Poong Hesus Nazareno and the Devotees at the Shrine

black-nazarene

Today in Manila, all roads lead to Quiapo.

Every January 9, the Traslación of the Black Nazarene (commemorating the “solemn transfer” of the image’s copy from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo) makes its way along the streets of Manila through a 6-kilometer-long procession. An estimated number of 3 million people are expected to participate and witness the event, which may last about 22 hours as in previous years. The traslación is undoubtedly the biggest one-day public display of popular religiosity in the Philippines, or perhaps, the whole world.

The Black Nazarene ( in Filipino: Poóng Itím na Nazareno, Hesus Nazareno) is a life-sized image of a dark-skinned, kneeling Jesus Christ carrying the Cross enshrined in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.

Thousands of devotees of the Black Nazarene, some wearing maroon shirts and carrying white towels, and barefooted have started the hours-long journey through the streets of Manila early morning today. The Black Nazarene will be accompanied by throngs of people with many trying to climb onto the carossa carrying the miraculous image. Devotees scramble to touch the statue as part of their prayer and expression of devotion.

nazareno-devotee-barefoot

Many devotees of Poong Hesus Nazareno, especially those coming from Parañaque, Las Piñas and Cavite area, pass by the shrine on the way to Quiapo. Many of them in barefoot wear maroon t-shirt with the image of Poong Hesus Nazareno, carry white towels and maroon handkerchief with the image of  Poong Hesus Nazareno and some carry the statue of Poong Hesus Nazareno. They say a little prayer in front of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help inside the shrine and the shrine’s statue of crucified Christ at the entrance of the shrine, before they continue their journey to Quiapo.

nazareno-devotee

We don’t have a statue of Poong Hesus Nazareno in the shrine but we have the statue of the dark skinned Christ crucified on the cross at the entrance of the shrine. This statue is easily the most favorite statue in the shrine. Many devotees crowd the statue, touching, wiping and kissing it. Many can be seen crying in front of the statue. At least every six months, the shrine needs to repaint the statue because the paint has faded after all the wiping and kissing of the statue by the thousands of devotees.

For many devotees in the shrine, the statue is a tangible representation of our Lord Jesus whom they can touch and kiss. When they touch and kiss the statue they believe that they already touch Jesus. And because they have touched him, they were able to bring to him their petitions and pleas. Perhaps, another reason for its popularity is because the devotees can see their own sufferings in the sufferings of the crucified Christ. Because of this, they feel that Christ on the cross identifies with their own sufferings.

Watching the devotees wiping the statue of the crucified Christ with their handkerchief or bandanna then wiping it on themselves reminds me of the story of Veronica who met Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary. According to Church tradition, Veronica[1] was moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face was miraculously impressed upon Veronica’s veil.

feet-nazareno

I believe that the experience of Veronica, encountering Jesus on his way to Calvary, is the same experience of the millions of devotees in the shrine and in Quiapo. When devotees wipe the statue of the crucified Christ in the shrine and Poong Hesus Nazareno in Quiapo, the crucified face of Christ becomes impressed upon their handkerchief or bandanna. Their handkerchief or bandanna bearing the crucified face of Christ becomes a great resource for them in their life-journey especially in their daily struggles and hardships. When devotees wiped their handkerchief or bandanna bearing the crucified face of Christ on their bodies, they experienced Jesus touching and embracing their tired and worn out bodies. They can sense Jesus’ solidarity and identification with their suffering and trials in life. This gives them the greatest hope to continue to face life’s difficulties and reach their aspirations because Christ has also experienced pain and suffering. Like Christ, they will also resurrect and emerge victorious amidst the seemingly insurmountable problems in life.

It is also important to remember that the celebration of the traslacion of Poong Hesus Nazareno still falls within the Christmas season. We are in the Wednesday after the Epiphany of Lord, which is part of the Christmas celebration. This means that the passion and suffering of Jesus cannot be separated from the incarnation of Christ–God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. When the Son of God became human, he was prepared to embrace our pain and suffering, including death. If we are to truly live the spirit of Christmas, therefore, we must also be prepared to identify with the mission of Jesus and follow Jesus’ words and deeds, which led to his suffering and death on the cross.

crowd-nazareno


[1]There is no reference to the story of St Veronica and her veil in the canonical Gospels. The closest thing in the gospel about Veronica is the miracle of the woman who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment (Luke 8:43–48)

Holy Week Ends in Resurrection, not in Crucifixion

at-the-foot-of-the-cross

In the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Holy Week is the biggest week of the year. Throughout the Holy Week celebrations thousands of devotees will flock to the shrine every day of the Holy Week. Many devotees will attend the liturgical services of the Holy Week at the shrine. The lines at the confessional will be the longest in the whole year. Many will do the stations of the cross inside and outside of the church.

The highlight of the Holy Week activities is the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion and the Holy Saturday evening of Easter Vigil. Among these most important liturgies,  Good Friday is the most well-attended. The church is packed and crowds overflow to the outside of the church. But the same big crowd is nowhere to be found during the Easter Vigil. In my almost ten years at the shrine, Easter Vigil crowd could hardly fill the church.

This somehow reflects the Filipino’s penchant for identifying more with Christ’s suffering and pain.  Filipinos have suffered for so long time that the ordinary Filipino is called Juan de la Cruz (John of the cross). No wonder, two of the most popular icons of Christ amongst Filipinos are the Poong Jesus Nazareno and the Santo Entierro – both icons depict Christ’s suffering and death.

Fr. Ferdinand R. Santos once commented that the Philippine Holy Week is world-famous, not for its piety, but for its bloody flagellants and actual crucifixions that identify with pain in its most literal and physical extreme. Filipino religiosity can make suffering appear as an end in itself. This is a far cry from the liturgy of the triduum which conveys that the passion of Jesus doesn’t end in suffering but leads inexorably to the resurrection.

Santos warns us that detached from the resurrection, the suffering and death of Christ becomes a tragedy. Worse, it does tremendous violence to the innate human capacity to rise above defeat.

Jesus, indeed, experienced the most brutal physical pain and death any human being can ever endure. Jesus, in his own humanity, however, did not want to go through his suffering and death. In the end, Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death on the cross not because he took pleasure from pain or humiliation but to fulfill the Father’s will; “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Consequently, God does not want to inflict pain on us nor does God want us to suffer foolishly and die a senseless death. Injustice, poverty, war and hunger are social evils that are not acceptable to God, and never have been. This goes without saying that God does not want us to inflict pain on ourselves even if it is to commemorate God’s own suffering and death on Good Friday. God willingly suffered and died because it was God’s way of leading us to the true meaning of glory and new life. 

The divine perspective on suffering and death challenges our perspective of glory and victory.  Glory and triumph in human standards is to bask in fame, power, wealth, honor and influence. Seen through this standard, Jesus’ suffering and death was a massive failure. But God’s glory and victory is different from ours. God’s glory and victory is expressed in various times and places in the Gospel, like in the Beatitudes, in Jesus’ parables and Mary, representing the human response–Magnificat. In these proclamations, God’s glory and victory represents the reversal of fortune: In God’s Kingdom those who struggle in life now—those who are at the bottom or on the edges of human society—will suddenly find themselves at the top and in the center. On the other hand, those who now enjoy the greatest human security and social advantage will experience the opposite of their lives on earth.

Seen through God’s standard of glory and triumph, Jesus’ suffering and death, therefore, was a powerful protest against all forms of oppression and domination. Jesus’ resistance to the cruel and inhuman acts by his captors represents the strongest protest against evil and subjugation.    

Holy Week is not the time to try to replicate Jesus’ physical suffering. No human reenactment of Jesus crucifixion, though how brutal it can be, can ever repeat Jesus’ pain and suffering. Instead, Holy Week is the time for the deepest examination of our lives, our values, our attitudes vis-a-vis Jesus’ gospel values and standards. This Holy Week all of us will stand trial before Jesus. How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by our sinful embrace of the world’s standards and values? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by the pursuit of our own glory? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by inflicting humiliation, pain and suffering to others especially the weak?

Our responses to these self-examination represents the crosses that we shall carry to our own Calvary with Jesus. These are the crosses that we need to willfully be crucified to.  These are the crosses that we need to willingly die to. 

By dying to these crosses, we will allow the new life that we receive at our baptism to rise up again. At the end of Holy Week, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at the Easter Vigil of the Holy Night of Easter, we can truly renew our faith and proclaim our allegiance to God’s power of love and goodness and at the same time proclaim our fundamental opposition to evil. 

May you have a blessed Holy Week.

 

 

 

Holy Week: Biggest Week at the Shrine

This week is Holy Week. Holy Week is the last week of Lent.

In the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Holy Week is the biggest week of the year. Throughout the Holy Week celebrations thousands of devotees will flock to the shrine every day of the Holy Week. Many devotees will attend the liturgical services of the Holy Week at the shrine. The highlight of these liturgical services is the Paschal Triduum. Paschal Triduum which is also called Easter Triduum, Holy Triduum, or The Three Days is the most important liturgy in the Catholic Church.   The liturgy of these three days consists of: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion and the Holy Saturday evening of Easter Vigil.

For many of the devotees, the most attended day of the the Holy Week is Good Friday. This reflects Filipino easy identification with Christ suffering and pain.  Filipinos have suffered for so long time that the ordinary Filipino is called Juan de la Cruz, i.e., John of the cross. No wonder, two of the most popular icons of Christ amongst Filipinos are the Nazareno and the Santo Entierro – both icons depict Christ’s suffering and death.

Fr. Ferdinand R. Santos once commented that the Philippine Holy Week is world-famous, not for its piety, but for its bloody flagellants and actual crucifixions that identify with pain in its most literal and physical extreme. Filipino religiosity can make suffering appear as an end in itself. This is a far cry from the liturgy of the triduum which conveys that the passion of Jesus doesn’t end in suffering but leads inexorably to the resurrection.

Santos warns that detached from the resurrection, the suffering and death of Christ becomes a tragedy. Worse, it does tremendous violence to the innate human capacity to rise above defeat.