Cardinal Tagle calls for 'selflessness' at Black Nazarene feast

Annual procession in Manila attracts an estimated 3.5 million devotees
Cardinal Tagle calls for 'selflessness' at Black Nazarene feast

A crowd of devotees join the procession of replicas of the Black Nazarene on Jan. 7. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila called on millions of devotees who attended this year's feast of the Black Nazarene to turn away from selfishness and serve others.

He urged Catholics to offer "love that is ready to embrace even the weak and the sinful instead of condemning them, trampling upon them, and distancing ourselves from them.

"In his homily during a midnight Mass before the annual procession of the charred image of the Nazarene in the streets of the Philippine capital, Cardinal Tagle called for unity.

"Division is often the fruit of judgment," he said, adding that if Filipinos will not change "we never attain unity because there is no ability to say that we are no different from each other."“Love is also patient, not rejoicing in the misfortune of one’s fellow man," said Cardinal Tagle. "What’s important is the good of the other," he added.


'Phenomenal expression of faith'

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called on all Filipinos to "join the Catholic faithful in the passionate observance of the feast of the Black Nazarene."

The president said his administration, whose war against illegal drugs has resulted in the death of some 6,000 suspected drug users and peddlers, "has deep empathy for the core of faith that pushes the masses of Filipinos to resort to sacrifice every single day."

"Good fortunes are usually borne out of hard work and perseverance," said Duterte. 

"Prayers are likely answered because we do not give up or get tired from asking God for the fulfillment of our heart's desires," he added.

He lauded the "phenomenal expression of faith" of the millions of devotees of the Black Nazarene. 

"Despite the passage of time, we relentlessly fight against injustice and lies; abuse of power; and the corruption that eats up the soul," Duterte said in a statement released by the presidential palace.

Devotees of the life-size image of the "black" Jesus carrying a cross believe that the four-century old image is miraculous.


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Devotees of the Black Nazarene carry their own images of the suffering Jesus during the annual religious procession. (Photo by Mark Saludes)   


'Not fanaticism'

Sociologist Jayeel Serrano Cornelio of Ateneo de Manila University said the devotion of millions of Filipinos to the image of the Black Nazarene cannot be readily dismissed as fanaticism.

He said devotees see in the religious icon a representation of someone who can understand the situation of the poor.

"The Black Nazarene attracts the working class because a lot of people in this country are still poor," said Cornelio.

He said the devotion of people on the image of the suffering Jesus manifests the "people’s aspirations and struggles."

Cornelio said the icon's enduring appeal is "partly dependent on how miracles are experienced across generations." 

Authorities said this year's procession of the image, which usually lasts more than 20 hours, is expected to attract some 3.5 million devotees who will brave the crowd to touch the image.

As of 1p.m. local time on Jan. 9, police estimated the crowd around the carriage of the image at 1.2 million people who defied a terror warning issued by government officials last week.

Up to 5,000 policemen, soldiers, security, and medical personnel have been deployed. 


One of the country's biggest religious event

The procession — one of the country's biggest religious events — started before sunrise with barefoot devotees lifting the image to a carriage.

The Black Nazarene is a life-sized statue of a dark-skinned Jesus carrying a cross. 

The image was supposedly carved from a dark wood in the 16th century in Mexico, and then transported to the Philippines by a group of Augustinians led by a certain Father Benito de San Pablo in 1606.

Established in 1620, the Cofradia de Jesus Nazareno was the first confraternity dedicated to Jesus in the Philippines and was mostly composed of men with a strong devotion to the Black Nazarene. 

Pope Innocent X in a Papal Bull officially endorsed the Cofradia in 1651.

In 1767, Archbishop of Manila Basilio Sancho de Santa Justa y Rufina decided to move the image of the Nazareno from a church near Manila Bay to Quiapo district. 

The Jan. 9 procession, which attracts millions of devotees, reenacts the image's traslacion or transfer to the Minor Basilica in Quiapo.

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