The vendor, Nazareno, and the Pope

Frtizie Rodriguez

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The vendor, Nazareno, and the Pope
Once a year, carpenter Joel Tagana lives like a king, thanks to the mass devotion to the Black Nazarene

MANILA Philippines – He is a carpenter, just like Jesus.

He has worked hard all his life yet earned so little. But on January 9 of each year, he lives like a king.

His “royalty,” however, only lasts for a day. At the end of it, his body surrenders to pain, sweat, and stink. But he is happy; he is fulfilled.

“Nakakapagsimba na ako, kumikita pa (I can go to church and I can also earn),” says the 57-year-old devotee. 

He is John Tagana. He sells handkerchiefs, towels, and shirts bearing the face of the Black Nazarene.

The Traslacion, or the transfer of the Black Nazarene – a 17th century mulatto image of Jesus Christ – from the Quirino Grandstand back to the Quiapo Church, is the country’s biggest religious event. 

Local officials expect around 12 million filipinos to participate in this year’s festivities. (READ: Millions flock to Manila for Nazarene procession)


Tagana has been in business for 5 years, but his fealty to the Nazarene dates back to his youth. 

 “Deboto talaga ako gaya ng mga magulang ko, pero nahila lang ako magtinda ng mga kapitbahay kasi nagtitinda rin sila (I’m really a devotee like my parents, but I was just encouraged to become a vendor because my neighbors are also vendors),” he shared. 

Tagana left Samar in 1975 to work in Manila. Since then, he has been regularly visiting Quiapo church. 

He has been attending the annual feast for years – first as an onlooker, then as one of the “climbers” on the Nazarene carriage televised each year, and now as a vendor.

Tagana is just one of the many vendors scattered across the city of Manila during the feast. Some sell food and water; others sell candles, flowers, and Nazareno souvenirs. (READ: The business of devotion)

POPE/NAZARENE SHIRT. John Tagana says his shirts featuring the face of the Black Nazarene and the Pope are his bestsellers. Photo by Honey Albiso

Pero ‘yung shirts ko mas mabenta, mas mahal. Kasi may picture ni Pope (My shirts sell well, even if they’re more expensive, because they have a picture of the Pope),” says Tagana.

He observes that some customers love seeing the Nazarene and Pope Francis together, even if only on a shirt. “Excited sila sa combination na ‘yan (That combination  excites them).” 

Tagana would like to see the Pope during his 5-day visit in the Philippines from January 15 to 19; unfortunately, he is a busy man and has some carpentry duties to do.  His wife will see the Pope.

Tagana’s wife stays at home with their 4 kids for most of the year, but on this day, she joins her husband in selling Nazarene items. The two work separately, a smart business plan, according to the couple. 

Gala-gala lang, gawa ng paraan para maubos paninda. Minsan ‘pag hapon na, nagbibigay discount (We go around, looking for ways to sell all our items. Sometimes, we give discounts late in the day),” Tagana says.

When it rains, business stalls, but doesn’t stop. 

The procession goes on with or without rain. The rain is actually favored by some devotees since it makes their march less hot. Their skin would feel cool either from drizzle or sweat. 

Many of these devotees wear Tagana’s shirt, and his towels have mostly kissed the face of the Black Nazarene.

 Tagana’s shirts sell for P220 apiece, and his handkerchiefs and towels for P20 each. He sells by the dozens for hours and hours until the thick Manila crowd disappears.

As a carpenter, he only earns around P600 a day. “Mas malaki talaga kita ko ‘pag pista ng Quiapo (I earn more during the feast in Quiapo).” 


Tagana’s faith in the Black Nazarene strengthened in 2002 when his youngest son, then only 9 years old, suffered from thoracic pneumonia. 

He was uncertain whether his son could survive. He prayed, and even fought the Nazarene. “Sabi ko, ‘pag kinuha mo anak ko, papasubugin ko ‘yang ospital” (I said, if you take my son, I will blow up the hospital).”

Soon enough, his son recovered. Tagana has never forgotten this incident which he calls a “miracle.”  

Milagro talaga siya. Basta humiling ang tao sa Nazareno, ibibigay. Pero kahit magasgas tuhod mo kakadasal, kung ‘di ka naman masipag maghanapbuhay, wala rin (It was really a miracle. If you seek something from the Nazarene, it would be granted. But even if you scratch your knees praying, nothing would come out of it if you won’t work hard),” he says. 

Tagana knows that not all Filipinos believe in what he believes in, but he is not bothered. “Pabayaan na lang kami, ‘di naman kayo napeperwisyo, ‘wag nyo na kontrahin (Leave us be. We dont bother you anyway so don’t counter us).” 

The procession is moving quite slowly as it begins to drizzle. The carpenter-turned-vendor still has a long day ahead of him.

And he is smiling. –

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