A crowd of over nine million, by far the largest assembly of Catholic devotees in the Philippines, joined the annual procession of the ‘Black Nazarene’, a wooden Mexican icon brought to the country in the early 16th century aboard the galleon.
Compared to the 2012 attendance, this year’s translacion, which is the reenactment the first transfer of the statue from the Recollect Church in Intramuros, the old city of Manila, to Quiapo, where the icon now rests, on January 9, 1787, is the biggest-attended procession ever held anywhere in this Catholic archipelago.
This is nearly five times bigger than the crowed that greeted Pope John Paul II, now beatified, when he visited the country in 19905.
In his homily, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, archbishop of Manila, told the devout Catholics that “Real devotees of the Black Nazarene can be determined through the deepness of his faith.”
After the Mass, the mammoth crowd, many of them waiving white towels and handkerchiefs and shouting “Viva Señor Nazareno,” forced their way in to get a close view of the black icon, so named for its color after it figured in a fire that broke out in a galleon from Mexico.
Quiapo Church Rector Monsignor Clemente Ignacio said preparedness made the event move without big trouble, saying marshals were strategically placed inside the grandstand, although this did not stop the devotees from bringing railings down.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino , on other hand, said this “year’s procession is faster and more organized,” in part due to the wheels installed on the ‘andas’, or pedestal, that carried the image.
To put the crowd in order and secure devotees from possible violence, MMDA also fielded 1,240 personnel along the procession route, among them rescue personnel, traffic enforcers and street sweepers, while the Philippine National Police (PNP) deployed over 3,500 cops to add muscle to the security arrangements.
On top of this, there were other security preparations put in place by the tanos, the village protectors, to keep petty criminals and troublemakers away.
Supt. Ricardo Layug, chief of the Quiapo Police Station said the procession, except for six isolated pickpocket cases, was generally peaceful compared to last year’s when petty crimes were perpetrated.
This made more sense when he earlier appealed to devotees to leave behind their children in their residences and discouraged drunken devotees, which the media called ‘de bote’, to stay away from the route.
A little commotion, though, occurred when a woman and a two-year-old girl wanting to take temporary shelter at the National Museum was barred by the security guard. This angered a group of men, who threw rocks and water bottles at him.
The mob was later pacified after a museum official apologized for the incident.
Overall, close to 1,000 devotees were treated according to records of the Philippine Red Cross.
As expected, the entire route, which cut through the heart of Manila, was lined with vendors selling bottled water, white towels, junk foods, candles, and other articles, while some devotees stayed on the sidelines while waiting for the Black Nazarene to pass by.
Overall garbage collected on the route after the religious event, according to the MMDA, reached 120 tons, roughly the equivalent of 20 truckloads of trash.
The procession took 18 hours to finish, four hours shorter than last year’s which was completed in 22 hours, the longest in its 326-year history.
The image of the Black Nazarene is housed at the Parish of Saint John the Baptist, a minor Basilica. Pope Innocent X approved for veneration the icon in 1650 and authorized the Confraternity of the Most Holy Jesus Nazarene to oversee it.
Through the centuries, especially the last two decades, veneration for the dark icon has grown domestically and abroad, many of the images, some of these found in Bohol, Cagayan de Oro, and Ilocos, are claimed by local devotees as “miraculous.”
Last September 2012, a replica of the Black Nazarene was canonically enshrined at Saint Catherine of Siena's Roman Catholic parish in Reseda, California, in the United States.