WITH close to 300,000 devotees joining Saturday’s Black Nazarene feast celebration amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health yesterday reiterated its call on those who attended to minimize interactions, especially with the vulnerable members of their household, and to conduct active self-monitoring for any symptoms.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III urged those who attended who experiences symptoms of COVID-19 to immediately coordinate with their respective Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams for appropriate management and referral.
“Despite our call to refrain from physically attending, hundreds of thousands of devotees still went to Quiapo for the Feast of the Black Nazarene. Those who went there physically should limit their interactions with the people living in their houses with them, especially those who are vulnerable,” he said.
Duque also called on respective Local Government Units to coordinate with Quiapo Church to secure the list of attending devotees, and to actively monitor their constituents who participated in the event for early detection of possible COVID-19 cases and limit transmission.
Msgr. Hernando Coronel, Quiapo Church rector, disclosed that in contrast to the millions of crowds in the past years, only around 284,000 people joined Saturday’s celebration.
Of the total, about 98 percent devotees flocked to Quiapo Church, while the remaining attended Masses at the nearby Sta. Cruz Church and San Sebastian Church.
Fifteen Masses were held at the Quiapo Church the whole day, with 6,000 or 400 persons per Mass were allowed inside the church to follow health protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parishes in Metro Manila are operating under the general community quarantine restrictions, which require church services to limit capacity to 30 percent.
Large screens were also displayed outside the minor basilica so devotees unable to enter the church may view the services.
While some people were seen violating standard health protocols, Coronel said the whole day’s celebrations were generally orderly.
“We are very happy because the devotees exhibited self-discipline and there was orderliness and systematic way of entering the church,” he said.
Adjustments were made to this year’s feast due to the pandemic such as the cancellation of the traditional kissing of the statue and procession, which usually gathers millions of devotees each year.
Church authorities have repeatedly asked devotees not to flock to Quiapo Church for the feast and instead joined the “localized” celebrations in their parishes.
The priest also said most devotees observed all the necessary protocols, negating concern of the religious event becoming a “super spreader” of COVID-19.
“We are praying that it won’t because we are observing dutifully the protocols. Even if there were many people, they have face masks and all,” he said.
Coronel said a huge number of people also followed the celebration that was live-streamed on Facebook.
“A huge number followed online. First two Masses alone more than 100,000 (viewers),” he added.
Meanwhile, Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who opened the fiesta with a 4:30 a.m. Mass in Quiapo Church, said the huge crowds despite the pandemic shows the Black Nazarene’s “magnetism.”
“The Black Nazarene is really a magnet, a really strong magnet that attracts many people and we cannot stop that attraction. Where are we attracted? We are not only attracted to an image. An image is only a symbol. We are attracted to the love of God,” he said.