WHEN I was little, there’s a feast in our old neighborhood in the country’s financial capital that we tirelessly observed after the New Year celebration has died down.
Dressed in scarlet t-shirts with the supposed image of Jesus Christ at the center, jubilant, high-spirited men in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties talked about their strategies on how to get closer to the ‘Poon’ during the ‘Traslacion’- the transfer of the black image of Jesus Christ from San Nicolas de Tolentino in Intramuros to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo in Manila.
“You should be the lead since you’re the strongest” one of them said.
“What if we line up this way?” another one added. “Will this work?”
It was intense. Such mood enraptured my imagination. It was as if they’d go into a war like seasoned soldiers only that they’re not allowed to bring anything with them. And yes, no slippers and shoes on.
I expressed my desire to join the euphoria but I was turned-down right away. I was only seven years old.
“It’s not for children” Mang Kaloy said, who’s one of their most vocal leaders. “Just play basketball.”
On the day of the festivity, the footages of the coverage of news organizations disturbed me when I saw them the first time.
Cavalcade of devotees. Wiping of the cross or foot of the image with a cloth. Shouts. Cries. Emergency. Difficulty in breathing. Heart attack. Stretchers. Casualties. Death.
Chaos was all over. Everybody wanted to have a grip of the cord of Black Nazarene. And then, as my mind wandered, I got lost. Is this what Catholic faith looks like? Is this what God wants to happen?
If we’ll look at the Traslacion 2018 data, one devotee died and as many as eight hundred were injured. Can’t you imagine the total number of casualties since this activity started? These may just be mere figures for some, but these require a closer examination.
When our youngest brother told me four years ago that he’d continue the devotion of my deceased father to the Black Nazarene, a hollow deep inside me resurfaced into my consciousness. Suddenly, my childhood horrors to this brutal affair all came back in my memory like a boomerang that successfully stitched all the gaps of the years that have elapsed.
“Isn’t it too dangerous?” I told him. “Can you just not join them?”
“No, kuya” my brother said. “It’s for tatay.”
But is it biblical?
In Deuteronomy 5:7-9 (King James Version), it says: “Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,.”
If the main basis of the Catholic faith is the Bible, why then are they continuously transgressing such commandment? Clearly, the Black Nazarene is a graven image or an idol as described by the holy scriptures.
Or at least, can’t the leadership of the Catholic church in our country impose regulations and guidelines to its members for a safer execution of ‘Traslacion’? If the everyday challenge of riding our trains can be controlled, a once-a-year event such as this can be solved.
In an ABS-CBN News report dated January 9, 2018, in relation to the statements given by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, it stated: “’May our participation in the different activities during the feast lead us in deeply knowing Jesus, Tagle was quoted as saying by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News on Monday. Reflecting on this year’s theme ‘Black Nazarene: The way, the truth, and the life’, he also called on the faithful take a closer look at Christ. ‘He is the way to the father. He is the truth that we’ve been looking for. He is the one who can give us and the society life.’”
In the end, we should as a society search for a better way. We should search for truth and practice our faith without compromising others. We can’t just be silent observers of an annual savage religious activity where millions of lives are on the line. For our relatives, for our friends, and for our fellowmen. A merciful, kind, and loving God does not call that one loses oneself and physically suffer for the world to see or be a catalyst for his neighbors to be in agony.
Let’s preserve life and don’t let the scarlet shirts the barefooted devotees are wearing be their last.