THIS year’s Traslacion or procession of the image of the Black Nazarene was faster compared to previous years as millions of devotees defied reports of a terrorist threat on the conduct of the annual Catholic feast.
Organizers calculated that the image of the Black Nazarene will be home at the Quiapo Church by midnight.
“Procession is travelling at a faster pace compared to previous years. Expected to finish before midnight,” said the Quiapo Church in its official Twitter account (@quiapochurch).
As of 7:50 p.m. yesterday, the image was already at Fraternal st.
Last year, the Black Nazarene took 20 hours before reaching the church at 2 p.m.
Despite the terrorist threat, organizers pushed for an earlier start of the Morning Prayer at 4:45 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. since devotees were already closing in on the stage, where the image of the black Christ was stationed.
By 5:20 a.m., the Morning Prayer was already finished and was immediately followed by the transfer of the Black Nazarene to the “andas” (carriage) by the “Hijos Del Nazareno” from the altar. The procession was supposed to start at 7 a.m.
Moments before the start of the Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer), the Manila Police District (MPD) placed the number of devotees gearing for the start of the annual procession at an estimated 800,000.
According to organizers, the procession crowd was estimated to have peaked at 1.4 million while those at the Quiapo Church and its vicinity have a crowd estimate of 41,000.
Members of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces made their presence felt as hundreds were positioned in and around the Quirino Grandstand stage and gallery area.
Before 1 p.m., the procession was still at the Jones Bridge with the sheer number of devotees joining the procession and scratching and clawing their way towards the image often stalling the “andas.”
There was also the occasional chanting of “Viva! Viva! Viva!” by the yellow-and-maroon-clad devotees to honor the Black Nazarene as the carriage traverses its way in the streets of Manila.
Majority of the devotees were at the Quirino Grandstand grounds as early as Saturday to begin queuing for the “pahalik” (touching of the image).
Others opted to bring their replica images of the black Christ while unfolding their own sheets, where they ate, slept, and rested while waiting for the procession to begin.
“The number of devotees increases every year probably because the Nazareno has touched many lives. But we still have to see the image at the end of the procession,” said Quiapo Church rector Msgr. Ding Coronel in an earlier interview.
According to Quiapo Church parochial vicar Fr. Douglas Badong, they are not particular on seeing the procession completed immediately.
“We are not after the speed. What we want is an orderly and peaceful procession. Even if the procession lasts for two or three days, for as long as the flow is smooth, we do not see it as a problem,” said Badong in a separate interview.
Fr. Tony Ropasa, who is assigned in the Diocese of Caloocan, fainted during the midnight mass for the feast of the Black Nazarene at the Quirino Grandstand on Sunday after his blood pressure shot up to 180/80.
During the Gospel reading, first aid teams suddenly rushed to the stage to assist Ropasa. According to Manila Health Department nurse Nancy Hasareno, the 70-year-old priest felt dizzy during the mass to hypertension.
Ropasa was brought to the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City via ambulance.
Hundreds suffered injuries during the procession. As of 5 p.m., the Red Cross assisted 1,200 devotees of whom 778 complained of high blood pressure.
Mayor Joseph Estrada said the annual tradition went smoothly, despite minor injuries suffered by devotees, the arrest of a “suspicious-looking man,” and a false bomb alert near the Sta. Cruz Church.
Johnny Yu, head of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said hundreds were wounded during “Pahalik” Sunday night at the Quirino Grandstand.
These include three women devotees who fell and nearly got trampled to death as they attempted to climb the “andas” or the carriage carrying the Black Nazarene statue. They suffered fractures and contusions, Yu said.
Seven devotees were also taken to the Ospital ng Maynila when steel railings fell on them.
Most of those brought to Ospital ng Maynila suffered fractures, as well as “hypertensive events,” or difficulty in breathing and chest pains, radio reports said.
Among the injured was a male devotee whose foot got caught between the carriage of the Black Nazarene and the gutter at the Quirino Grandstand.
The devotee is undergoing surgery to see if his toes can be saved, after the incident crushed bones in his feet, the reports added.
At 7:30 a.m., the Manila Police District-Explosive Ordnance Division responded to a bomb alert at Plaza Sta. Cruz where a suspicious messenger bag was abandoned in front of Sta. Cruz Church along Ronquillo Street.
Authorities sealed off the area for about 20 minutes and checked the bag, which was later found to be containing a Black Nazarene shirt and some personal belongings.
The area, part of the Traslacion route, was reopened at 8:30 am.
MPD also arrested a “suspicious-looking suspect” who was carrying a bag containing a set of keys, different identification cards, and dozens of compact discs. The yet unidentified man is undergoing interrogation at MPD headquarters, reports stated.
As the procession neared the Quiapo Church, Estrada said a contingent of 600 street sweepers belonging to the Department of Public Services and Task Force Manila Cleanup collected the trash left behind by the devotees.
Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said this year’s feast of the Black Nazarene was generally peaceful with no major untoward incident reported.
Albayalde said members of the Highway Patrol Group established checkpoints at identified roads leading to the Quiapo district to thwart the entry of unwanted persons in the procession area.
He said even petty crimes such as pickpockets have not been reported.
Albayalde said cellphone signals were cut in Quiapo at around 6 a.m. to prevent detonation of any improvised explosive device using cellphones as triggering device. Telecom signals were down within one kilometer radius of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.
He said the telecom signals will resume when the image is back to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.
Albayalde gave a number of policemen a dressing down after he observed that they were not accosting people with backpacks as a number of ambulant vendors were already occupying Villalobos street, a procession route.
PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa was satisfied with the security along the procession route when he conducted an inspection yesterday afternoon.
The NCRPO estimated the crowd to be at 1.4 million at its peak at around 1 p.m., while some 22,000 devotees were estimated to be at Quiapo Church.
President Duterte, in a prepared message, said the feast of the Black Nazarene showed that people continue to have faith in God despite the sacrifices they face daily.
“Good fortunes are usually borne out of hard work and perseverance. Prayers are likely answered because we do not give up or get tired from asking God for the fulfillment of our heart’s desires. Such is the phenomenal expression of faith of the millions of devotees in the form of gratitude, petition, and sacrifice shown in the image of the Black Nazarene every feast day on the 9th of January every year,” he said.
“We are neither exhausted by praying constantly nor do we ever falter in expressing our religious fervor. Despite the passage of time, we relentlessly fight against injustice and lies; abuse of power; and the corruption that eats up the soul,” he added.
Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, in his homily for the Traslacion mass at the Quirino Grandstand, called on the Filipino people to stop judging others who commit mistakes, which he said causes division among people.
“Kapag meron kayong kaibigan o kamag-anak na minsan nakakalimot, huwag niyong husgahan kasi tayo din naman nakakalimot,” he said. – With JP Lopez, Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor