Faith and devotion on the Feast of the Black Nazarene

Every year, there are many feasts and festivals that show religious fervor in the Philippines, and it starts with the most celebrated one – the feast of the Black Nazarene on Jan. 9.

It is a feast that attracts such a large number of devotees that its activities stop traffic and work in many areas in Manila. In fact, the President has declared Jan. 9 a non-working holiday in the city of Manila, through Proclamation No. 120.

The extraordinary show of devotion to the Black Nazarene, represented by a life-size statue of Christ carrying the cross which devotees believe to be miraculous, has become an event that shows the heart of faith. Hundreds of photographs and videos have captured the many emotions that overflow during the Traslacion, or transfer of the Black Nazarene statue from the Quirino Grandstand to its home at the Quiapo Church, or the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.

The Traslacion reenacts the “solemn transfer” of the Black Nazarene statue from a church in Intramuros to Quiapo Church in 1767, according to the Quiapo Church website. The wooden statue was brought to the Philippines from Mexico in 1606.

Of all the activities related to the feast, the Traslacion has become the iconic image of the devotion to the Black Nazarene where thousands of devotees escort the image through a distance of only about seven to 10 kilometers but the procession takes many hours, up to 22 hours in 2012 and 2018, news reports said.

Before the pandemic, the Traslacion was a sea of bodies where vignettes of faith and humanity have been the moving images that inspired many to strengthen their faith, and others, many of them tourists, to make time to watch the procession. The number of devotees increase every year because there are those who come in thanksgiving for an answered prayer, and those who come to pray for a request. They join the thick procession clad in maroon shirts, most of them barefoot, and mostly men. Only a few are allowed on the carriage carrying the statue – the Hijos del Nazareno (Sons of the Nazarene), a group tasked to be marshals to keep the statue safe.

During the procession, many acts of kindness are exchanged between strangers. The men nearest to the statue catch towels, wipe the statue, and then throw them back toward the direction it came from. The men farthest from the statue allow a few devotees to “crawl” on their shoulders to reach the image.

Devotees believe that touching the image – even with cloth – will have an effect on their prayer petition.
Because of the pandemic, the Traslacion will not be held for the third time this year. Instead, there will be a Walk of Faith that will start after the midnight mass on Jan. 8, at the Quirino Grandstand, where devotees will be allowed to carry their statues of the Black Nazarene. It is estimated to last about two hours.

On Jan. 9, which used to be the day when the Traslacion was held before the pandemic, masses will be held at the Quiapo church to celebrate the devotion to the Black Nazarene.

There are many activities that are held to celebrate the feast, among them the nine-day novena, and the blessing of the privately-owned replica statues of the Black Nazarene which are paraded around the streets of barangays.

But even if the pandemic changed the ways of tradition, it could not stop the devotees to find ways to celebrate their faith. Every Friday, many devotees hear mass at the Quiapo Church to visit the Black Nazarene, a “visit” many of them continued throughout the pandemic, by standing outside the doors of the church.