Faith In The Black Nazarene

MANILA, Philippines - Filipino faith reaches a violent climax on January 9, when millions gather to pay homage to the Black Nazarene, the extraordinary sight I once witnessed at Plaza Miranda.

A solid mass of humanity awaits the image. Able-bodied men in white T-shirts are positioned in two long files, holding back with linked arms a multitude of men in maroon, devotees (mamamasan or shoulder-bearers) determined to help pull the image. The PA system warns bystanders to get out of the way, asks that mamamasan discard shoes and sandals, belts, buckles and keys as lethal weapons in the coming crush.

Church doors burst open and the Nazarene emerges on its carro, greeted by fireworks, a waving sea of lighted candles and pieces of white cloth, and thousands of throats shouting, ''Viva.''

A pair of thick abaca ropes some hundred meters long in large loops is tied to the carro, a stout bar on forward ends. The idea is for runners to rush up between the whites, playing the ropes out the length of Plaza Miranda towards Villalobos Street; for the whites to grab the ropes and be the first set of mamamasan (''unang salang'' or first-on-the-fire); and for whites to then yield the ropes to maroons and be procession marshals.

The scheme immediately goes awry as determined maroons surge forward in savage waves. The next 15-30 minutes are the most dangerous, when men are sometimes strangled by the flailing ropes or trampled in the melée. So coveted is the privilege of helping move the holy image.

Marshalls shove, shoulder, kick the fighting throng in place-meaning men packed along the ropes, tighter than sardines in a can, barely able to breathe and pressed in by others mightily trying to dislodge those already in place.

Most can stand the ordeal only briefly. The brute strength needed to come close to the carro or the ropes, even just to stay in place, is so great that many look half-conscious, propped up only by the press of other bodies. Anyone who wants out signals with an upraised arm (or a desperate look if he can't) and marshals yank him out by force. On their own, marshals drag out the flagging. Someone faints and is pushed up and out over heads and helped down at the crowd's edge. Anyone who slips under is lost, trampled by the feet of the relentless throng.

Like a monstrous writhing centipede, the procession lurches forward, swings left and then right on countless feet, stops, only to move again. Propelled by the uncontrolled momentum of its bearers, the carro of the Black Nazarene is flung hither and yon as the procession disappears from sight.

It is difficult not to be moved by the intense devotion, the faith of the mamamasan, many in their twenties. One wonders what great misfortune they have already overcome at that tender age, for what terrible sins they seek forgiveness, what unattainable goal they desire, what dire fate they pray to avoid, through the mercy of the Nazarene.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to walalang@mb.com.ph.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Philippine, Vietnam troops play sports on disputed island
    Philippine, Vietnam troops play sports on disputed island

    Filipino and Vietnamese troops played football and tug-of-war on a disputed South China Sea island on Wednesday, officials said, closing ranks as their rival China ramps up construction of artificial islands. The games took place on Philippine-held Northeast Cay, just 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles) from Southwest Cay which is controlled by Vietnam, where a similar contest was held last year. "It was a navy-to-navy confidence-building engagement," Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, the Philippine …

  • ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’
    ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’

    While strong earthquakes cause tsunamis in coastal areas, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned that inland areas could also be exposed to tsunami-like waves, or seiche, if located near or around bodies of water. In a recent earthquake awareness seminar in Muntinlupa, Phivolcs supervising science research specialist Joan Salcedo explained that a seiche is a large wave similar to a tsunami, triggered by strong ground shaking from an earthquake or volcanic …

  • China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations
    China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations

    China gave the Philippines a “gentle reminder” last Tuesday that Beijing will not bully small countries but warned these nations not to make trouble willfully and endlessly. “Here is a gentle reminder to the Philippines: China will not bully small countries, meanwhile, small countries shall not make trouble willfully and endlessly. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that China would continue to build other civilian facilities on relevant maritime features in the disputed Spratly Islands …

  • Back-channel diplomacy pushed for Phl-China dispute
    Back-channel diplomacy pushed for Phl-China dispute

    The Philippines should consider backchannel diplomacy to prevent its territorial dispute with China from deteriorating further, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said yesterday. There are a lot of Filipino businessmen with businesses in China and they have friends and connections there. Let’s utilize that, ask them to talk to their friends on how we can resolve this matter peacefully,” Marcos said. …

  • Phl, Japan to deepen ties amid China sea claims
    Phl, Japan to deepen ties amid China sea claims

    Japan and the Philippines are set to bolster security ties when President Benigno Aquino visits Tokyo next week, the latest move by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to beef up cooperation with Southeast Asian nations facing China’s growing naval ambitions. The two sides will likely agree to start talks on a framework for the transfer of defense equipment and technology and to discuss a possible pact on the status of Japanese military personnel visiting the Philippines to facilitate joint training and …

  • Phl, Vietnam troops play soccer on disputed isle
    Phl, Vietnam troops play soccer on disputed isle

    Vietnamese and Philippine troops played soccer and sang karaoke on a South China Sea island yesterday in a sign of the growing security ties between the two Southeast Asian nations most at odds with Beijing over the contested waterway. Cooperation has blossomed between Hanoi and Manila since they shelved decades of enmity over their competing claims in the Spratly archipelago to try to counter China, whose creation of artificial islands in the region will allow it to project power deep into …

  • Noy swears in 50 newly appointed AFP officers
    Noy swears in 50 newly appointed AFP officers

    President Aquino administered yesterday the oath taking of 50 newly appointed generals and officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in a simple ceremony at the Rizal Hall of Malacañang Palace. …

  • Taiwan’s peace call on claimants of disputed territories welcomed
    Taiwan’s peace call on claimants of disputed territories welcomed

    The US on Tuesday welcomed Taiwan’s call on all claimants to disputed shoals, reefs, rocks and islets in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea to exercise restraint, refrain from unilateral actions that could escalate tensions, as well as to respect international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “With regard to the maritime claims and the claims to sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, our position is that maritime claims must …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options