A machismo spectacular
Last Jan. 9, a TV news program brought to our living room staggering visuals of Quiapo’s Black Nazarene procession, now grown to an epic size of 9 million devotees (up by 2 million over the last two years). The incredible mammoth throng ebbed, waved and surged, releasing tsunamis of adrenaline infused with supplications, compunctions, gratitude and hopes of a downtrodden flock. They directly address their sentimentalism to a mnemonic Christ in stunning black, prostrate by the weight of a cross, tortured and begging for help from tough guys like Simon of Cyrene.
The massive response I saw gave me goose pimples. I saw machismo-hyped spirituality using muscular strength, dogged grit, risking life and limbs to snatch a piece of blessing (or magic) by wiping a piece of handkerchief, towels on the wooden cross or any body parts of the Poong Nazareno. The only trance-inducing rituals I have witnessed similar to Black Nazarene, although small in size, was the riveting Balinese Ketjak monkey chant performed by village men in Bali, Indonesia.
I cringed at the face of mass poverty, macho mysticism and childlike worship compressed in a single day of intense fervor, but then, in all probability toned down and rendered perfunctory for the rest of the year, a la ningas cogon.
Perhaps the prelude to the agony and ecstasy of the Black Nazarene is another passion event, an all day-all night sung ritual called pasyon-chanting (Pabasa) performed during Holy Week. Pasyon recollects the bone-jarring, bruise-causing journey of Christ on his way to His crucifixion. Scene by scene, line by line, the passages are sung more like an eerie wail, heard by the whole neighborhood through a loud public address system speakers. The singing voices are thin, coarse and haunting, spreading pity and sadness for a tortured man-God doomed to die on the cross between two thieves. (Weren’t the millions of Nazareno devotees also thieves wanting to steal heaven by asking Christ to remember them when he returned to paradise?)
The irrationality of the Nazareno rowdiness had been eliciting gasps among middle-class individuals, many of whom are Catholics themselves, whose lifestyle revolve around pleasures and abundance. Inconvenience, self-denial, pains and deprivations are anathema to them. Hogwash, if self-inflicted by fanaticism. Stupidity, if performed by “kapos-palad,” and mocked by agnostics and nihilists who cannot intuit the supernatural.
Pundits, however, take exception to our triumphant and merriment faith displayed in our overcrowded pilgrims’ fiestas like the Virgen de Peñafrancia, Manaoag and Antipolo. The nationwide Sto. Niño dance procession is pure happiness, a collective tribute for the maternal instinct of the blessed Virgin Mary toward Filipinos.
The exuberance of Catholicism in the Philippines was referred to by as Pope Benedict XVI as “Folk Catholicism.” It’s a compliment. Today, our durable faith and robust worship are being transplanted by millions of Filipino migrant work forces to Europe, North America and the Middle East, resuscitating fossilized churches and cathedrals back to life. Filipino flocks whose loud and exuberant worship make unbelievers curious and puzzled in the original bastion of Catholicism centuries ago.
Folk Catholicism has substantive scriptural basis. But it’s not the stringent, literal and hung-up beliefs of adherents of the sola fide and sola scriptura variety. It’s the imaginative expression of faith, too creative perhaps, bordering on idolatrous designs. But since the core faith is intact in substance and spirit, perhaps God smiles at the effort to hype ethnic liturgies.
The Beatitudes are emotive to those who are poor in spirit. To follow Christ, you must take up your cross daily. Collect your treasures in heaven, not on earth. He who has no sin, cast the first stone. Turn the other cheek. The prodigal son. G. K. Chesterton calls these paradoxes in the Holy Scriptures the madness of the gospel.
Opinion makers define the breath, depth and width of the Black Nazarene phenomenon. Randy David wrote, “The mass energy of a million people is focused on the image and from there it radiates its power back to the crowd.” (Inquirer, 1/12/12) The unhygienic stink and garbage left behind, the bruises, wounds and broken bones inflicted by the tumult prompted David to summarize the juxtaposition of roughness and divination as the sacred and the profane.
Rene Azurin injects the role that injustice plays on religious practices as indicative of mass sentiments. Azurin writes, “Even if one considers the existence of non-indifferent Deity who may indeed dispense reward and punishment in the after-life, that surely, is not a sufficient excuse for not addressing injustice now in the earthly life we are certain of and have control over.” He further writes, “When man is finally able to overcome religions’ admittedly divisive tendencies, he will find that it is actually indispensable in the general development of a better “juster” human communities. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI refer to such communities as a “Civilization of Love.”
Msgr. Chito Tagle, the new archbishop of Manila offers an enlightened counsel: “One cannot understand a Nazareno deboto. Only a deboto can.”
A priest at the Christ The King parish suggested to put an end to the humongous, problem-scourged Nazareno procession. That’s wishful thinking.
Methinks it’s counter-culture.
Minyong Ordoñez writes a column for the Lifestyle section. Email: email@example.com
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