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    Posted January 11, 2013 by
    Manila, Philippines

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    A journey of faith

    Hidalgo in Quiapo, Manila is a street I visit often. It is lined with shops selling cameras and other photographic equipment at prices lower than you can find in the malls. Tonight, Hildalgo has a different feel to it. It is still crowded but a thousand times more so. The fruit stands are still around, the sidewalk stalls selling used cellphones, cameras and tools have been replaced by tables of religious images and candles. The usual cacophony of blaring music played to attract buyers is not present. Taking their place are soft religious music from a stall selling CD’s. A few steps down, the street’s fluorescent lamps give way to the flickering glow of candles.

    The crowd gets thicker as I walk closer to Plaza Miranda in front of the Quiapo Church, also known as the Basilica of the Black Nazarene. Tonight is the first time I will be this close to the festivities surrounding the annual feast of the Nazareno.

    The life-size statue of Christ carrying the cross known as the Black Nazarene or Nazareno was sculpted in Mexico in the 1600’s and was transported to Manila from Acapulco in 1606 . Legend has it that the Spanish galleon carrying the statue caught fire on the trip to the Philippines. The statue survived the flames but the soot transformed the wood’s light color to black, hence the sobriquet “Black Nazarene”.

    Every January 9, hundreds of thousands of the faithful flock to Manila to pay homage to the Nazareno as it is brought out of the Basilica where it is enshrined. The day-long procession starts at seven in the morning and makes its way back to its shrine by early morning the next day.

    Barefoot devotees press around the statue which is believed to be miraculous, inching closer through a mass of humanity to be able to touch or wipe handkerchiefs on the image of Christ. The ones who are not strong enough to climb up the carriage bearing the statue toss their handkerchiefs and towels to those on carriage who wipe these on the cross and toss it back to the crowd.

    My impressions of the festivities surrounding the procession of the Black Nazarene have been molded by aerial views from TV reports of throngs of people pushing and shoving at each other to get to the statue. Tonight I wanted to experience the festivities from street level, not from some comfortable balcony or rooftop. I wanted to feel the humanity and religious fervor surrounding the ritual so I squeeze myself amongst the crowd and am swallowed into the multitude.

    The square is overflowing with people who stand shoulder to shoulder. Some are stationary in prayer while some move in groups like the swirling current of eddies in the sea. Weary travelers who have probably been here since the break of dawn pray as they sit on the pavement, too tired to stand.

    Despite the packed assembly I find myself in tonight, any fears of getting trampled by an unruly crowd are quickly dissipated by the strong sense the faith and solemnity in the air. This is hallowed ground.

    The procession is an important annual event attended by millions. It has been a tradition held for almost 400 years. Despite the changes through the centuries, people’s faith will forever endure. After experiencing the festivities at street level, I know one thing for sure - the Black Nazarene procession is not about jostling and pushing to touch the image. It is about the Filipino’s Christian journey and strength of faith.
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