MANILA, Jan. 9, 2015— Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila does not want people to judge about the extreme piety of the Black Nazarene devotees.
In his homily during a Mass held few hours before the annual Black Nazarene procession on Saturday, the cardinal said this burning and fervent devotion is the devotee’s expression of faith, love and thanksgiving.
“For the others who think the devotees are just shoving each other. That is not true!” Tagle said.
“Have you ever experienced having nothing more to hold on to? Once you’ve experienced that, then the Nazareno is there for you. Go to him. Hold on to him. You will understand why the devotees just want to get near Him. You don’t have anyone to hold on to, but the Nazarene is there,” he said.
In defending the ardor of the devotees, he noted how many Catholics even lined up for more than seven hours for the traditional “Pahalik” at the Quirino Grandstand, enduring hunger, thirst and the heat just to get a few seconds to touch the revered image.
“Why do you sacrifice every year? Getting less sleep, getting hungry at time? Others get injured. Others faint because of the heat. But why do you keep doing it? The common answer is, ‘This is my way of showing my gratitude. I want to thank the ‘Poong Nazareno’ because of his undying and unfathomable faithfulness at goodness to me,’” he said.
‘Hold on to Jesus’
The cardinal said devotees he talked to said this sacrificing love they express is their way of giving something small back to the Lord “who gave a lot for all of us”.
Tagle reminded the devotees that they were not the first ones to reach out to Christ because it was Christ who came to reach out to them.
“When you feel you are alone and you have no one to hold on to… have faith. Hold on to Jesus. Jesus is carrying you,” said Tagle.
“He will not let you astray, even if His shoulders are wounded. He is carrying you. He is holding you. And while He is holding you, He thanks God. You are not heavy. You are not a burden,” he added.
Int’l Eucharistic Congress
The cardinal also called everyone’s attention to the upcoming 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) which the country is hosting in Cebu on Jan. 24 to 31.
He said that Nazareno devotees might not be able to get near the image of the Black Nazarene, but they must look to the Eucharist as the “fulfillment of their devotion”.
“In the Eucharist we see the works of Jesus which we need to follow,” Tagle said.
He invited the faithful to imitate Jesus whom they want to touch as a thanksgiving for graces and favors granted thru the image.
“Touched, giving thanks, offered one’s self. That is the Eucharist. That is the devotion to Hesus Nazareno. That is the Eucharist. That is the life of the one who believes in Hesus Nazareno. That is why we too will hold on to Him give thanks to Him and give our life to others,” he said.
Former Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene rector Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio agrees with the cardinal.
He stressed that the “whether some expressions are delusional or devotional, it is the heart, the interior of the person, that will often decide if an expression is right or wrong … It is only God who could see through the hearts of these peoples.”
“I hope, before we make easy judgments about devotions, we must fully understand why people express their faith the way they do. Popular piety involves the whole person, not just the mind. It might me a mystical experience even which we do not understand. We only need to respect them,” Ignacio said.
The priest added that being a pastor of Quiapo “humbled” him and made him “understand and encounter the faith of the simple people.”
“From where ordinary parishioners stand, one can feel the intensity and sincerity of their devotion,” Ignacio also said.
Tagle earlier said that in order to understand this fiery devotion one needs to be walking with a devotee. “To understand the devotee you have to be a devotee. Only a devotee could best understand a devotee,” he said.
Local authorities estimate the crowd at the Luneta to have swollen to more than a million during the Mass.
The number of devotees even got bigger before the “Traslacion” which officially started at 5:43 a.m. (Rommel Lopez/CBCPNews)