The Black Nazarene Spectacle

Thanks to ABS-CBN’s full coverage of the Black Nazarene procession on January 9, the world witnessed the brand of Filipino Catholicism – a blend of Roman Catholic rites and primeval animist rituals. Barefoot and maroon-clad devotees jostled, scrambled, and clambered up the carriage bearing the icon of the Black Nazarene only to be pushed away by the icon’s yellow-shirted honor guards, pompously called Hijos del Nazareno. More intense devotees had themselves hoisted by their companions and sent flying towards the carriage, only to be repulsed by the tough and determined Sons of Nazarene like pirates cast onto the waters below.

Devotees who could not get near the icon flung handkerchiefs, towels, or shirts to the honor guards to wipe on the statue or the cross borne by it and tossed back randomly to the sea of humanity. There were those who scrambled to hold the rope that pulled the carriage, in simulation of the original practice more than 200 years ago when only a handful of men carried the image of the Black Nazarene on their shoulders.

All this manifestation of devotion in the belief that the icon’s mystical powers to cure ailments and provide good fortune will rub off on those who touched the icon and on the owners of the assortment of pieces of cloth wiped on it or on those who held the rope.

ABS-CBN Teleradyo Pasada Sais Trenta anchor Bro. Jun Banaag (I tune in to the afternoon portion of the program when he plays the music of the 1960s and 1970s, not to the late evening portion when he as Dr. Love gives counsel to ill-fated lovers) has been saying all along that the Black Nazarene is enshrined in the Quiapo Church, where they can go any day of the year other than January 9 to ask the true Nazarene, Jesus of Nazareth, any favor or miracle. But that is for old ladies with genuine devotion to the Lord. The point veteran Teleradyo anchor Bro. Jun misses is that not joining the procession will deny one the chance to be seen on television even for just a few fleeting seconds.

Very noticeable was that pious- and penitent-looking men suddenly breaking into smiles and loud cheers whenever the roving TV camera panned their way. But when men offered their hands and beckoned ABS-CBN’s Winnie Cordero to come down from the platform where she was reporting, she turned to the camera and with terror stricken-face said “I am not going down there,” her cameraman turning off the camera just as Winnie was about to break down. No, it was not fear of the height, it was the malice written all over the faces of the supposed religious men that terrified Winnie, who was covering the event for the first time.

Long-time devotees interviewed by ABS-CBN field reporters said the procession was not as unruly and rowdy as it has been these recent years when thousands of policemen and hundreds of military personnel have to be deployed to prevent the procession from turning into a full-blown riot. Bro. Jun said he was invited by a member of the committee in charge of the procession to cover the event for the first time in 2008. That must have been the turning point, when the solemn procession began to take on the character of a television spectacle.

Pork Barrel Queen Janet Napoles must have been mesmerized by the show of absolute passion over the icon. Queen Janet does not go to the mountain though, the mountain goes to Queen Janet. Likewise, Ma’m Janet does not go to the icon, the icon comes to Ma’m Janet, or more accurately the icon is brought to her by the high priests of Quiapo Church. Maybe the reverend Fathers of Quiapo Church exempted her from the protocol of putting on a maroon blouse and walking around her home barefoot just as they exempted her from joining the hoi polloi in the streets of Manila. I wonder what she would ask the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines about the visit of Pope Francis if she were not detained in Fort Sto. Domingo.

“A mixture of chaos, devotion, display of deep religious fervor,” the Manila Bulletin described the day-long proceeding. Non-Catholic Filipinos must be snickering at this display of absolute passion about an icon. Roman Catholics from other countries who witnessed such display of sanctimony must be wondering if the Catholic Church in the Philippines has split from Rome.

I tend to think the bishops would hide from Pope Francis the film clips of the Black Nazarene procession and of nine bishops officiating at the wedding of a prick, ah dingdong pala. Otherwise they would get chastised like the members of the Roman Curia, the governing body of the Catholic Church.

I assume now that the dingdong has Marian, he has no more need for mariang palad.


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