The feast of the caterpillar pillar

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

IT’S the most wonderful time of the year.

And no, I do not mean the twinkling lights and cozy air of Christmas. I do not mean the exploding incandescence of the New Year. The way I see it were are past the happy season and are slowly diving into the day-to-day routine of frenzied happenings.

Once again, national television has been flooded with footages of millions of bodies hysterically pushing one person after the other in a state of chaos and mass agitation.


I must confess that I am in no way a very religious person. While my peers carry rosaries in their pockets, I carry several hefty emotional baggages (most, if not all, not mine). I was raised a Catholic and was taught how to pray even before I knew how to write. When I first saw photos of the massive throng of Black Nazarene devotees (and others simply just praying for a miracle) in a newspaper, I was amazed at the amount of hysteria caused by a single man-made statue depicting history’s most popular religious founder helplessly carrying a cross.

Once upon a time, I wondered why people asked rather than give the help that that man carrying a heavy cross obviously needed.

I like to think that I understand what all the fuss is about: In a totally nonracist way, Filipinos must see a piece of them reflected in the Black Nazarene, that inherent part of the human person that carries his cross every day while the frenzied masses ask for a miracle. It is a lot like Juan “asking” his professor to make a slight adjustment in his grade just so his mother doesn’t grab him by his rear and throw him out the window. The way I see it, we Filipinos believe more strongly in fatalism than faith.

The rampage of the religious in the procession during the Feast of the Black Nazarene reminds me of the “caterpillar pillar” in Trina Paulus’ “Hope for the Flowers.” The caterpillar pillar is a sky-high mound of caterpillar after caterpillar after caterpillar pushing one another to get to the top. Not a single caterpillar had even the smallest idea what waited for it at the summit, but as long as the others were pushing and climbing and stepping on the other, it was diving in. And it would be lost in that blind hysteria, the beautiful delirium of simply outstepping the other.

Some people claim that love is blind, but I think faith can be, too. And I do not mean only during the 9th of January: Our faith in the wrong people, in the supremacy of Marlboro, Tanduay, and Space Cakes, and in the power of the Almighty to take place in the form of a handkerchief wiped on the face of a statue, all display our quiet desperation for relief.

How heavy our crosses must be that we turn a religious, spiritual procession into a death march! Jesus could not have been so cruel. Jesus could not have been so selfish. And our proverbial blindness is ironic since Jesus, after all, cured the blind.

I am in no way a very religious person. My brand of Catholicism belongs to the type who prays before meals, begs for good grades, and thinks that Jesus is the Harry Potter prophesied to vanquish the Dark Lord. But I believe in God. And I believe that the kind of religious frenzy we display for the Black Nazarene showcases a malpractice of what it means to be faithful.

However, I also see the hope that people are holding onto when they stampede toward Someone Else’s cross and desperately pray for a miracle; it is the wrong kind of hope, the kind that throws caterpillars into the caterpillar pillar. But a new year has dawned upon us, another chance to grow and change. It is a new year for us to build our cocoons and open our eyes from blindness.

This is why I would rather much believe in the hope that turns caterpillars into butterflies.

The Feast of the Black Nazarene has come, has seen, and has conquered—and indeed, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 12, 2014.


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