Things to know about the Feast of the Black Nazarene

Janella Paris

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Things to know about the Feast of the Black Nazarene
The yearly feast is expected to gather millions of devotees in the country’s historic capital

MANILA, Philippines – On January 9 of each year, devotees of the Black Nazarene walk through the streets of Manila for the ritual of traslacion. It is an almost day-long procession of the Black Nazarene statue­ ­– also called the Nazareno – which is deemed miraculous by its believers.

The ritual procession is only one part of the feast devoted to the image. Here are other things to know about the Feast of the Black Nazarene:

1. There are debates on how the statue got its dark hue

Many believe that the image, made by an unnamed Mexican sculptor, was brought to Manila via the Acapulco galleon trade on May 31, 1606. People, however, still could not agree on how the statue got its color.

Some accounts attribute the dark hue to candles being burned before the image. The more widespread belief is that, once lighter in hue, it was seared by a fire on the galleon transporting it to the Philippines. (READ: Making sense of the Nazarene devotion)

But based on the research of theologian Monsignor Sabino A. Vengco Jr of the Loyola School of Theology, the statue was never white to begin with. According to GMA News, the wood used for the statue had always been black. Mesquite wood, black to the core like the Philippine kamagong, was a widely used material during the time that the statue was carved. 

2. Traslacion is only one of the various rituals surrounding the image of the Nazareno

People often conflate the traslacion with the Feast of the Black Nazarene itself. The traslacion is merely the procession, the latter the entire feast— from the various Mass celebrations to the displays of devotion to the Nazareno’s miraculous powers. (SCHEDULE: Nazareno 2019 activities)

On the first day of the feast, devotees bring their own replicas of the Nazareno to be blessed at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church. This happens at around noon – devotees brave the heat and congestion, anticipating the next few days of penitence.  (LOOK: Catholic devotees participate in the blessing of the replica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila)

There is also the ritual of pahalik, which takes place at the Quirino Grandstand. Devotees kiss the image of the Nazareno, believing it could bring miracles into their lives. During this ritual, they also wipe the image with their handtowels and clothes for the same reason. As they line up for their turn to kiss the image, some devotees kneel while others walk barefoot.

Other rituals include the pasindi (lighting of votive candles), pabihis [ritual changing of the statue’s garments and various novenas or Mass celebrations, after which devotees participate in pabendisyon (sprinkling of Holy Water)].

3. There are debates on what immense devotion to the image implies

Some evangelists have deemed the feast idolatrous. For them, the immense veneration of the Nazareno is tantamount to sin. (READ: Netizens debate on idolatry, bible verses, and religion)

But for some Catholics, devotees need only purify their faith to keep the feast from getting violent. Every year, hundreds are injured in the procession. In 2006, a stampede even killed one devotee.

Reverend Monsignor Clemente Ignacio, who was rector and parish priest of Quiapo Church for 7 years, said that fanaticism and devotion are distinct practices. In an interview with ABS-CBN in anticipation of the 2017 feast, he said in a mix of English and Filipino: “The object of fanaticism is the self…[Devotion’s] attention is to God. Their expression of faith may be loud but it is not fanaticism. Fanaticism has no heavenly intention.”

Sociologists of religion have also studied the feast, which is considered one of the most important events in Philippine Catholicism.

Dr Manuel Sapitula of the University of the Philippines said that instead of just blind devotion, followers of the Nazareno above all aspire for a good life. Participating in the feast is just one of their ways of reaching that goal.

Meanwhile, Dr Jayeel Cornelio of the Ateneo de Manila University said that many believers find solidarity in the image of Christ bearing his cross; it speaks to the hardships of most of the Nazareno’s believers. More than that, they also find solidarity with fellow devotees. (READ: OPINION: The contradictions of the Black Nazarene)

4. The feast is also celebrated in other parts of the country

Devotion to the Nazareno is far-reaching. In Cagayan de Oro City, a procession is also organized using an official replica of the Nazareno given by the Quiapo Church in 2009. (READ: Cagayan de Oro ready to celebrate 10th Black Nazarene traslacion)

In Catarman, Northern Samar, devotees have been venerating the Nazareno since another replica also given as a gift by the Quiapo Church arrived in the municipality. They celebrated their first traslacion in 2015.

Filipino devotees abroad find their way to pay homage, too. In countries like Australia and the US, followers of the Nazareno hold yearly Mass celebrations honoring the image. They also parade their replicas within parish premises. In 2012, a replica of the Nazareno was even canonically enshrined at the Saint Catherine of Siena Parish in California.

The theme of this year’s traslacion is: “Deboto ng Poong Hesus Nazareno, Hinirang at pinili upang maging lingkod Niya.”

Officials of Quiapo Church are anticipating the participation of 20 million devotees in the feast and about 5 million in the procession.

As a security measure, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will deploy over 7,000 police officers to patrol the 6.1-kilometer route from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church. Systems have also been put in place to further secure the event. (LIST: Banned items, activities during Nazareno 2019)

With devotees coming back every year to bear the Nazareno on their shoulders, to witness how it may come to perform miracles, and to join other faithfuls in the million-strong procession, it is clear that they believe in the power of their devotion. –

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