Tell it to SunStar: Are they devotees, or are they fanatics?

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THIS is about Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s homily during this year’s feast of the Black Nazarene wherein he tried to differentiate the devotees from the fanatics the best and simplest way he could so the difference could be readily understood by the ordinary person.

It was Tagle’s way of refuting and justifying claims by many people that the religious procession for the Black Nazarene, known to be the world’s biggest show of Catholic zeal, has become a circus-like superstitious celebration participated in allegedly by fanatics who, in manifesting unabashedly their faith, intend also to curry favor with the suffering Christ for good health, good fortune and whatever blessings the zealots want sustained.

Tagle’s rationalization was, indeed, meant for the common mass of people who are poor and afflicted--for who else would dare risk life and limbs trying to climb onto a carriage carrying a replica of the Black Nazarene to be able to touch it or, if that is impossible, to get hold even for a second of the rope that pulls the carriage, so miracles would happen in their lives?

In the procession, one can see handkerchiefs or bits of cloth flying towards the carriage, with their owners hoping his or her handkerchief would be rubbed on the icon and thrown back to where it was thrown from. It is always a guessing game for the curious TV viewers who are following the event whether the thrower got his or her item back or not, as all of these are happening in the middle of a sea of fanatical people.

What a sight indeed!

Tagle, however, decries the description given by some of the animated participants in this chaotic scene: fanatics. To Tagle, those sometimes uncontrolled people professing their faith are devotees in the real sense of the word and therefore are not fanatics.

But it seems fallacious when Tagle made the emphatic clarification that what makes a big difference between the devotee and the fanatic is that the former loves but the latter does not love.

The truth is that both the devotee and the fanatic are capable of loving. What clearly differentiates them from one another is that when the fanatic show love and admiration for something the show of admiration turns exceedingly extreme and unreasonable.

Thus, Tagle not only contradicts himself but also misleads the Catholic faithful when he says that, “A fanatic only clings to something that gives value to him. But a devotee does not share the same reasoning,” or that “A fanatic, once he does not get what he wants, will already stop. But a devotee, because he or she loves, will remain faithful, whether or not he gets something out of it.”

In fact, when you look at the event and observe keenly what is happening during the religious procession for the Black Nazarene, there is really nothing that differentiates the devotees from the fanatics. They are one and the same.--Jesus Sievert