Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Amid the multitude of devotees during the fiesta of the Nazareno 2014

Note:  A slightly different version of this photo essay was published in the 17-23 Jan 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star ("The newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America") with the title "Amid the legions of devotees during the fiesta of Nazareno."  The blogger is the Special Photo/News Correspondent of the said weekly, which is based in San Francisco, CA.

The scramble to the top of the andas.

The feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo is not a moveable feast. The 9th of January is a special day that many devotees fix their minds and hearts on even before fireworks lit up the sky on New Year’s Eve. That’s because the nine-day novena masses for the revered Poong Hesus Nazareno begin right on the 31st of December.

The Hijos de Nazareno guarding the Nazareno.
The subject of intense devotion is the wooden life-size sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying a cross that Augustinian friars brought to Manila from Mexico in 1607.  According to popular lore, it got its dark color after getting partly burned when the galleon carrying it caught fire.

This is the third year that I followed the translacion (procession) at day time. I never got to see the completion of the journey from the Quirino Grandstand to the Basilica Minore of Quiapo at long past midnight. I learned that the Nazareno got back to the shrine past one o’clock Friday morning, and that was faster than last year’s 22 hours.

I did not also witness the revival of the dungaw (Tagalog term for looking at) tradition at the Plaza del Carmen by the Basilica Minore of San Sebastian, which used to be part of the translacion until the early 1900s .  The Recollect priests brought out the image of Our Lady of Carmel, which was also from Mexico and as old as the Nazarene, to re-enact the meeting of Mary and her son on his way to his crucifixion.  This is one reason why the procession route was longer this year.

The Nazareno and thousands of devotees crossing the Jones Bridge
The other reason was that the Nazareno had to cross the Pasig River via the Jones Bridge since the customary McArthur Bridge had been found to be structurally unsafe for carrying a huge crowd, the last estimate being around 3 million.  In fact, Coast Guard emergency units were on the alert and deployed below the bridge as the image and the multitude of devotees passed through.

I was immersed in the thick of mostly barefoot male and female devotees at several points on the Taft Avenue to Jones Bridge leg of the procession. They were either resting before they get back again into the frenzy of grabbing the thick manila rope that pulls the andas (carriage), or of climbing onto the carriage so that they can touch the image. I was amazed at the audacity of young women in jeans who attempted the climb that’s dominated by male devotees.  From my perch on the barrier at the foot of the Jones on the Escolta side, I saw one girl getting stepped on by a male climber as she lost her grip and slid down. I saw her next on a stretcher being carried to the first-aid station located below my perch.

The ones on top of the carriage are called Hijos de Nazareno (sons of the Nazarene) wearing yellow shirts whose duty it is to protect the image during the procession.  Devotees toss to them their hand towels to be wiped on the image, but sometimes they do not get these back.  One brother who shared my perch on Jones Bridge was telling me he has lost three towels already.  It is best, he said, if the hijo saw you throw the towel so he’d know where to fling it back.  Other hijos are deployed around the carriage.  Aside from providing further security to the image, they also offer their shoulders to step on for those who want to climb and touch the Nazareno.
Rope bearers or namamasan.
On this day, the devotees call everyone kapatid (brother or sister).  They’re not only helpful to one another but to spectators like me as well. A kapatid who helps pull the rope is called a namamasan. When this brother raises his hand, this means he already needs help, and non-pullers take him away from the dense frenzied wave of rope bearers..

During this year’s commemoration, zealous devotion went beyond the customary expressions of walking barefoot, waving white towels while shouting ‘Viva, Nazareno’, jostling to get to the ropes, and striving by all means to touch the image on the carriage.

Before Cardinal Antonio Tagle finished celebrating the early morning Mass at the Luneta, overzealous devotees broke through the barricades, climbed the stage, and seized the image to mount on the carriage so that the procession can begin.  The clergy could not do anything to stop the mob. The Cardinal had to finish the Mass at the backstage.  That extreme behavior again raised the issues of idolatry, fanaticism, superstition, and the apparent lack of authentic religious formation among many of the Nazareno devotees. 

Other devotos.
I was at the evening mass at the Quirino Grandstand the night before, the eve of the fiesta, also celebrated by the Cardinal.  The crowd of devotees encamped around the Luneta paid solemn attention to the rites, and observed decorum when communion and the anointment with holy oil were administered through the wire fence.  The long line of devotees that snaked several times from the area across the Rizal monument to the back of the grandstand where they can kiss the foot of the Nazareno was very orderly. 

There are of course many others who went to the Basilica Minore in Quiapo, the vigil at the Luneta and during the translacion and celebrated the feast of the Nazarene in their own somber acts of thanksgiving for miracles brought into their lives, and of unwavering faith that he will answer their prayers for themselves or their loved ones. 

This reminds that the translacion of the old days were solemn rites.  Through his painting of the procession of 1847, Jose Honorato Lozano tells us that the crowd at the Quiapo church square (now the Plaza Miranda) was big but orderly.  Even then the Black Nazarene was mounted on the andas with the clergy following the carriage under a canopy, and a brass band provided the processional music.

His painting tells us that the women in the procession wore black mantles or veils and carried lighted candles.  Lozano does not say how the men dress up for this fiesta but he says that generally the men wear their shirts over their trousers.   The painting suggests the men pulled the ropes, or they carried the andas on their shoulders.

While I saw several devotees with lighted candles during this year’s procession, the women did not have black mantles or veils anymore, and most, just like the male devotees, were  barefoot, and wore pants or shorts and t-shirts of yellow or maroon, colors associated with the Poong Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo. 

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