Riding a jeepney in the Philippines, you will be accustomed to seeing a hanging rosary in the rear-view mirror of the jeepney. Sometimes, the image of the Santo Niño or the image of the Virgin Mary is displayed on the vehicle’s dashboard. Some drivers have prayers and images of the Blessed Mother in their wallets. Why is this devotion to religious items in the jeepneys?
Talking to some of the jeepney drivers about the display of rosaries and religious items inside of their jeepneys, the first reason they give is “for protection against evil.” For them, religious items are a shield from anything bad.
In fact, before hitting the road, drivers often perform a ritual: they touch or hold the hanging rosary or religious items briefly and then make the Sign of the Cross. With this ritual, jeepney drivers entrust their lives to God, asking Him to protect them from all harm.
PROTECTION AGAINST EVIL
Protection against evil is the first reason drivers have rosaries and other religious items in their cars. They believe that through these religious items, God protects them against evil.
Kuya Jen, a jeepney driver from Parañaque, has been for 16 years carrying a small prayer booklet to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in his wallet. His reason for having that booklet is also for protection. He believes that Our Mother of Perpetual Help is his protector. Kuya Jen says, “Once on the road, we have to pray and ask the Lord and our Blessed Mother to protect us. And I believe they do.” “It is necessary to ask for protection when we leave our homes. Many bad things can happen when we are on the road,” he added.
According to Kuya John Marie, who has been a jeepney driver since 1991, religious items in the jeepney have protected him against accidents. Besides the hanging rosary in his rear-view mirror, Kuya John Marie has the image of Jesus on the dashboard of his jeepney.
He says these religious items help him to drive safely every day. Like other jeepney drivers, Kuya John Marie also says that one needs protection against evil and accidents, and he found this in the religious items in his jeepney. For him, the Lord is present in the religious items and saves him from accident.
He recalls that one time, as he was waiting for his passengers, he fell asleep while the engine was still running. The car moved until it bumped into a house. Fortunately, nobody was injured. This incident and many others that he had overcome assure him that the Lord is protecting him.
FOR GOOD HEALTH
Another reason for having religious items inside the jeepneys is for good health according to the drivers. They believe that rosaries and images of Jesus and Mary bring good health. Kuya Richard says, “binibigyan Nila kami ng magandang kalusugan” (They give good health). “We need good health to work and only God can give us good health,” adds Kuya Richard.
Being a Catholic, he always makes the Sign of the Cross whenever he passes a church. And many of his colleagues do the same thing. They intend to have religious items inside their jeepneys to be healthy and strong to continue working. “To be a jeepney driver is demanding work. It requires good health,” repeats Kuya Richard. Kuya John Marie agrees that these religious items in their jeepneys give them and their respective families good health.
The presence of religious items in jeepneys also identifies the religious belief of the owner of the jeepney or the driver. If the jeepney has a rosary hanging in the rear-view mirror, the owner is a Catholic. Kuya Francis Dayola, a jeepney driver for 23 years, says, “Anytime you see a rosary in the jeepney, know that the driver or the owner is Catholic. Non-Catholics don’t put a rosary in their jeepneys.” For him, the presence of a rosary in his jeepney reminds him that God is with him. “Araw araw, bawat minuto, kasama ko ang Panginoon” (every day, every minute, God is with me).
POPULAR PIETY AT WORK
Religious items such as rosaries, images, and crucifixes in the cars are expressions of people’s faith. These religious items increase in the people a certain sense of relationship with God, feeling His loving presence even on the road. Through these religious items, jeepney drivers experience God inside the church and more so when they drive daily.
Behind these religious items in the jeepney is a hidden deep spirituality. The Catholic Church calls it popular piety. Popular piety is an expression of faith proper to a specific environment and culture. For the Church, popular piety is “a treasure of the people of God.” It “manifests a thirst for God known only to the poor and to the humble.” As we can see, there is a deep sense of reverence for God in the lives of the jeepney drivers. This explains the Sign of the Cross that most of them do whenever they pass along Churches.
No matter what reason the jeepney drivers give as an explanation for hanging rosaries and putting other religious items in their vehicle, the truth is that this practice reveals their faith. They are neither afraid nor shy to express publicly their Catholic faith. This expression of their faith through the religious items (rosary, images, crucifix) shows knowingly or unknowingly, how much they love and treasure their faith and want to share it with others that they may know about it too.
They treasure their faith so much that they pass it on from generation to generation. A woman selling turon (fried banana rolls) at Sucat Highway’s jeepney station says, “Hanging rosaries and having images of Mama Mary and of the Santo Niño in jeepneys, have become a tradition for Filipinos.” For her, it is a legacy of the Filipino Catholic faith passed on from one generation to another.
The said practice (hanging rosaries, images of Mama Mary and the Santo Niño in jeepneys) may seem so ordinary without much importance. Yet, this practice describes in a simple and meaningful way, the faith of an ordinary Filipino, that God is part of his daily life. There is a thirst for the presence of God in all circumstances in the life of an ordinary Filipino: there is a thirst for the presence of God in family events–weddings, baptism, blessings of house, a thirst for the presence of God at work–in the case of the jeepney drivers, the presence of God while they are driving–a thirst for the presence of God during happy as well as sad occasions–birthdays, reunion, sickness, funeral–when there is always a request for a blessing or for Eucharistic celebration.
All these show how much the ordinary Filipino expresses their faith. The display of rosaries and other religious items in jeepneys and cars in the Philippines is no exception. It is truly an expression of faith in which the ordinary Filipino feels that God protects them against evil and gives good health. Seeing the significance of this expression of faith (display of rosaries and other religious items inside jeepneys and vehicles), Filipinos resolve to pass it on from generation to generation.