“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless societies.”
-Karl Marx

EVERY year after the end of the six- kilometer long trek that commemorates the transfer in 1787 of the Black Nazarene from the Recollect seminary in Intramuros (the old walled city ) to Quiapo Church, the country’s religious inevitably lament the “fanaticism” devotees display as the procession wends its way through Manila’s mean streets.

This year was no different — although, from the usual two million, estimates of the number of devotees who joined the 22-hour, longest-running procession ever who displayed a level of alleged fanaticism that might well be the envy and despair of other religions here and abroad, were this time between three to four million.

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Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales criticized the “excessive devotion” of millions of Filipino Catholics to the Black Nazarene. Living lives of simplicity and selflessness, said the Cardinal, would constitute real devotion, rather than the mad rush to get on or near the carriage bearing the statue of the dark Christ so one can kiss the image or wipe it with a handkerchief. Two people died and some 400 were injured in this year’s celebration of the Black Christ’s transfer from the old city of Intramuros to the Quiapo Church nearly 300 years ago.

The Cardinal’s advice to live simply couldn’t have been addressed to a less likely crowd. We can safely assume that only a very, very few, or even none, of the estimated two million devotees that braved the heat and crush of the five kilometer procession from Manila’s Luneta Park to Quiapo Church owned several mansions or fleets of cars, regularly went on vacations in the US to visit Disneyland, or feasted on $20,000 dinners at Le Cirque and Bobby Van’s Steak House.

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