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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Revisiting My Old Friend, Quiapo

On my way home from a seminar, I passed by a place I frequently go to before. The name of the place is almost synonymous to that of Manila.  Say the name and the listener will readily conjure an image of market stalls, streets crowded with people, in other words,  a bedlam.  I am talking about Quiapo, the old downtown situated smack in the middle of Manila.

Quiapo is also home to perhaps one of the most revered icons in the Philippines, the Black Nazarene. The church where it is at is right in the center of the district.  One could not come to Quiapo and not visit the Poong Nazareno to say even just a little prayer. That was my purpose that afternoon, to say thanks to Him for helping my father recover from his recent health problems.

Aside from the noise of the traffic outside, it was relatively silent inside the church.  I sat a few seats from the back of the church, giving me a good view of the altar.  At the centermost altar, the image of the dark Christ on his knees and carrying the cross rose above us all.

After saying my prayers I silently sat on the pew but then I started looking around the church.    At two in the afternoon on an ordinary weekday,  there were still a lot people inside the church.  Most of them have their head bowed in prayer. I could just guess what they were praying for.  Perhaps the young girl in school uniform was asking for assistance in her assignment or exams.  The young couple in front of me could be praying for a baby or a job, and the elderly woman on the opposite pew may be just like me, praying for good health.

I was about to leave the church when I was attracted by two elderly ladies walking on their knees towards the altar while praying the Rosary.  I watched them for another few minutes because it's been a while since I last saw something like it, may be decades. It was an old practice of people showing penance and subservience to the will of the Lord.  I was mildly surprised that in an age where people attend mass in malls or over the Internet, such piety still exists.  

On my way out of the church, I saw those women who, for a fee, would pray the entire Rosary for anyone who needs a prayer but is too busy to do so.  It is something I do not agree with and I really wonder why the church officials in Quiapo would even allow such practice inside their domain.

Once outside the church, I was instantly drawn to one particular street in the area: Villalobos.  This narrow street is usually filled with vendors selling all kinds of stuff.  If you're looking for low priced vegetables and other food stuff, you can find it here.  Some of the hawkers sell their wares in containers called bilao in the middle of the street, while others have semi-permanent stalls made of wood.  Farther down the street were stores selling kitchen tools such as pots and pans.

That afternoon I went looking for smoked fish or tinapa but I was told that it was still too warily and the delivery has not arrived yet.  I decided to walk down the street to see if I could get something else.  There were fruits like mangoes, papaya, melons that were priced lower than in supermarkets.  The smell of good stuff mixed with the odor of fresh fish and other fresh things.  

As I walked farther, I saw some shellfish I liked a lot.  I was about to buy some when the vendors started bundling their wares and running in all directions.  It turned out that a group of policemen arrived to clear the streets of illegal vendors.  I think some of the vendors were informed in advance of the raid because they left even before the police arrived Those who were caught had their stuff confiscated and hauled to a waiting van.  In minutes, the street was clear except for those who have permanent stalls.

I finally decided to leave and walked towards where the jeepney wait for passengers.  I passed by old stores where we used to buy stuff like clothes and shoes.  Some of the stores were already closed while the others were converted into something else.  That's how my afternoon in Quiapo ended and somehow it was like visiting a friend who has aged a bit but the rest remained the same.

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