Manila braces for Black Nazarene ‘invasion’

Up to 18 million devotees expected to attend this year’s celebrations

Church and government officials are expecting up to 18 million devotees to flock to the Philippine capital Manila to attend celebrations that will culminate with the feast of the Black Nazarene on Jan 9.

“There is really that hunger and thirst from people to be part of [the celebration],” said Monsignor Hernando Coronel, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila’s Quiapo district.

Authorities will be deploying at least 5,000 policemen, aside from paramedics, firefighters, and traffic aides on Jan. 9, the day of the annual procession of the image of the Nazarene.

The procession of the Black Nazarene, which dates back to the 17th century, is the largest procession in the country.

It re-enacts the “traslacion” or transfer of the image from its original location in Manila to the church in Quiapo district.

An estimated 1.5 million devotees joined the 20-hour long procession last year.

Devotees, many carrying small towels or handkerchiefs, squeeze their way to touch the statue or grab the rope used to pull the image to ask favors from God or give thanks for granted ones.

Father Douglas Badong, vicar of Quiapo church in Manila, said the estimated 18 million devotees include those attending the nine-day Mass, which started on Dec. 31.

Some 15 million people took part in the celebrations last year.

Monsignor Coronel said church officials are planning to stream live over social media this year’s procession for devotees abroad and those who are sick who cannot physically attend the celebration.

“We are giving them this opportunity because many Filipinos want to be part of this event,” he said.

Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capital Region Police Office said the number of devotees showing up for the procession continues to increase every year.

The police official appealed to devotees not to bring expensive items during the procession. Parents were also advised not to bring their children.

“We are advising the devotees to be alert at all times as some groups might take advantage of the situation and sow panic,” said Albayalde.

The city government has declared Jan. 9 a holiday and an “International Day of Pilgrimage.”

Father Badong urged devotees not only to prepare themselves spiritually but also emotionally and physically as injuries are common given the big number of people who join the procession.

The feast of the Black Nazarene usually draws millions of devotees who walk barefoot during the procession as a sign of penance and thanksgiving for favors received.

Devotees believe that the centuries-old wooden life-size statue of Jesus Christ, which was brought to the Philippines from Mexico by Augustinian friars in 1606, is miraculous.

The statue is believed to have turned black after surviving a fire on the ship that brought it to the country.

UCAN | Joe Torres, Manila, January 3, 2017

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