The feast of the Black Nazarene has long been a spectacle of Filipino faith and human endurance. When the distinctively dark-colored statue of a cross-bearing Jesus Christ, clad in maroon and gold, is moved from Rizal Park to Quiapo Church every year on Jan. 9, it is accompanied by a heaving ocean of mostly male devotees who fight to pull, or even briefly grasp, the ropes attached to its carriage. For those who took part in the ritual called the traslacion, estimated this year at nine million, this is the singularly definitive act of devotion to the image many swear to be miraculous.
This year’s passage of the Black Nazarene took “only” 17 hours—the reported result of a redesigned carriage, new solid-rubber tires instead of inflatable ones, and better organization. Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino described the event as “faster and more organized.” It is thus quite unfortunate that the annual pietistic display was crowned by a massive collection of rubbish. The estimates vary, but the devotees apparently left more than 120 tons of garbage. Public places like Plaza Miranda, Rizal Park and the streets leading to Quiapo Church were choked with assorted trash, plastic water bottles, empty food packs and rafts of other throwaway items.
And to think that this was actually an improvement. With the traslacion winding up several hours earlier (last year’s ritual was said to have lasted all of 22 hours), the MMDA was able to deploy street sweepers much earlier as well. “I think we will collect only up to 30 truckloads [of trash] now. We had 50 truckloads last year,” Francis Martinez, an MMDA official leading the cleanup effort, was reported as saying. “We were surprised because we were expecting more people, and therefore more trash. But this is good.”
Good lord. It isn’t just the sheer amount of garbage collected that is shocking and infuriating, but also the wanton carelessness and insensitivity of the ritual participants, be they devotees or those observing from the sidelines. Huge amounts of rubbish were left in the park by those who kept vigil on the eve and thrown pell-mell along the procession route in a blatant disregard for public cleanliness. Is nothing sacred?
For days before the event, the nongovernment organization EcoWaste Coalition harped on going “green” and sounded a constant call for a cutback in the trash generated by the feast. Zero-waste campaigner Tin Vergara pleaded in a statement: “We appeal to the faithful followers of the Black Nazarene to be His reliable stewards on Earth, protecting Quiapo and its environs from trash, abuse and destruction.” (In a homily at last year’s feast, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle urged the faithful to keep tidy and to desist from treating the city of Manila as their garbage bin.)
The morning after, a disappointed Vergara issued a statement expressing dismay at “the immense trashing of the entire processional route from Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park to Plaza Miranda in Quiapo during the feast day, as if littering is an essential part of our devotion to the Black Nazarene.” Vergara also noted that “time and again, our spiritual fervor for the Black Nazarene has not been manifested in our consequent actions as we continue to defile the streets passed by the procession.”
Indeed, how reconcile this terrible act of littering with the show of faith and devotion that the Feast of the Black Nazarene represents? How justify inflicting one’s garbage on others?
It’s obvious that those “faithful” who disposed of their trash without a thought for those who would have to clean up after them have much to atone for in terms of their inconsiderate and self-centered ways. It’s galling that as they were going through the motions of piety, they were actually causing the suffering of the street sweepers and the army of volunteers who would later pool efforts to clean up the avenues leading to the house of God.
Raising public awareness of the virtues of cleanliness and consideration for others is nothing short of imperative. Surely these are virtues that the Feast of the Black Nazarene should represent as well. As it stands, this display of faith becomes nothing more than a show—of selfishness, callousness and ignorance.