Monday, February 02, 2009

Purifying folk religiosity

January is an interesting month for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Why not? Two of the most celebrated titles of our Lord Jesus Christ are observed during this month in the only Christian country in Asia: the Black Nazarene and the Holy Child.

In the Philippines, the observance of these events means the local government steps in—hand in hand with the Church—to not only control the swarming of people, also known as devotees, but it is also a golden opportunity for some of the most ‘enterprising’ civic leaders—both national and local—to maximize the occasion to gain some media mileage: streamers, stickers, tarpaulins screaming the name of politicians as accompanied by their greetings the people.

Together with this of course, is the uniquely Filipino trademark of celebrating the perennial events honoring Jesus Christ. Despite its reputation to be a third world country it would willingly exhibit its ‘riches’ so that a household could concretely show its oneness with the entire neighborhood in celebrating the occasion.

While these elements deal with the dynamic interplay of culture, society, and psychology, these events cannot be merely relegated as such because they are simply religious events by default. And therefore, the Church has all the right to give its piece of mind if something concerning these events go askew.

This must have caused the good Cardinal of Manila, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, who presided the Mass in honor of the Black Nazarene, to chide the devotees who briefly interrupted the activity as they untimely rushed towards the altar to touch the reputed miraculous image. The devotees didn’t seem to mind.

When the cardinal was interviewed, he said that “We want to let them express their own devotion in a quiet and very humane way with charity for others and without disturbing others.” But added that “That’s the devotion we want to purify. When one’s emotion gets too high, it takes over the reason, the holiness of the event and the devotion,” he said.

I was happy to read about this event in the papers. My respect to the cardinal grew more since he was not afraid to speak his mind as a leader of his flock and as a catechist. He understands very well the distinction between popular devotion and some elements that need to be purified from it.

While it is edifying to see some individuals who go beyond the limits of showing their devotion, I cannot help also feeling disappointed with some of our Church leaders who seem to be lax in educating the people as regards the appropriate mode of showing genuine devotion.