The religious procession of the image of the Black Nazarene in Manila starts early on the morning of Jan. 9 and was expected to end about 3 a.m. on Jan. 10. Philippine authorities expect up to five million people to participate in this year's procession. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila warned against fanaticism in his homily during a Mass to usher in the feast of the Black Nazarene in the Philippine capital on Jan. 9.
The cardinal told thousands of people who attended the midnight celebration to distinguish "fanatics" from "devotees."
"I don't know why every traslacion the same question is asked," said the prelate.
"What is the meaning of devotion? Every year, it is being put into question. Isn't it fanaticism?" he said.
The feast of Manila's Black Nazarene, which attracts millions of people, celebrates the traslacion, or "solemn transfer" of the image to a church in Manila's Quiapo district from a chapel in the old walled city.
Tens of thousands of predominantly male devotees frantically push and shove their way to touch a dark wooden statue of Jesus Christ during the procession.
They believe participation in the procession can atone for their sins.
Cardinal Tagle said only a true devotee can understand the significance of the celebration. He said that unlike fanatics, devotees love the Lord "unconditionally."
"A fanatic does not love. Fanatics hold on to who gives importance to them," said the prelate. "But a devotee ... is devoted because of love, and that is what Jesus showed us," he said.
The cardinal said a devotee will always be loyal because of love. He said devotees are united with the one they love, be it in suffering, happiness, and sickness.
The prelate reminded Catholics that being a Black Nazarene devotee is not only for a day or for only the feast.
"Devotion is a daily act.... In every kind of love, loyalty, and union, it must be daily," he said.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila warns against fanaticism in his homily during the Mass to usher in the feast of the Black Nazarene in the Philippine capital Manila on Jan. 9. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Among the first to line up to touch and kiss the image were policemen and security volunteers before the start of the annual procession.
Father Douglas Badong, vicar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo district, said the number of devotees of the Nazarene continues to increase every year.
"If before the devotees are composed mainly of men, now you see children, young people, women, even the whole family," he said.
The procession, which was expected to last about 20 hours, started early morning of Jan. 9.
Father Danichi Hui, who also serves at the church in Quiapo district, said he expects the procession this year to be more orderly than usual.
He said the introduction of a "Devotee's Pledge," wherein devotees are asked to promise that they will abide by the rules of the procession might have contributed to the order.
"It's one way to calm them down," he said.
Authorities anticipate at least five million devotees will be in the procession this year.
The police has deployed at least 7,000 uniformed officers while soldiers are on standby to respond to any threats to security.