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Traslacion draws 2.5m devotees; Church eyes Vatican nod for feast

RELIGIOUS DEVOTION. Catholic devotees climb into a glass-covered carriage carrying the Black Nazarene statue as they try to touch it during the Traslacion, an annual religious procession in Manila on Jan. 9, 2024. AFP
Vince Lopez, Vito Barcelo & Joel E. Zurbano

More than 2 million Catholic faithful swarmed the Black Nazarene, a life-size image of Jesus Christ, as it was pulled through the streets of Manila on Tuesday, in one of the world’s biggest displays of religious devotion.

Devotees in maroon and yellow shirts shouting “Viva Nazareno” waved their towels in the air relentlessly as the statue of the Black Nazarene passed near them.

The Manila Police District estimated the crowd at more than 2.5 million people, breaking last year’s record of 2 million. It also reported 38 injuries, though none were serious.

There were chaotic scenes as the feverish march got underway before dawn following an open-air mass for the Black Nazarene at Luneta Park.

Meanwhile, Quiapo Church officials said they are hoping the Vatican would declare Jan. 9 of every year a national feast in honor of the feast of the Black Nazarene in the Philippines.

“We pray that the next time we are gathered here, Jan. 9 will be declared by the Church as a national feast in honor of the Black Nazarene,” Quiapo Church rector Fr. Jun Sescon said.

Last year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines approved their proposal during the 126th Plenary Assembly.

Many Filipinos believe the icon has miraculous healing powers and that touching it, or the ropes attached to its float, can heal previously incurable ailments and bring good fortune to them and their loved ones.

“I believe that the Nazarene will give what we are all praying for — we just have to wait, but he will give everything,” Renelinda de Leon,

64, said at the start of the procession.

“He gave me good health. I don’t have an illness, I’m always healthy.”

As a light rain fell over the massive crowd, some barefoot devotees risked injury to reach the float by clambering over others and clinging to the clothes of guards protecting the icon, causing some to fall.

Other guards on the float pushed unruly devotees to the ground to keep them away from the icon enclosed in a glass case and allow the parade to continue on its journey of 6.2 kilometers. More than 15,000 security and medical personnel were deployed along the route of the procession.

At one point, organizers estimated just over a million people were marching slowly towards the destination of Quiapo Church. It is the first time the traditional parade featuring the life-sized statue has been held since 2020, after COVID-19 forced officials to drastically downsize the event.

The original wooden statue was brought to the Philippines in the early 1600s when the nation was a Spanish colony.

Many Filipinos believe it got its dark color after surviving a fire aboard a ship en route from Mexico. Marites Rote credited the Black Nazarene with healing her children’s skin rashes nearly 40 years ago and, more recently, ensuring the family could pay her husband’s medical bills. “When my husband got sick we were penniless, but because of the Nazarene we were able to provide for his needs,” Rote, 60, said.

TRASLACION SCENES. Devotees of the Black Nazarene receive first aid at a Red Cross rescue tent after losing consciousness, getting injured or struggling to breathe after joining the procession on Tuesday. Andrew Rabulan, Norman Cruz, Danny Pata

Authorities did not report any specific threat to the procession, but took the precaution of blocking mobile phone signals to prevent the remote detonation of explosive devices, and imposed a no-fly and no-sail zone near the route.

First-aid stations lined the streets on Tuesday to treat people suffering from heat stroke, abrasions or other medical problems during the procession, which in previous years has taken up to 22 hours to finish due to the huge crowds.

More than 380 people had received medical assistance by late morning, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said on Facebook.

Some devotees collapsed and had to be carried out on stretchers or passed over the heads of other pilgrims. The PRC said it assigned 319 people to their medical stations for this year’s Traslacion, the term used to describe the transfer of the image from Luneta Park to Quiapo Church.

Department of Health hospitals in Metro Manila have been on alert since Jan. 5 for the religious procession. This year, the icon has been placed in a glass case for the first time and participants were banned from getting on the float — though some ignored the directive in their desperation to wipe a towel on the glass in the hope of receiving a miracle.

During the frenzied parade one of two ropes used to pull the float broke. Tonton Ruz, one of the guards protecting the statue as it makes its slow journey, said Thursday he was happy the parade had resumed, but hoped it would be “more peaceful” than in the past.

“Before, you can’t see him (the statue) with so many people on top of the float blocking the view,” Ruz, 36, said as he prepared for the march. Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna earlier in the day told devotees to stop climbing on the “andas” or carriage of the statue, as some defied the prohibition during the start of the procession.

The National Capital Region Police Office said it had conducted an extensive inspection of the Traslacion route before the start of the procession.

Other agencies involved in securing the religious event were the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, which cleared the route of the procession of illegally parked vehicles and other obstructions, and the Philippine Coast Guard, which deployed boats along the Pasig River.

This feast of Nazarene is celebrated in Quiapo, in the heart of Manila. Devotees from all over the country flock to the city to participate in the annual event honoring the hundred-year-old statue.

The Black Nazarene, also known as Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno and Mahal na Poong Hesus Nazareno or Mahal Na Poong Señor Nazareno is a life-size image of Jesus Christ carrying a big wooden cross in a semi-kneeling position, clothed in a maroon-colored robe, with a crown of thorns.

Devotion to the Nazareno is especially strong among the large number of poor Filipinos, who comprise the majority of the devotees at the feast and have an especially deep devotion to the Black Nazarene as a way of identifying their own struggles with the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. — With AFP

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