Every January 9, millions of devotees, barefooted and clad in maroon, gather around Quiapo Church in capital Manila in the hopes of getting a piece of the miracle being promised by touching the rope or garb of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno de Quiapo, more popularly called the Black Nazarene.
Although chaotic and a culprit of heavy traffic in Manila, the Black Nazarene Procession is a hallmark of Filipino culture. It showcases the Filipinos’ more than 200 years of devotion to the Black Nazarene, as well as their undying hope for a better health or future through struggling to get closer to the charred image of Jesus Christ.
Carved by an anonymous Mexican carpenter, the life-sized Black Nazarene was carried to the Philippines by the Augustinian Recollect missionaries on May 31, 1606, through a galleon coming from Acapulco, Mexico. Tradition has it that the image came from a vessel that caught fire, turning it from white to black or charred. It was first enshrined in a Recollect church in Bagumbayan (present-day Rizal Park) and was transferred many times in different churches in Manila before being kept in its present location at the high altars of the Quaipo Church. The January 9 procession commemorates the Translacion or transfer of the statue to its present shrine.
Two popes have blessed the Black Nazarene and have merited the Filipinos’ devotion to the image. They are Pope Innocent X who blessed the icon in 1650, and Pope Pius VII who gave his blessing and plenary indulgence to its devotees during the 19th century.
Usually, only the body of the image, together with a reproduction of the head, is being boarded into a gilded caroza or carriage before being taken out to procession. For the image’s 400th anniversary in 2007, however, both the head and the body were shown to the public.
During the procession, devotees walk on the streets on barefoot to imitate Jesus Christ’s suffering on his way to Mount Calvary. Hundreds of hawkers sell oils, handkerchiefs, T-shirts and other goods bearing the Nazareno’s image. It is believed that these items, especially handkerchiefs, when wiped to a part of the Nazareno, can heal any sort of illness. In fact, many have attested to have received miracles from the statue, but none of these have been officially acknowledged by the Catholic Church.
Most of the 2.6 million devotees come from the lower class since they can relate their poverty to the wounds and passion of Jesus Christ. There are, however, a handful of devotees that come from the higher echelons of the society. Among them are Philippine Vice President Noli de Castro and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who, every year, wrestle their way among throngs of common people to reach out to the image.
Apart from the procession, the icon is venerated whole-year-round through a novena being held every Friday at Quiapo Church. During the novenas, believers chant the hymn especially composed for the image. A replica of the icon is also now on display in Jesus Nazareno Parish at C.M. Recto Avenue, as well as in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental.
It is generally not safe for a tourist to join the procession. Traveling to Manila City is actually discouraged during this time due to chaos, heavy traffic and long rerouting of passageways. The procession, however, is rich in drama and human interest, which is why it attracts shutterbugs and the international media. For those who insist to go to the procession, precaution is strongly advised since in recent years, deaths, injuries, thefts, robberies, assaults and other crimes have been reported in relation to the event.
To prevent such incidents, the administrators of Quiapo Church changed the route of the procession. Instead of starting in the church, the parade now starts in Quirino Grandstand at 8:30 a.m., then will pass by major thoroughfares in Manila, before ending in the church. There is a tendency, however, for devotees to maneuver the course of the procession and take it back to the old route, such as what happened in 2009.
How to get there
Click on the links for details about transportation in Quiapo Church and Quirino Grandstand (via Luneta Park).