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Devotees hijack Mass, take Nazarene

MANILA, Philippines – “Baba muna tayo sa altar! Baba sa altar! Baba muna tayo, baba, baba, baba! Baba muna, baba! Patapusin muna natin ang Misa! Patapusin muna natin ang Misa! Baba, baba, baba tayo, baba!

(Get off the altar now! Get off the altar! Now get off, get off, get off, get off! Get off, get off! Let the Mass finish first! Let the Mass finish first! Get off, get off, please get off, get off!)

The man on the microphone failed to stop them.

Neither did the presence of the Manila archbishop, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, deter these devotees.

On Thursday, January 9, the feast of the Black Nazarene, a group of devout followers breached security barriers, rushed to the stage, and took the reportedly miraculous image before the Mass ended.

It happened minutes before Communion, the part of the Mass in which Catholics receive round wafers believed to be the real body of Christ – himself the Black Nazarene.

This forced Tagle to retreat to a room for priests and their guests, and there, finish the Mass, which Catholics consider the highest form of worship.

The parish priest of Quiapo Church told Rappler it was the first time devotees did this. Quiapo Church has housed the image for the past 246 years. (Watch more in the video below.)

May mga occasions na gusto nilang pumasok, tulad ng Communion noon, at minadali na lang namin 'yung Misa. Pero ngayon mas intense ang mga tao,” Quiapo Church parish priest Msgr Clemente Ignacio said. (There had been occasions when they wanted to enter, like one during Communion before, and we had to rush the Mass. But now people have become more intense.)

Sought for an explanation, Ignacio said it is best to ask sociologists.

Ang suspetsa ko lang – I'm not the expert – eh grabe na ang kahirapan ng ating bayan, at saka 'yung pinagdaanan nating mga kalamidad,” he said. (My suspicion– I'm not the expert – is that poverty in our country has worsened, compounded by the recent calamities.)

Devotees see in the Black Nazarene, who bears a cross with one knee bent, a symbol of their own crosses and sufferings. More of these sufferings were felt in 2013, especially after a series of disasters capped by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that killed over 6,000.

Ignacio added, “I think it's more of they want to touch the image and want to be close to Christ.”

What happened on Thursday, he said, poses a challenge for priests and those in charge of formation. 

CLOSE TO THEIR HEART. Before the annual procession, devotees line up for 9 hours for the 'pahalik,' to kiss the image of the Black Nazarene.

Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

Eh 'yung iba kasing mga deboto sa mahal na poong Nazareno, kulang pa siguro sa formation. Hindi nila naintindihan ang kahalagahan pa ng Misa, so we have to work harder. Hindi pa natin nari-reach out lahat. Para bang nauuna 'yung debosyon at prusisyon kaysa sa catechism,” he explained.

(Because some devotees of the Nazarene lack formation. They don't understand the importance of the Mass, so we have to work harder. We haven't reached out to all. It seems like the devotion and procession took precedence over catechism.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, after all, calls the Mass “the source and summit of the Christian life,” in which Catholics receive the body and blood of Christ. 

Better sound system

Fr Anton Pascual, president of the Church-run Radio Veritas, pointed out a more practical problem: the poor sound system.

Sa ganito kadaming tao, talagang pag mahina ang mikropono, hindi natin makokontrol ang crowd,” Pascual said in an interview with Rappler. (With such a huge number of people, really, if the microphone is poor, we cannot control the crowd.)

The key to crowd control, he said, “is to have a very powerful sound system” to guide the faithful better.

Pascual, also executive director of Caritas Manila, said the Black Nazarene can nevertheless teach Catholics to approach the Lord in the face of suffering. (Watch more in the video below.)

Para sa mga deboto, mahalaga na lumapit tayo sa Diyos para maturuan tayo ng Diyos kung ano ang ating gagawin sa ating buhay, lalong lalo na sa ating kalagayan ng kahirapan,” he said.

(For devotees, it is important that we approach the Lord so that the Lord can teach us what to do in our lives, especiallly in our conditions of poverty.)

'Don't judge'

Despite displays of fanaticism in the annual feast, Ignacio however warned against “easy judgments.”

“I hope, before we make easy judgments about devotions, we must first understand why people express their faith the way they do. Those who could judge better about these acts of religiosity are those who understand fully the heart of the devotee,” Ignacio said in a paper on the Nazarene devotion. (READ: Nazareno: Does it make the Pinoy a better neighbor?)

Tagle on Thursday said Filipinos should translate the devotion into love of neighbor. (Watch more in the video below.)

He told them, for one, not to forget disaster victims in the Philippines, such as those affected by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in 2012, Tropical Storm Santi (Nari), the Zamboanga siege, and the earthquake in Bohol.

Ang nakakaalala sa Diyos, makakaalala sa kapwa,” Tagle said. (Those who remember God remember their neighbor.)

Dr Fernando Nakpil Zialcita, an anthropologist, said while the Nazarene devotion is an "awesome" display of gratitude to God, it often fails to take into account “social responsibility to a group larger than their family.”

“A Christian doesn't just show utang na loob to God and forgets about one's neighbor,” he told Rappler in 2012. (READ: Making sense of the Nazarene devotion.)

Enriching this devotion, he said, remains a challenge for priests. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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