Philippine Catholic bishops congratulated the country’s first Olympic gold medalist, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, not only for her victory but for her show of faith and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“We admire her devotion to the Blessed Mother as she carried in her victory her great faith in God,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the country’s bishops’ conference.
The prelate said he noticed in one of the photos of the victorious athlete holding her gold medal a “Miraculous Medal of Our Lady” hanging on her chest.
“Hidilyn is a true weightlifter who draws her strength from her love for the country and her deep Catholic faith,” said the archbishop.
Diaz won the first Olympic gold medal for the Philippines in the women’s 55-kilogram weightlifting event. She also made an Olympic record after lifting a combined weight of 224 kilograms.
After completing her final lift in a very close competition on Monday, July 26, Diaz held her hands to her face and burst into tears and clutched at the medallion around her neck.
“Thank you, Lord, thank you Lord,” she cried repeatedly after the winning lift.
On the podium at the medals ceremony, she pointed to the heavens after standing to attention saluting as she sang the Philippine national anthem.
She then made the Sign of the Cross before stepping down and shouting “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“Long live, Philippines!”)
Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila said Diaz has given an inspiration to all Filipinos.
“Thank you, Hidilyn, for the tremendous honor you have bestowed on our country,” said the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Manila.
“Your success gives light, inspiration, and hope to all of us, especially in these difficult times,” he said in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas.
The cardinal acknowledged the faith of Diaz and her trust in God.
“Thank you for the testimony of your strong faith in God and deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thank you for reminding us that there is no real success if it does not come from God,” said Cardinal Advincula.
“It is with great pride and joy that we congratulate Ms. Hidilyn Diaz for her historic performance,” said the country’s Catholic bishops in a statement.
“I extend my utmost gratitude to Hidilyn for bringing honor to our country with her determined spirit and undying passion for what she does,” said Archbishop Valles.
“Congratulations, Hidilyn! May the Lord continue to bless you with perseverance!”
Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People of the bishops’ conference said Diaz’s victory showed that Filipinos can rise up to any challenge with God’s help.
“[S]he has shown to us that the Filipino can. We can rise up from all challenges in life. We can surmount all obstacles,” said the bishop.
“Taking what she has done and said, let us have faith in God, believe in ourselves and do all for our country,” added Bishop Santos.
In a media interview on Tuesday, Diaz said the “Miraculous Medal of Our Lady” was given to her by friends before going to Tokyo for the games early this month.
“They prayed a ‘novena’ for nine days before my competition,” she told reporters, adding that she give thanks to her “prayer warriors.”
“I also prayed a ‘novena,’” she said.
What is a novena?
A “novena” is a popular spiritual devotion among Filipino Catholics consisting of the recitation of a set form of prayer for nine consecutive days, in petition for a divine favor or in preparation for a liturgical feast or as participation in an important event such as a Year of Jubilee.
She said the religious medal is “a sign of our prayers and faith in Mama Mary and Jesus Christ,” adding that her faith in God is the major reason for her success.
Success against the odds
Diaz is the fifth of six children of a poor trike driver in a small village in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga.
In previous media interviews, the future Olympic gold medalist said that when she was a child she wanted to be a banker so that her mother would stop complaining about the lack of money.
A cousin, however, introduced the then-ten-year old girl to weightlifting by training her with makeshift barbells made from plastic pipes with cast concrete weights at either end.
In 2002, she joined her first-ever competition in weightlifting in the national games where she won a gold.
In 2007, Diaz joined her first Southeast Asian games, clinching bronze in the 58-kg category.
When she turned 17 in 2008, she competed in the Beijing Olympics where she placed 11th out of 12 weightlifters.