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.

  • ‘Next leader must not be newbie’
    ‘Next leader must not be newbie’

    Vice President Jejomar Binay believes the next president of the Philippines must have vast experience and a long track record in governance and in dealing with crises. “I am very much convinced that the local government is the best training ground for those who want to run for national government positions,” he said. Binay said he is determined to run for president in 2016 on the strength of his competence and track record. …

  • Massacre suspect tests negative for poisoning
    Massacre suspect tests negative for poisoning

    A suspect in the Maguindanao massacre case who had been examined at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) tested negative for poisoning, medical records released yesterday showed. However, the Quezon City court handling the multiple murder case resolved to isolate Police Officer 1 Pia Kamidon from the rest of the accused detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig for his safety. In a two-page order, Regional Trial Court Branch 221 assisting Judge Genie Gapas-Agbada ordered jail officials to …

  • ‘Homework first before Facebook’
    ‘Homework first before Facebook’

    President Aquino elicited laughter from students here as he reminded them to open books first before Facebook. “Finish your assignments first before making a raid in the Clash of Clans,” Aquino said, referring to a popular online game. In a speech during the turnover yesterday of two new three-story buildings at the Tarlac National High School, he said the government could only provide opportunities for learning but the rest of the work would be up to the students. The new school buildings …

  • Espina resignation confirmed; Noy looks for replacement
    Espina resignation confirmed; Noy looks for replacement

    President Aquino ended speculations yesterday and confirmed that Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina had indeed resigned as officer-in-charge of the Philippine National Police. As of this time, we are conducting various interviews and checks on the various candidates,” Aquino told reporters at the Tarlac National High School in Tarlac City. Aquino had kind words for Espina, saying that he stood by and defended the 44 slain police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in the operation in …

  • Palace welcomes G7 concern over sea reclamation
    Palace welcomes G7 concern over sea reclamation

    President Aquino welcomed yesterday the Group of Seven industrialized countries’ expression of concern over rising tension in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, calling it a clear indication of the global scope of the problem ramped up by China’s massive reclamation activities in disputed waters. In Tarlac City where he led the turnover of new classrooms, Aquino told reporters that goodwill and not tension must prevail in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, where territorial …

  • DepEd, TESDA tie up for K to 12
    DepEd, TESDA tie up for K to 12

    The Department of Education (DepEd) has partnered with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in the first two years of implementation of the K to 12 program. “We will use TESDA centers as technical-vocational laboratories for senior high school,” DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro said during the inauguration of 30 new classrooms at the Tarlac National High School yesterday. The classrooms were constructed in partnership with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. …

  • SE Asia Stocks-Philippine falls on foreign selling; others flat to weaker

    BANGKOK, April 17 (Reuters) - Southeast Asian stock markets ended flat to weaker on Friday as Philippine stocks slid on selling led by foreign funds and Singapore shares extended losses with investors ... …

  • Philippine Airlines parent says back in black
    Philippine Airlines parent says back in black

    Philippine Airlines' parent firm said it had returned to profitability, the first time in three years either entity reported being in the black for an entire year. In a filing with the Philippine Stock Exchange Thursday, PAL Holdings reported an after-tax net profit of 129.74 million pesos ($2.93 million) in its fiscal year to December 31. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options