santa Remedios Parish. Not only was it the celebration of their annual fiesta but this year, a “re-enactment” of the arrival of the image of Nuestra Señora Bithen Delos Remedios was also held.

The idea of recalling the rich history of the church, and providing something new and different than the usual feast was initiated by the three Augustinian Recollect fathers assigned in Saipan, namely, Fray Allan Rubett Cabatian, OAR, Fray Leo Neil Bullos, OAR, and Fray Philip Rollon, OAR. Though some were initially hesitant due to lack of ample planning and preparation, and concerns about whether they can pull it through beautifully, the support of the OAR community and the people’s love for their patron saint, made it a “yes” for the parishioners of Tanapag. Several committees were created to spearhead the event and many people volunteered to help, in one way or another.

Fray Leo Neil Bullos, OAR, and the image of Nuestra Señora Bithen de los Remedios.

The inclement weather and down pour did not stop the parishioners and devotees to gather and witness the momentous event. The sound of the conch shell being blown signaled the start of the re-enactment at 1:00 pm with the departure of the image of Santa Remedios, carried by Fr. Leo Neil Bullos, OAR, from Lifoifoi Beach, Tanapag by boat, to its arrival to the main pavillion where the history was read and an original composition was sung, followed by a short prayer. Procession from the pavillion to the Church ensued and the image was placed before the altar. Other images of Santa Remedios and the sick parishioners were also blessed after the recitation of the Holy Rosary, followed by the novena. The Eucharistic celebration began at 3:00 pm and was presided by Rev. Fr. Dionisio Q. Selma, OAR, Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Ezekiel Moreno, together with His Excellency, Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez and the clergy of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa. Fr. Diony encouraged the people to see God’s love with the gift of life and the invitation to the Eucharist, asking the intercession of the saints and drawing closer to Our Blessed Mother, Santa Remedios. A short lukao around the village was held after the mass then the people gathered for the blessing of the food by Bishop Ryan. What followed was a rainy but bountiful and joyous festivity.

Fray Dionisio Selma, OAR, Prior Provincial, presides the Holy Mass.

The re-enactment may have been challenging for the people of Santa Remedios but they made a good start, taking a look from the past while moving forward to a better and stronger community. Biba Santa Remedios!

Below is a short history of the Santa Remedios Parish:

 “In the early part of 1879, a family, who has apparently come from Spain, arrived in Tinian with Santa Remedios (the image itself was said to have come from Mexico). Señor Johnson and his wife, Señora Ana settled in Tinian, and made a living from exporting pork and beef to Guam and Saipan. They recruited some helpers from Saipan – Carmen Neiso, Genoeba Neitiimod, Rosalia Olupumar and Antonio Kelele who were all from Tanapag, back then known as Talabwog. Doña Ana taught Carmen and Antonio how to read and write for business purposes while Rosalia and Genobeba worked as housekeepers.

One day, Señor Johnson decided to travel to Saipan for business with some of his workers. The day’s weather was not fit for traveling; however, Senor Johnson insisted that their big and finest canoe was fast enough to reach Saipan shores before the expected typhoon reaches the island. Half-way across the journey, heavy rains began to fall; the earth grew dark, and the waves were wildly hostile. The Captain tried to maneuver their vessel to avoid destruction of the beautiful canoe known to the Refalawash as “Seiar”, but the fierce waves were so strong that the carrier broke apart and the people on-board were said to have drowned. Upon hearing the news that her husband had died, Señora Ana longed to return home to Spain and gave most of her belongings to the people of Tinian including the image of Nuestra Señora delos Remedios. She asked her four helpers (Carmen, Genobeba, Rosalia, and Antonio) to pray the Rosary on Saturdays and Sundays. The four natives of Talabwog remained in Tinian for a while, but traveled to Saipan not long after where they saw abundance of good nature and decided to move their families and eventually settled in Tanapag.

The image of Our Lady was also brought from Tinian where she was placed in a small hut-like Chapel built in her honor. She has protected the people of Tanapag through the Spanish, German, Japanese and American periods, and has remained with the people for over one hundred years since 1879.

War was very brutal to the churches on Saipan. The Tanapag Church was closed when the Japanese invaded the area to store their ammunitions and food supplies, and was completely destroyed during the war. In 1944, a small wooden Church was built to house Nuestra Señora Bithen de los Remedios. It was completed and dedicated on the Feast Day of Santa Remedios on October 1949.

Several years passed before plans to build a concrete Church was initiated. The people of Tanapag were very poor and were not sure how the community can afford such a plan. Jose Rebuenog Lifoifoi took on the full responsibility determined to build a permanent Church for the people of Bithen Delos Remedios. The military were glad to be of some assistance even with small things such as rope and bucket. Some donations from the parishioners were also collected which helped purchase some materials. The entire building structure was manually constructed. Many well-known fathers of today worked hard to build the Santa Remedios Church. Some of them include Pedro Camacho Lifoifoi, Jose Santos, Francisco Baza, Frank Q. Aguon, Jose Magofna, Felipe Ruak, Jesus Quitugua and so many others.

Tanapag’s permanent Church in honor of Nuestra Senora Bithen de los Remedios was completed and dedicated on May 21, 1958, Wednesday, at 10:00 a.m. The same Church was renovated thirty-six years later in 1995. It was re-dedicated, again on the Feast of Santa Remedios in October 1995.”

Most Rev. Ryan Jimenez, DD, together with some of the diocesan clergy and Recollect fathers.

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Fray Robin Ross Plata, OAR

Fray Robin Ross Plata, OAR

Priest/Religious of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.