FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Keeping the faith

Manila, Philippines

By Bobby Ranoco

Covering the grand procession of the Jesus of the Black Nazarene is not easy, even though I do it annually. Every year on January 9, millions of devotees crowd the streets as a life-sized, dark, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross is brought through Manila’s old city.

I began to prepare days before the procession and sought permission to get a vantage point on the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park, where the procession begins, and on top of other buildings surrounding the route, to produce photographs from a bird’s eye view. It was my first time photographing from the rooftop of the Quirino Grandstand. I had to do my research on how my photographs would turn out at such an angle.

As I did all this, I was praying hard for guidance from the Jesus of the Black Nazarene that all my requests would be approved. He heeded my prayers: everything was approved and ran smoothly with time to spare.

January 9 arrived and while everyone else was sleeping, I woke up at 3 a.m. because we had to be at the grandstand by 5 a.m. to give us an hour to prepare before the mass. At last, the organizer asked me and the other local photographers to position ourselves on the rooftop.

As I stood on the grandstand, about as high as a five-storey building, I was amazed by what I saw: a sea of devotees attending the early morning mass before the procession. Millions of people come to the event every year to ask for their individual miracles. During the mass, which was officiated by Archbishop Cardinal Luis Tagle, I could feel the solemnity and the serenity of the devotees who were praying fervently to the Black Nazarene.

from Photographers' Blog:

An endangered priesthood

Tagaytay city, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.

I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.

As I walked with them in the chilly air, I felt the seminary's sprawling compound was so big now compared to the time I was there. Since 1962 when the seminary opened, there have been 1200 seminarians who have passed through, according to Father Andy Lubi. So far it has produced 72 priests, some who have already left for a variety of reasons. From the 100 recruited during an annual vocation campaign, 12 is the average number of candidates that enter the seminary per year.

from Photographers' Blog:

Mud-covered devotion despite downpours

As Tropical Storm Meari dumped heavy rains on the Philippine capital Manila, causing the cancellation of domestic flights and residents to flee their houses near rivers and low-lying areas, I traveled in the wee hours of June 24 hoping that the rains would not spoil this year’s “Taong Putik” (Mud People) Festival.

The trip to Aliaga town in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila took an hour longer than usual due to rising flood waters in Manila and surrounding areas. I arrived in the barangay of Bibiclat before 5am, allowing me enough time to talk to residents and ask for directions to where devotees, called “Taong Putik” or literally Mud People, start their preparations as part of a yearly festival honoring the village's patron saint, John the Baptist. In other parts of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines, people use St. John the Baptist’s feast day to engage in revelry that includes dousing water on unknowing passersby.

One resident pointed me to the rice fields where devotees apply mud to their faces or whole bodies to show humility. Luckily, I arrived while the devotees were just starting their yearly ritual, also called Pagsa-San Juan. Apart from putting mud all over their bodies, the devotees wear costumes made from vines, dried grass and leaves.

Filipinos flock to northern town for fertility dance for patron saint

(A boy is held up by his mother as hundreds of devotees dance and pray for children in an annual fertility procession in Obando, north of Manila May 17, 2011/Cheryl Ravelo)

Hundreds of couples flocked to a town in the northern Philippines to take part in a centuries-old ritual dance, honouring a patron saint believed to bring fertility. The ritual took place this year amid an increasingly acrimonious battle over a controversial bill promoting artificial contraception in this intensely Catholic nation.

Those seeking children packed into Obando by the thousands for the annual May ritual, inspired by miraculous stories of the babies it has brought. Couples dance in the two-hour long procession, swaying their hips to a traditional folk tune from bamboo and marching bands. The ritual is accompanied by a short chant and prayer to Saint Claire, the local patron saint of fertility, asking her to bless them with children.

Manila shrugging off foreign prophets of May 21 doomsday

(Detail of Michelangelo's Judgment Day fresco Christ the Judge, and the Virgin at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel)

A U.S.-based Christian group took to the streets of Manila earlier this week to preach that the end of the world is fast approaching — on May 21 at sunset, to be precise. Volunteers from the religious group Family Radio, a Christian radio network in the United States, donned neon-coloured t-shirts and walked along Manila’s main thoroughfares, handing out pamphlets to passerby with warnings of impending Judgement Day.

The designation of May 21 came from Family Radio president Harold Camping, who predicted that date through a series of mathematical calculations and the unravelling of codes behind the Bible story of the great flood. He was convinced that God gave hints of doomsday in the scriptures and that it was their job to decode them.

Philippine Catholic bishops clash with Aquino over contraception bill

(Participants sit below a huge banner during a mass against a reproductive health (RH) bill in Luneta park, metro Manila, March 25, 2011/Romeo Ranoco)

Philippine Catholic bishops on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government over a planned bill allowing contraception in open opposition to President Benigno Aquino who vowed to push the bill into law. Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of a reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower the maternal death rate in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s by talking to lawmakers and has denounced Aquino’s support for contraception, considered a sin.

from Photographers' Blog:

Half a century of crucifixions for both penitent and photographer

I can't help but be amazed by the contrasting observance of the Lenten season, particularly Holy Week, in my country, the Philippines. To many, Holy Week means going back to their home towns for vacation for a relaxing time and to renew ties with families and friends. To others, like the people from Pampanga in the northern Philippines, it is the time for the annual religious ritual that could be viewed as bizarre in the eyes of some observers.

Pampanga has become a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, as well as journalists, during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as thousands of penitents self-flagellate and dozens enact Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Last Thursday, I followed the shirtless men as they walked the streets while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks. Blood splattered not only on my clothes but also on my camera lens as I got closer to the penitents to take a snap shot of their wounded and bloodied backs. Sometimes I even tasted the blood as droplets landed on my face.

It was 1985 when penitent Ruben Enaje first had himself nailed onto the cross. He said it was a vow he made after miraculously surviving a fall from the third floor of a building he was painting. Seeing him again last Friday for the 26th year of his crucifixion, it was obvious he has aged but the expression of pain on his face – as three-inch stainless steel nails are hammered on his hands and feet – is the same.

Huge Manila human cross for Lent, against abortion

manila cross

(People form a black and white Dominican cross in Manila March 9, 2011/Cheryl Ravelo)

Thousands of Filipinos lined up across a football field in Manila to mark the start of Lent by forming a human cross they hoped would go down as the world’s biggest. Officials at the University of Santo Tomas, a Catholic university that at 400 years old is the nation’s oldest, said the Ash Wednesday event was also a proclamation of the school’s stand against abortion and a controversial bill on reproductive health currently being debated.

More than 20,000 people, including students, faculty members and university personnel, the students wearing black t-shirts or white school uniforms, stood side by side to form a two-colored Dominican cross while prayers were recited and songs sung.

Filipinos back contraception bill despite Catholic Church-poll

philippines 1 (Photo: A reproductive health advocate dressed as a condom distributes condoms to jeepney passengers in Manila March 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)

Seven in 10 Filipinos support a reproductive health bill permitting education on contraception which would also help check population growth, despite opposition from the powerful Roman Catholic Church, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation of about 95 million, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s and earlier this year denounced President Benigno Aquino’s support for contraception.

The bill is in the early stages of consideration by Congress, and proponents are confident it can be enacted into law given it has the backing of Aquino, who says slowing population growth will help fight poverty.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.