Faith in the Black Nazarene

ONE FOR GUINNESS: A MILLION ON BRIDGE. This is one for the Book of Guinness: Nowhere in the world is a bridge like Jones Bridge in Manila full of a million people or so people in one setting. Other bridges could collapse already. But not this one, which is done annually at the Jones Bridge in Manila during the procession of the Black Nazarne last Jan 9. How awesome it would be if at least half of the crowd have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! Heaven would be overwhelmed!


“One’s faith is unique and personal- it is like no others- not even those who profess the same faith. Only faith, blind and total- remains standing when all else fails- the mark a person lives by.” – Asuncion David Maramba

The photo above is part of “Translacion”- the massive 5 million devotees of the Black Nazarene procession along Jones Bridge in Manila this year.

The 1.6-kilometer procession from the Luneta to the Quiapo Church that lasts for hours- under sun or rain- is an admired spectacle globally and inspires many “Jesus people”.

It does not matter if the legend is true or not that the life-size Black Nazarene image bearing the cross – survived a boat fire on the way from Spain to the Philippines and was blackened by the soot and chemicals combined.

It matters even less that evangelists of some kind wanted a symbolic Christ- burdened by the cross as many of the devotees are in their daily crosses and was painted black-skinned to come nearer to the typical Filipino skin color brown and therefore more relatable.

We probably have enough of the “white Christ” – as depicted in one of the first Hollywood films to narrate the life and times of Jesus – played by action star Jeffrey Hunter. He was tall, blond haired, blue-eyed and pale-skinned. A distant visual Caucasian God for some, perhaps.

There are many reasons people flock to and venerate the Black Nazarene. To blame them outright as fanatics is to miss the essence of faith.

Doubtless, many are there for supplication for mercy. Amid the Third World scenario of poverty, sickness, and powerlessness, many are driven to God for aid and mercy. As many are poor, many of their needs are financial, no not extravagant needs, like plush homes and OA cars- but simply for sustenance to go through the daily needs. (As in “Give us this day our daily Bread.”)

It has been Jesus Himself who encouraged the faithful to “ask and it will be given unto you; seek and you will find.” It is an act of surrender and of the deepest faith in a Greater Being than themselves.

And God always answers prayers- and He is never late.  The answers, though, are not always what man wants to hear- that is the problem.

Many are there for pure adoration. They want to express their belief, in the same way, that some of us bring rosaries inside our pockets and take them out during traffic in Metro Manila and Cebu- as couple Juli and Kate would do? Isn’t that the best prayer instead of courting heart palpitation and high blood pressure?

It is not fanaticism, many Catholics have images of Padre Pio in their beds (like the Editor of this paper), offices, and homes- in admiration of his powerful prayer for intercession for things physical and spiritual.

Other devotees come in overflowing thanksgiving for answered prayers. A new job, a lotto win, a passing of a child for national exams for CPA, lawyer of medicine. An office assistant Angela spent half a year on her back in bed after a jeepney accident and could not walk. A devotee of the Black Nazarene-she eventually walked again and is now gainfully employed – a major family supporter for financials.  Angela takes a day and a half leave every January without pay to be with the “Translacion”.

One of the most popular celebrities, actor Coco Martin was a janitor at the SM Malls and failed in his first audition to ABS-CBN together with the likes of Anne Curtis. Coco would hide his shame on escalators when he accidentally chances upon Anne at the SM.

But Martin’s devotion never wavered. Today, he is one of the most successful actors of his generation whose “Ang Probinsiyano” has stayed on the air for three years -and counting. He is a yearly devotee. This year when he could not make it – he stayed with the image overnight at the Luneta Grandstand. A grateful child, he is.

The Holy Bible says: where two are three are gathered in My Name, there I Am in the midst of them.”  What about 5 million heaving devotees praying in solidarity as one? Is Heaven deaf? It exemplifies the “grassroots Filipinos’ ability to pray together.””.

(Millennials have their own slogan these days: Where two or three are gathered together- selfie, selfie. Laughter).

But Rev. Patrick Peyton in the 1960s’, let us remember, also used to say: “The family that prays together, stays together.” There.

Also, there are two ways one can express his faith. One is in quiet reverence inside the church or one’s own room and another in this rather loud passionate visceral display of faith.”

But isn’t it that when we love someone, we are forceful both in our quiet devotion and loud expressions of such love? Both impart the same message. It is not a matter of superiority but of difference.

Black Nazarene devotees passionately sing, dance and shout during the procession. Those near the carriage are bleeding barefooted. Many run the risk of exhaustion, germ contamination, being trampled upon, dehydrated and violently hit in the procession. Others heave their bodies to the throng as if high (no drugs, this time, President Digong?) Suicidal?

Fanaticism? How far removed are these compared to those who self-flagellate and have themselves nailed on the cross in Pampanga and elsewhere during Lent? Or malnourished individuals still going through fasting and abstinence during certain days? Faith, you see now- is personal as it is passionate.

There are many other ways to display devotion and thanksgiving and Christians should be the last to denigrate such altruistic display of affection. That’s being judgmental.  We heard of one family who cooked a day-long supply of food for thousands of devotees passing by their street during the “Translacion” for free. Another man, from the loft of his building, literally threw thousands of pesos to the streets in Quiapo -to those who needed them more than he did.

We see absolutely nothing wrong with those but view them instead with pure admiration.

Faith indeed can move mountains and can be seen in the dramatic changes for the good of philandering husbands, crooks, addicts, and perverts after a bout with the Black Nazarene fever.

Are we fools in wasting two days of productivity at work, creating monstrous traffic jams and suffering injury and sickness in the wake of our veneration of the Black Nazarene?

Then we will suffer fools gladly. For it is this unshakeable faith, this belief in a Superior Being and the Afterlife,  that altruistic display of affection that make us a solid, happy Christian nation – despite the “slings and arrows” that a Third World country is heir to.

The Black Nazarene is a wide-eyed phenomenon. It is a proud testament of how deeply and uniquely Filipino the streams of faith and hope can truly grow in us, Shalom!

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