David invited me to attend The Feast one Sunday. He himself was a volunteer in organizing the event. As part of the creatives unit, he would help make props that were used in Brother Bo Sanchez’ talks. Last February 24, I, curious with the church activities he had busied himself with, went that Sunday in the Philippine International Conference Center (PICC) to meet with him and check it out. A few minutes before 10:30 AM I was already there. The parking lots were full. David said that with so many people attending The Feast, there were now four Feasts scheduled compared to the usual three. Also, the organizers now reserve two auditoriums rather than only one. The people in the second auditorium can watch what was happening in the main auditorium through the screens.
Throngs of people were coming in and out of building entrances that I got lost. The first door I entered was for a gathering of a different religion. I asked around and soon found myself in the lobby of the Plenary Hall. There were those handing out a sort of mini magazine with Brother Bo on the cover. Stalls lined the side selling books, rosaries, and the like. In the center is a food stall with a few tables and stairs going up the second floor. When I went inside the auditorium, many seats were already full. There were escorts, also volunteers, who helped incoming people to find seats.
It was, at least, a three hour long affair. The first hour was devoted to a mass and the next two hours was for Brother Bo’s talk. The altar was set-up on the stage. On the right of the stage was a stand where the chorus choir, men and women with their all black clothes and red necktie, stood. On the left were the quartet and musicians. Despite being called a quartet, at that time they were only three. David said that on other days they would be six. Both sides sang the songs however it is the voices of the quartet that would be heard in the speakers along with the accompaniment of drums, electric guitars, and a violin. Above the stage hung a large screen which projected song lyrics, but most of the time a close-up of the priest. Sometimes also it would be someone with his hands up high swaying, his eyes shut tight while he mouths song lyrics. What was peculiar about the mass was the offertory. No one walked along the aisles to collect money; it was all symbolic. David explained money will be collected later after Brother Bo’s talk where we will be given white envelopes.
By the time the mass has ended and the priest along with the sacristans bow out, all the lights are dimmed down. This marks the beginning of the next part of the event. Only the large screen is lit, projecting looped advertisements that try to entice people to join their organization. Some people who came only for the mass would leave, but there are also some who would come by this time just to listen to the talk. When the lights are up again, the members of the chorus are going back to their stand. The altar is gone. The quartet move to the center and start singing a series of worship songs. The crowd is up on their feet, singing along and clapping their hands to the beat. The speakers blare loudly on our ears. In between songs one of those belonging to the quartet would speak about God’s greatness, His love, and that we should be thankful, and that He should be worshipped. After that they finally introduce Brother Bo. Every Sunday is a different topic. All the topics belong to a certain series. That Sunday it was “Grow Your Self, Grow Your Wealth,” the fourth and final talk for the Happy, Healthy Holy Money series. Before beginning the topic, he tells the audience to pat the back of the newcomers. To those beside them, to say a few encouraging words. Then he talks about the difference between ranchers and hunters and begins to teach everyone how to spend and save their income.
I understand why a lot of people go here. Aside from the venue being air-conditioned, a lot of things that Brother Bo talks about make sense. He admits it to himself that the things he talks about are sensitive topics, and that he has gotten used to receiving a lot hate mail for it. For one thing he teaches people to become rich. It sounds contradictory to what the Bible says of having to live humbly and to forsake earthly desires. Here he replies, how can you help those in need when you yourself are in need? He encourages people on tithing, something Catholics were not taught to do.
Because I was a first timer there, I had to go to a corner full of monobloc chairs and people holding placards saying “Welcome First Timers!” There I sat with other first timers where someone will brief us about the event. One by one we were asked to share our experiences related to Brother Bo’s topic. In the end we were all given tiny booklets where we should write our dreams and which we should bring the next time we come back.
When I exited the building, there was a boy crying loudly at the steps. A group of people surrounded the boy putting their hands on him and praying. Even as the boy grew hysterical, they held on to him while some tried to subdue him. David explained to me that they were the prayer committee of the whole event assigned to pray for everything to turn out well. At that moment they were praying for the little boy to stop. And I thought they were already trying to banish child-possessing demon.
I admit that I did enjoy my first time here and that I will gladly come again if I had the chance.
1. What insight were gained from participation compared to just observing?
One is able to better understand what others go through in that same event in terms of its motions and emotions. Observing takes a distant stance from that event wherein we tend to judge what is happening in front of us in terms of our own understanding. If I were only observing The Feast, I would probably have been quite cynical about it. But because I was there doing what everyone else was doing, I went there more open with the experience.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
A key informant is very useful in explaining exactly what I’m supposed to do and why, and what I’m seeing. Other than that, he can tell me how it was done. He is able to give me “backstories” about the major and supporting characters in the event. As with my experience, I would not realize that the many people helping organize and set-up The Feast are mostly willing volunteers. It was also easy to go through “personnel only” places such as the dressing rooms, the Creatives Unit storage room, or even the suspended bridge above the hall where lights are set-up.
3. What was learned from participant observation that a questionnaire or interview might miss?
A questionnaire or interview will show the reactions of the persons to the event. Meanwhile, participant observation can go beyond that by showing what is in that event and the people there that induces those reactions. There may also be important things that are happening in the event that I won’t be able to know about without seeing it for myself thus I won’t be able to ask about.
4. For what purposes will interview or questionnaire be better than participant observation?
When participating has dire consequences to your health, safety or to the decisions that will be made in that event, or when the event itself is illegal or immoral for the society at large.
By Denise Hernandez