You are here

Devotion to Our Lady of Caysasay and Ma-Cho, Chinese patron saint of seafarers

Devotion to Our Lady of Caysasay and Ma-Cho, Chinese patron saint of seafarers
ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - | June 28,2022

Paying homage to Lady of Caysasay in Batangas and Ma-Cho in La Union is a confluence of tradition practiced by both Filipinos and Tsinoys in simultaneous Christian and Chinese rituals.

Dr. Christina Lee, Ph.D, presented the linkage between the rituals in the recent webinar lecture on “The Chinese in Philippine colonial history at a period of chaos, resistance and conquest” sponsored by Kaisa Heritage Foundation.

Ma-Cho (MA-Tzu) is a Chinese deity born in 960 AD during the Sung Dynasty.

She is known as the Chinese Goddess of the Sea and is considered to be the special protector or patron saint of fishermen, sailors and seafarers.

During her lifetime, it is said that Ma-Cho had supernatural powers and performed miracles, subduing evil spirits and averting disasters at sea. She sacrificed her life while trying to save seafarers endangered by rough seas. She died at the young age of 28.

Before setting out on a voyage, it was customary for the Chinese to visit a Ma Cho temple to ask for protection.

Similarly, immediately upon arrival at port, travellers would visit Ma Cho to thank her for their safe passage.

In 1968, a boat with Taiwanese fishermen was driven off course by a powerful typhoon and they had to seek shelter by the shores of San Fernando Bay in La Union.

In appreciation of the hospitality extended to them by the Filipinos, they gave the image in Ma-Cho as parting gift which is now enshrined in a Taoist temple in San Fernando.

Many Chinese Filpinos, Taoist and Catholic alike, believe that Ma-Cho and our Lady of Caysasay are one and the same because of their huge resemblance.

It is a form of “syncretism” or the merging of different beliefs and various schools of thought. Both are considered emanations of each other as they are related to water and/or travel.

It is a unique relationship that is found only in the Philippines.

The image of Our Lady of Caysasay was found in 1603 by a fisherman in a fishing village along the Pansipit River in Old Taal.

Since then, there have been stories of miraculous happenings. The parish priest even described the statue’s face as “twinkling like a star.”

Devotees gather every last week of September for a pilgrimage wherein the image of Ma-Cho goes to Taal, Batangas and a special Mass is celebrated in the Shrine of our Lady of Caysasay. The image of Ma-Cho then returns the following day to La Union.

In a paper, civic leader Teresita Ang See pointed out that the timeline of the Caysasay figurine’s existence among Filipinos is marked by tragedy among the Chinese.

The year it was fished out, 1603, saw the first big massacre of the Chinese. She asked “Could it have accidentally fallen off the boat of Chinese trying to flee?”.

Another significant coincidence was in 1639, the year the Labac shrine was built, when the second biggest Chinese massacre happened.

The Chinese uprising began in Calamba, Laguna, and spread to nearby provinces like Batangas and Rizal. The ensuing bloodshed claimed the lives of 30,000 Chinese. The Filipinos, especially those in Taal, sided with the Spaniards and went on a killing frenzy.

Veneration to patron saints like Ma-Cho and Caysasay is one of the religious practices that may serve to mitigate negative aspects of a seafarer’s work such as loneliness, isolation, and institutional living, as well as fear of the dangers that can be encountered at sea.

A study by Seafarers International Research Center (SIRC) noted that religion assists seafarers in coping with dangerous and emotionally challenging workplaces.

A seafarer’s faith is his most powerful weapon in overcoming difficult emotional, or even dangerous, shipboard conditions and in making life at sea bearable in many ways.

It offers for the ordinary Filipino seafarers strength, hope and peace in relation with their daily work and social relationships on board the vessel.

Seafarers find strength in their God as they commonly experience fear for their lives during emergencies at sea, which are often associated with storms, mechanical failure, collisions and groundings.

God was being drawn upon by seafarers to increase their resilience in dealing with stressful and dangerous workplace situations.

Seafarers are more likely to draw on their belief to help them at times when they are powerless to help themselves.

It was relatively common for seafarers to engage in faith-based routines which they hoped would offer them some protection from ill-fate.