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Mother of all processions

In terms of sheer crowd size and duration, no Filipino one-day religious event comes close to the annual staging of Traslacion.

If previous events are any indication, today’s (January 9) re-enactment is expected to attract almost 12 million devotees from all over. It will take the sea of maroon and yellow some 20 hours on the road as it moves the anda bearing the image of the Black Nazarene, inch by inch, from Luneta through the streets of Quiapo district and finally to the Quiapo church.

Towards the end of the procession route, the Black Nazarene will stop briefly at Plaza del Carmen, alongside the San Sebastian Church. The image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be taken down from the high altar and will be brought as close as possible to “meet” the Black Nazarene.

After the brief meeting, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary meeting Jesus Christ on His way to Calvary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is returned to the altar as the procession departs for its final destination.

Reported threats from terrorist groups are not expected the dampen the interest of devotees many of whom strongly believe in the miraculous healing powers attributed to the image.

A good number of the participants – estimated by police at close to 500,000 – are expected to walk barefoot, jostling close to the image, in an attempt to physically touch the image or have their towels wipe at least a part of the image.

Similar, albeit smaller, processions replicating the Traslación are also held on January 9 in other parts of the country. One of the bigger celebrations has been held in Cagayan de Oro City since 2009. Two years ago, devotees in Catarman, Northern Samar initiated their own Traslacion.

Overseas, our compatriots in some parts of the US and Australia observe a similar tradition. As in Quiapo, a copy of the image is paraded through the streets or within the parish bounds, with devotees reciting prayers in its wake.

In parts of Central America, devotees observe a similar practice to honor their Christo Negro.

The Black Nazarene was commissioned by Spanish Agustinian Recollect friars in Mexico and then transported to Manila via galleon around 1600. According to Monsignor Sabino A. Vengco, Jr., from the Loyola School of Theology, the unknown Mexican sculptor must have used mesquite, a dark wood, popularly used by early Spaniards.

For almost two hundred years, the Black Nazarene transferred residence from one church to another within Manila. The penultimate residence of the Black Nazarene was a church in the neighborhood of Luneta. It was not until 1787 when it finally and permanently resided in Quiapo church.

The Traslacion commemmorates the transfer from Luneta to Quiapo.

Pope Innocent X approved the veneration of the statue in 1650 while Pope Pius VII gave it his apostolic blessing in 1880, granting plenary indulgence to pious devotees.

Over the years, the image began to deteriorate. The original image is said to have lost several fingers. To preserve it, the Archbishop of Manila reportedly decided to have two replicas made.

One replica is said to consist of the original head attached to a body sculpted by a local “saintmaker”. The second replica is said to consist of the original body and a head which was likewise sculpted locally.

True or not, the difference hardly matters to the devotees. Participation in the Traslacion is the devotees’ once-a-year way of sharing in the agony of Jesus Christ as he carried the cross to Calvary. It is also a way of possibly being healed of some ailments or to have some personal or family favors granted.

Unfortunately for some, the Traslacion does not always have a happy ending. The police reports, year in and year out, multiple injuries, and occasional deaths, due to heat stroke, hyperglycemia, dehydration and trampling. Quite a number go home sans their wallets because of thieves wearing devotees’ clothes.

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(Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye)