Faith combined with planning produced a “miracle” of sorts: The procession went faster, the andas didn’t break down, the street sweepers went quickly into action, and the 200-year-old tradition showed no signs of fading.
The grand procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo on Wednesday drew an estimated nine million devotees and, as targeted, was several hours shorter than last year’s staging, which lasted for 22 hours.
Authorities attributed this to several factors, but mainly to the organizers’ decision to redesign the carriage, or andas, which bears the iconic image. Solid rubber tires replaced the inflatable wheels that broke down last year and caused long delays.
“This year’s procession is faster and more organized,” Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino said. “The wheels made a big difference.”
Tolentino also noted that this year’s devotees, despite the inevitable push-and-shove that marks the annual rites, were comparatively more cooperative.
“We learned our lesson last year,” said National Capital Region Police Office director Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, adding that this year’s procession was “more orderly.”
Also, the MMDA’s army of street sweepers immediately fanned out to clean up the trash on the streets as soon as the crowds had moved on.
“I think we will collect only up to 30 truckloads (of trash) now. We had 50 truckloads last year,” said Francis Martinez, an MMDA official overseeing the cleanup. “We were surprised because we were expecting more people and therefore more trash. But this is good.”
“It’s faster this year,” said Lilia Tiluo, a 67-year-old grandmother from Binondo, Manila, who for the last four decades had been braving the raucous rites where predominantly male crowds demonstrate their faith and seek miraculous cures and a good life.
The mammoth procession, which started around 7:30 a.m. after a Mass at Rizal Park’s Quirino Grandstand, was able to cross Pasig River via MacArthur Bridge around 2:15 p.m. Last year, it reached this point only around 7 p.m.
As of 7:40 last night, the carriage had reached Castillejos Street, covering 80 percent of its route. Senior Supt. Ronald Estilles of the Manila Police District, commander of Task Force Nazareno, estimated that it would finally reach Quiapo Church around midnight.
Last year, the 17th-century image of Christ bearing the cross reached Quiapo Church around 6 a.m., 22 hours after it left the grandstand.
Estilles said the number of devotees peaked at nine million around 4 p.m.
But as in the previous processions, the adrenaline-fueled show of devotion—supposedly an occasion for piety—was not without flares of violence and mishaps.
As of 5:30 p.m., the Philippine Red Cross had treated around 1,400 people on-site for high blood pressure, dizziness, chest pains, breathing problems, vomiting and minor injuries due to the sheer crush of devotees trying to touch the image or at least the ropes used to pull it along.
At one point, tempers flared when a security guard at the National Museum reportedly prevented a woman and a two-year-old girl from taking temporary shelter at the building. When a group of men saw this, some threw rocks and water bottles at the guard while others tried to chase him.
The mob was pacified only after a museum official came out and apologized.
As the andas reached Manila City Hall, some devotees hurled plastic bags full of cold water at the mamamasan or the men in charge of pulling the carriage, supposedly to give them a drink under the morning sun. But one of the marshals on the carriage had to yell out a plea for the hurlers to stop after one of the bags hit the Nazarene.
A light shower fell on the devotees when the procession reached the vicinity of the old Metropolitan Theater. “It’s a blessing!” shouted one participant.
The procession commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene image from a Recollect Church in Intramuros, Manila, to Quiapo Church on Jan. 9, 1787.