Magnetic poles of Filipino Catholicism?
“A MAGNETIC pole” is “either of the two ends of a magnet at which the field of the magnet is most intense.” Analogically, by referring to the Santo Niño and the “Nazareno” as the magnetic poles of Filipino Catholicism, I am pointing to the “field of magnet” to and around which millions of Filipino devotees are drawn and gravitate during Santo Niño and Nazareno feast days. Both are celebrated in the first month of the year—the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January (Jan. 17 this year) and the Nazareno every Jan. 9—as if to give the whole year a kind of “orientation.” And both continue to be of immense value to so many Filipinos, commanding intense devotion among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Nazareno’s final procession through the little more than two-kilometer route from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church in Manila last Jan. 9, which took more than 10 hours to negotiate, drew millions of devotees. The same can be said of the Santo Niño festival in Cebu.
More than the known facts that we simply accept and take for granted about these two widely (or wildly, too?) popular devotions among Filipinos, we also note a certain form of Catholicism that goes back to the Spanish era but has seen little change since, a reality that is embarrassing as much as it is thought-provoking. Many studies and reflections have been made, both by religion and religious phenomena specialists and ordinary devotees, claiming of miracles. There is no reason to look at these claims with cynicism, especially since our recent popes have affirmed the importance and validity of such religious manifestations and phenomena anywhere in the world as faith expression.
Points of contention, however, kick in when these manifestations of faith become sporadic, even seasonal and, like tourist attractions, hit their peaks and lows. For example, the hordes of devotees that come for the festivals have raised the question about the depth of the religious and faith convictions of the people. In the Year of Faith two years ago, our bishops made a strong statement about our faith being shallow, etc. It seems the statement did not provoke massive conversions as shown in the way we continue to express our faith and religiosity. The statement was just another one of those that made no noticeable dent on reality. The massive show of devotion and enthusiasm that Filipinos soared into during Pope Francis’ visit to the country in January last year was another manifestation that essentially only affirmed the bishops’ view about the superficiality of the Filipinos’ religiosity and faith.
It should be too presumptuous for “little me” to claim this as a voice crying in the wilderness or even a wake-up call but, yes, it might very well be. As a fast-aging member of the clergy I would like to leave this reflection: The Santo Niño has seemingly “stunted” our spiritual growth as we remain “children” with all the negative implications of being so; while the Nazareno has made us subconsciously too resigned to and accepting of poverty, abuse, graft and corruption, incompetence, etc.; and psychologically and emotionally numbed to our deeper sentiments, even nurturing our fatalism to unbelievable depths. Even the two historic people power revolutions have hardly made a dent on our national consciousness.
So the ultimate question is: Is there hope? It depends on us. It depends on our commitment to change and on our determination to make change happen and make it last. Our fatalistic attitude has not brought us anywhere, we have been taken advantage of because of that. Some call this “resiliency” and give us a pat on the back which we heartily take to heart with pride.
Once and for all, let’s redeem our culture and heal its illnesses, reeducate ourselves and the generations that will come after us.
Again, elections offer a ray of hope, but any desired change can be achieved only when we put our hands together to make it happen, not if we depend only on a few. Our bishops and other Christian groups will suggest prayer and issue guidelines for voters’ awareness and on how to help ensure safe and honest elections, but from the looks of it, once the dust settles, it will still be “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”
Even with myself trying with all my energy to overcome my cynicism about the electoral process and its outcome, I must admit, as others probably see this, too: that hope is in our faith, in how we will live and practice it. Let us outgrow the negative aspects of the Santo Niño, and live own our destiny as adults. Let us affirm that the Nazareno is not the end, but just the symbol of love and redemption, as it is the Risen Christ who brings reconciliation, hope and renewal. The struggle will continue, no doubt; the battle between good and evil will go on, but we have to try harder and stronger to be authentic disciples of Jesus, live the consequences and implications of our baptism and follow all His commands. The recipe is there; the ingredients are there, so it is up to us. It is really up to us, when we trust in His promise to be with us until the end.
Antonio Maria Rosales (thinktonymaros@gmail. com), author, artist and professor of moral theology in St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute, Davao City, is a Franciscan priest based in St. Francis Friary, Punta Princesa, Cebu City.