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The Church known as the Shrine of the Birhen Sa Barangay is found in the Cogon District, one of the largest barangays of Tagbilaran City. Centrally and strategically located in this northern area, its imposing dome along Airport Road seems but a stone’s throw from the highway towards Maribojoc town.
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The edifice, circular in form, is known for its beauty as a showcase of modern architecture. Of recent vintage, it is a sight to behold as it sits on an artistically landscaped surrounding.
Above the central altar, beneath the dome, hangs a huge crucifix, reminiscent of the Church of the Risen Christ in the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City. At the left of the altar is the niche of the Birhen Sa Barangay, a Philippine art representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child. On the right of the altar is enthroned the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of Christ Our Lord.
Up to the year 1969, the people of Cogon attended Eucharistic Celebrations in the Chapel of San Roque or in the Boy Scout building, both located in Cogon. The two priests assigned to hold Masses there, Rev. Fr. Didi de los Pueblos and Rev. Fr. Margarito Gonzaga, toyed with the idea of building a church for this community of about 10,000 faithful. Bishop Manuel Mascarinas encouraged the idea.
Different committees with diverse functions were created to put the idea into action. On August 9, 1970, the Bishop gave approval to the construction of a church on an acquired 5,843 sq. m. lot. Fund-raising activities and solicitations of donations were continuously done. The then Gov. Valentino Plaza of Agusan del Sur pledged to shoulder the cost of the cement needed and the construction began. The declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos on Sept. 11, 1971 delayed the church project for a while. Eventually the work was continued until the edifice was fit for Mass celebrations. Mass attendance grew and Purok offerings began. Chosen as Patron Saint was the Birhen Sa Barangay.
On Oct. 6, 1976, the Cogon Barangay Church Council appealed to the Bishop to make the church a Diocesan Shrine. Their request was granted on Oct. 31, 1976. On Dec. 8, 1980, the image of the Birhen sa Barangay was formally installed with pomp as the Shrine’s Patron Saint. The image is the Filipino version of the Blessed Mother wearing Filipino attire, holding in her arms the Child Jesus.
This image of Our Blessed Mother carrying her Son was painted by Mr. Crisogono A. Domingo, an inmate of Santa Barbara Leprosarium. The idea on the image was inspired in Cadiz City in 1954 and the artist , a mere house painter, undertook the work as an offering to Our Blessed Mother for the BIRHEN SANG BARANGAY ORGANIZATION, a Catholic mandated organization in the Philippines.
Birhen Sa Barangay was the title given to the image by Datu Antonio C. Gaston, the founder and leader of the Barangay Sang Birhen Organization. On Oct. 16, 1954 Msgr. Emmanuel Yap, D.D. gave the image his Canonical Blessing and acclaimed it to be an inspired work of art. Hence Oct. 16 has been marked as a Loyalty Day to Our Lady, the Birhen Sa Barangay, and has been chosen as the date for Her Fiesta celebration in Cogon.
On June 12, 1975, the original painting arrived in the Diocese of Tagbilaran for Our Lady’s visitation to the whole province of Bohol – from parish to parish, from central barangays to the remotest ones. This visit lasted for 6 years and 15 days. On Jan.14, 1981 the image was brought back to Bacolod City for the historical visit of the Holy Father, His Holiness Pope John Paul II. On Feb. 20, 1981, at the Bishop’s Palace in Bacolod City, the image was personally blessed by the Holy Father.
In 1993, Rev. Fr. Jose Sumampong, the third parish priest, assisted by Rev. Fr. Limuel Canezares, formally organized the Parish Economic Council (PEC), the Parish Development Council (PDC), and the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) and initiated renovations on the church campus.. All parishioners were inspired to be involved with this project’s motto: SIMBAHAN KO, TUKORON KO (My Church, I will build it.) Other succeeding parish priests continued adding improvements.
A Parish Center, with function rooms for meetings, seminars, and gatherings has been constructed at the side of the church. A rectory, with offices, stands at the back. A Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel which now lies beside the Parish Center, is a donation of the Uy Family. The fencing of the frontage of the church, a lovely work of art , always wins the appreciation of visitors. A lighted grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, built against a garden wall, is a focal point of interest, with its flowing fountain and lush greenery. Of interest is a unique bridge-like pathway leading to the church’s gate facing the highway. The fencing of the back, enclosing the twin tennis courts, has been completed.
The nook for the saints, located on the right side midway between the altar and the main entrance, show devotions to the following: God Our Father, the Divine Mercy, the Holy Face, Saint Joseph, St. Isidore and St Roch. As a Shrine of the Blessed Mother, it is not surprising that the faithful seems to show partiality to our beloved Lady, through the presence of so many images representing Her, such as Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother Thrice Admirable, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Immaculate Conception, the Medalla Milagrosa, Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary, and a smaller replica of the Birhen sa Barangay. Of interest is that the feast day of each saint is placed close to the image, ever reminding the devotees of the start of their novenas.
The Shrine of the Birhen Sa Barangay has easily become the center of the community’s activities. Around 20 different organizations are involved in the upkeep and the use of the shrine, be these spiritual, social, intellectual or physical. The shrine becomes the hub of activities during Fiestas, Lent, Christmas, Family Week, Bible Week, Free Clinics – medical, dental, and optical,--as well as feeding programs, recollections and retreats. The beautification of the place continues, and one truly learns to appreciate the beauty of God’s creations.
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