Taking care of the Nazareno

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Much like the one in Quiapo Church, my family has its own life-size image of the Nazareno in our family home in the province.

Although it has a different color, our almost six-foot-tall wooden Nazareno is otherwise a replica of the Black Nazarene which is brought out of Quiapo Church for the huge procession through the streets of Manila every January. The one back home in Virac, Catanduanes also carries a huge wooden cross over its right shoulder and wears a maroon robe decorated with golden lace and intricate details. Our Nazareno likewise has its own wagon on which it rides during processions.

The family always looks forward to Holy Week because of the Nazareno’s participation in the local parish’s Station of the Cross at the church and Good Friday procession through the streets of the town. It is one of those rare moments when our whole clan gets together. Some fly back to Virac to spend Holy Week there.

Preparations actually start a few months before Holy Week.

This year, my grandmother, Socorro Arcilla — fondly called Lola Coring — flew in from the United States, as she does every year or so, not only to visit the family but also to make the necessary arrangements for the procession.

Among the first things she asks my father upon her arrival: “Kumusta na ang Nazareno? Napatahi na ba ’yung damit niya? May ilaw na ba ’yung karo? (How is the Nazarene? Is His new robe already sewn? Are there already lights for the wagon?)”

My father, Nelson, is in charge of taking care of the Nazarene now. The eldest son in a brood of five, Nelson took over the responsibility after his father — my grandfather — Pedro, Sr., died some years ago. Whenever the parish holds the devotions of the Stations of the Cross or a procession, he is the one who carries the Nazareno onto the wagon and pulls the wagon the entire way. But the preparation needed to get the statue ready is a family effort.

Papa sees to it that the “pagsasamno,” or the dressing of the Nazareno before it is brought to the Church, is properly done. Different robes should be used for the Stations of the Cross and for the procession. The wagon should be adorned with beautiful flower arrangements and candelabras, and the electric generator should be working properly for the Nazareno to be perfectly lit.

I never really learned how this tradition started. What I recall, however, is how the family would go to church twice on every Sunday after Ash Wednesday leading up to Holy Week. The first time, at 8:30 in the morning, to attend Mass, then again at three in the afternoon to participate in the Stations of the Cross.

When I was younger, I never asked my parents why we had to do it. I would complain because while I had to wear my Sunday best, I would also have to suffer the pain of kneeling on the cold hard floor of the church. Besides, the 3 p.m. prayers were in Latin which I didn’t understand.

The Holy Week procession was even more unbearable. Our family, together with other Nazarene devotees, walked around town along in a procession made up of many other religious icons on their respective wagons. The procession was a long walk starting at the Church, circling the whole town, then back to the Church, with each of us carrying a lit candle while listening to the Pabasa ng Pasyon (reading of Christ’s Passion) which echoed faintly through the mobile speakers.

But as a child, what I did enjoy was the unspoken competition between my cousins and I on who would walk the longest in the procession. Some of us succeeded in finishing the entire route, while others would eventually end up being carried by their mothers. I also would get the chance to pull the karo with my Papa, as if my tiny self would be of help.

After the procession comes the “pagsamput” where the devotees accompany the Nazareno back to our home. A small feast is shared by everyone who helped.

Now a bit older — and wiser, I hope — I asked my Lola Coring and my father how our family’s panata (vow) to care for the Nazareno started.

Taking care of the Nazareno

My Lola said the statue of the Nazarene was the property of my grandfather’s family — the Surtida-Arcilla clan.

When she and my grandfather got married, Lolo’s parents — Juan and Feliza — gave him possession of the Nazareno. Lola, however, does not know how the statue was first acquired by the family or where it was made.

“I was 22 when we got married, and the Nazarene was already there. But I’m sure it was not from the Church,” she said. “I think the Nazarene is more than 50 years old now.”

Papa confirmed this, saying his grandparents entrusted the Nazarene to Lolo because he was their only son. But since the statue had not yet become part of the Church’s activities, it was kept hidden for a time by my Lolo and his sisters.

“We had a rice mill before, and I noticed parts of the Nazarene were placed there. The body was there. So I asked your Lolo where the other [parts] are,” my father told me. “That’s when your Lolo decided to put all the pieces [together] and restore it.”

Lolo had the idea of volunteering the Nazarene to the local parish. From then on, it was used yearly for the Stations of the Cross and the processions.

“It did not have a karo before. People would carry it by bug’ong, [on their] shoulders by wooden planks,” Papa said.

When my grandfather died in 1998, Lola considered giving the statue back to her husband’s relatives but finally decided to continue taking care of it.

It was a blessing for our family, she said.

People from the neighborhood would often visit the Nazareno at our home, lighting a candle, and praying for their intentions such as passing their board exams, finishing up college, healing an illness, and for good health.

“It has been more than 20 years now and the Nazarene is still with us,” she said. “And I am sure the Nazarene has helped our family greatly.”

The Rev. Fr. Rodel E. Aligan, O.P., dean of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Sacred Theology, said that in a way, taking care of religious images or articles is a responsibility. While some volunteer, some are assigned to do so by the local parish.

“People who are entrusted with it are not just simply given [the item]. There are no standards or ruling from the Church on who should take the responsibility, but people should know how to take care of it,” he told this writer in an interview in UST on March 22.

Taking care of the Nazareno
Taking care of the image of the Nazareno includes dressing it in elaborate gowns like this one. — Photos provided by Camille Anne M. Arcilla
He pointed to one well-known personality who has many images and participates in processions but does not want to be affiliated with the church. “[The parish does] not sanction the procession because it might cause confusion. They must follow certain liturgical guidelines,” he said.

Idolatry is another issue that the church and the owners of the images have to deal with. Through exegesis of the scriptures, one knows the prohibition against worshipping of images in the Old Testament.

“If you worship images, then that is idolatry because you [should] only have one God. If it’s a representation of God, that’s not idolatry. Some Catholics also have to be reminded [of the difference],” Fr. Aligan said.

A dominantly Catholic country, Lenten traditions are familiar to most Filipinos. But the practices vary in different places.

Most towns in the Philippines have processions on Maundy Thursdays and Good Fridays. Fr. Aligan said that while the same statues are used on both days, figures are added to the procession on Good Friday such as the Santo Entierro (literaly “blessed burial,” the image of the dead Christ) and there could be a change in the color of statues’ clothing. Sometimes all of the images wear black.

In the province of Bulacan, as many as 40 religious images are used in the processions, he said.

In Pampanga, people practice extreme flagellation and actual crucifixion. The Catholic Church, however, frowns on these practices.

“You don’t have to do that. There are many other practices that are provided by the Catholic Church. You don’t have to do that kind of repentance,” he said.

Though it is hard for them to go against people’s panata — a vow to undertake certain actions, which can range from regular prayers and participation in religious events all the way to crucifixions, in exchange for the forgiveness of their sins or the granting of a favor — the Catholic Church strongly suggests other means of observing the Lenten season.

“At the start of Ash Wednesday, we always remind them of these: prayer, fasting, and alms giving. You have to pray the whole time. Fasting is not simply [the limitation of] food but you have to check your materialistic tendencies. Then we remember the poor, those who are in need,” Fr. Aligan said.

In addition, he said, there are certain Lenten practices that have been handed down by family traditions.

“Religiosity may be seasonal, as some already forget after Holy Week. [But] I hope they won’t,” he said.

As for us, the family is still making some last-minute preparations for the Nazareno. After all, Holy Week is just a few days away.