‘Sons of Nazarene’ prepare anew for another bruising procession
MANILA, Philippines — Even the miraculous image of the Black Nazarene needs an army to protect it from the millions of people who try to touch the image and even throw themselves into its carroza (carriage) during the annual “traslacion”- the image’s transfer from Luneta to Quiapo Church.
These guardians of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (Black Nazarene) call themselves Hijos del Nazareno (Sons of the Black Nazarene) but they are popularly known as the “mamamasans.” They are the men usually seen on top of the image’s carroza getting handkerchiefs and towels from devotees, wiping them onto the image and throwing them back to their respective owners.
But their task goes beyond catching and throwing handkerchiefs and towels. Yearly, the hijos are assigned to push the Black Nazarene’s carroza and pull its ropes to lead it to its final destination, the Quiapo Church.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Hijos del Nazareno president Arnel Irasga called their task perhaps the hardest job during the grand procession but said that their devotion to the Black Nazarene has kept them dedicated to their yearly mission of leading and guiding the transfer of the image.
“Every year it gets harder to control the crowd because more young people are joining and they are becoming really aggressive,” Irasga said.
Only four members are on top of the carroza at any time, according to Irasga, but there are 25 men surrounding the image during the traslacion due to the huge crowd.
“With that number, sometimes we can only manage to put one foot on the carriage and then hold on the cross or on a part of the carroza to maintain our balance,” he said.
Irasga recalled that some devotees would throw themselves at the Black Nazarene and pull its hair.
“There were also instances when people would throw mineral water bottles, not handkerchiefs, at us,” the president shared.
But Irasga said that aside from protecting the image, they would also position men to pull the ropes and push the carroza toward Quiapo Church. Some men are also stationed below the carriage to control the crowd trying to get near it.
Preparations for the grand procession start as early as May, according to the Hijos del Nazareno president.
“We initially discuss the problems of the previous traslacion, then formulate ways on how to improve the coming one,” Irasga told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
After the first meeting, the group holds monthly discussions on how to go about with the next grand procession.
Days before the procession, some of hijos practice how they will carry and pull the rope while the others familiarize themselves with the routes of the procession to better guide the image and also the attending devotees.
In his 20 years as an hijo, Irasga said that each year the crowd attending the grand procession is becoming more and more aggressive. Quiapo Church parochial vicar Fr. Ric Valencia noted that the number of young people joining the traslacion is increasing every year. This could be attributed to the passing of devotion and tradition of parents to the their children, the priest said.
“It is doubly challenging for us to control a crowd like that because some are not anymore following our instructions,” he explained and added that the resistance from devotees is the usual cause of accidents during the procession.
Irasga cited that when the “mamamasans” started guiding the image in 1939, the people were still very organized. He said they lined up properly and followed instructions.
Quiapo Church rector Msgr. Clemente Ignacio said that during those years, the “mamamasans” would literally carry the “andas” or the image on their shoulders. But because more and more devotees joined the yearly celebration, Ignacio said that the procession evolved into just pushing and pulling the carriage using two 50-meter-long ropes.
The history of these “mamamasans” date back even before the founding of the Hijos del Nazareno. According to the history of the Quiapo Church, during the Spanish era devotees carrying and leading the image organized themselves into confraternities called Cofradia. This group evolved and finally led to the formation of other groups like the Hijos del Nazareno, who according to member Boy Jongco did not previously carry the said name.
65-year-old Jongco, one of the oldest hijos, said that the “mamamasans” acquired the name Gabay in 1975, then seven years later it was changed to Hijos del Nazareno. The group is now also an official church group of Quiapo Church under the supervision of the parish pastoral council.
Years after its establishment, the members of the Hijos del Nazareno have reached about 8,000, according to group leader Apolinario Maranan.
Maranan told the Inquirer that the group’s members come from different parts of Metro Manila as well as adjacent provinces.
“We have members even in Bulacan, Laguna and Pampanga,” he said.
Irasga said that any devotee willing to be an hijo can apply to be a member of the group.
“We screen people first before accepting them as members because the task that they need to carry out is not easy,” explained Irasga.
He added that they require potential members to be 18 years old and above with good moral standing and complete sacramental documents (baptismal and confirmation certificate.)
A P100 membership fee is also collected from the members to cover their identification cards and Nazareno shirts. Irasga also noted that monthly, they collect P30 from each member to pay for the food for their meetings and other incidental expenses. But the church administration has been very supportive of the hijos, according to its president. Every year, the church provides them with their shirts and give them food to eat before and after the procession.
A jeepney operator, Irasga said that their members came from different sectors of the community. “We have members who are police officers, seamen and vendors,” he said.
During the months when preparations for the grand procession are not on peak, Irasga said that the hijos focus on worship duties for the church.
“We serve during Masses and participate in the church activities,” he said.
It is during this time, according to Irasga, when the Black Nazarene’s army of men show that even after the grand procession, they are committed to the Nazarene.
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