Some friends asked about my reflections on the Quiapo fiesta celebration where the traslacion (passage or procession) finally ended after 22 hours of procession, the longest traslacion in history as they say.
The feast of the Black Nazarene is commemorated every January 9 of the year. For Catholics, the highlight of the fiesta is the Eucharistic celebration being the apex of Christian liturgy. The traslacion is just a part of the entire fiesta event. However, through the years, people became more enthusiastic about the traslacion and considered it the central activity of the fiesta. Traslacion is the procession where the Poon Nazareno (image of Jesus, the Black Nazarene) is brought back to Quiapo Church after having stayed overnight at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta. The traslacion starts immediately after the fiesta Mass is celebrated in the early morning of January 9.
This is not phenomenal or something that happens rarely because this is one of the most popular devotions of Filipino Catholics. It is not just a traditional practice by people but also a devotional expression and practice of their beliefs. The celebration doesn’t only take place in Quiapo but also in other churches in the different parts of the country where there are devotees of the Black Nazarene.
However, we have read and heard a lot of commentaries and varying opinions on the conduct of the Poon devotees in the traslacion.
The devotion to the Poon Nazareno is so powerful and can be seen in the ocean of people from all walks of life—young and old, men and women from all over the country moving like synchronized waves on the streets and corners of Manila. People will do anything just to go near the Poon. People wave their handkerchiefs or towels in white or maroon and throw that piece of cloth towards the Poon; the men surrounding and guarding the Poon (who are called hijos de Nazareno) wipe the cloth on the Poon and throw it back to its owner. At the same time, during the procession, some people hold on to ropes as they join the crowd’s movements, saying their prayers and singing songs of mercy to the Poon.
Every year, the traslacion is considered as one big event in the many Filipino Catholics’ devotional practices, alongside the devotions to Mary and the Sto. Nino (the Holy Child or the Infant Jesus). The different Marian devotions and to the Sto. Nino, like the devotion to the Poon Nazareno of Quiapo, are historically based, liturgically festive and colorful, and spiritually enriching, thus, these have been celebrated for centuries by devotees and pilgrims.
When personal faith is questioned, that person challenges what he or she is doing to one’s expressions of faith. Idolatry, fanaticism, ritualism, extremism, and fundamentalism are indicators that the devotee has gone beyond the boundaries and limits of his or her sets of “faith traditions.”
We hear some people say that “faith and reason” are incompatible and are always contradicting. When one cannot scientifically explain and reason out based on facts and figures, one surrenders to faith. Or when one is immersed and captivated by his/her experience of “awe and surprise,” and sounds so spiritual and mystical, people would right away conclude that the person is not in this real and material world, hence, his/her insights are in question. Like, why do Quiapo devotees need to have a piece of cloth (handkerchief or towel) touch the Poon or why should one have to wave the cloth and chant.
Is this true faith?
Faith is complete trust in God. It is an experience of complete confidence in the divine, with the sacred. When you are touched by the divine, you can’t help but express your heart’s overwhelming joy and belief. When you are possessed by the divine, in effect, you are willing to boldly proclaim this graceful moment openly through prayers, practices, rituals and ethics.
Every person is a cultural being, a devotee represents one’s belief system. Faith is part of our culture. Each race, ethnic tribe, clan, and family is a cultural community that lives and defines its members’ identity. Faith may also mean strong belief in a religion, an organized belief system borne and developed through history. Cultures are developed and nurtured by faith.
But what right do we have to question if the devotion is real? Who is the authority to say that this is a real faith and that other one is fake? Who will set the standards? These are complex questions that have implications to authority or science. Of course, organized religions have their own creeds (beliefs), codes (ethics), and cults (rituals) that would guide their followers in their faith expressions. Great religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taosim, Shintoism, the Indigenous and Cosmic religions, and many more have different and also similar practices in their forms of worship and devotions.
Faith may be expressed by devotions. Devotions vary. Devotions are contextual.
Devotion is a personal expression of one’s belief and loyalty to someone or something. It is a personal commitment to do something pleasing to one’s God and or belief to God—it satisfies the need to worship. It will move someone to a panata (a promise to do). A devotee may join a procession, pilgrimage, haj. Or, make sacred offerings to gods, prayers of intercession for the saints, celebrations of feasts and memorials, among others.
Genuine and real devotions should be reflective of true faith.
True faith is when you have full trust in God and have been led towards real transformation, a genuine change of heart and mind. True faith is when you have been transformed by your lived faith experiences and encounters with God, your “Aha” moment. And you are not afraid to proclaim this graceful moment of the divine.
Let us find out if our faith is truly grounded and real. Let us have our own traslacion, when the Poon is in us, in our heart. Amen.