Feast of the Black Nazarene: Is it Faith or Fanaticism?

The Black Nazarene or the Mahal na Itim na Nazareno is a life sized, dark wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying a cross believed to be miraculous by many Filipino Catholics. The statue has been housed at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Manila. Originally with fair complexion, it turned dark after it survived a burning ship on its arrival from Mexico in 1607.

Though the image was burnt, the people decided to preserve and honor it. Since then, miraculous things have been reported. The Feast of the Black Nazarene is celebrated every 9th of January. It is considered one of the biggest religious events in the country. Every year thousands of devotees from all walks of life come to Quiapo to take part in the procession as a way of strengthening their faith or fulfilling their “panata”.

This year, the procession took the longest time in its history, 22 hours in all-beginning from after the 7 am Mass at the Luneta Grandstand and ending at 6 am mass in Quiapo Church the following day, January 10, 2012.The devotion to the Black Nazarene is a long time practice of the Filipino Catholics but the display of inappropriate behavior during the procession is in question. Is it fanaticism or sheer faith?

According to Fr. Fernando Carpio, one of the priests in Quiapo, there are the two kinds of devotees:

“There are devotees to image of the Black Nazarene. The focus of the devotion is the image of the Nazarene. They come to join the procession, to pull the ropes for a period of time, to touch the image of the Nazarene and to have their towels or handkerchiefs wiped at the statue. They make great sacrifices and endure much suffering in patience to be able to do this. But when they have done this, they are done”

“Then there are the devotees of Jesus, who is represented by the image of the Black Nazarene. The focus of their devotion is the person of Jesus. Their devotion is not for a day, but 365 days in a year. They follow not the image of the Black Nazarene but Jesus himself. They do not follow only the carriage carrying the statue, but they follow the commands and example of Jesus himself. They follow Jesus not during the procession only but in their entire lives. Their solidarity with Jesus is not for a day but for every day.”

This latter kind of devotees, devotees not to a religious image but to the person of Jesus is what the Church desires. If the people will understand that faith can only be shown through good works and imitation of the selfless love of the Lord, much of the fanaticism will soon disappear.

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