[OPINION] Lost in Traslacion: Is this what my Catholic faith looks like?

When I think about my childhood, I remember not just the endless interactions I had with my playmates, or the dreams I told myself I should achieve. More than anything, I’m reminded of the festivities, of the celebrations, of the Catholic traditions I once embraced. And these include the colorful Traslacion.

I can still vividly picture the jubilant men in my old neighborhood talking about their strategies for getting closer to the Poon (Lord) during the Traslacion – the annual ceremonial transfer of the black image of Jesus Christ from San Nicolas de Tolentino in Intramuros to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo in Manila.

“You should be the lead since you’re the strongest,” one of them said.

“What if we line up this way?” another one added. “Will this work?”

It was intense. It was as if they were going into a war like seasoned gladiators, only that they chose not to bring anything with them. Yes, they would have no slippers or shoes on. Their only weapon was their resilient belief; their armor was their prayers. (READ: Making sense of the Nazarene devotion)

Naturally, I expressed my desire to join the euphoria, but I was turned down right away. I was only 7 years old.

“It’s not for children,” said Mang Kaloy, one of their most vocal members. “Just continue playing.”

But on the day of the festivity itself, the footage of the event on our tv disturbed me.

The cavalcade of devotees. The wiping of the cross or statue's foot with a cloth. Shouting. Crying. Emergencies. Difficulty breathing. Heart attacks. Stretchers. Casualties. (READ: [OPINION] The contradictions of the Black Nazarene

Chaos was all over. Everybody wanted to grip the cord of Black Nazarene, and to ultimately reach the graven image flexing its influence as the representation of God on earth.

I felt lost. I asked myself: Is this what my Catholic faith looks like? Is this what God wants to happen?

Hundreds get hurt every time it happens. There are even casualties sometimes. These may just be mere figures for some, but these require a closer examination.

When my youngest brother told me 5 years ago that he would continue our deceased father's devotion to the Black Nazarene, a hole opened up again deep inside me. Suddenly, the horror I felt over this brutal event came rushing back.

“Isn’t it too dangerous?” I told him. “Can you just not join them?”

“No, kuya, (brother)” my brother said. “It’s for tatay (father).”

But is this whole affair even biblical?

I don't proclaim to be a Bible expert, but in Deuteronomy 5:7-9 (King James Version), it clearly says: “Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

They say holding a procession of graven images doesn't fall under the category of "bowing down" or "serving," but is just a gesture of respect. But do you also hold processions featuring statues of loved ones and friends you dearly respect?

Can these graven images represent the majesty, greatness, and holiness of the God in the Bible? The same God who created the heavens and the earth through his powerful words? If the main basis of the Catholic faith is the Bible, why then are these people continuously transgressing the above commandment? Clearly, the Black Nazarene is a graven image or an idol as described by the holy scriptures.

Not to condone such an activity, but can’t the leadership behind the Traslacion event at least impose stricter guidelines on its participants for a safer execution? (READ: Learning Nazarene devotees' 'choreography' and staying safe

Filipinos have the right to observe religion practices, as protected by the Constitution. But in the end, we should as a society open our eyes to practices that may be out-of-control and atrocious. We should continue to search for a better way to do things while respecting human diversity.

A merciful, kind, and loving God does not ask that people lose themselves and physically suffer for the world to see, or that they be catalysts for neighbors to be in agony. To not let Black Nazarene devotees die or get hurt while professing their love of their faith is not just a national responsibility, but a true and pure testament that we empathize and care about them. – Rappler.com

Benre J. Zenarosa is a former Catholic and award-winning essayist. His work has appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Thailand's The Nation, United States Sports Academy's The Sport Digest, Thought Catalog, and others. In 2019, one of his pieces has been included in the "Young Blood 7," a collection of the 79 best essays published in the Inquirer’s Young Blood column from 2016 to 2017. zenarosabenre@gmail.com