MANILA, Philippines – Every year countless barefoot devotees who pack to the city of Manila to take part in the daylong Feast of the Black Nazarene face mishaps or fall ill in the middle of the “traslacion” or the transfer of the religious icon to Quiapo Church but they are all worth it, they say.
Victor Arevallo, a devotee for over 40 years now, told INQUIRER.net that the hardships he endured since he took part in the procession as a young pilgrim, which included pulling the carriage of the religious icon down the streets of Manila, were well worth it when he got to see the Black Nazarene’s face up close.
“Seeing the Nazareno’s face is enough to make me weep,” said the 63-year-old man who became emotional after being asked why he became a devotee. “He will always be there for you.”
The procession of the Black Nazarene, which was given that name after surviving a galleon fire, was also a family affair for many, including the family of 52-year-old Carolina Laroa who said that they regarded their participation as tradition.
“When I am gone, my children and grandchildren will continue believing in the Nazareno,” she said, pointing out that it was the same for her who followed the footsteps of her parents who were also devotees of the Black Nazarene.
Laroa said that they were not afraid of braving crowds or of possible accidents saying that God would not allow such things to happen to her and her family. “This time I am asking the Nazareno to take care of my pregnant daughters. Nothing is impossible for him.”
Carding Nabong, 52, became a Black Nazarene devotee when he was just 15 years old, tagging along when his father went to join the procession.
Black Nazarene pilgrims are known for resorting to daring acts just to touch the statue of the Black Nazarene or wipe it with towels or handkerchiefs in hopes that the mystical powers they believe it possesses will rub off on them.
This resulted in an initial 103 injuries, Philippine National Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said. She said the injuries were mostly minor but added that they have also treated serious cases like the two male devotees who collapsed during the procession and the 10-year-old child who suffered a laceration in the right eye.
PNRC medics also rushed a pregnant woman to a hospital after she went on labor, said Pang.
This year, the crowds neared 500,000 during the initial stage of the procession, authorities said. They expect the crowd to swell from nine to 10 million.
Despite the mammoth crowd, many devotees said that this year’s traslacion was better than the event in 2012 which took roughly 22 hours for the Black Nazarene to reach Quiapo.
“This time the procession is faster although we found it difficult to enter the Quirino Grandstand last night. Unlike with last year when we got in at around 8 p.m., this time we were only allowed inside at past 4 a.m.,” said Nabong.
Security measures were also beefed up at the grandstand with barricades put in place to prevent large crowds from forming in front of the stage where Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle led the 6 a.m. Mass. Those at the left side of the grounds who were not allowed near the stage shook the barricades and managed to force their way into the area.
“We even rehearsed this yesterday for those authorized to go in the area. But even devotees with passes are being prevented from entering,” lamented a female devotee who asked not to be named.
“We just want to be near the stage so we can hear the homily,” said another.