“Pananampalatayta” denotes faith in my native tongue. Our country is considered as the eminent Catholic country in south east Asia. I was born and raised as a devout Catholic, ever zealous of all its teachings and praxis, but I do admit that mine has dwindled in recent years.I have always been fascinated by the event ever since I became a photographer, and this year was my first time to actually be there.
I never imagined for the life of me that an unbelievable mass of people actually go to this event year in and year out barefooted and all, risking life and limb to touch or even get a glimpse of the revered statue. I incessantly get to watch this event on television but it was flat out when you see it in all its actuality.
Everybody told me that I would be a fool to get myself in the crowd. As the devotees started to push and shove one another just to get to the rope, I immediately understood why my friends were all telling me not to go in. The feeling was literally like being dragged by the waves of the sea. Seeing an unconscious body being passed on in front of me gave me a perturbed feeling that I was going to be next.
There seemed to be no sign of attrition form the devotees as the procession carried on. Vast amounts of people ranging from the senescent to infants; the healthy and the frail were all there walking barefoot in their devotion. I found it weird that I was enthralled in stupefaction as I was witnessing the whole thing instead of being moved by it.
I don’t think it’s faith that I gave up on but more of the system and the formality of the church. The church’s red tape decorum limited me in truly experiencing God. It seems as if they have so many conditions and requirements for us to have him in our lives. This is the reason why I find the thought of the church somewhat noxious. I’d rather see and feel God outside on my own in whatever way he wants me instead of having to go through priests, requirements, ceremonies and suchlike. The aspect of God in our lives should be a natural emphatic choice, not enforced and conditional.
I was all set to pull out and go back to the office at around 4pm since I have been working from 8am when I suddenly got assigned to take a position atop the church to shoot the arrival of the statue which was expected to be back at 6pm. It got back at around 9 instead. I was enervated. I am well accustomed to waiting for long hours but this was different.
Being there on the tower with a correspondent from the BBC somewhat gave me an insight how the western world perceive these kinds of events. One part he was so amazed on with all that was happening while on the other he couldn’t believe how desperate all these people looked. During this time I was balancing on two resonant sentiments. One for my own practice of my faith wherein which I try to control the way I relate to God and on the other hand the austere surrender of the people below were showing; totally submitting one’s self is a different high that one could get. The event in my opinion is the epitome of the thin borderline separating unfeinged faith and the fraught undertakings us Filipinos would go through to escape the pangs of life on this earth. The latter especially evident once you get to talk to the Devotees.
As the Nazarene was slowly brought back home, the perspective atop the church was a spectacle that moved the numbed reception I had all day for this event. My antipathy for traditional religious praxis was replaced with awe and reverence by the sight of an ocean of people who collectively came as a whole for something that they believe in. The devotees sang and chanted hymns of praise and worship. To see it all happening from up there was stupefying - it was as close of a view you can get if you were in heaven. It was a milieu so moving, not even God and the angels could afford to ignore it.