Millions join feast of ‘Black Nazarene’


About three millions Catholic devotees on Friday flocked the streets of central Manila to join in the yearly procession of the image of the Black Nazarene, even as almost 200 of the participants sustained injuries.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) reported that at least 198 devotees were injured, but none was life-threatening.

By past noon on Friday, there were already at least 60 reported injuries, besides other emergency cases that also required medical attention.

The Red Cross reported that its Emergency Rescue Units rushed a 16-year-old pregnant girl to a hospital after she fainted while waiting for the arrival of the image of the Black Nazarene at Plaza Santa Cruz, Manila.

Some, according to the Red Cross, were treated for various health complaints, like difficulty in breathing, hypertension and dehydration.

Almost every year, the feast is marred by accidents, injuries—even deaths.

Last year, two people died, while 30 others were rushed to hospitals after either fainting or sustaining injuries during the procession that was a colorful display of Catholicism’s enduring popularity in the former Spanish colony.

Petty crimes

Injury is not the only thing common during the Black Nazarene feast. So are petty crimes.

Early Friday, police authorities arrested a man who was caught stealing a cellular phone, as devotees tried to get nearer to the image of the Black Nazarene.

As of 3 p.m., the Manila Police District reported that at least five incidents of cellular phone snatchings were reported.

Despite a number of reports of injuries and theft, the National Capital Region Police Office said the feast of the Black Nazarene yesterday was “generally peaceful.”

Around 1,500 police units were deployed around the Quiapo district in Manila, and authorities said they were able to keep the situation under control.

The Manila city government earlier assured that the entire route to be used by the procession would be adequately secured and ambulances would be ready for emergencies.

Religious ritual

The festivities began with religious rituals at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, followed prayers at the seven last stations of the cross at 2 a.m., and finally Mass officiated by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta (Rizal Park) at 7 a.m.

The procession immediately followed the Mass and continued despite a moderate earthquake that struck north of Manila in mid-afternoon. The procession passed through 10 major thoroughfares before reaching Quiapo Church.

A number of devotees, as a part of the tradition, came bare-footed.

The devotees, many wearing scarlet shirts and waving white handkerchiefs and towels, took turns to pull a pair of ropes that hauled the centuries-old Black Nazarene through the narrow streets.

Some 83 million of the Philippines’ 96 million inhabitants are Roman Catholic, and Manila police estimated that up to three million people in this city of more than 10 million had joined or watched the procession.

But some experts worry that the display of devotion borders on idolatry.

History of devotion

The Black Nazarene, a life-sized, dark-skinned statue of Jesus Christ has been enshrined in the minor basilica in the Quiapo Church since the 1787. The wooden sculpture is said to have been carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines by Augustinian missionaries during Spain’s galleon trade.

The image miraculously survived fires that razed the Quiapo Church in 1791 and 1929, the great earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, and the World War II bombings in 1945.

The image is taken out annually around Quiapo district. But since 1998, only a replica of the original Black Nazarene is paraded during the activity to prevent it from being damaged.

On Friday, the crowd wanted to rub the icon with their handkerchiefs, believing this would bestow miraculous powers of healing and bring good luck.

“The small group that fanatically climbed to get to the Lord,” Cardinal Rosales later told reporters, “that’s the example of what it should not be. That part has to be purified.”

“There are excesses in the devotion and beliefs that we need to change,” said Monsignor Clemente Ignacio, the parish priest of Quiapo.
Rommel C. Lontayao And AFP(ManilaTimes)

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