Experiencing Christ Through The Black Nazarene
Brief History of the Devotion
Every January 9 of each year millions of devotees flock to the Quirino Grandstand in Manila to participate in the annual Traslacion of the image of the Black Nazarene. The Nazareno was brought to Manila by the Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1606 from Mexico. It was first enshrined in Intramuros. In 1767, after more than a century, the image was transferred to Quiapo church.
What is actually celebrated every January 9 is neither the feast day of the parish nor is it the feast day of the Black Nazarene. The patron saint of Quiapo Church is St. John the Baptist, whose feast falls on June 24th. What is commemorated on January 9 is the traslacion or the transferring of the Nazareno from Intramuros to Quiapo. (The Church and Poverty in Asia)
The devotion to the Black Nazarene is an expression of Folk religiosity. Most of the Filipino Catholics practice folk Catholicism. In the words of Segundo Galilea, folk religiosity “has a particular affinity with the poor because it is only in this level that people’s religiosity is consistent with their culture.” It means that through the devotion to the Black Nazarene they are able to experience solidarity with Christ or simply put, they experience Christ. (Ibid)
The following paragraphs are excerpts from the article “Poverty, Religion and Culture in the Devotion to the Black Nazarene. Lessons on Being a Church Among the Poor.” (Bina Agong, George Capaque, Timoteo Gener, Ian Hibionada and Adonis Parian. Published in the book The Church and Poverty in Asia. Philippines: ATS & OMF Lit. Inc., 2008.):
What makes this devotion very popular is the fact that it helps the devotees experience Christ in their daily struggles. It has preserved for us a Filipino way of naming Christ. For beneath these religious practices lie Filipino core values, and the Christology that arises from folk Catholicism flows from specifically Filipino religious experiences.
One of the most common Filipino values evident in the devotion is the practice of punas-punas. Culturally, the practice of punas-punas seems to relate with the concept of pamamagitan (mediation). The handkerchief or towel serves as tagapamagitan (mediator, transmitter) so that the healing power could be transferred to the devotee. Devotees believe that “some mysterious power can be transmitted from the statue to the handkerchief (Wilfredis B. Jacob quoting Mercado (1974). “Religious Experience in the Quiapo Black Nazarene Devotion.” Filipino Religious Psychology. Edited by L. Mercado. Tacloban City. Philippine Divine Word University Publications, 1988. 87)
Pahalik (to kiss) is another way of transmitting the divine power. It is a tradition of touching, rubbing a piece of cloth and kissing the image of the Nazareno on the eve of the actual Traslacion.
Prof. Timoteo Gener refer to this concept as “points of contact.” (Gener. “What Evangelicals Can Learn from Folk Catholicism.” 178.)
Here are some examples this concept from the New Testament:
- The Woman Bleeding for Twelve Years (Matthew 9:20).
This woman struggled her way to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak for she believed that by doing so she will be healed. “If I only touch His garment, I will get well (Matthew 9:21). Jesus saw the faith of the woman and honored such faith, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (v.22).
An act of desperation may have influenced the woman’s faith. For as Mark reports she “had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse,” (Mark 5:25, 26). Luke also notes that “she could not be healed by anyone,” (Luke 8:43, 44). She had exhausted all her resources and still no one could help her. Because she perceived that only Jesus can help her she risked the embarrassment of making her way to Him, even if it meant being accused of “ceremonial uncleanness.” (Leviticus 15). She had correctly acted on her faith, faith that Jesus honored.
- God’s Miracle through Paul and Peter (Acts 19:11, 12 and Acts 5:12-15).
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” A preceding passage reports how the disciples performed miracles and how the number of converts increased (Acts 5:12-14). Verse 15 declares, “to such extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and had them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.” The notes in the NASB Study Bible comments, “not that any of these material objects had magical qualities, but the least article or shadow represented a direct means of contact with Jesus or His apostles.” (NASB Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999). Thus like the hemorrhaging woman, it was their faith that made them well, not the objects themselves.
These passages show that Christ’s power was evident in the lives and ministry of the apostles. They served as mediators of Christ healing power allowing them to experience Christ. As mentioned above, the towel serves as means of contact in order that the devotees may experience Christ.
The challenge for the contemporary ‘non-Catholic’ Christian churches is how to make their liturgy and other church services serve as transmitter (mediator) of Christ’s power so that the congregation can have a more tangible and concrete experience of Christ.
- NASB Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999
- Poverty, Religion and Culture in the Devotion to the Black Nazarene. Lessons on Being a Church Among the Poor. Written by Bina Agong, George Capaque, Timoteo Gener, Ian Hibionada and Adonis Parian. Published in the book The Church and Poverty in Asia. Philippines: ATS & OMF Lit. Inc., 2008.
- GMA News Online