Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Señor Nazareno" at 400

Just in case anyone needed reminding that Catholicism's true soul lies far from obsessive internecine disputes and politicized demonizations over liturgical minutiae, the faithful came by the tens of thousands in Manila on Tuesday to pay homage to the statue of the Black Nazarene on its yearly feast and the 400th anniversary of the image's arrival in the Philippines from Mexico.

Per tradition, the venerated figure's gilded cart was pulled by rope and on foot through a crowd estimated at over 100,000 along an extended route.
The procession commemorates the first procession to transfer the Black Nazarene from a church in Intramuros to the Minor Basilica in Quiapo on Jan. 9, 1767.

A familiar sight accompanied the image as it was taken from the Quirino Grandstand for the journey back to Quiapo—barefoot devotees clad in maroon or purple, packed behind the carriage pulling at the ropes or waving white handkerchiefs and towels.

On Quezon Boulevard, the overcast skies over Quiapo lit up with firecrackers when the image arrived in the early afternoon.

Again, white handkerchiefs and towels were waved and the crowd erupted into loud cheers as a number of men tried—successfully or in vain—to clamber onto the carriage in an attempt to touch the image.

Apparently, those who come sometimes do so at great risk.

According to Juliano Parena, training officer of the Fire Emergency Paramedic Assistance Group, there were no reports of fatalities at the procession this year, unlike last year when a devotee fell into a manhole and was trampled to death and another died of complications at the Philippine General Hospital.

“The overcast sky and less heat may have resulted in fewer injuries,” he said, adding that the blazing sun and high temperatures in the past usually resulted in exhaustion and fainting spells among the devotees.

Filipino Vice-President Noli de Castro was in attendance, telling reporters that he's participated in the event for 30 years. One report says that the political quotient at the event was about as high as the devotional, and gives more background on the cult:
The Black Nazarene is a burned life-size image of Jesus Christ carrying a cross. The statue was brought to Manila on May 31,1606 by Augustinian Recollect missionaries from Mexico aboard a ship that caught fire.

Though the image was burned, people decided to preserve and honor it. Since then miracles have been reported by those who touch the image, prompting the Church to make the Black Nazarene the patron saint of Quiapo....
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales said the 400-year devotion of Filipinos to the Black Nazarene could be the inspiration that will enable the people to achieve the elusive progress of the country.

Rosales led Tuesday the celebration of the feast day of the miraculous image of Jesus Christ in commemoration of its arrival in the country some 400 years ago from Mexico.

In his homily during the 6 a.m. Mass at the conclusion of vigil for the jubilee celebration at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park, Rosales said the Black Nazarene symbolizes a message of hope and is "a testimony of God’s love for Filipinos."

The cardinal stressed that Filipinos, who are predominantly poor and faced with many trials, should find inspiration in the life of Jesus Christ through their devotion to the Black Nazarene.
The Cardinal said the Black Nazarene –an image of the Passion of Christ –is proof of God’s love and preference for poor people like most Filipinos, recalling the life of the Savior in Nazareth that was marked by "simplicity, humility and sufferings."
The feast day of the Black Nazarene highlighted the beginnings of this unique devotion of Filipinos that merited the sanction of Pope Innocent X, who issued in 1650 a Papal Bull canonically establishing the Confradia de Jesus Nazareno; and Pope Pius VII, who granted in the 19th century indulgence to those who piously pray before the image of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.

Thousands of devotees followed the procession of the Black Nazarene from Luneta Park to Quiapo Church, which organizers said was a re-enactment of the transfer of the image from Intramuros where it was first housed.

Unknown to many, what is celebrated on Jan. 9 is neither the feast day of Quiapo Church or of the Black Nazarene but the transfer of the image from Intramuros to Quiapo.

Every year hundreds of thousands of devotees from all walks of life go to the district of Quiapo to take part in the procession as a way of strengthening their faith or fulfilling their vow to the Lord.
Traditionally, the celebration starts as the huge door of Quiapo Church opens and the image of the Black Nazarene is within sight. The ocean of devotees start to yell "Viva Señor!" ["Long Live the Lord!"] while some wave white towels high in the air along with the scripture of the Black Nazarene.

The statue is placed in a gilded carriage for the procession. As the procession starts, barefoot participants wearing maroon and yellow shirts, pull two long ropes to make the carriage move. Many will attempt to touch the image while others wipe the statue with their handkerchiefs and towels.
The Archdiocese of Manila had earlier declared the jubilee year celebration of the Black Nazarene from May 31, 2006 to June 1, 2007. As part of the celebration, a jubilee wall was also put up at the entrance to Quiapo Church where devotees could post or write personal testimonials on their faith and devotion.

PHOTOS 1-3: Reuters/Darren Whiteside
PHOTOS 4-5: AP/Pat Roque
PHOTO 6: AP/Bullit Marquez