As we write this, the Translacion (Black Nazarene procession) has already begun. Crowds in Quiapo are steadily swelling around the life-sized, dark-skinned figure of Jesus Christ bearing the cross, swinging and tossing their white kerchiefs at the figure. By having those kerchiefs touch the image, the masses hope to have a share of the miracles bestowed by the Black Nazarene.
Although the Black Nazarene is technically up for public viewing three times a year, the January 9 procession is the one that draws the largest number of people. The devotees risk heat, discomfort, and getting stampeded to fulfill their panata (vow) to see the Black Nazarene, demonstrating just how powerful the Catholic faith is in the Philippines.
But what's the appeal of the Black Nazarene? Why are devotees literally willing to risk life and limb for one physical representation of Jesus Christ, when there are countless others in the mostly-Catholic Philippines? Isn't there a safer way to view the procession in all its glory?
Answers to those questions (and more) are below.
History of the Black Nazarene
Originally carved from dark wood in Mexico, the Black Nazarene came to the Philippines in 1606. Forty-four years later, Pope Innocent X recognized the Cofradia de Santo Cristo Jesus Nazareno's prerogative to use the Black Nazarene to promote local devotion to Jesus Christ. The Black Nazarene was shuttled from one church to another, until it arrived at the Quiapo Church where it stays to this day.
Manner of Worship
The midnight before the procession, a mass is held at the Quirino Grandstand, where a sermon is preached by the Archbishop of Manila himself. A few hours later, a Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is given. By 5:30 A.M. (Philippine time), the image is taken out of the Minor Basilica, and the long procession begins.
Some devotees wait for the image to arrive at its destination (i.e. back at the Basilica) to greet it. Others (and this is often the case) follow the image all the way through the procession, throwing their white kerchiefs or any other article at the Black Nazarene. If they're lucky enough to get close, they can even kiss the image.
According to most devotees, they have a panata to join the procession every year. Otherwise, they claim, bad luck will surely rain down on their families. Many of them also believe that the image heals illnesses, answers desperate prayers, and grants miracles.
Because the procession draws huge crowds (which can number as much as 17 million), the roads along its route often become impassable. In fact, January 9 was recently declared a holiday to save commuters the hassle of having to wade through the thick throngs of people.
Considering how popular the procession is, it's inevitable for it to attract its fair share of danger. Unruly participants often shove and stamp their way to the image, raising the risk of injury for everyone involved. For that reason, the Philippine National Police (PNP) tightens security around this time, ensuring that untoward incidents are kept to a minimum.
Aside from the PNP, other public and private institutions also prepare for the onslaught of people who need their help. For example, Metro Manila's hospitals are on Code Blue alert, meaning that at least 50 percent of their personnel have to report for duty to attend to the increased number of patients expected during the celebrations.
Other government agencies working together to maintain peace and order during the procession include the Manila City Department of Public Services, Department of Health, Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Roads closed to make way for the procession are listed here.
Participants are strictly warned not to take selfies during the Black Nazarene procession.
Not only does the act make participants more prone to injury (due to inattentiveness), but it's also considered disrespectful towards the Black Nazarene, a sacred image. Also, those who want to go barefoot are requested to trim their toenails to avoid injuries, and for hygienic purposes.
Church officials also remind participants to "rest, sleep and eat well before the procession," so they can celebrate it to the best of their ability, and minimize the chances of needing medical help along the way.
Drones are likewise prohibited on the site, and cellphone jammers will be activated to prevent the coordination of possible terrorist activities.
How to Catch the Procession — Without Actually Being There
If you want to attend the celebrations, but can't do so for one reason or another, you can catch a livestream of the event from the Quiapo Church website. As the website notes, however, a livestream is no substitute for attending the mass in person (unless you're ill or can't make it due to location).
Even in a mostly-Catholic country like the Philippines, the Black Nazarene is put on a different pedestal (no pun intended) than other, similar images in the country. As long as the image represents hope, redemption, and everything else Jesus Christ stood for, the Translacion will be celebrated for years to come.