Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Feast of the Black Nazarene
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/ by JSinglador
Religiosity or Fanaticism?

The Philippines is a country of 7,100 islands, with 95% of its citizens, Catholics. As a group, they are known to practice their faith to extremes. The most blatant of which, is their deep sense of religious fervor. In the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, accidents are known to occur that results to physical injuries or even death. Hundreds of devotees are trampled upon by the influx of believers, in a procession that is participated in by millions of people.

What makes devotees participate in this accident-prone festivity, can baffle the mind of any hard-core observer. The sea of people gyrating in the push-shove process just to be near the Black Nazarene is beyond belief. Another festivity is the Pagoda Boat Festival in Laguna, a region south of Manila, where a boat parade in the river is held every year, to venerate the Blessed Virgin. The devotees often jump to the lead boat where the statue of the Blessed Virgin is placed, causing it to capsize and drown a number of people.

Penafrancia Festival
Source: https://remit2homeblog.wordpress.com/

Religious Traditions and Practices

There are now safety provisions imposed by the lay leaders of the festival to avoid further accidents in the last two years. How far the exercise of sobriety can go, is anybody's guess. When asked why they join the festivity, the stock answer is, "panata" or a promise to the Lord to do the same act, until they are physically able. Christianity was brought to the country by Spain hundreds of years ago. However, the practice of the faith have evolved into something far beyond the dreams of any Spanish conquistador, who ever set foot on this island.

The Holy Week which starts on the last week of March till the 1st week of April for 2015, is a celebration of the faith. The countdown starts with Ash Wednesday, to remember that from dust did we come from, to dust we shall return. On that day, Catholics flock to their respective parish churches to have their forehead marked with ash. This act signifies that life on earth is temporary, and the final destination is the heavenly kingdom.

Ash Wednesday

If practiced in earnest, the marking of ash serves to strenghten ones faith with God. However, some young people just used it to show off to friends that they have gone to church. Whatever that means, is lost on me. If you think that the mark serves as a passport to heaven, you will be disappointed. No way will it make you see the heavenly gates, if there is no piety involve to go with the markings.

Nonetheless, the season is marked with prayers and deep contemplation. In the rural areas,  old women sings the "Pabasa" or the books of prayers from morning till early dawn of the following day, non-stop. This is held on the barrio chapels with partipants numbering from 20 to a hundred people. This is done on Holy Thursday and can last till the early hours of Good Friday. Food is served to the group from community donations. Since it is a week of fasting, only the most basic meal of rice, vegetable, and fish are serve.

Self flagellation
Source: en.wikimedia.org

Beyond the Call of Faith

In some areas, self flagellation is practiced. These are men who beats their bodies with thorns until they are bruised and bloodied, as they walk down the streets. They go barefoot, with bare upper bodies, and heads covered with cloth. The act can horrify any onlooker who is not used to it. There are areas too, where some believers nail themselves on the cross. These I believe, are extreme practices, that have gone beyond the basic teachings of the church.

I can only imagine what the early Spanish missionaries would say, if they see how Catholicism has grown roots in this country today. It may be far beyond their wildest imagination, that the practice of Catholicism has gone this far. If only Filipinos can temper their deep religiosity, then we may see the Catholic faith as going back to what it's really meant to be---as the true Church of Christ.



Onli in da Pilipins: A Writer's Journal
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