THE head of the Archdiocese of Manila on Saturday urged devotees Of the Black Nazarene to trust God amid the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said God is with the faithful in the conditions they are experiencing at the moment.
“There is no picture of Black Nazarene without the cross. He carries the heavy cross and fell while carrying the cross. That is our God, who is one with us especially during this time when life is very difficult due to the pandemic. But we know that God is there and with us. Our theme for this year’s celebration is: Do not be afraid. This is Jesus Christ you don’t need to be afraid,” he said in his Homily during the first Mass for the feast.
Pabillo also likened the Black Nazarene to a magnet as many people are attracted to it.
“He is like a magnet. A powerful magnet that attracts many people to him and that attraction cannot be stopped,” he said.
He was also amazed by the faithful’s deep devotion to the Black Nazarene despite restrictions due to the pandemic.
“More than our physical presence who are here, there are also many people who follow us on our online facilities not only in the Philippines but also from other countries. Indeed, the Black Nazarene is a magnet that attracts many people,” Pabillo added.
He believed that though there were changes in the celebration, people continue to express their love to the Black Nazarene.
“Despite the changes we were not able to celebrate in Luneta, we didn’t have Traslacion, the procession, but still the public continues to approach him. Right now, if even it’s still early and there is a curfew, the church and streets are full of people. This is not only happening in Quiapo. There are also many faithful attending Masses in different churches,” he added.
The Quiapo Church would hold 15 Eucharistic Celebrations to celebrate the Black Nazarene feast on Saturday. Only 400 people are allowed inside the church each Mass.
The church will be closed at midnight on Sunday in compliance with curfew regulations by the city government of Manila.
Devotees hope for miracle
Thousands of devotees thronged Quiapo Church Saturday for a glimpse of a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ believed to have miraculous healing powers, after an annual parade was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Ignoring official pleas to stay home because of the virus threat, Catholics wearing masks and face shields gathered along an avenue outside the Quiapo Church in Manila where the first of 15 masses for the feast of the Black Nazarene began before dawn.
People patiently waited to enter the church or watched the back-to-back masses broadcast live on large screens outside.
The orderly scenes were in contrast to the normal frenzied procession involving hundreds of thousands of pilgrims risking life and limb to touch the icon in the belief it can heal the sick.
The life-sized statue — brought to the Philippines in the early 1600s when the country was a Spanish colony — is traditionally pulled through the packed streets of the capital on a float in one of the world’s biggest displays of Catholic devotion.
But fearing it could turn into a virus super-spreader event this year, authorities cancelled the parade for the first time in decades and instead urged people to watch the masses livestreamed on Facebook.
Worshippers attending the church were forced to look but not touch the icon, which was placed out of reach on the balcony above the entrance.
For many, that was enough.
“I’m so happy with what I’m seeing here now,” said George Arevalo, 32, after attending mass where social distancing rules have limited the congregation to about 400 people for each service.
Arevalo said he touched the statue for the first time during the 2017 procession, an act he believes ensured his epileptic wife, who was pregnant at the time, was able to deliver a healthy baby.
The risk of catching the coronavirus, which has infected nearly half a million people in the country, did not bother Marlene Ordiales, 58, who believed the Black Nazarene would protect her.
“I don’t mind the pandemic. I leave it up to him,” Ordiales told AFP as she waited to enter the church.
Several thousand police were deployed to ensure social distancing in the devout crowd, which Manila’s disaster agency estimated had topped 30,000 in the first few hours of the celebration.
About 80 percent of Filipinos consider themselves to be Catholic.
The statue is called the Black Nazarene because of its charred colour, believed to have occurred when it survived a fire aboard a ship en route from Mexico.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday, it was taken to several churches around the city to give devotees the opportunity to see it in the hope of avoiding a huge crowd on feast day. PNA, AFP