Suspended during the pandemic, the celebration resumes this year, although with some restrictions such as the cancellation of the procession. Thousands of faithful have been coming to the Quipao church for days. Another 5,000 agents have been deployed and the municipality prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Manila () – After two years of cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippine authorities have authorized – albeit with some limitations – the “Black Nazarene” celebrations, which begin today and end on January 9. This is one of the most important events for the Church and the faithful in the Philippines – the only country with a Catholic majority on the Asian continent – whose center is the centuries-old wooden image of Christ. Every year the sacred sculpture is moved from its original location -the church of San Nicola de Tolentino- to the parish of Quiapo, in Manila, where the novena concludes (from December 31 to January 9) and is attended by millions of faithful gathered in prayer to ask for personal graces or a miracle.
In the Philippines more than 82% of the approximately 110 million inhabitants are Catholic. One of the most famous and popular religious celebrations is the procession of the “Black Nazarene”. The image represents Jesus bowed under the weight of the Cross. It was brought to Manila by a Spanish Augustinian priest in 1607 aboard a ship from Mexico. According to tradition, the ship caught fire during the voyage, but the image of Christ miraculously escaped the fire although it was dyed black.
The procession recalls the first transfer of the statue, which took place on January 9, 1767. Throughout the entire route (seven kilometers) of the Translation, the faithful flock to touch or kiss the sculpture as a sign of devotion creating huge crowds, and for that reason the event was canceled the previous two years during the height of the pandemic. In 2023, although the celebration was authorized, the authorities decided to prohibit the procession for fear of an escalation of infections and imposed some special conditions in terms of prevention and public health.
The faithful in the capital feared that this year they would also be completely cancelled. However, on January 3, the Quipao church received the go-ahead from the police and health authorities. Father Earl Allyson Valdez, parish priest of Quiapo, explains that “instead of kissing the feet of the image, the faithful can approach and touch only the Black Nazarene” thus avoiding “the risk of contagion.” The priest added that several thousand faithful have already begun to participate in the celebrations of these days in the sanctuary.
Manila Police Chief Andre Dizon announced the deployment of another 5,000 officers, but it is difficult to predict exactly how many will be present. The mayor of the capital, Honey Lacuna, also announced the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages on these days. “No bottles of alcohol will be sold to Manila residents, pilgrims, tourists or anyone else from January 7 to 9, to guarantee – she concluded – the protection of everyone during the celebrations.”