There must be something in that annual mayhem that is the Traslacion that keeps devotees, despite all woes, coming back for more.
The scene is almost like a ritual — Hundreds of thousands of the Catholic faithful jostle and climb one another as they try to touch, kiss or rub pieces of cloth on a centuries-old icon of the Black Nazarene winding its way through narrow streets in that district we call Quiapo.
And year in and year out, it’s almost a foregone conclusion: scores are hurt and injured and, in some instances, perish as a result of the chaotic mess bordering on fanaticism that marks the yearly procession.
In 2008, two people died and around 50 injured devotees were rushed to hospitals and makeshift clinics. Two deaths were also reported in 2010 with hundreds of devotees rushed for first aid treatment for various health conditions, ranging from dizziness to foot injuries.
But what really makes these people endure and overcome long hours of risk and discomfort just to be able to join what is considered the country’s grandest display of devotion and popular piety?
Seeing the annual Black Nazarene procession is like watching Bird Box. Devotees jostling around the andas (carriage) “see something,” although what they see is left marvelously undefined.
They put even their precious lives at stake, unmindful of the ordeal just to be able to touch a centuries-old image of the Nazareno, so much like the psychotic people in the Netflix film who force blindfolded people to open their eyes and see the beauty of the post-apocalyptic world from their point of view.
Defenders of the faith argue that there is nothing wrong with the frenzied act of devotion, pointing out that those who take part in the vigil and procession have genuine devotion because of the blessings they receive from the Lord.
It is all about the expression of one’s faith, they say.
Like Malorie, the lead character of the movie, the devotees need the Traslacion “to hear into the trees, into the wind, into the dirt banks that lead to an entire world of living creatures.”
For Malorie, the river is not only an amphitheater, it is also a grave. For those devotees, the annual Black Nazarene procession is likewise an amphitheater and a grave. The children of Malorie or the Traslacion devotees must listen to safety precautions if they want to survive.
Just like the defenders of the Catholic faith, reviewers of the movie argue: “It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”
Like the devotees, Malorie very well knows that something is out there, although in the movie she believes it’s something terrifying, so much so that she has to keep herself and her children blindfolded, not unlike some people in our midst who refuse to believe that there is a far superior force guiding us all.
Instead of just blind devotion, followers of the Black Nazarene above all aspire for a good life. Participating in the feast is just one of their ways of reaching that goal.
Like the devotees, Malorie dreams of fleeing to a place where she and her two children might be safe, the same dream of many faithful who long to be in Utopia. For the devotees, however, that unseen something is not a creature, an animal or a monster. It is their God.
Devotion to the Black Nazarene is especially strong among the large number of poor Filipinos.
Poor people comprise the majority of devotees at the feast and have an especially deep devotion as a way of identifying their own struggles with the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Filipino clergy variously describe the devotions as “magic-oriented or mis-focused, or as admirable, pious reflections of faith.”
Although the statue can be visited at the church all year long, the procession, for the Filipino faithful, is a huge event characterized by both patience and urgency, a manner of taking things directly to Jesus and doing so in their own fashion.
Decades of corruption and persistent dirty politicking in the Philippines had caused enormous poverty, abuses and sufferings among the populace and contribute to the sense of needing to turn directly to God for relief. And just like Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and death on the cross, the devotees show they can identify by enduring a procession lasting up to 22 hours.
The Black Nazarene for the faithful is really a symbol of hope and resilience. We have nothing against that.
What we certainly don’t like is to be blindfolded for us not to see what is ugly like the monstrous trash left behind in every Traslacion.
And that, we’d like to think, is the blindfold challenge for us all.