The 2020 Traslacion, a scene of a sure-fire Covid super-spreader (PNA photo courtesy).
We have grounds to feel buoyant after Catholic Church authorities said the annual Traslacion of the Black Nazarene in Manila’s Luneta to Quiapo district – by tradition scheduled every January 9 – remains suspended for January 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Black Nazarene, carved by an unknown Mexican artist from dark wood in the 16th century, was brought to the Philippines in 1606 and depicts Jesus en route to his crucifixion.
The Feast of the Black Nazarene commemorates the anniversary of the transfer or movement of the ebony image from its original location at a church in modern-day Luneta Park fronting Manila Bay to Quiapo, often referred to as the heart of the country’s capital.
The image was brought to the Church of San Juan Bautista in Bagumbayan (now Luneta) until May 31, 1606 by Augustinian Recollect priests.
In 1608, the icon was enshrined at the Recollect church of San Nicolás de Tolentino in the city’s old walled Intramuros and was moved to the Saint John the Baptist Church, now commonly referred to as the Quiapo Church on January 9, 1787.
Church officials say the “solemn transfer” eventually became the date of the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
But given the coronavirus pandemic, it is very reasonable that the transfer, which yearly attracts millions – some project as many as three million, or roughly one-fifth of Metro Manila’s daytime population before the health emergency – be suspended.
There are opposing views on whether to consider the Feast of the Black Nazarene as a proper fiesta due to the fact that the January 9 observance celebrates the transfer of the image and not the liturgical “feast day” of the image.
Some theologians say the proper liturgical commemoration of the Black Nazarene is on Good Friday.
But in 2021, the Basilica’s parochial vicar Fr. Douglas Badong explained that the Feast of the Black Nazarene was a proper term for the religious event, and could be called a fiesta as the event is similar to the typical Filipino festival.
The event is also colloquially referred to as “Nazareno” after the image itself, or the Traslación after the January 9 procession.
Every January 9, the Traslación of the Black Nazarene (commemorating the “solemn transfer” of the image’s copy from San Nicolás de Tolentino in Intramuros to Quiapo) makes its way along the streets of Quiapo, with attendees reaching up to 220 thousand devotees.
In recent years a persistent misconception has the Traslación being repeatedly referred to (by the media as well as exploitative politicians) as mostly the “Feast of the Black Nazarene” (Pistá ng Itím na Nazareno), and sometimes the “Feast of Quiapo” (Pistá ng Quiapo), which, many religionists say, despite the chaotic yet festive atmosphere, are far from correct.
The Black Nazarene’s liturgical commemoration is on Good Friday, the second date of the year on which the image is processed, with the basilica’s parochial feast day scheduled on June 24, which coincides with Manila Day, the birthday of its titular head John the Baptist.
In recent years, the processional route was altered due to a rise in accidents, to afford other neighborhoods off the traditional route a chance to participate, and because of structural deficiencies in nearby bridges.
It is normally only a school holiday for the schools near the processional route, but for the first time in the city’s history, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada in 2014 declared the day a special non-working holiday due to the impassability of some thoroughfares and projected congestion in others.
As per custom, the Black Nazarene leaves the Minor Basilica a day or two before the annual procession, either in a public fashion or secretly.
Since 2016, the procession begins at around 5.30 a.m. after a solemn Midnight Mass at the Quirino Grandstand – usually presided by the Rector of the Minor Basilica but with the Archbishop of Manila preaching the sermon, followed hours later by Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours.
It ends in Quiapo in the late night of the same day or early the following morning, depending on how long the image has traveled.
Some participants choose to wait for the image inside the Minor Basilica to greet it, while most devotees walk throughout the whole processional route, with devotees donning maroon and yellow like the image.
And they walk barefoot as a form of penance and imitating Christ’s walk to Golgotha, the skull-shaped hill in ancient Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
The hill of execution was outside the city walls of Jerusalem, apparently near a road and not far from the sepulcher where Jesus was buried.
This year, there will be none of this lengthy walk – but it is good to avoid a possible surge of infections and possible death, with the coronavirus still unchecked.