ucanews.com reporter, ManilaUpdated: January 05, 2014 08:41 PM GMT
Women hold a procession of a replica of the Black Nazarene days before the feast on January 9. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Manila's city government is turning the annual feast of the Black Nazarene into an international tourist attraction.
“It's celebrated in other parts of the country ... so we are making it a point to make this international,” said Liz Villasenor, chief of the Manila Tourism Office.
She said the festival, which attracts at least a million tourists every year, has long been accredited by the Department of Tourism as “spiritual tourism”.
Villasenor told ucanews.com that it is time for the festivity, which is celebrated every January 9, to become an "international pilgrimage affair.” The city now includes the feast in its tourism brochures and marketing promotions, she said.
Msgr Clemente Ignacio, rector of Quiapo Church where the image of the Black Nazarene is housed, said there is nothing wrong with a pilgrimage, but reminded proponents that the feast is a religious event and “not a tourist attraction”.
“When we say pilgrimage, it’s really a religious event,” the priest said, adding that there is no need for the government to market the event because the annual religious procession alone draws a million people, with many from abroad.
“Even foreigners come. In fact my office is being flooded by requests from families from different countries who want to come here and join in the celebration,” Ignacio said, adding that foreigners have been inquiring how to book a hotel.
He said there is big interest from people abroad about the feast, especially for the barefoot devotees who join a day-long procession of the image of the Black Nazarene around the city.
Ignacio said some 12 million people are expected to join this year's celebration, adding that this year’s procession may take longer than the 16 hours it took last year.
The feast of the Black Nazarene is considered one of the most spectacular religious events in the Philippines and is celebrated by millions of devotees who believe the centuries-old wooden life size statue, which was brought to the Philippines from Mexico by Spanish missionaries in 1606, is miraculous.
Devotees, many carrying small towels or handkerchiefs, squeeze their way to touch the statue or grab the rope used to pull the image to ask favors from God or give thanks for granted ones.