The threat of COVID-19 did not discourage a multitude of Catholic faithful who trooped to the Quiapo Church in Manila to attend masses for the Feast of the Black Nazarene Saturday, Jan. 9, posing a challenge to both security forces and church leaders.
Archdiocese of Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo likened the Black Nazarene to a magnet that continues to attract people despite the pandemic.
“The Black Nazarene is a magnet, a very strong magnet that attracts people to Him,” he said during one of the Masses to celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
“We couldn’t go to Luneta (this year), there is no traslacion procession, yet the people continue to approach the Black Nazarene,” added Pabillo.
The traditional traslacion procession of the Nazareno held annually from Luneta to Quiapo Church was cancelled this year due to COVID-19.
Closer to Jesus
Bishop Pabillo said the coronavirus disease pandemic may have prevented people from doing the things that they are used to, but it brought the people closer to Jesus.
“Due to the pandemic we could no longer do our traditional activities, but people became closer to Jesus,” he said.
“We better show our love for Him in different ways of expressing our faith and love for God,” added Pabillo.
He said attending Mass to listen to God’s word is one of them.
“Jesus said: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ We cannot follow His commands if we don’t listen to His word,” Pabillo said.
Bishop Pabillo also took note of the number of people inside and outside the church who participated in the fiesta Mass.
“Even if its early in the morning and there’s a curfew the church and streets are teeming with people,” he said.
The prelate said this is not only true for Quiapo Church but also in other churches where novena Masses were held for the Nazareno.
Crowd of devotees
Several thousand police were deployed to ensure social distancing in the devout crowd, which Manila’s disaster agency estimated had topped 30,000 in the first few hours of the celebration.
Ignoring official pleas to stay home because of the virus threat, Catholics wearing masks and face shields gathered along an avenue outside the Quiapo Church in Manila where the first of 15 masses for the feast of the Black Nazarene began before dawn.
People patiently waited to enter the church or watched the back-to-back masses broadcast live on large screens outside.
The orderly scenes were in contrast to the normal frenzied procession involving hundreds of thousands of pilgrims risking life and limb to touch the icon in the belief it can heal the sick.
Hourly masses in Quiapo Church or Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene were live-streamed on its official social media page so devotees could still hear mass even in their homes.
Church officials limited the number of people inside Quiapo Church to 30 percent to ensure that physical distancing is observed, and in compliance with the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
‘God is with us’
In the early morning mass at the Quiapo Church, Pabillo assured the throngs of devotees at the church that “Jesus remains with us through our suffering.”
“Jesus is our Savior. We do not deny the sufferings that are with us, but Jesus is there. When we include Jesus in our suffering, we are transformed, leading the way to our salvation. Like now, amid the pandemic, we cannot observe our traditional celebration but we become closer to Jesus,” Pabillo said in his homily for the fiesta mass.
“Jesus is assuring us that He is with us. We are coming to Him today not through the traslacion procession but by listening to His Word,” he added.
‘Our life is a call’
Meanwhile, Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos reminded the faithful of his own “traslacion” or journey.
“Our life is a call. God is calling us to be with Him, to experience His goodness, and to share Him with others. Our traslacion is all about our passage or transfer from this life to Heaven as we answer His call. We translate His words to our own actions. We transcribe His works into our hearts. We transfer what we are and who we are into His ways and will,” Santos said.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be disturbed. God is in control. We will pass this crisis. We will move on. With God watching us and working wonders in our lives, we will surpass all these hardships,” Santos said. (With reports from Christina A. Hermoso, Aldrin Casinas and AFP)