(FEATURE) Traslacion: Faith or pop culture?

Devotees of the statue known as the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno will flock to Quiapo once more in the hope of spiritually and physically connecting with the revered symbol of Catholic faith. The statue made of wood known as "mesquite" was a gift from Mexico in the 17th century. It has since been the central icon of worship at the Quiapo Church in central Manila.

There are conflicting stories of how the Black Nazarene got its dark pigmentation. Some historians believe it is the nature of mesquite wood to turn dark over the years. Legend has it that the ship transporting the statue caught fire while at sea and all of the original embellishments were burned but the statue itself was saved though charred.

Historical fact indicates that the very statue that resides in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo is no longer the original work of the unknown Mexican sculptor. Church records show that two identical figures were brought to Manila. The original statue was destroyed during World War 2 and the statue given by Recollect Priests to the Quiapo church has since taken its place.

The statue of the Black Nazarene is brought out of the Quiapo Church only on two occasions; on January 9th -- the procession known as "Traslacion" -- and on Good Friday during Lent. Hordes of devotees, usually in a mad frenzy jostle for every inch of space to bridge the gap between themselves and the statue itself -- if not only a part of the float that carries it.

Devotees of the Black Nazarene usually come in Spartan attire. They are markedly barefoot to signify the humility of Christ. During the Spanish era up until the 1970s, devotees would come in shoes or slippers. It has since been decided that flimsy footwear easily gets lost during melee that always accompanies the celebration. Shoes were also ditched because it would be inconsiderate to step on other peoples shoulders and sometimes heads if you were wearing sneakers.

For the devotees, the mere sight of the image, to witness the procession, to touch the statue or any part of the float including the ropes used for pulling the float will work miracles for them. To devotees like Eleazar Cantolino who has been attending the feast for the last 30 years, merely staring at the image and saying a fervent prayer to the "Senor" was enough to heal his son who then had a problem with baldness.

"Tinitigan ko lang yung istatwa at humiling ako na bigyan ng buhok yung anak ko. Makaraan ang ilang araw, tumubo at lumago ang buhok sa ulo niya!"

Also changing with the times are the increasing number of women and children who take the risk and rush to the float while dodging elbows from other devotees bent on doing the same. Once they get to the float, the "mamamasan" or the Hijos del Senor Nazareno more often than not, treat them like any other intruder and they get thrown out of the float and into the sea of humanity from whence they came.

There is no doubt that attending the Traslacion is hazardous for some devotees. Over the years, hundreds of casualties have been reported. The most common cause of death is cardiac arrest due to the crushing pressure exerted on the body by other devotees. Some are felled by heat exhaustion or simply trampled upon by the crowd. As a consequence, relatives take comfort in the fact that their loved one died in the service of his or her faith.

The Traslacion is one of the most powerful manifestations of Spanish influence on Filipino culture particularly, religion. It is a tradition that has endured time and technology although many of the younger devotees now never forget to bring a smartphone and broadcast their attendance to the feast live via Facebook. For the older devotees, the goal is still to get as close to the Senor Nazareno as they possibly can believing that the miracles that would follow are well worth the effort and the risk.

Source: Philippines News Agency