Between trendy clothes and garments printed with cartoon characters hanging in a shop in Manila's Quiapo district, the face of the Black Nazarene is plastered on a mix of yellow and maroon shirts. The Black Nazarene, a wooden life-size statue of Jesus Christ, was brought to the Philippines from Mexico by Augustinian friars in 1606. The statue is believed to have turned black after surviving a fire on the ship that brought it to the country. The image on the shirts, sold in the streets of Quiapo, are printed using silk-screens, some by way of gas-powered paint, while the others, dubbed to be "high-quality," are printed manually on the garment. A small shop inside the busy public market beside the church prints at least 200 shirts a day during the week-long celebration
of the Nazarene's feast.
A shirt with the face of the Black Nazarene on it for sale in Manila's Quiapo district. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)
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The feast of the Black Nazarene
, which is celebrated during the first week of January, is considered one of the most spectacular religious events in the Philippines. "It's hard labor, but it puts food on the table," says Budz Bona, who has been in the silk-screen printing business for 15 years. With no more than four men in his shop, Bona's team moves with measured sharpness, keen to make no mistakes. Each shirt is held and warmed by Bona's hands. With the squeegee almost an extension of his arm, he spreads the rubberized paint on the screen while an assistant holds the wooden frame. In just a minute, the image appears in vibrant maroon on the shirt. The prints of the Nazarene's face contribute to more than half of what Bona earns in a year. During the lean season, the shop accepts orders from politicians and schools. There are days when not even a single print is done. "It's only during the feast of the Nazarene that we really get a chance to save up," Bona told ucanews.com
. The shop owner credits his business' sustainability to his unwavering faith in God. Although Bona said he does not join the annual procession of the image, he vows to regularly visit the church in Quiapo, where the Black Nazarene is housed. "Joining the procession is no joke," said Bona. "I know what I am capable of, and I don’t want to try it just for the sake of it," he adds. The procession of the Black Nazarene, which dates back to the 17th century, is the largest procession in the country, with at least 12 million devotees joining in 2015. Shirt printers using silk-screen to print the image of the Black Nazarene. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez) Home to street vendors
More than a house of prayer, the outside of the church in Quiapo also serves as virtual home to many street vendors in the district. Aurora Agustin, 45, said she has stayed outside the church longer than in her own home. Her family has been selling religious items outside the church even before she was born. Agustin was only 7 years old when she started selling rosaries and images of the Black Nazarene. She has not stopped since. She recalls rushing back from school to Quiapo just so she could be in the comfort of the church. "This is what I live for," she says. "I cannot imagine what kind of life I would live if I didn't have this devotion," Agustin adds. To devotees, the Black Nazarene is a "miracle-worker." For Agustin, however, the gift of every new day is miracle enough to give thanks for. "To open my eyes every day is enough proof of God’s miracle," she says. Jonard Home, another street vendor and a devotee of the Nazarene, finds it unnecessary to wait for a miracle to keep his faith. "I don't need an evidence to know that God exists," he says. "I can communicate with God with or without an image, with or without a miracle," Home adds. Home's shop, a few steps away from the Quiapo church, was born out of his family’s need to survive. "It would be a lie to say that this venture was rooted on our devotion. Of course we need to survive. It is not enough that we have faith," Home says. An image of the Black Nazarene is printed on a shirt. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)
With the clamor for religious items, the appeal to make business out of it has become a norm in the Philippines. Father Francis Salcedo, a theology professor, likens the practice to buying souvenirs from tourist place. "The people who go to Quiapo want something to remember their relationship with the Nazarene," says the priest. "It is not wrong to want to possess these things," Father Salcedo says, referring to the religious merchandise. The priest, however, says it is important for people to treat the face of the Black Nazarene with respect. "The fact remains that the Black Nazarene is a holy icon, so it must not be categorized and piled along with products with images of celebrities and cartoon characters," says Salcedo. Father Salcedo says that while it is not prohibited to "commercialize" the face of the Black Nazarene, a "clear abuse" is when it is used "solely for a profit-earning enterprise." "It may only be a shirt, but it is still a shirt with the face of the Black Nazarene," says Salcedo. "It must be treated with respect."