August of every year is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in order to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in the Philippines as the normal, natural and preferred method of feeding infants and young children. It is especially urgent today as a reported 16,000 Filipino babies die every year – directly due to the harmful effects of bottle-feeding.
An image of a breast-feeding Virgin Mary has been quietly making the rounds of homes and hospitals in Manila and nearby provinces, granting wishes of women desperate for a child and having troubles with their milk. Several couples have attested to the miracles attributed to the unconventional image of the Blessed Mother, called Our Lady of La Leche, whose roots can be traced back to the 16th century in Spain.
Remedios Ticzon-Gonzales, founder of Our Lady of La Leche Movement, has been chronicling miracle stories from women who prayed before the image of Mary barefooted, seated on a throne with her right foot resting on a pillow. She was nursing the infant Jesus, his tiny hands clutching the fabric of his mother’s dress.
Gonzales said while it was taking some time for the devotion to fully blossom in the country, more Filipino mothers and mothers-to-be were gradually developing a deep connection with the breast-feeding Virgin Mary as they realized the importance of breast-feeding.
The Church has also joined the advocacy, approving the propagation of images of the breast-feeding Virgin Mary, which has been shunned by conservatives in the early years of Christianity. The Church believes that breast-feeding has a paramount role in promoting the holy bond between a mother and child, and the dignity of motherhood. It also believes that the image emphasizes Jesus Christ’s humanity.
Gonzales said the movement was created to promote among Filipino mothers the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, who, she said, was the perfect symbol of motherhood. “Breast-feeding is a means to holiness [so] we are promoting the devotion to the breast-feeding Blessed Mother who is the epitome of holiness,” she said.
With the help of Fr. Nick Blanquisco, Gonzales obtained in 2000 permission from the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to promote the devotion to the nursing Mary. Following Sin’s approval, Gonzales gathered her women friends to form the movement and started distributing novenas and booklets, and bringing replicas to homes of mothers, expectant mothers and childless couples. Recently retired Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales also allowed the propagation to continue in Manila.
Statues of Our Lady of La Leche have been installed in 23 churches and chapels in Metro Manila and in Batangas, Cavite and Mindoro provinces.