MAY HIMALA: Priest sets line between superstitious and divine

Quiapo Church

SEE: Devotees of the Black Nazarene gush in and out of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene for the first Friday devotion Mass/ photo by Ram Talabong

MANILA, PHILIPPINES- Holy week in the Philippines will begin on Thursday April 2 2015. It’s that time of the year again.

Homes have begun smelling like incense from the newly blessed palaspas and sacramentals. Statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and every saint of every patronage have started to fill tables of church vendors.

Inside the same scenery are symbols unknown to the Catholic church, sold and emblazoned by churchgoers; a manguhula enjoys the peak season of her business and; procession marshals vow their lives before being engulfed in a sea of people.

The week-long exhibition of the Philippines’ own brand of Catholicism has started, and Filipinos have no idea on which beliefs should be believed, and which practices could be practiced.

The scene is wrinkled and the priest of a million devotees wouldn’t stand it.

Father Clem

IN OFFICE: Reverend Father Jose Clemente Ignacio answers questions in the one-on-one interview / photo by Ram Talabong

According to the latest survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2010, 74,211,896 Filipinos are Catholic. Today, it is estimated by seasite that approximately 85% follow the Roman Catholic Church. It has been reported by major news organizations that majority have consistently participated in the Semana Santa.

“It’s popular religiosity,” said Reverend Father Jose Clemente Ignacio, the parish priest of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in a one-on-one interview. (see: Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene website)

Ignacio explained that popular religiosity was not formalized or “evangelized” which opened up a hole for beliefs and traditions not sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

Ignacio mentioned that unwanted beliefs gave birth to traditions for communities as well as “frowns for theologians”.

The Anting-anting


Plethoras of the anting-antings are sold by vendors in separate tables which attract passersby with their luster / photo by Ram Talabong

Among these beliefs that haunt even Ignacio is the belief in anting-antings or charms

“Anting-antings pose themselves as tickets to heaven,” said Ignacio

The anting-antings are usually made of tanso(copper) with carvings of religious symbols and latin texts. The charms, priced at 150-1500 pesos, are believed to prevent harm from bad luck and evil spirits. (see KwentongKwenta’s GALLERY: Anting-antings and their blessings)

Aside from preventing bad luck and evil spirits, vendors said that anting-antings bless wielders with good luck, wealth and fortune, and fertility.

According to Rosie Quiambao, an anting-anting vendor outside of the Quiapo church for 60 years, the charms would only work if they were blessed by reciting incantations.

In-ooracionan mo siya. Para nabubuhay siya, gagabayan ka niya,” said Quiambao (You pray over it so that it lives. It will guide you.)

For Ignacio, it would only make people believe that they are “in control of things” that happen beyond them.

Ignacio advised that people avoid anting-antings for sacramentals.

Sacramentals include rosaries, scapulars, crucifixes, and palm leaves or palaspas as they are more called in the Philippines. These objects are also sold by vendors like Quiambao and are blessed by the Catholic Church.

“Sacred relics are passive objects where grace can flow,” said Ignacio. “You’re not in control. It helps you accept God’s grace”

Compared to the inviting promises of the anting-antings, sacramentals merely encourage devotees to pray and contemplate.

“[Sacramentals] help you with what you do through your faith, but possessing it does not assure you that you will be safe from all harm. The same as [the promise of]: ‘Hindi ka tatamaan ng bala,’“(A bullet will never hit you.) said Ignacio

The Manghuhula

IN THE ZONE: Gloria Danding or "Nanay Guring" as Sariaya locals address her has been fortune-telling since 1986 / photo by Ram Talabong

IN THE ZONE: Gloria Danding or “Nanay Guring” as Sariaya locals call  her has been fortune-telling since 1985 / photo by Ram Talabong

Another superstition that lent itself to Ignacio’s scrutiny are the quasi-prophets of modern-day Philippines— the manghuhulas.(fortune-tellers)

Ang panghuhula ay panloloko ng tao,”(Fortune-telling is deception of people.) said Ignacio.

As said by popular belief, fortune-tellers give glimpses of a person’s future and give advice on which measures to take to lead him to the best future possible.

It has also been popularly reported that the help a client asks from a manghuhula ranges from winning numbers for the lottery, to death forecasts of a client’s relatives; from giving love advice, to tracking thieves.

For clients, the help would lead them to a desirable end. For Ignacio, the help would ruin their lives.

“They convince a person that their future is going to be this way,” said Ignacio. “And that person, closes himself to the mystery of God and the mystery of the future and he creates his own future according to what the manghuhula said. And that destroys the future of the person.”

In the town of Sariaya, Quezon, manghuhulas are found in every barangay and are visited almost on a daily basis, as claimed by residents.

According to Gloria Dando, a manghuhula from Sariaya that started fortune-telling since the first issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, fortune-telling is approved by the church.

Sabi ng pastor, ayos lamang,”(A pastor told me, it’s alright.) said Dando. “Kaloob ito sa akin ng Panginoon.”(This is a gift from God.)

She supported this by saying that she starts every session muttering a prayer: Panginoon ipagkaloob mo sa aking maging totoo lahat ng makikita ko sa taong ito.(Lord, grant that whatever I see in this person comes true.)

For Ignacio, Quiambao’s predictions are solely deceptions. He mentioned that it is “used to justify their predictions”.

Kaya nga hula eh, hindi naman talaga totoo, bola lang,“(That’s why it’s a guess, it really isn’t true.) said Ignacio.

The Nazareno

Devotees crowd below the wooden statue of the Black Nazarene with nothing but prayers. / photo by Ram Talabong

Devotees crowd below the wooden statue of the Black Nazarene with nothing but prayers. / photo by Ram Talabong

A valid case of popular religiosity for Ignacio is the value of touching for devotees of the Nazareno or the Black Nazarene.

Devotees have claimed that the sculpture of the Nazareno grants miracles to whoever touches it.

Of the whole population of Catholics in the Philippines, 10,571,327 or 14% are found in Metro Manila, according to NSO. Of the ten million, 8 million are found outside the Quiapo church every January 9— the feast of the Black Nazarene.

“They’re not worshipping the statue, they’re just praying to God through the touches they make… It’s a bodily way of prayer,” Ignacio pointed out.

Ignacio has headed the 400-year event for the past 9 years. All throughout his stay, he said that he has learned to see through “the eyes of the devotees.”

“Once you enter the world of the devotees you’ll see an eerie different point of view,” said Ignacio

In his term as the parish priest of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, Ignacio said that he has celebrated countless healing masses that have reportedly cured many.

He said he was there when the two church servants that died during the procession this 2015 vowed that they would be serving the Lord to the death just before they brought out the platform.

The procession has received intense scrutiny through the years for the damages, injuries, and deaths that it has caused.

Many have petitioned to stop the annual procession, even president Aquino himself, said Ignacio. He said that “it couldn’t be done.”

“What the people are expressing here is not simple fanaticism or superstition,” said Ignacio. “People who are coming here are experiencing through authentic religious experiences— faith experiences. And that is why they’re ready to die.”

The Primary

According to Ignacio, these attempts of devotees to make life better through belief and practice of supernatural and divine should only bring them closer to God.

“God respects how we want to go to him,” said Ignacio ” Miracles were created by Jesus to help the people. But it doesn’t end there. It was created for the people to have faith in Jesus. And once that faith has developed, miracles become secondary.”