Black Nazarene devotees share stories of faith
(Philstar.com) - January 8, 2016 - 10:14pm

MANILA, Philippines - Doctors discovered that her seven-year old child had a cancerous tumor in the neck.

Her family was poor and could not afford to pay for surgery so she turned to the Black Nazarene for comfort and help. Every day, she would walk on bended knees from the entrance of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene to the altar, in front of the dark-colored, wooden image of Jesus.

One day, the doctors called her and she asked “Why? Is my child dead?” She was already expecting the sad news because cancer is such a dreaded disease especially back in 1980. But the director of the hospital said, “No. It’s a miracle.”

For more than five decades, he has been a devotee of the Black Nazarene.

Every year, he sells maroon handkerchiefs and necklaces with the image of the suffering Christ outside Quiapo church.

He considers everything he received as miracles. As of the moment, he prays hard for electricity in their neighborhood in Caloocan. He is optimistic that after this year’s Traslacion his prayer will be answered.

Teresita De Guzman, 71, and Jose Estrella, 62, are just two of the millions of devotees of the Black Nazarene in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

They have seen devotees who brave a sea of people to kiss, touch or wipe with handkerchief the Black Nazarene, the statue of Jesus clad in maroon robes, crowned with thorns and carrying a cross on his shoulder during the Traslacion.

During the event, the life-sized image is taken out of the church for a procession along Metro Manila streets that lasts for almost a day. This year, organizers expect 15 million devotees to join the procession.

The Suffering Christ

The Traslacion commemorates the time when the image was transferred from Intramuros to Quiapo in 1791. While the event is popularly known as the feast of the Nazarene, the actual feast day of the carrying of the cross is celebrated every Good Friday.

According to the website of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, the statue is attributed to the work of an unknown Mexican artist who painted the image of Christ in dark brownish-molato color, similar to the color of his own skin.

The statue was called Black Nazarene because its color turned darker when it arrived in the Philippines.

“Luckily, this color is in keeping with the taste for the Filipinos who consciously or unconsciously fall for the dark colored statues like those if the Virgin of Antipolo. The Virgin of Peñafrancia and others,” the website read.

Thousands of barefooted devotees wearing maroon and yellow join the procession and push their way to the carriage of the statue despite the possibility of a stampede. They believe that touching the image will heal them physically and spiritually, a form of popular religiosity or expression of faith by Catholics.

Several commentators have pointed out that Filipinos can relate with the sufferings of the Black Nazarene, whom Christians believe had to be crucified to save humanity from sin.

‘They are causing chaos’

While the Traslacion is supposed to be a prayerful religious event, the crowds become unruly, causing breach of security protocols, injuries or even deaths.

In 2014, a group of devotees rushed to the image even before the end of the Holy Mass, which, according to Catholic doctrine, is the highest form of worship.

Critics said the devotees focused on a wooden statue while snubbing Christ, the Black Nazarene, who suffered and died for their sins. Catholics, after all, were taught that they receive Christ in the Holy Communion, a part of the mass where consecrated wafers believed to be the body of Jesus are distributed.

Church officials have constantly reminded devotees to maintain the solemnity of the event by waiting for the mass to end before touching the image.

De Guzman, who has been a Nazarene devotee for more than 50 years, said the crowds were not that unruly in the previous years. She said people were more disciplined and the procession was more organized.

“Today, they cause chaos. Sometimes, while the carriage is still being moved out of the church, some devotees are already fighting,” de Guzman said.  

“Others even stab and hit each other just to get closer to the Señor,” she added, referring to the image.

While many devotees are desperate to get close to the Black Nazarene, Estrella is content with just seeing the image. For him, the devotion to Christ should be more spiritual than physical.

“Even if I have been a devotee for decades, I don’t fight my way to go near the carriage of the Nazarene. I believe that even from far away, He will still hear me and answer my prayers. That’s more important,” he said.

Fanaticism?

Critics think some acts of the devotees are bordering on fanaticism and idolatry, a sin that goes against the first of the Ten Commandments mentioned in the Bible.  

Monsignor Tirso Dolina, chief chaplain of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the actions of devotees reflect the Filipinos’ way of showing their love and ardent desire to worship God.

“I could kiss the picture if my mother, but it's not the picture that I love. It's my mother," Dolina said.

The Catholic Church, Dolina stressed, forbids the worship of images and icons but supports the faithfulness and devotion of the Filipino Catholic community.

While other Christian sects criticize the Catholic Church for using images, Catholics do not view it as idolatry.

Church apologists pointed out that devotees pay homage to the ones represented by the statue, not the image itself.

Catholic experts also noted that there have been instances in the Bible when God ordered the making of statues such as the two gold angels on top of the Ark of the Covenant, the wooden chest containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The Church, however, admitted that participants of the Traslacion need to be educated more so that they can go beyond popular religiosity and move towards a more meaningful relationship with God.

Catholic clergymen, nevertheless acknowledged that one cannot understand the intense devotion towards the Black Nazarene unless he becomes a devotee himself.

“We need to learn and understand about this devotion. We can learn more about it if we are willing to take off our shoes and kneel, to be touched and to bow,” said then Quiapo Church rector Monsignor Jose Clemente Ignacio in a talk delivered at the San Carlos Seminary in 2012.

 

ACIRC BLACK BLACK NAZARENE CATHOLIC CHURCH CHURCH DEVOTEES IMAGE MINOR BASILICA OF THE BLACK NAZARENE NAZARENE NBSP TRASLACION
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