The first major event to happen in the Philippine calendar of celebrations, fiestas and occasions is the Traslacion (transfer) of the old image of the Black Nazarene in Manila on 9 January. Although concentrated in the district of Quiapo, a densely populated, decaying part of the city, the annual Traslacion has fascinated the whole nation, as well as the whole world, for its protracted procession that shows fervent devotion, magnified by millions of participants.
The Black Nazarene is one of the two images of Jesus Christ most venerated by the dominantly Catholic Filipinos. The other one is the Santo Niño or the image of the infant Jesus, whose feast day immediately follows after the Black Nazarene Traslacion.
The Black Nazarene is the image of Jesus of Nazareth, whose liturgical feast day is actually Good Friday. The 9 January event is the commemoration of the transfer or arrival of the centuries-old image in Quiapo Church, which is dedicated ever since to Saint John the Baptist and is now known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Many refer to the event as the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
The Black Nazarene is a life-size statue of a kneeling Jesus Christ carrying a cross. The name came from the fact that the complexion is dark, many say because of the wood used. The color of the skin differs from all the religious statues in the country, most of which have fair complexion. The color of the skin endeared the statue to many Filipinos as it is the closest to that of Filipino
skin. Moreover, the suffering depicted by the statue reflects the struggle many people undergo.
After Christmas, people start preparing for the Traslacion. On 29 December 2018, the two images underwent the Pabihis or the changing of the dress in preparation for the activities and the procession. On 31 December 2018, a thanksgiving Mass was celebrated and the nine-day novena started. On 7 January 2019, devotees brought their own images or replicas of the Black Nazarene to be blessed and for a procession. The following day the main image of Quiapo Church was transferred to the Quirino Grandstand at the Rizal Park with a send-off Mass. There, the Pahalik or the kissing, touching and praying to the statue started together with a vigil. By the crack of day, the Traslacion procession will begin, and it will be dramatic.
Father Douglas Badong, assistant parish priest of Quiapo Church, has been executive director of Procession Committee of the Traslacion for three years now. He explains the history, devotion and other aspects of the event.
Daily Tribune: Can you share briefly the history and background of the Black Nazarene and the Traslacion?
Father Douglas Badong (FDB): This is Saint John the Baptist Parish. Even during the Spanish times, this was already a parish and then in 1600, according to some history books, the image of the Black Nazarene arrived here in Manila. And it was assigned to one of the parishes near Luneta, which was Bagumbayan. There was a parish there named also after Saint John the Baptist, handled by the Recollects. And when the time came that they had to depart, they left the care of the image here in Quiapo. That was about a hundred years after.
According to history books, it was in 1700 when the image was transferred to Quiapo, to Saint John the Baptist Parish. And then began the veneration of the people to the image of the Black Nazarene and that was when it started to become part of the devotion of many Filipinos, specifically men. So, those that the image of the Black Nazarene attracted were the menfolk here in Quiapo Church. That is why we have the Traslacion, which is the transfer of image from the original house in Luneta going to Quiapo Church.)
DT: What are the characteristics, components and practices of the traslacion and the devotion to Black Nazarene?
FDB: It has been part of the culture of the devotees that they are not merely called devotees but mamamasan [literally, one who carries on the shoulder] because in the beginning they really carried on their shoulders the image of the Nazarene for a procession around Quiapo Church or the parish of Quiapo until this evolved. There are still groups of devotees from different areas who do also pasanan. But originally, pasanan started in Quiapo; they carried the Nazarene on their shoulders, the menfolk, for a procession. It is one of the things that became part of the activities to honor the image of Quiapo.
And perhaps another fervent thing is when they do the procession. They need to be barefooted. Rain or shine, they must be barefooted. They can withstand the heat and rain for the sacrifice they do. Sometimes as sacrifice, sometimes because of intense prayer, intense request to God about their needs that they do it. Until the devotees were not able to do it so it was placed on a carriage.
And then on the carriage, because it was heavy, ropes were put to pull it. It evolved that they do not only want to carry the tingga but to hold the ropes attached to the tingga which move the carriage forward. These are important to the devotees — to hold the ropes, to enter the area within the ropes.
And then, here in Quiapo [Church], of course, [the practice of] walking on bended knees from the door to the front of the altar and to venerate with your hands held up to the Nazarene like you accomplished something, that this is the sacrifice you did. These are all part of what we do here.
DT: These customs are not endorsed by the Church but came from the people themselves.
FDB: It just evolved by itself. The Church did not ask for anything but it just came out from the people, the expression of faith of the devotees. It is not mere touching of the rope but it is their faith in touching the rope like it is their prayer. This is what drives them to do it. Until the Church came to understand this expression of faith of the devotees because this is an intense thing they do for the Nazarene only. I don’t know of any other religious practices with this kind of expression. This is intense only for the Nazarene.
DT: What can you tell me about the pabihis?
FDB: The pabihis has become part of the tradition, that when there is a big feast in the name of Lord Jesus of Nazareth, they dress up the image of the Nazarene, the one in the altar. It has become part of the tradition of the devotees. Many people want to sponsor, to volunteer as thanksgiving or petition. They come here to espress that they want to dress up the image. It means they will take care of the dress or the cost of the pabihis. When the old dress is taken off from the Nazarene, it will be presented to the people to kiss it because it is part of their devotion which involves blessings or the granting of miracles. It is a simple changing of the dress but we include a liturgy, some catechism so that the people will understand that despite being made of wood our faith goes beyond the image.
DT: Tell us about the image or images of the Black Nazarene.
FDB: The original image is perhaps more than 500 years old. It came from another country, brought here by the Recollects and then after a hundred years was given to Quiapo. And we celebrated more than 400 years of the feast of the traslacion. Since it is made of wood, it is now fragile and we need to be careful. The previous administrators of Quiapo [Church] decided to break the original image. So the original image is the one venerated at the altar; it has the original head and even the original feet. The original body is in the one being put out in procession during the traslacion. That’s the one downstairs, which is available for the people to kiss. It is put out only on Good Friday and during the traslacion itself to protect the original image. But we have what we call pilgrim image. This is the replica of the Nazarene. Presently, there are three replicas in case somebody might request for the image. It can be brought to other places, even the far ones, and stay for five days for people who cannot go to Quiapo. This is like Christ Himself goes to these places, Christ Himself comes down to the people or so that the people will be able to come to Him. That’s the image of the Nazarene, which is He is not difficult to approach and He is not difficult to find.
DT: What is the obvious commonality among the devotees?
FDB: If you notice, many of the devotees of the Nazarene — although this is of recent development — are really men. These are the ones called by the Nazarene, men whom society considers as drunkards, bullies, ne’er-do-wells. I don’t know what God’s reasons are but they are the ones called. They are the ones called to spearhead this. Then it is passed on.
There was a group formed to take care of the image. They were called cofradia. This was a group of men who took care of the image and spread the devotion to the Nazarene.
Through the years, it is now called Hijos del Nazareno. They are now the ones who take care of the procession and even of the image. They also take the image to different places, the official image of Quiapo.
DT: How about the number of devotees?
FDB: Yearly — based on my experience in the three years and going on my fourth this traslacion — [the number of devotees] is increasing. It did not decrease even when there was threat of danger. The devotees cannot be dissuaded, whether it is weekend or weekday. The feast day is not moveable. It really is 9 January. This is the most important day for the devotees.
DT: What are the common reasons for the devotion?
FDB: Others keep returning because it is part of their vows, part of their thanksgiving for requests granted. For example, those who have been sick. Many more are those who asked for their children, for their loved ones who were hopeless cases but saw improvements when they came to Quiapo. Their ailments suddenly disappeared. They were suddenly well. And there are those who come yearly or every Friday to Quiapo. It is part of the lives to go to Quiapo. Even though they are from faraway places, they try to come because it is part of their vows of thanksgiving. For others, it is part of their devotion or if they have something to ask God for. Now, there are many who are taking the board exams, applying for jobs.
These are their reasons to come. Others would say like, Lord, grant my request and I will always return to you.
DT: How did the devotion become so big or prevalent?
FDB: This is really a work of God because this is not only confined to Quiapo. In my three years here in Quiapo, I had the chance to visit groups of devotees in different places. It seems that there groups in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. For example, there is a traslacion being held in Catarman, Samar. There is a traslacion in Tagum. There is also a traslacion in Palawan. There is a traslacion in Bicol aside from the Penafrancia. Recently, I came back from Batanes because we donated a replica there. They will be having a traslacion there this year.
This is not only in the Philippines because there are devotees who are from Quiapo who went abroad and they organize groups of devotees. So every Friday — because the devotion of the Nazarene is on Friday; that’s why they say Friday is Quiapo Day — they gather in devotion in UAE, Canada, America. Where there are devotees, there is a Nazareno.
DT: How did the Mass for the replicas come about?
FDB: Because there are many replicas now, the previous priests here thought of designating a day for the replicas of the Nazarene — the regular date is 7 January — when all the images, big, small, are brought here and they will be blessed. This is a way of giving proper honor to the replicas together with the blessing. It has become of part of their devotion to bring their replicas to the house of the Nazarene to be blessed with holy water.
DT; What happens during the traslacion?
FDB: The traslacion is brought to Luneta because that is really the original place. Before, it was only around Quiapo but when they celebrated the 400th year of the transfer of the image they thought of bringing it to Luneta, to the grandstand. After that, yearly it has been the practice. The length of time is not perfected yet because many devotees are so intent on holding the ropes so there is a little disorder. Now, the procession is being held in the morning. Devotees would gather first in Luneta on 8 January. There would be a celebration or program. By midnight, there would be a Mass and then a program and before the day breaks the procession would proceed. From Luneta back to Quiapo. From Luneta, it will pass by the City Hall, Santa Cruz, San Sebastian and the back to Plaza Miranda. If you think about it, it is a short route but because of devotees obstructing the way, some meeting the image itself, the procession takes longer, about 21 hours before it can brought back to the church.
DT: Since Catholicism, including the veneration of the Black Nazarene, was brought in by the Spaniards, what do you think is Filipino about the practice?
FDB: The carrying on the shoulders is Filipino. It is part of our culture of bayanihan, the practice of moving houses by carrying them. Perhaps, it started that way, lifting and carrying on the shoulders. This is like bayanihan of the devotees, helping out together to bring out the Nazarene to the people and to bring it back. Others we adapted from the Spaniards — the kneeling, the waving of handkerchiefs. Maybe because Filipinos are touchy that is why there is kissing. The devotees kiss the image as if whispering their requests.
DT: What aspect of the traslacion that affect you the most?
FDB: Persoanlly, I never thought of being assigned in Quiapo. Before, I though it to be disorderly. When I watched it on TV, it was disorderly. I never thought until one day I was told to transfer to Quiapo. The one place I didn’t want to be assigned to I was assigned to. Then, as I thought the procession to be disorderly, I was assigned to it. Thus, I am in-charge of the procession, I’m in-charge of the groups, the Hijos del Nazareno, to make it orderly. Very challenging. But here I witnessed the men you wouldn’t think would do this, men judged by society as addicts, drunkards, but when it comes to the Nazarene they cry, they kneel. They really have respect for the Nazarene. It is okay that they don’t respect us but they will bow to the Nazarene. It was very touching for me to witness it. Then, of course, when the image is returned, you will tear up from the sheer devotion. There are questionable things but you will tear up from the real devotees who cry in gratitude to the Nazarene.
DT: What is the meaning or the message of the Black Nazarene or the whole practice?
FDB: When you look at the Nazarene, many are attracted to its image. It is a symbol that tells us that we can handle any trials. The image of the Nazarene is a symbol of hope, of rising up. You think the image is of suffering, carrying the cross, kneeling, but it is an image of rising up and that says you can do it. And in rising up, you don’t let go of responsibility because the cross is part of the mission and responsibility of each of us. You don’t let it go.
You stand up with it. Stand up slowly. If you slip, try again.
Secondly, this is the image of God’s love. When you look at it, you will feel that Jesus carries the cross and wants to stand up because He loves us. Inside us, we are pulled towards the Nazarene and in approaching Him you will not lose hope and you will feel more the love of God.