It’s a “miracle,” in the words of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, that no one died in this year’s Traslacion. Yet some say the real miracle would be if not one of the millions who flocked to the 22-hour procession was injured as well.
And others say the real miracle would come about if the collective energy of the multitude of barefoot devotees—impervious to hunger and fatigue as they risk injury or death from the suffocating jostling in the sea of humanity around the carriage bearing the statue of a suffering Christ—is transformed into a massive force working relentlessly for a better Philippines.
Nevertheless, Mayor Estrada has a good point. Last year, one died of a heart attack even before Traslacion started, while another suffered a fatal seizure during the procession.
In 2015, two devotees died in the course of the Traslacion. Three fatalities were reported in 2010. And injuries were substantial—1,578 persons were treated last year, over 1,700 in 2015; 1,686 in 2014; 1,710 in 2013; 569 in 2012; 708 in 2011; and 450 in 2010.
“It’s God’s miracle that no one was seriously hurt, no one died. No matter how excellent our preparations are, it is God’s doing that we’re able to hold the Traslacion safely and peacefully,” Estrada was quoted as saying.
Although the Philippine Red Cross reported that it had treated 2,235 patients, many are still thankful that injuries were not serious. And our security forces deserve credit for all their efforts toward public safety amid terror threats.
Why many opt to act like overzealous fanatics swarming like crazy over a statue of the Black Nazarene on one particular day—when the venerated dark-skinned wooden carving is accessible to them all-year-round at the Quiapo Church—is bewildering to many.
While the sight of a suffering horde in solidarity with the Black Nazarene can be surreal and awesome, some frown at the public expression of intense faith in the annual procession and dismiss such as a pagan ritual or outright fanaticism.
But the cynics could find enlightenment in the biblical story (Luke 7:36-50) of a sinful woman who wets with her tears, wipes with her hair, and pours expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus who tells her, “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you.”
The statue of the Black Nazarene—the figure of our suffering Messiah carrying a heavy cross, with back unbent and struggling to rise from a kneeling position—is a powerful symbol of hope for Filipinos in the abyss of despair. Staring at Christ’s statue that has eyes gazing towards the heavens gives solace to those with unwavering belief that God will answer their pleas.
Indeed, only a staunch devotee can fully understand what fellow devotees go through—the dangers, hardships, risks, and the ecstatic feeling of triumph seeping in after much suffering—in the yearly ritual.
But some foreigners are wondering how such intense display of piety and raw manifestation of devotion to God could be reconciled with a nation plagued with rampant criminality, systemic corruption, and other forms of evil despite being described as the only predominantly-Catholic nation in Asia.
Church leaders evangelize that intense faith ought to be accompanied by action, particularly the so-called corporal works of mercy like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, among others. The challenge, therefore, is how to utilize the collective spiritual fervor to bring about a better society.
While the fulfillment of a “panata” to the Black Nazarene usually concerns the aspirations of one’s family, relatives, and close friends, many hope that intense devotion would eventually focus on aspirations for the entire Philippines.