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MANILA, Philippines — Each year, millions of Black Nazarene devotees fight their way towards what they believe is a miraculous icon. The sea of devotees at the annual Traslacion is a familiar sight – many of them barefoot, some of them getting injured, all brought together by their faith.
But there are others who doubt the January 9 procession, questioning whether it is an exercise of blind faith. Are the devotees truly sincere?
A glimpse of what happens the moment the icon of the Black Nazarene enters the Quiapo Church may offer answers to that question.
The moment the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene closes its doors, the entire scene dramatically changes.
Before that, devotees are up on their feet, waiting for the carriage to arrive. Security and church volunteers are assembled at their posts, prepared to assist the large number of people expected to come in. At the altar, Monsignor Hernando Coronel and his lay ministers are ready for the welcoming.
Chants of “Viva, viva, viva!” echo. The devotees start waving their towels. Finally, the Mahal na Poon has arrived.
The chorus of “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno” fills the whole church as hundreds of people crowd the aisle. Banners are being waved. The devotees seem like soldiers coming home after the war to greet their King at the altar. It is a majestic celebration.
With hands raised and tears streaming down their faces, devotees make their way through the aisle. Their eyes, filled with emotion, are all looking at only one thing: the image of the Black Nazarene at the altar. It appears to be an expression of great redemption after a period of pain and suffering.
The devotees, shouting their prayers, are brought to their knees as they reach the security barricade. Those in deep devotion pass by security, getting closer to the statue at the altar.
Those who joined the 7-kilometer procession are acknowledged, hugged, and comforted by their brothers and sisters. “Maraming salamat po, kapatid. Ingat sa pag-uwi.” (Thank you, my brother. Take care as you go home.)
The church is filled with sounds of prayers, songs, cheering, thanksgiving, and crying – an ironic melody of great solemnity. Anyone would be a fool to play around at this event.
In contrast to the chaotic procession, here inside the church is a more serious and intimate devotion. True devotion is not seen through the outside, but seen within.