Today is the Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Thousands will gather to join the annual procession of the statue of a black Christ carrying his cross. Because of the huge crowd, the traslacion from the Luneta to the Quiapo Church will take hours to complete, starting from early morning till the early evening.
On Sunday, we will be going of a pilgrimage to Antipolo, the most popular Maria shrine in the Philippines. During the month of May, specially the First day, and during Holy Week, thousands of Marian devotees walk up to the mountains of Antipolo to the shrine in fulfillment of a panata (a vow) or as sign of their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Many decry these practices of popular religiosity and piety as bordering on fanaticism, idolatry, and even occultism. Some would even condemn these practices as being downright heretical. Yet seeing the sincerity and persistence of the devotions, I am often humbled by the simple, and even simplistic, piety and spirituality of these devotees. Their faith is probably stronger and more real than my own struggling belief.
Even the pastors in the Quiapo Church are amazed by the phenomenon. Some have dismissed it, saying “Oh, it’s just popular religiosity.” expecting it to just fade away. But it has not. It has persisted for centuries now. With some devotees, it is a family tradition that goes back several generations. And the devotion and the number of devotees increase noticeably during time of difficulties and hardships.
We Filipinos are an emotional sensory people. We need to see, feel, touch and taste things to truly experience and understand things. This is perhaps why God chose to be incarnated in Jesus Christ. Through our popular devotions, we feel and know that God is with us.
Indeed, looking at our history and natural experience, we are a nation that has been most disaster-prone and afflicted. Yearly, devastating typhoons hit the country. There are the occasional, but certain to happen, earthquakes. There are the man-made disasters like fires and marine disasters. We have been plagues with rapacious leaders who only serve their personal interests, rather than the common good – a plague worse than any of the natural calamities that have befell us.
Yet through it all, we Filipinos have ket that welcoming smile on our faces. We still love to play the hospitable host to all our visitors. We still love to feast and to fiesta. It takes the smallest excuse for us to go out and celebrate. In spite of all the misfortunes and calamities, we keep out enthusiasm and joy for living, sometimes even to a fault. And at the end of the day, we can always sing ourselves to sleep. And through it all, there is our faith – often expressed in simple, popular acts of religiosity and piety like our devotion to the Nazareno or the Santo Niño or the Birhen Maria.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus walked the sea and calmed the tempest. The apostles on the boat were not impressed. Nor did they understand.
They were completely astounded.
They had not understood the incident of the loaves.
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
But at once he spoke with them,
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”