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Reflections

“How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms, by truth when it is attacked by lies, by faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, in the final act, by determination and faith.”

― Archibald MacLeish

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reflections: Devotion To The Black Nazarene of Quiapo


Each year, the procession of the Black Nazarene makes its way along the streets of the Quiapo district, with attendees reaching up to 6 to 8 million. 

In recent years, the processional route was altered due to a rise in vehicular and stampede accidents, and to afford other neighbourhoods a chance to participate in the festivities. Classes are also suspended in all levels. Since 2007 and 2009, the procession now commences at morning after a Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, where the image was first enshrined, and ends in Quiapo in the late evening or the following morning at dawn.
As is custom, the statue of the Nazarene leaves Quiapo Church (publicly or secretly the night before) and returns the same day. Many participants either follow the route, or simply wait inside the church to greet the statue, while most, if not all, of the devotees walk and even travel barefoot throughout the whole procession. All devotees present wear the image's colour of maroon. Authorities estimate that over 500,000 devotees strode barefoot in the 2013 procession, which was attended by 9 million people.[2]The majority of those attending are of long time devotees, tourists, and members of devotees' associations in Manila and other cities and towns in the country, traditionally including men, and now also including women as well, that provide the namámasán pulling the ropes on the carriage and the image on it, which is escorted by yellow shirted marshals from Quiapo Church, where the image is enshrined, that provide its honor guard, protect it against devotees touching the body parts and also signal both the namámasán at the front and the devotees pulling the carriage from behind via voice calls on a megaphone and hand signals. From Wikipedia

Devotion to the Black Nazarene (A Pastoral Understanding)
by: Msgr. Jose Clemente F. Ignacio

INTRODUCTION:
In a recent symposium, at the Loyola School of Theology, where I was invited to share about the Black Nazarene Devotion, Questions were posed by the students regarding the faith expression of the devotees to the Black Nazarene. They asked:

1. In my experience as a pastor, how do I look at the genuineness in the faith expressions of the devotees of the Black Nazarene?
2. What can I say about the criticism that the devotion to the Nazareno is prone to abuse because it seems to border on idolatry?
3. What have been the abuses/excesses in the devotion? If there are, how do I, as a pastor, correct them? How could the theologians and future ministers be able to help?
4. What can I say about the judgement that the devotion to the Black Nazarene is a wrong devotion because the Nazareno is a symbol of despair and suffering and that we should use symbols that promotes hope for the Filipino?

 POPULAR RELIGIOSITY IN THE PAST:
One of the things I took time trying to understand in school was Popular Religiosity. Popular Religiosity, as it was understood then – it seems – by many, had to do with those practices considered ‘outside’ of the normally acceptable and universally approved liturgical practices. They were not according to norm and was not encouragingly given its place in the approved cultic celebrations of our Church. It was not among the more popular topics our professors gave much attention to. The conception was that there were many elements here that needed purification.

I started to have a wrong concept that these practices did not fit the theological framework of our prayers and liturgies. I then found myself becoming cautious about popular religious practices. Some of them were judged to be superstitious and even fanatical. The better way of expressing one’s piety was through retreats and recollections. Folk Religiosity was of a ‘lower level’ of faith expression.

But there were some professors who did encourage us to open the doors to the study of popular religiosity. They said it was a great potential for evangelization and the task ahead was to understand and embrace them once more and bring these practices back into the approved cultic life of the Church.

PRACTICES OF THE DEVOTION:
Quiapo Church has been a witness to several practices of Popular Piety. They have become part of the Devotion to the Black Nazarene. Among them are the following: The Pahalik (kissing of the statues, Pasindi (lighting of multi-coloured candles outside of the Church), Padasal (from the Mandarasals or the Priests), Pabihis (the changing of the garments of the Black Nazarene), Pabendision (sprinkling of Holy Water after masses or the kissing of the hands of the priests), Pahawak (touching of the statues or the garments of the Black Nazarene), Pamisa (Mass Offerings), Pagnonobena (Novena prayers or masses), Pagpasan (Carrying of the wood of the carroza or the rope attached to it), Pagyayapak (walking barefoot during processions), Paglalakad ng Paluhod (processing to the altar on bended knees).

There are also many other practices I discovered like; asking the priests to bless oils or bottled water to bring home to the sick; asking for dried sampaguitas offered in the church again to bring home; cutting up the vestments of the Black Nazarene as well as the rope used during the procession as a relic; wiping sacred images with towels; selling of crucifixes and handkerchiefs with the face of the Black Nazarene; and the bringing of the Hands of the Black Nazarene to the sick.

I have been asking myself questions: Are these practices good or bad? Should they be allowed to continue or should they be stopped? Some are saying it is bordering on fanaticism and the people should simply stick to the approved liturgies namely the Eucharist and the other celebrations found in the Missal. Some say they are remnants of the animistic faith of the past which the Church has not yet totally ‘Christianized’.


REFLECTIONS ON THE PRACTICES OF THE DEVOTIONS:
The priests of Quiapo discuss these matters often. The media has a lot of criticisms to say to the pastors of Quiapo Church. They echo what some people say that the practices are superstitious, fanatical and even idolatrous. I don’t know, but after being submerged in the life of the ordinary devotees, the pastors of Quiapo are one in the feeling that they have been humbled in their priesthood the more they get to understand and encounter the faith of the simple people. From where ordinary parishioners stand, one can feel the intensity and sincerity of their devotion. 

One priest said, “Baka hindi pa lubos na nauunawaan ng theological community ang kaluluwa at espiritualidad ng mga Pilipino (Maybe, the theological community has not yet fully understood the soul and spirituality of Filipinos). Baka ang ating mga ‘paradigm’ sa teolohiya ay masyadong ‘Western’ kaya ang dali-dali nating maghusga tungkol sa debosyon ng mga mananampalataya (Maybe, our theological paradigms are too western that is why we easily judge about the piety of our devotees)”. One priest even said: “Our theologies might be an elitist theology which we might need to evaluate.”

As one of the pastors of Quiapo Church, I have always faced issues that had to do with the devotion to the Black Nazarene. For example, one of the first issues presented to me was: Should I tolerate the ‘Mandarasals’ (persons sought out for prayers) at the back of the Church or not? Apparently, they are ‘bothering’ some people, because these Mandarasals look like they are trying to earn a living using prayers. I called for the Mandarasals one day in my office. I asked them, “When did this tradition begin?”. They could not remember; all they knew was that their great, great grandparents were Mandarasals already. One of them even said, “... Panahon pa po ng mga Español (It might date back to devotion7the Spanish Occupation...)”. This practice of praying for others, institutionalized in the Church of Quiapo, has been passed on from generation to generation. I learned that the Mandarasals were very serious about their praying. They devote hours and hours of praying in front of their altars in their homes or capilletas in order to pray for the intentions of their clients. Even priests sometimes ask them for prayers. When they were sharing their lives to me, I saw that behind their ‘ornamental displaying’ at the rear of the Church, is a witnessing to an age old teaching of the Church regarding intercessory praying. I could not go against the good I saw when I interviewed them. 

So, I said to them – “Hindi ko kayo paaalisin ngunit may mga kundisyon (I won’t take you out of the Church but on the following conditions): 1) Huwag silang sisingil at huwag nilang gawin hanap buhay ang pandarasal (Don’t commit simony). 2) Huwag nilang sisirain ang magandang tradisyon ng kanilang mga ninuno na nagseryoso sa kanilang pandarasal sa Kapwa (Don’t destroy the beautiful tradition of their ancestors). 3) Kapag may misa, titigil sila sapagkat ang misa ang mas mahalaga at pinakamainam na pagdarasal (They respect the Eucharist). 4) Huwag na silang daragdag at baka kalahati na ng simbahan ay mapuno ng mga Mandarasal! Baka kasi mapasukan ang simbahan ng mga hindi galing sa ‘Orden ng mga Mandarasals’ kasi meron ngang mga peke at naghahanap buhay lamang (Don’t allow fake Madarasals to enter). Kung masira itong mga kundisyones, sabi ko, palalabasin ko sila (If they destroy the conditions, they will be sent out). ” I allowed them to receive benefits from the people because the laborer is worth his keep... at hindi lang naman mga pari at madre ang maaaring bigyan ng abuloy sa kanilang pandarasal, kundi pati na rin ang mga laykong nagdarasal ( and lay people have a right to receive donations for their services). Later on, I started to invite them to attend formation seminars, bible studies and be a member of our organizations. I also instructed our formation ministry to help them acquire basic counselling skills since people who go to them and ask prayers from them are people with problems. I also saw – and I think this is only expected and understandable – that we priests in the confessional are not answering some ‘counselling’ needs of the many people coming to Church; the Mandarasals, however, are somehow filling up the lack.

Other practices that became an issue which our parochial vicar had to attend to was the selling of dried sampaguitas offered in the Church as well as oils used for cleaning the Black Nazarene. Some took advantage of this and made money out of it. The parochial vicar controlled this by instituting procedures and give this out for free to people who request them. He did not stop the practice but simply corrected the abuses.

THE NEED TO TOUCH AND BE TOUCHED BY HEAVEN:
It has been asked of me, why do you allow the people to touch the statue? Isn’t it bordering on idolatry? I guess, the view behind that question isn’t really Filipino. Filipinos are a people of ‘the concrete’. Our expressions are expressed ‘in the concrete’. This is an Asian trait. 'Christ was Asian!' according to one of the statements affirmed by the International Gathering of Asian Shrine Rectors. 

That is why, in the bible, Christ touched the sick, the children and sinners. The crowds too were pushing on Jesus, wanting to touch Him. Remember the woman who was sick with a hemorrhage. When Jesus asked who touched him, the disciples complained that there were many people touching him and he asked the question who touched him? The woman believed that if she could only touch Jesus, then she would be healed and true enough, her faith healed her. It is a Filipino trait to want to wipe, touch, kiss, or embrace sacred objects, if possible. We Filipinos believe in the presence of the Divine in sacred objects and places. The people want to be connected to the Divine, be it through the lining up for the Pahalik; or holding on to the vestments of the Nazareno after the Pabihis; or to be able to touch the rope and put it on their shoulders - this is a way of expressing one’s faith. It is an expression of their devotion. We all know we don’t worship statues. We worship God and if these statues would ‘bridge us to God’, then we want to connect with God using these statues. Kissing or holding on to the statues is not worshipping statues, it is connecting to the divine, to touch and be touched by heaven itself. When I scolded a child for joining the procession and touching the statue, I asked her: “Bakit mo ginawa iyon? (Why did you squeeze through the crowd and touch the statue – that is dangerous!)” The child answered, “Kasi po kung mahawakan ko siya, mabebendisyonan na Niya ako at maririnig Niya ang aking panalangin! (Because if I touch the statue, I will be blessed and Jesus will hear my prayers!)”

WHAT IS NEEDED?

If there are many things to do in Quiapo, it is not to destroy what the people have already been practicing but to improve, and nurture the faith of the people. There are “many levels in the faith” of our devotees (borrowing from Sdevotion11t. Paul). Some are young, some are more mature. What is needed is for the devotees to understand their faith a little bit more, and put things in their right perspective. With proper formation, we hope the devotees could experience more the love of God in their lives and realize their faith in Jesus. When Fr. Venus and I came to Quiapo, we saw that through the decades, the memberships in the organizations, as well as devotees coming to the Church, have grown faster than what the institution could cope up with. And so, under the advice of His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, we have taken baby steps, reorganizing the parish and its ministries, doubling the personnel and prioritizing formation, liturgy and devotions, in order to bring about a better and more mature corps of servant volunteers, who would have an influence on the people who come and go to Quiapo and join the processions. We are also experimenting on ways in our recollection giving with our Mamamasans to bring them closer to God. I was struck when Fr. Jack Padua used the rope and the image of the devotionBlack Nazarene during his recollections and it became very meaningful to the devotees.

CONCLUSION:

I wish to end this talk on the Nazarene Devotion with the quote from Pope Benedict encouraging the seminarians to consider Popular Piety. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter to the Seminarians said this:

"I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety, which is different in every culture yet always remains very similar, for the human heart is ultimately one and the same. Certainly, popular piety tends towards the irrational, and can at times be somewhat superficial. Yet it would be quite wrong to dismiss it. Through that piety, the faith has entered human hearts and become part of the common patrimony of sentiments and customs, shaping the life and emotions of the community. Popular piety is thus one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith that has taken flesh and blood. Certain popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the 'People of God" (From the Vatican, 18 October 2010, Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist.)