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Black Nazarene feast continues to stir hope among Filipinos

Catholic devotion on display as 6 million devotees join feverish procession after it resumes in Manila after Covid hiatus
Filipinos try to kiss and touch a centuries-old black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, believed to have miraculous healing powers, during an annual procession in the national capital Manila

Filipinos try to kiss and touch a centuries-old black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, believed to have miraculous healing powers, during an annual procession in the national capital Manila. (Photo: Father Tonton Coloma)

Published: January 12, 2024 11:37 AM GMT
Updated: January 12, 2024 11:52 AM GMT

Conrad Peregrina leaves early each morning for the biggest fish market in the Philippines throughout the year, but Jan. 9 was an exception. He did leave home at 4 a.m. but did not go to the Navotas fish port complex.

Wearing an old pair of maong pants and maroon long sleeves and accompanied by his 29-year-old son Joshua, he rode on his bike straight to Quiapo Church, Manila, to join the rush of devotees at the Black Nazarene feast.

The Black Nazarene is a dark-colored statue of Jesus Christ carrying a cross, enshrined in the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, 

The 64-year-old fish vendor, fondly called “Mang Canor" in his rustic community, could be rest assured that members of the 50 or so families in Quezon City, who rely on him to deliver their fish orders every day, would be there too.

Philippine authorities reported that more than 6.5 million devotees joined the Traslacion — the procession of the Black Nazarene — from the Quirino Grandstand in Manila to the shrine in Quiapo.

For the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the government and health officials allowed the procession of the image to meander through the streets at the usual leisurely pace.

It took 15 hours for the image, secured inside a bulletproof box and placed atop a carriage, to complete its course. It left the grandstand at 4:45 a.m. and arrived at the church at 7:44 p.m.

Masses were celebrated at the grandstand almost every hour beginning with the Mass led by the Archbishop of Manila.

Peregrina and his son waited near a coffee shop for nine hours before they could get a glimpse of the image from a considerable distance.

Under medication for arthritis, he could not join the procession this year but hopes to get back in shape owing to his strong faith in the image.

“I’ve already fulfilled my promise just by looking at the image,” he said.

Like many Filipinos, Peregrina believes the icon has miraculous healing powers that can heal incurable ailments and bring good fortune to people.

Younger devotees like Miguel Valdez, 34, were able to walk in the feverish procession, wrestling with the crowds to get closer to touch the so-called Black Nazarene image, or at least the ropes attached to the carriage.

Valdez arrived with his friends at the seaside park in Manila the previous evening well prepared. His wife had filled a box with rice and sardines for dinner and they carried cigarette carton boxes to sleep on during the night before the procession.

“We knew I would be spending long hours waiting for the procession to start,” he told UCA News.

Valdez was not contented by just waving at the image from a distance.

“It has been a tradition in my family. Every year a member joins the Hijos de Nazareno [sons of the Nazarene], a group tasked to protect the icon amid the surging crowds,” he said.

Valdez had applied to be a part of the group but was kept waiting because of the pandemic.

“Finally, my promise to the Nazarene has been fulfilled,” he said determined to keep the tradition of a male member from his family “at least touching the cloak or the cross of the Black Nazarene during the procession.”

Most Catholics join the procession with the hope that doing so will bring a better life.

Glenda Soriano, 39, a mother of two, was among the few Filipino women brave enough to join the crowds.

She had walked barefoot from her home in Sampaloc, Manila to Quiapo as a mark of penitence.

“This is my way of cleansing my spirit from sins,” she told UCA News.

There was something else too, she conceded. “I have applied for a job with a company based in Saudi Arabia. I hope they hire me because my family needs that money. I know the Black Nazarene will grant our wish,” Soriano said while drinking ice-cold water from a bottle.

As the image arrived at the final destination, the air was filled with the sound of applause.

Devotees raised their hands while singing “Our Father…” in Tagalog.

Many were in tears. Emotions ran high as they witnessed the carriage being pulled through the entrance of the shrine.

The Black Nazarene was finally “back home.”

It had taken slightly longer than usual as the wrist-thick abaca rope for pulling the carriage snapped, one of the organizers explained.

As the crowds began to disperse, an elderly lady stood staring at the church while praying the rosary.

While offering her a seat, I casually asked if she was late, because the Black Nazarene was already inside its abode.

After saying her prayers, she said her name was Gina Estadillo.

A single parent, she had been a devotee of the Black Nazarene for more than 40 years.

She had never missed the Traslacion except during the pandemic and attributed her good health to the Black Nazarene. All her three children had finished college.

“I have been here since last night praying the Novena. Didn’t join the crowds because I won’t survive the crush,” she laughed.

The 81-year-old had been waiting inside the belfry for the Black Nazarene to return from the moment the icon left the grandstand 24 hours previously.

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