Millions of devotees usually join the annual procession of the image of the Black Nazarene in Manila. The procession has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Angie de Silva)
Manila Archdiocese is to allow 400 churchgoers to attend Masses to mark the feast of the Black Nazarene on Jan. 9 in keeping with anti-Covid19 protocols.
The Black Nazarene — a 16th-century dark-colored statue of the kneeling Christ carrying the cross — is carried through the streets of the Philippine capital every January in a procession that lasts for hours.
Millions of devotees usually take part in the event barefoot, but this year the procession has been canceled due to the pandemic.
“Quiapo Church, the shrine and home of the Black Nazarene, will only allow 400 people to attend every Mass in honor of the Black Nazarene ... The decision is in line with the government’s Covid-19 protocols which allow for only 30 percent of the church’s seating capacity,” Manila Archdiocese announced on social media.
It also announced that seats and pews would be disinfected after each Mass to prevent any infections.
Physical distancing will also be observed to lessen the possibility of transmitting the virus.
“Markers will be placed to maintain physical distancing of at least one meter,” said Alex Erasga, a member of the shrine’s technical working group.
Erasga said that although 400 people would be allowed inside, churchgoers could still attend the Mass in the churchyard.
“We will also put up LED screens along streets near the shrine so that devotees can participate in the Mass,” Erasga added.
Quiapo shrine rector Monsignor Ding Coronel said Masses would be held simultaneously in at least five Manila churches so as not to prevent large crowds.
“We want to localize the Masses by having them in various parishes in Manila where devotees could go and say their prayers. This should help stop overcrowding at Quiapo on the feast day and prevent further spread of the virus,” he said in a radio interview.
With the traditional procession canceled this year, organizers will place the image on Quiapo Church’s balcony so that churchgoers can see it for prayers.
Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo will celebrate the first Mass on the feast day, which will be concelebrated by priests from the archdiocese.
Churchgoers welcomed the new anti-virus measures.
“We need to follow government rules and church protocols. I think this year it is better to attend Masses online. My wife and I will find time to pray to the image after the feast when there will be fewer people,” said Gary Valladolid, a Black Nazarene devotee.
Valladolid said fellow devotes should help the government fight the coronavirus by avoiding crowded places.
“It is better to be safe than sorry. We can still honor the Black Nazarene at home by praying. There is really no need for a large gathering.”