January 9 is a big day in the capital city of the Philippines. It is the feast day of the revered Black Nazarene.
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The Black Nazarene, colloquially called ‘Hesus Nazareno’ by the masses, is a black, life-sized statue of Jesus Christ that has been a part of Filipino’s colourful and glorious history. It was carved by an unknown Mexican sculptor and reached the Philippines in the middle of 1600s. It was unfortunately destroyed during the liberation of Manila during WWII and the Archdiocese of Manila commissioned Gener Manlaqui, a Filipino saint carver, to make the body of the Black Nazarene, the one we see today. The only original part of the statue is the head.
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Over the years, the “translacion” or the procession transferring the revered statue from Rizal Park (the location of its original shrine) to the Minor Basilica in Quiapo, where it has been kept since 1787, is a sight to behold. It is said that no other religious activity in the world can match the passion and fervor with that of the Feast of the Black Nazare. The sea of people, estimated to be in the millions, wearing maroon-colored shirts in the Nazarene’s cloak color, will energetically wave their white handkerchiefs and towels while shouting “Viva, viva!” The devotees walk barefoot, enduring the 6.5 km route as a penance, imitating Jesus’ way to Golgotha. Traditionally, only men are allowed to pull the ropes tied to the wheel carriage of the Nazarene, but recently, women were also given the chance to be a part of the “namamasan”.
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As a regular goer of Quiapo Church, I have always wondered how it is to be in the actual translacion? Seeing the live coverage of the event from the television is emotive enough, but how much more when you’re on the streets with the swarm of people and hearing their stories about faith, devotion, miracles, struggles, supplications and things only they themselves only know about? It will be a truly enriching and moving experience, I am certain. It takes a certain amount of adventurism, bravery and piousness to be involved at that level. I hope one day my faith can help me take the dive and make that decision to join the translacion.
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The feast of the Black Nazarene is a unique religious and cultural phenomenon anticipated by devotees and non-devotees alike, simply because the event is a showcase of communal devotion and worship amongst Catholic Filipinos. With the Philippines being a major Catholic center in the Asean region, many tourists come to Manila during the Feast to take part from the side streets and rooftops of the buildings. Above all, it is uniquely Filipino. Viva! Viva!
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