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Manila’s famous Black Nazarene feast to resume

However, procession which draws millions of devotees in Philippine capital is canceled again due to Covid fears
A view of the Black Nazarene procession in Manila

A view of the Black Nazarene procession in Manila. (Photo: Archdiocese of Manila)

Published: January 04, 2023 06:03 AM GMT
Updated: January 04, 2023 07:28 AM GMT

Authorities in the Philippines have allowed this year’s Black Nazarene feast in Manila, which attracts millions of devotees, to go ahead following a three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the festival's huge procession from Luneta Park to a church in the central district of Quiapo has been canceled again due to virus concerns, while certain other conditions have also been imposed.

The Quiapo Church in the Philippine capital received the nod from the police and health authorities on Jan. 3 to organize the feast on Jan. 7-9.

The decision is a reversal of an earlier ban on the famed feast out of fear it could turn into a super-spreader of the deadly virus.

This comes as many devotees petitioned the authorities to allow celebrations to honor the centuries-old wooden image of Jesus as the pandemic has greatly subsided.

Manila police director Andre Dizon told UCA News that they reviewed two issues — a security threat from communist rebels who refused a Christmas ceasefire and the Covid-19 pandemic before approving the feast.

Dizon said more than 5,000 police officers will be deployed for the religious event across Manila.

“We can never be so sure of the volume of people who will participate in the event since we suspended the festivities ... in 2019,” Manila police chief Rodolfo Azurin told reporters.

Manila mayor Honey Lacuna announced a liquor ban during the celebrations.

“No bottle of alcohol will be sold to any Manila resident or transient, tourist or otherwise from Jan. 7 to 9 to ensure everyone's safety during the festivities,” Lacuna told UCA News.

Although the Black Nazarene feast would go ahead, certain activities including the popular procession remain canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For the third consecutive time, the Traslacion — which means “solemn transfer” of the image ... shall be canceled,” Father Earl Allyson Valdez, a priest attached to Quiapo Church, told UCA News.

The clergyman also said the Archdiocese of Manila has canceled the traditional “Pahalik” or kissing the feet of the Black Nazarene to avoid the spread of the virus.

“Instead of kissing the feet of the image, devotees can just approach and touch the image of the Black Nazarene to make the event a non-spreader event of Covid- 19,” Father Valdez added.

Thousands of devotees have already started to flock to hourly Masses at Quiapo Shrine, Fr. Valdez said.

Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, warned devotees to observe health protocols for the feast so that it does not turn into a “super-spreader” event.

“To avoid contamination, we have required everyone — no exceptions — to wear masks at all times. Those who will directly participate ... are required to present their Covid vaccination cards… We are spreading the faith in this event, not Covid,” Vergeire told reporters on Jan. 3.

The event organizers, however, downplayed the government’s warnings saying the Black Nazarene festival should not be feared as a super spreader event.

“The science and data said the celebration in 2021 was not a super spreader. You can check all data. There is low transmission considering that almost everyone has been fully vaccinated,” event organizer Alex Irasga said.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has reminded devotees to observe health protocols as a “sign of faith” to the image.

“Let us follow the advice of health experts because they are for the common good. One of the ways to worship the suffering Christ is to follow what is for the common good,” Bishop Victor Bendico of Baguio, the CBCP Commission on Liturgy chairman, told UCA News.

The statue of the "Black Nazarene” was carved by an anonymous Mexican sculptor in the 16th century and a group of Spanish missionaries took it to the Philippines in 1606.

The statue depicts Jesus en route to his crucifixion and many believe it has healing powers. It has survived fires twice, two earthquakes and numerous typhoons, and bombings during World War II.

Pope Innocent X approved the veneration of the statue in 1650.

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