It was a dusky Wednesday afternoon when we set off to a pilgrimage. The destination was not to the Mother, but to her Son. We were off to visit the Quiapo Church in Manila.
In the very heart of shabby Old Manila, multitude of devotees pray to the Black Nazarene, a 400-year-old, darkened, wooden life-size image of Christ, arrayed in a maroon robe carrying a large wooden cross.
Every time I make my trip back to Quiapo, I cannot help but to fall in a trance since there is something magical about the place.
By this, I don't mean the many medallions, branch from a palaypay tree, quartz in various colors and shapes, and other amulets being peddled by street vendors. Is it because of the potency of the Nazarene statue? I wouldn't know.
But one thing I am sure of is that the fervent religiosity of the Filipinos—manifested in their devotion to the Black Nazarene never fails to conjure within me fertile thoughts about practically almost anything.
But then again, since this paper ought to look into the philosophical dimension of the Black Nazarene to the lives of the many Filipino people, there ought to be opportunities for those.
For now, let me zero in on the religiosity of the Filipinos.
I have witnessed various religious practices held in the various parts of the country. And aside from the colorful pageantry of the celebrations, one thing which never fails to be part of the festivity is the element of sacrifice. Come to think of it, we have dawn processions on Marian feasts; in Holy Week there is Visita Iglesias; during the Christmas season, there are the dawn novena Masses; kilometric processions to be covered; tons of prayers to be recited… my list is legion!
In Cebu, there's the famed Sinulog celebration which endangers the devotees to be in a stampede because of the multitude of people present. This does not prevent the handicapped, and even the mothers with their very vulnerable infants to join the perennial event.
In Manila, the Nazarene celebration, commemorated every year, is smeared with devotees who are injured, or worse, fatalities. The recent celebrations were outstanding since there were no recorded deaths, but an onlooker watching the event from the comforts of his living room will surely cringe acknowledging how difficult it must be to be in the thickness of people praising the Nazarene.
It is difficult indeed.
When we went to Quiapo, I never expected that it would be that difficult. I thought that it would just be a walk in the park since what is so difficult in observing anyway? But when my venerable teacher nudged me to do as what the devotees do, I was incredulous. I thought that it was just an empty proposal. But I was wrong. He was dead serious.
I did not worry about my knees. I'm perfectly healthy, at least, I don't problems in that department yet. But what concerned me was my pants. If I would kneel down on the floor, it would certainly be dirtied. And I don't think that it was a good idea. I entertained the possibility of folding it to bare my knees, but shunned against it. Upon seeing my teacher aiming to carry out the challenge, I didn't have any choice but to follow suit.
I knelt down at the end of the aisle recalling the many intentions I wished to pray for.
Still kneeling down, I moved inch after inch towards the magnificent altar. The first couple of seconds were not really as difficult. But when I slowly felt my weight, and the ruffles in my pants that prick my skin in the knee, I was awaken to the horrible realization that it's not going to be a smooth sailing experience for me.
Soon, it would not just be difficult, but painful. Many times, the thought of quitting kept on visiting me. My knee was aching. I was covered with profuse sweat and I yes, I was self-conscious.
But strangely, there was that force within me that encouraged me to move my knees and let go of the pain. To move on. The thought of Christ who suffered more accepted His mission wholeheartedly, and whose image stand prominently in front, edified me to continue and finish the course. That act of sacrifice was nothing compared to what he went through.
The experience made me encounter that long-standing practice of the Filipinos concerning the image of their God. Not vicariously, but firsthand.
An Absolute Being
The prominent concept of God among Filipinos is an Absolute Being who is able to connect with them. Our folklores from various regions of the country, featuring the encounters of mere mortals to the immortals in order to deliver help or punishment, are not wanting.
God is very much part of their lives.
In the same way, God is the hope of the Filipino people. A Filipino home is not complete without religious articles that remind the membes of the household that of his presence: palaspas branch, rosary, cross, last supper frame, altar, Bible etc. And in times of disasters, do expect that Filipinos make each or any of these religious articles come in handy.
He may be all-powerful, all-loving, and almighty but He listens to the cry of His Filipino people.
In every crucial epoch in the life of the Philippine nation, He is always invoked. That dramatic photograph of nuns clutching rosary, and the statue of the Blessed Mother in EDSA 2 remain to be the best summary of how we live our religiosity to the hilt!
In return, Filipinos have vows. In the mainstream language of the Catholic Church, vows are considered a public declaration that one binds oneself to God by say, living a chaste, obedient and poor life.
For the Filipinos, this may not be so. There is no public ritual in which a community is called to witness one's "pronouncing the formula of profession." However, this vow, a panata, which is meant to fulfill whatever promise one intends to offer as an act of thanksgiving, or as a means to 'negotiate' for an intention prayed.
God worship is deeply ingrained in the culture of the Filipinos. Outsiders could immediately distinguish which one belongs to the category of culture and which falls under the religious department. Closed friends are invited to be their compares once a baby goes for baptism. Notwithstanding whether the prospective godparents are apt to live up to the role.
Hence, the Godparentship does not very well live up to what it is supposed to stand for; that is, to accompany the child to Christian maturity. If this is true with baptism, this is also true with weddings. Filipinos have the tendency to go all the way in spending up to the last centavo to make sure that everybody in the community is fed once a couple decides to tie the knot. And the set of godparents reaches to infinity. Talk about our eagerness to take part in the conjugal development of the newly weds!
It's true that among Filipinos, it is not a matter of question whether there is God. That is mute and academic. But the more relevant question is: who is their God?
It's sad how the worship of the Absolute Being does not go down to the consciousness of the people. This makes us all think and sigh deeply, why our country, which worships a God of ,love is the most corrupt country in Asia.
This question may not find a suitable answer here. But perhaps, it will soon.
In another pilgrimage.