The enigma of the Black Nazarene

What about the life-size image of the Nazarene brought by Spanish missionaries from Mexico on a galleon in 1606; black, because charred in a ship fire but “miraculously” spared? What about the annual commemoration of its transfer to Quiapo Church in 1767, this “traslacion,” this tsunami-like wave hugging the land, carrying hordes stuck to each other like one heaving chain?

The numbers amaze. Five million in a snap. On a demographic note, where do they come from and who are they? That’s almost half of Metro Manila’s population compressed on a 6.1-kilometer stretch. (Picture salivating politicians; “How can I get their vote?” Do not underestimate; one has given away panties, according to an Inquirer report). Easily, half look like zealous, barefoot denizens of the CDE sector. How many are poor, underemployed, undereducated? What does that say of the state of the nation, and of the Church as well?


The question that many people ask about this phenomenon is whether it is a demonstration of “faith or fanaticism.” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, is keenly aware of the dichotomy. That’s perhaps why he goes straight to the crux of the question and clarifies whether one is a “devotee or fanatic,” expectedly veering toward faith.

Faith (emphasis mine) as distinguished from Faith as a religion, is a quieter Presence, a stronger Power. It alights for moments or abides forever in one’s deep center. Unique and personal, one’s faith is like no other’s, not even of those who profess the same religion. It is what remains in the face of the inscrutable human condition, the inexplicables and the unanswerables before which Einstein must say “I can’t explain it.” Only Faith, blind and total, remains standing when all else fails, the mark a person lives by.


On the other hand, fanaticism is more strident and visible. Ours draws much from our sensuous folk religiosity; the fruit of inculturation, in our case, the interplay of hispanization and indigenization. It’s a much-loved folk religiosity in the DNA of every other Filipino, so far. But how long does the fervor last?

In defense of fanaticism, “faith experiences” do happen in the most gaudy and noisy settings, just as nothing can happen even in the holiest of places.

The twin problem of faith and fanaticism is the very thin line between them and the ease with which they flow into each other. It’s somewhat like “patintero” or “tinikling.” In a wink, you can be in or out, caught or free. Fanaticism can overpower true devotion when extremes and excesses appear.

In the traslacion, there are dominant and dominating extremes such as shades of self-flagellation, exposure to physical harm leading to scores hurt, emotionalism, superstition, dependence on the immanence of power in holy objects, ritual on the edge of frenzy.

Is this massive tribute truly an outpouring of love, gratitude, supplication, vows and promises, true devotion done with the purest intentions? “You are devoted because you love…. That is the true spirit of devotion. A devotee… will remain faithful whether or not he gets something out of it,” the cardinal said.

Still, watching the magnitude of such a visceral spectacle, many wish for a more subdued display of Faith. Possible? Who should temper it? Who can temper it, and how?

* * *


Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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