Tomorrow is the feast day of the Poon Nazareno, where thousands – if not millions – of Filipinos all over the country will flock to Quiapo Church to get a glimpse, perhaps a touch, of the fabled Black Nazarene. It is said that to touch the icon with one’s hands or a kerchief, or to climb on the jagganath-esque statue, or to hold the ropes towing the statue through the mass of devotees, will result to miracles. For many people, not the least of which is Vice President Noli de Castro, to celebrate miracles with the massive ocean of the devout believers is a panata; an act devotion renewed every year as a submission to God’s will.
I’m reminded of a paragraph from Sir James George Frazer’s seminal anthropological study, The Golden Bough:
In ancient Italy every oak was sacred to Jupiter, the Italian counterpart of Zeus; and on the Capitol at Rome the god was worshipped as the deity not merely of the oak, but of the rain and the thunder. Contrasting the piety of the good old times with the scepticism of an age when nobody thought that heaven was heaven, or cared a fig for Jupiter, a Roman writer tells us that in former days noble matrons used to go with bare feet, streaming hair, and pure minds, up the long Capitoline slope, praying to Jupiter for rain. And straightway, he goes on, it rained bucketsful, then or never, and everybody returned dripping like drowned rats. “But nowadays,” says he, “we are no longer religious, so the fields lie baking.”
– Chapter 15, “The Worship of the Oak”
Here, I think that Frazer alludes to the mystique of the worship of inanimate things like trees, or in the case of the Nazareno, a piece of wood. For many people, the Nazarene is more than a dark statue; it carries for them meaning. To not follow up on a divine promise is to court malas, or worse, doom one’s self and one’s family to the damnation of divine kamalasan. Fortune smiles on the devout and the pious, those who acknowledge the Poon to be more than what it is.
It always makes me think: what drives people to believe? What is that motor that moves the human being to push on, to climb the statue, to descend into the madding crowd? I don’t really know, but there’s always something that keeps a devout follower of the Poon Nazareno going there, to risk life and limb, to bank living through the divine intercession of the divined profane.
Miracles. Hope, perhaps. Not fanaticism, but a need for miracles. Not idolatry, but a need for hope.