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If only devotees were also patriots

Being at the scene of something, anything, is always different that watching the same thing on, say, television. Not even full stereophonic sound and HDTV can approximate the feel of being there live.

This was one of the reasons why The Beatles, at the height of their popularity, decided to abruptly end all live performances. Not that they did not love the hysterical adulation of their fans, they simply loved their music better.

It occurred to the Beatles that the fans who packed their performances cared less about the music than being there with their idols. John Lennon famously said it no longer mattered if they sang the wrong lyrics because the screaming fans would not hear them anyway.

So the Beatles retreated away from all that and repaired to the studio, where they could be more of themselves and focus on dishing out the beautiful music that endures even to this day.

This piece, however, is less about the Beatles than it is about religion, and the kind of fanatic fervor that sometimes attaches to it. Through the miracle of tv, the world has just seen one fantastic phenomenon called the Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo, Manila.

Last January 9, at exactly 5:30 a.m., I turned on the tv for any early news while I prepared to take the kid to school. What I saw amazed me. That early, thousands were already massing for the procession that was to take place hours later.

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More than 12 hours later, the television continued to show the procession, live. It was still going on. It had not finished. What made it difficult to finish was the sheer mass of people that made it up, a roiling, struggling, resisting stormy sea of humanity.

The shots shown on tv did not suggest a compliant hugeness of human numbers going in one direction. The impression the shots gave was of a great upheaval. People literally swam over each other toward the Black Nazarene, hoping whatever it is that drives them to hope.

Pieces of clothing or similar fabric were constantly being flung in the direction of the carriage bearing the Black Nazarene to be rubbed on whatever part of the image believed to have curing powers. Never mind if the projectiles almost never returned to their owners.

I do not know and would not profess to know what must have gone on in the minds of those who participated in that maelstrom, considering that to be caught up in it was clearly life-threatening.

But from the safety and detachment of watching the entire proceedings on television, dispassionate thoughts are capable of being formed of the entire phenomenon, such as admitting in all humility the strange power of faith.

Yet the same safety and detachment also allows for open-mindedness about faith, and from them of other things, such as current social issues and situations. It eventually became inevitable to make suppositions.

For instance, if Filipino devotees of the Black Nazarene could actually risk their lives in such an immense physical and psychological struggle, why cannot the same devotees direct the same energies toward initiating changes in society?

It occurred to me that if even a small fraction of that energy and that dedication were rechanneled toward vigilance against, say, corruption or criminality, I have no doubt we can actually reclaim our country for the good of all Filipinos.

Sadly, I discovered another thing, that faith is more of a deeply personal thing than patriotism or nationalism. The great struggles people exhibited for their faith that day, at great risk to their lives, can never be replicated in this country for this country.

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