Manila is easily a locus of crime and wrongdoing, of pollution and disaster, yet it is also the cradle of Catholic worship in the Philippines, the blackened image of Jesus Christ carrying the cross revered all over the country for its miraculous powers.
And it all happens in Quiapo, notorious all over the country for its crime, every first Sunday of January. During this day, the best and worst of human intentions co-exist, not in the least peacefully, in the Philippines’ biggest annual procession in the name of religion.
The Nazarene’s carriage is always full of devotees scrambling to touch the statue, which is believed to be miraculous. Crowds get so thick the typical 3-or-so kilometer procession takes about 10 hours to complete, with many reported injured – sometimes killed – in between.
In the 2010 Black Nazarene procession, the mass that usually precedes it was held at the Quirino Grandstand, an open field that was at that time full to bursting with people, young and old, poor and not, waving white towels as a form of salute to the image.
2010 had been an election year, and people running for local and national posts expectedly did not waste the chance to be “with the crowd.”
Parents came with their children, with some even taking their younger companions as far as pulling the ropes of the carriage – a dangerous venture that has caused one too many injuries and even deaths in the past.
Some devotees carry their own statue to the mass or procession. In Filipino Catholic homes, it is customary to keep smaller religious figures on the family altar, taken out every year to have these blessed with holy water or in occasions such as this, simply to emphasize devotion.
Many of those who attend the procession still do it the old way – barefoot, the occassion’s ultimate sign of sacrifice.
And yet there are those who drop by airconditioned malls in between, still with their dirt-covered soles, which establishments in Manila allow for that day alone.
Vendors, needless to say, had a field day that day.
Appearances are not a measure of faith: this much this man can say, who despite his rather colorful headdress, came alone holding a crutch on one hand and a statuette of the Nazarene on another.