Indian Catholic News

Filipino Black Nazarene devotion, is a cry for liberation

Image of the suffering Jesus of Quiapo gives a glimmer of hope and resilience to last another year.

 
More than a million people join the religious procession of the image of the Black Nazarene in Manila on Jan. 9. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
By Brother Jess Matias
Manila: 

Every Jan. 9 in Manila's Quiapo district, millions of Filipinos throng to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene for the annual traslacion, or transfer, of the most venerated image of the suffering Christ, perhaps with just as many personal reasons for doing so, but with a single common goal in mind: to praise the Lord of the masses.

This annual event is the most visible and most dramatic expression of what may be our common Christological ethos — our gratitude for a blessed "today" as well as our hopes for a better "tomorrow," are most often directed to the powers of images we believe to be "Christ living among us."

It will not matter to us Filipinos if the centuries-old, dark-skinned Poon (Lord) dressed in a glittering maroon garment hardly resembles the crucified Jesus of history. We have embraced the Savior in our own little ways, bringing him home to us, whispering to him our secret prayers, and dressing him — as we do with the Santo Nino or Child Jesus — as if he had long been a part of our families.

It seems very clear to us that Jesus is just as "Filipino" as we all are.

And this extraordinary adoration for a Christ we have deemed to be our own, is quietly stored in the privacy of everyone's hearts as we go about our daily struggles for the rest of the year, in anticipation of this yearly outpouring of devotion.

The traslacion has thus become the fulfillment for a united articulation of all our fortunes and misfortunes, a convergence of so many divergent realities; it is a feast in which on one day in a year, differences in social castes can temporarily disappear, with the rich and poor alike, becoming one synchronized deluge of humanity.

Indeed, many anecdotes have it that the procession can become so dense with people, that one can simply be squeezed into the crowd like a sardine, and be moved or "translated" with the flow of the masses trudging along with the sacred image, without actually walking. Individuality vanishes, and one cannot resist being awed and enthralled by this huge animated assembly that possesses a life of its own.

For the observing church, the traslacion is a phenomenon of strong Filipino folk Catholicism, a mystery worth learning from; but for an ardent devotee, barefoot and perspiring yet mesmerized by the "Poon," theological inquiries and opinions do not matter.

For all these inspired urban ascetics, Jan. 9 is above everything else, a day of reckoning, in which the whole year of one's life is taken into account and reflected upon under the gaze of the bloodied face of the Nazareno.

For some devotees, it would mean the initiation of a pious exercise of atonement; and for others, a simple heartfelt thanksgiving or respectful veneration for this "Filipinized Messiah," but all culminating with the participation in a frenzied exercise of prayer and petition for deliverance.

The experience of this unique celebration may be likened to an annual cleansing, a rejuvenation of the spirit, that ironically is reinvigorated after joining in the extremely exhausting day-long procession that can leave less strong people near-death.

Is there a singular voice in the spontaneity of this driven multitude? Yes, perhaps there is a common message we can hear: a message resonating with the common problems of our country, a crisis that everyone faces or is confronted with, but yet defies any imminent resolution.

We may all have different lives, lived under extremely contrasting and even sometime peculiar circumstances, but these conditions are what we take into account when we reflect upon them before the "Poon." And even with a colorful myriad of stories of joys and sorrows, we have a common story of misfortune, hope and redemption.

We are a people unconsciously expressing in the traslacion, a common bondage to poverty and a common subtle resistance to the powers causing unjust destitution. We are all yearning for a common desire for relief from such a prolonged social dominance, and we are all in a common search for that relief in a willing messiah, even if our own Poon is only an ambiguous representation of the Son of God.

Our dissatisfaction is on the edge, at times bordering on pessimistic cynicism; only the Poon of Quiapo gives us a glimmer of hope, and the resilience to last another year.

Every Jan. 9 we always ask: How long must we have a craving for a Philippine nation that still eludes us, for a utopia for Filipinos that we have yet to attain? It is a feast which to some insensitive critics, is a celebration gripped with apparent madness. But it is a serious and sane ritual, a vox populi — our voice as a people, mired in inescapable conditions that we could otherwise have avoided if it were not for the oppression of the privileged few; our voice crying out for a liberation that we can no longer win for ourselves; our voice pleading to the Nazareno for a simple and peaceful life in justice.

If this year's local elections do not yield anything more than a change of faces in an otherwise unchangeable political system, breeding on perennial corruption and the peddling of prestige; and if any future elections continue to fail in listening to the grievances of those who have been left behind, then the feast of the Black Nazarene will remain to amaze or even hypnotize us, ever slowly to the haunting realization that Christ is on the side of those who are already growing impatient for total social emancipation.

Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Source: UCAN

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