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The God of the streets

By: Simeon Dumdum Jr. January 17,2016 - 08:44 AM


The girl sat in front of us, a baby half her size across her lap, while to her left many other children, likewise in their preteens and selling candles, squat on the ledge that protruded from the footing of the concrete wall of the basilica.

It was the seventh day of the novena in honor of the Sto. Niño and, after trying out several locations and in all of them finding the crowd elbow to elbow, the wife and I decided to join the multitude on the street.  Most everyone there could get a seat for a small fee, and in addition be cooled by a brisk breeze from the channel.

The comforts from the sea, notwithstanding, I made it a point to bring an umbrella, to use as weight support when the sun was behind a cloud, and when out of it as, well, umbrella, unless from where we sat the sun was obscured by a tall something, a post or a tower.  And, of course, in anticipation of rain, which had the habit of falling when least expected.

Inside the Pilgrim Center, one had no problems with attention, one could follow the proceedings with an eagle eye, be all ears to the readings and one voice with the others in the responses and the songs.  But it was different on the street.

For one, there was the girl who was putting a baby to sleep by singing into its ear, the lullaby overridden by the Kyrie that was then pouring out of the public-address system. And the innumerable vendors of candles, religious articles, balloons, bottled water, juices, fans and umbrellas. They kept moving in front of, beside, and no doubt behind us, where one could buy the flowers and the yellow corn (already with bamboo skewers for better handling). One of the ambulant peddlers hawked most of the above, a one-man convenience store. He waved the item of the moment above him, the fan when the sun was in full glory and the umbrella when it looked like rain.

Despite the distractions, the wife and I kept at it and I thought that we met the requirements for a decent attendance. It helped that there was an efficient public-address system that broadcast the proceedings from inside in full decibel. And, for me at least, that the choir used the Missa de Angelis, which is 500 years older than the 500-year-old figure of the Sto. Niño. History aside, I am a sucker for Gregorian chant. Whenever heard, the melisma effectively shuts my attention to other things.

For me the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ, the host and wine becoming, through the priest’s words of consecration, the very body and blood of Jesus.

Preeminently, this is how the Lord continues to, as John the Evangelist puts it, dwell among us.

Following the Mass from the street, in the midst of things–particularly of humble people making a living (there were with the vendors beggars as well, one of them with a face and body badly scarred by fire)–I felt that I was seeing the Mass from another perspective, where the boundaries of prayer and action were blurred, and my task was not to favor one of them, but to balance both, and bring need and love to bear on each other.

The figure of the Sto. Niño itself, which symbolizes the Lord’s dwelling among his people, bears the imprints of that symbolism on its body. Legaspi’s soldiers found the little statue among the ashes, singed by a fire that burnt the homes of the natives when the Spanish launched an artillery attack. And during the Second World

War, aerial bombardment toppled the statue, resulting in a gash on its right cheek, a mark that has become characteristic.

I noticed that the baby was now asleep, and the girl, who must have been its sister, stood up to resume selling candles, but not in earnest, because all the while she kept an eye on the little one. To my surprise, a yellow butterfly drifted in front of us, all the while keeping to the concrete wall, and where there was a block, choosing to pass only where there was a gap between things and people. I truly marveled at its courtesy.

Suddenly a swarm of flies passed above us. Actually they were soap bubbles that came from toy pistols that a vendor was shooting towards the crowd–by way of promoting them. Nobody complained. Myself, I considered the bubbles as benediction. Besides, the Mass was over.

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TAGS: candles, faith, Sto. Niño

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