By Agence France-Presse, Erma Edera, and Ria Fernandez
Throngs of believers flung themselves at a historic statue of Jesus Christ as the annual procession made its way through the streets of Manila, one of the world’s biggest shows of Catholic zeal.
Many in the heaving crowd of men and women, which police estimated at 800,000, believe touching the Black Nazarene or being in its presence can heal the sick or grant good fortune.
“I survived a stroke because of him (God). I will do this every year until I am 100 years old,” said 70-year-old Joaquin Bordado, who has attended the procession for decades.
“God ordered me to do this and I feel no exhaustion,” he added, wearing an ankle-length robe and crown of barbed wire.
Around him people chanted “Viva Nazareno” (Long live Nazarene), cheered and jostled for a glimpse of, or selfie with, the statue cloaked in a maroon robe that is topped with a crown of thorns and cross.
A rhythm of peace
Believers, barefoot as a sign of penitence, scramble over one another to touch towels to the icon who got its name for its charred appearance.
It is believed to have survived a fire in the 17th century while en route to the Philippines, which became Asia’s bastion of Catholicism under 400 years as a Spanish colony.
“It is so dangerous to join the procession. If you see people charging forward, this makes me nervous,” said 21-year-old college student Angelica Alcantara.
“Many young people do this for fun but this is about your faith in God,” she added.
Critics say the procession, which usually takes about 20 hours, is a mish-mash of superstition and unnecessary risk for the people who flock to it each year.
But Church officials say the practice is a vibrant expression of faith in nation of 105 million that is overwhelmingly Christian.
“If you are an outsider, you will not hear, see or feel that faith. You will only see a very unruly or chaotic situation,” said Father Danichi Hui, a priest at the procession’s destination, Quiapo church.
“But inside there is a rhythm of peace. There is a serenity,” he told AFP.
Testimonies of faith
Ronald Zamora, 22 of Pasig City said this is his fourth Traslacion.
“Nabagok yung ulo ng tatay ko, 50-50 na siya tapos kay Nazareno lang ako humiling na sana magising ulit. Ilang araw pagkatapos kong lumapit sa kanya, gumaling ang tatay ko (My father was in critical condition after he bump his head. I asked the Black Nazarene to heal my father. My father survived)” he said.
“Nakagraduate ako at ngayon magtatake na ako ng criminology board exam. Sana makapasa ako. ‘Yun naman ang panalangin ko kay Nazareno ngayon (I am preparing for the criminology board exam. And I am praying this time that I pass the board),” Zamora added.
A devotee for 30 years, Benedict Hernandez, 52, who hails from Pampanga travelled with only P1,000 on his pocket to attend the Traslacion.
“Lahat naman ng hiniling ko sa Poon sinasagot niya pero kung hindi naman dapat magpasalamat pa rin tayo. Okay lang kung hindi makakain ng maayos basta makita ko lang ang Poon (All that I asked of Him was granted. And we still have to thank Him for those unanswered prayers. It’s okey if I get hungry as long as I can see the Black Nazarene),” he said.
Ana San Jose, 18, of Tondo, Manila is joining the procession for the first time.
“Nakakakaba pero at the same time magaan sa loob. Hindi mo alam ang mga susunod na mangyayari pero kailangan mo lang maniwala sa Kanya (I feel scared but at the same time I feel light. I do not know what will happen next but just just trust Him),” she said.
Julius Bulawan, 17 believes that towels wiped in the image of the Black Nazarene have healing powers.
Last year, his grandmother was healed from high-blood pressure after he used the handkerchief that he wiped on the revered image.
“When I was young, I was wondering why so many people were participating in this. I was actually skeptical about the procession. But not until I threw my towel and had it dabbed on the Black Nazarene for the first time during ‘Traslacion’ last year. When I went home, I wiped that on my sick grandmother. And just a few days after, she got healed from high-blood,” Bulawan told the Manila Bulletin.
Because of this, Bulawan said he made a promise to the Black Nazarene that he will be forever committed to him as a gesture of gratitude.
“I really vowed to Jesus Christ that I will praise him every day and that I will be here every feast of the Black Nazarene,” he said.
Ryan Reyes also has his own miracle story of his devotion.
“When I went to mass at Quiapo Church, my mother was supposed to undergo brain surgery. I prayed. And when I went home, I was told that her medicines already worked and she did not need operation anymore,” he said.
Thereafter, he joined the annual procession of the Black Nazarene from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church.
But in 2010, he stopped joining the mammoth crowd and developed a different kind of devotion by giving free food and drinks to ‘Traslacion’ participants.
“During my first year, I was penniless. I came with an empty stomach and had nothing to quench my thirst with. This is why I thought of this as my devotion in exchange for joining the procession,” he explained.