2021: An open letter to Black Nazarene devotees
Minamahal kong devoto ng Itim na Nazareno/ My dear devotees of the Black Nazarene,
I see the debris of your spiritual wreckage scattered across our land. I know that this time of year is supposed to be the most wonderful time for Quiapo when you, devotees, come in millions, rain or shine, believing in your hearts that the miraculous Black Nazarene would protect you from harm and illness. Touching the image means heaven and earth, and you believe that wiping any cloth “rubs off” the miraculous power and curative abilities from the statue to your cloth.
You shake your head in disbelief because Covid-19 subdues all normal human physical interactions and STOPS the traslacion or the grand procession of the Black Nazarene this year. You remember that only the Philippine Revolution (in 1897) and the Japanese invasion in 1942 had ever stopped the annual devotion parade in its 415-year history. But why stop it too on the Jubilee Year of 2021, you ask, when we are celebrating the 500 years of Christianity as a nation?
I could sense your despair when the Traslacion is cancelled, all roads leading to Quiapo are closed, and rerouting enforced around the Quiapo district. When only a hundred of you are allowed per Mass, which means a handful 1,600 believers if 16 masses are said in one day – compared with the usual sea of humanity that participated in one day last year.
I could see you pour scorn on the government official who suggested to proceed with the 415th traslacion of the Itim na Nazareno but to do it online. How can you participate in a traslacion without the actual sacrifice of physically being there, considering that the most important element of his devotion is when you hold the rope, touch, or wipe the white handkerchief on the miraculous image?
I could hear your silent questioning: Why does God allow the coronavirus to stop this uniquely Filipino devotion, which was canonically recognized by two popes: Innocent X, who in 1650 approved the veneration of the image in 1650 and authorized the establishment of the Confradia de Jesus Nazareno of which you are now a proud member? The other pope was Pius VII, who granted in the 19th century a plenary indulgence “to those who pray to it in a pious way.”
On the other hand, could this year’s cancelation of the traslacion a Kairos or a lovely time when God provides a golden opportunity to learn how to silence our hearts and ponder precisely what’s the most important thing in this great devotion, which I guess points to the IMITATION OF CHRIST. It might be that God is transforming this non-physical participation out there into a more spiritually-profitable time deep inside when we can reflect, and perhaps deeply understand, that the Traslacion is doing again the Calvary experience, performing again the painful suffering that our dear Lord endured like walking barefoot, carrying the cross along dusty roads, under the heat of the sun, with the noisy crowd…
Or this year’s cancelation is indeed an opportune time to see and feel our Hesus ng Nazareno not so much in the pahalik or the kissing of the statue of the Nazarene (or the paglalakad ng paluhod or the approach from the front door to the altar of the church on bended knees, pabihis or the ceremonial changing of garments of the Nazarene; nor during the actual procession the pagpasan or the carrying of the Andas on shoulders or the rope attached to it, and pagpapahid or touching the statue with a cloth), but in our fellow Filipino who’s jobless, hungry, and broken this year due to the pandemic?
Dear devotees, could it also be that this year of non-physical involvement in the traslacion is but a true experience of “the best time to gaze the stars is during the darkest night”? When we begin to open our eyes and see our Black Nazarene in our neighbor, turn our religious zeal into charity and acts of mercy, and hear Him say, “When I was hungry you fed me. When I was naked you clothed me. When I was sick and in prison you visited me… for whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me.”?
Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano (facebook.com/josemario.maximiano) is the author of MDXXI: 500 YEARS ROMAN CATHOLIC (Claretian, 2020) and 24 PLUS CONTEMPORARY PEOPLE: God Writing Straight with Twists and Turns (Claretian, 2019).