Manila's marathon Nazarene celebration ends

Activists bemoan amount of litter left behind by more than 1 million participants in 21-hour procession
Manila's marathon Nazarene celebration ends

The carriage of the image of the Black Nazarene passes a narrow street in Manila during the religious procession on Jan. 9. (Photo by Rob Reyes)

The annual Black Nazarene procession through the streets of the Philippine capital Manila lasted 21 hours this year, leaving behind tons of thrash and several people injured.

Varying estimates placed the number of barefooted devotees who took part in the procession between a million and 1.3 million.

The event was for the most part trouble free, but a small commotion was reported when thousands of devotees broke through a barricade that had placed along the route by the authorities. According to police "nothing untoward" happened.

Environmental advocacy group EcoWaste Coalition, however, condemned the amount of trash left scattered along the procession route.

"Our public appeal for a trash-less traslacion has again fallen on deaf ears," said Daniel Alejandre, one of its campaigners.

Manila's feast of the Black Nazarene, which attracts millions of people, celebrates the "traslacion," or "solemn transfer" of a darkened image of Jesus to a church in Manila's Quiapo district from a chapel in the old walled city.

"Many people unashamedly threw their garbage anywhere," he said, adding that amongst the waste volunteers picked up were plastic bottles, used diapers, food containers, cigarette butts and plastic bags.

Alejandre said the devotion to the Black Nazarene should have also reflected the way people act toward "our shared environment."

"Old habits die hard," he said, "Despite painstaking efforts by street sweepers to clear up after the devotees, rubbish can still be spotted everywhere."

He noted that people seemed to have no qualms about littering. "Littering, especially in godly activities, is totally unacceptable. Devotion should not lead to pollution," he said.

Performers entertain devotees in Manila who take a break from the procession that lasted 21 hours on Jan. 9. (Photo by Rob Reyes)


Close to 2,000 devotees sought medical assistance for various ailments or injuries during the procession, according to the Philippine Red Cross.

Despite any problems people may have encountered, the celebration was filled with stories of sharing.

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On one street corner, a veiled Muslim woman who introduced herself as Nadya distributed bottled water to devotees.

"They are thirsty, so I give them water," the woman said. "Christians also help us when we need it," she added.

Business owners and several stores along the procession route distributed food to people. 

"It's a feast, so all of us should eat," said Danny Reyes who handed out cookies outside the San Sebastian Church in Manila.

The Black Nazarene feast every Jan. 9 is considered one of the most spectacular religious events to take place in the Philippines and is celebrated by millions of devotees who believe that the centuries-old wooden life-size statue, which was brought to the Philippines from Mexico by Augustinian friars in 1606, is miraculous.

The life-size image of Jesus Christ under the weight of the cross is believed to have turned black after surviving a fire on the ship that brought it to the country.

It also survived fires that destroyed the church in Quiapo in 1791 and 1929, the great earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, and the destruction of Manila in World War II.

During the procession, devotees, many carrying small towels or handkerchiefs, try to touch the statue or grab the rope used to pull the carriage carrying it to ask favors from God or give thanks for granted ones.

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