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More than a million Filipinos join Black Nazarene feast

Many believe the centuries-old statue of Jesus has miraculous healing powers

jesus on the cross images - Filipino Catholics participate in a midnight Mass on Jan. 9 during the Black Nazarene feast in Manila

Filipino Catholics participate in a midnight Mass on Jan. 9 during the Black Nazarene feast in Manila. (Photo: Archdiocese of Manila)

Published: January 10, 2023 11:37 AM GMT

Updated: January 10, 2023 11:44 AM GMT

Over 1.6 million Catholics flocked to the popular Black Nazarene feast to honor Jesus in the Philippine capital Manila, church officials say.

A total of 1,621,930 devotees joined the celebrations from Jan. 6 to 10 despite the cancellation of the Traslacion - the solemn grand procession attended by millions of devotees who walk barefoot, according to the Archdiocese of Manila.

The feast was held after a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic with some restrictions in place including a bar on the grand procession with the statue of Black Nazarene.

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“In 2019, more than five million attended the Traslacion. Many of them wanted to hold the image with their hands or simply have the image wiped by their handkerchiefs,” Father Earl Valdez, the parish priest of Quiapo Church that covers the shrine, told UCA News.

Father Valdez said this year the number of devotees was far less compared with previous years when Catholics around the country went to Manila to fulfill their panata or promise of devotion to the Black Nazarene.

“Many have become health conscious but those who attended said no Covid virus would torment them,” Father Valdez added.

Several families walked on the streets with their own image of the Black Nazarene barefoot while wearing face masks and face shields.

“Let Christ now walk with you instead of you walking with him."

“We came from our home in Manila and members of our family attend the yearly procession. Since it was canceled this year, we have decided to do the procession with our own image at home and bring him to the route where the Black Nazarene passes to his home [Quiapo Church],” Harry Toliba from Manila told UCA News.

Toliba and his companions carried a life-sized replica of the image and began their 8-kilometer procession from Rizal Park to the church.

“I could see many motorists making the sign of the cross every time the image passes by. It is a sign of respect to the image and for me, it is enough to see my fellow countrymen’s manifestation of faith in Christ,” Toliba added.

Families along Manila’s streets lit candles as if the Black Nazarene procession would push through.

“This is our tradition. Every year, we light candles near our windows and everyone would pray the rosary as the Black Nazarene procession progressed along our streets. The cancellation of the Traslacion will not prevent us from doing this,” said 83-year-old Marina Encarnacion.

Manila archbishop Cardinal Jose Advincula led the midnight Mass on Jan. 9 that drew about 500,000 devotees.

Cardinal Advincula has appealed to Catholics to maintain their faith in Christ despite the absence of the solemn procession and the traditional kissing of the feet.

“Let Christ now walk with you instead of you walking with him. Let him walk with you to your homes, offices, and your families. Let him touch and kiss you instead of you wiping and kissing his feet,” the Filipino Cardinal said in his homily.

The display of faith of Filipino Catholics despite the cancellations of the two major events due to health reasons surprised the feast organizers.

“Considering there is no procession, there is no replica, no Pahalik (kissing), we noticed the devotees expressed their intense faith in spite of the lack of traditions in the celebrations,” organizer Alex Israsga told UCA News.

According to church sources, a Mexican sculptor carved the Black Nazarene statue in the 16th century and Spanish missionaries brought it to the Philippines in 1606.

The statue shows Jesus carrying his Cross on his way to his crucifixion. Many believe the statue has miraculous powers. Over the centuries, it 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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