The Black Nazarene procession took place last Friday, January 9. The procession was graced by millions of devoted followers whose faith was undaunted by the sizzling heat of the sun and the suffocating crowd of people for 20 or so hours around the streets of Manila. The density of the population was such that 2 men died during the Catholic parade, and an uncountable number were hurt due to the stampede in an attempt to lay a hand on the renowned sacred wooden statue. From the first time I witnessed such a display of faith and devotion, I’ve always wondered if that enormous wooden figure with the wooden cross could really be responsible for all the miracles its devoted followers attribute to it. I’ve always wondered how that piece of wood is different from the wooden desk I’m using right now to type out this article.
The answer is…its not. I remember a non-Catholic friend who told me that faith is believing in what you cannot see. She said this to back up her claim that the Black Nazarene procession, along with other similar Catholic practices, was idolatrous. Fast forward 2 decades later, I still don’t have a rebuttal to that claim of idolatry. But I have come down to the following realizations: we all need something to believe in; nothing is more important than establishing a relationship with God; people do whatever works.
Today I attend a non-sectarian church. While I continue to respect the beliefs and practices of the Catholic church and other sects, I go where my faith is strengthened. In the end, faith is what matters – the channel you use to find that faith doesn’t matter. In the end, establishing a relationship with God is what matters – how you establish that relationship is a personal decision.
Are those people trying to get a touch of the Black Nazarene, to the extent of hurting themselves, blind fanatics? No – people do whatever works. I seriously doubt those crowds of people will come back year after year if they don’t get anything back from their devotion. Whatever it is they get back, it should be attributed to their faith that their prayers will be answered and not because of some wooden statue.
Does worship to that wooden statue qualify as idolatry? I don’t think any human being is in a position to judge. Again, faith is what matters. If that wooden statue is the channel by which some people find their faith, so be it.