In the next few days, the Philippines will celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene. Traditionally held each year on January 9th, the feast celebrates the Black Nazarene; a life-sized, dark wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, while representing his passion and suffering and is believed to be miraculous by many Filipino Catholics. Originally with fair complexion, it turned dark after it survived a burning ship on its arrival from Mexico. The image is currently in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo district, Manila, Philippines, where it is venerated weekly with Friday Novena Masses. The procession during the January 9 feast commemorates the passage, referring to the transfer of the image to its present shrine in Quiapo church.
The Black Nazarene is carried into the streets for procession in a shoulder-bourne carriage known to devotees as the andas (from the Spanish word Andar meaning “To go forward”). The devotees wear the colour maroon and walk barefoot as an act of penance for Jesus on his way to Mount Calvary. Traditionally, only men were permitted to hold the ropes pulling the image’s carriage, but in recent years female devotees have also participated in the procession. People who have touched the Black Nazarene are reported to have been cured of their diseases, and Catholics come from all over Manila to touch the image in the hopes of a miracle. Towels or handkerchiefs are hurled to the marshals and escorts guarding the Black Nazarene with requests to wipe these on the statue in hopes of the miraculous powers attributed to it “rubbing off” on the cloth articles.
The procession held on the feast day is notorious for the annual casualties that result from the jostling and congestion of the crowds engaged in pulling the carriage. The injuries and even deaths of devotees are brought upon by one or a combination of heat, fatigue, or being trampled upon by other devotees.
Each year, the procession of the Black Nazarene makes its way along the streets of the Quiapo district, with attendees reaching up to 6 to 8 million. In recent years, the processional route was altered due to a rise in vehicular and stampede accidents, and to afford other neighborhoods a chance to participate in the festivities. The procession commences during the morning after Holy Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, where the image was first enshrined, and ends in Quiapo in the late evening.
As is custom, the statue of the Nazarene leaves the Quiapo church (publicly or secretly the night before) and returns to the church on the same day. Many participants either follow the route, or simply wait inside the church to greet the statue. All devotees present wear the image’s color of maroon. Most, if not all, of the devotees walk and even travel barefoot throughout the whole procession.