Coronavirus fails to dampen spirit of Nazarene devotees

Published January 9, 2021, 6:27 PM

by Joseph Pedrajas

The threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) did not dampen the spirit of Catholics as thousands still trooped to Manila churches, especially the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo church) and other areas to hear mass on the Feast Day of the Black Nazarene Saturday (January 9).

According to some devotees, this year’s celebration is “more organized and more peaceful” because of measures imposed by authorities amid the pandemic, but others still prefer the traditional way which is highlighted by the Traslacion.

“Nakakalungkot din na hindi ako naka-hawak sa lubid, kumbaga parang sakripisyo mo ‘yun eh, yung pagsama mo sa prusisyon (It’s saddening because I wasn’t able to touch the rope. For us, joining the procession and being able to touch the rope is a form of sacrifice),” 51-year-old Merissa Cerillo, who attended a mass on Carriedo St.  with her two children and two grandchildren, told Manila Bulletin in an interview.

According to the Manila Police District, the number of devotees who heard mass inside and outside the Quiapo Church, Sta. Cruz and San Sebastian churches has reached 400,000 as of 12 noon.

This number is way too small compared to last year’s figure that counted 2.3 million devotees  joining the procession as early as 8 a.m., based on data from the city government.

Among those who ignored the threat of COVID-19 were sisters Belen Marquez, 62 and Emerita dela Cruz, 58. Despite being vulnerable to the virus, they still attended mass in Quiapo Church in fulfillment of their devotion that has span 30 years.

“Nasa sayo naman ‘yun kung aattend ka o hindi (It depends on you if you will attend or not),” dela Cruz said, “Pero mas maganda [pa rin] yung dati. ‘Pag sumasampa ka sa Nazareno. Kasi parang nawawala yung pagod mo. ‘Pag mahahawakan mo’yung lubid, gagaan yung pakiramdam mo (How we celebrated the feast before is still better. We feel relieved of  fatigue, exhaustion whenever we could climb the carriage or touch the rope).”

Prior to the pandemic, the feast of the Black Nazarene celebrated every January 9 always drew thousands of devotees from the “pahalik” at the Quirino Grandstand on the eve of the feast to the ‘Traslacion’ that ends in Quiapo church in the early morning of the next day.

Barefoot men and women, clad in maroon and yellow, would fill the streets and join the procession unmindful of the danger.  They would push their way to climb and touch the carriage which they believe holds miracles.

“Dati, ‘pag naririnig mo yung sigawan ng mga deboto ‘pag malapit nang makabalik yung imahe sa simbahan, parang mapapaluha ka (Before, we turn emotional whenever we hear the devotees shout in glee as the image approaches the Quiapo Church),” dela Cruz recalled comparing the celebration then and now.  It is “not as noisy as it used to be.”

“Malaki ung differences… solemn tingin ko…kasi dinadamdam ko pa rin ung sacramento kahit ‘di na katulad nung mga nakaraang taon (There is a big difference. I think, the celebration is more solemn this time. I feel the holiness of the celebration even without the usual noiset),” added 26-year-old Mae Ondillo, a devotee for seven years.

The whole stretch of Quezon Boulevard from Recto Ave. to Quezon Bridge was filled with devotees wearing face masks and face shields, trying to practice social distancing. Police personnel in fatigue uniform deployed to the area kept reminding everyone to stay a meter apart from each other.

But the distancing was eventually ignored during the dousing of the holy water. Photos circulating in social media also showed devotees in some areas of Manila already too close for comfort.

“[Hindi na namin naisip] kung ano mangyayari, basta makapunta lang kay Ama. Saka I trust Lord naman na di niya kami ilalagay sa kapahamakan, saka naka mask and face shield naman (We did not anymore think of what would happen to us.  Al we wanted to do was go and see Him. I trust that the Lord will protect us. Besides, we were wearing face masks and face shields),” Ondillo said.

“Ang wish ko lang siguro, para sa kapayapaan nalang. Sa health din ng lahat, sana matapos na yung pandemic, yung COVID (I wish for peace and good health for everyone. I hope that the pandemic would end),” Kaezel Fernandez, 34 said while holding two Black Nazarene replicas.