The Black Nazarene, known to devotees in Spanish as Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (abbreviated as NPJN, or in English "Our Father Jesus Nazarene", while in Filipino, it's called "Mahal na Itim na Nazareno" or "Beloved Black Nazarene") is a life-sized, dark-colored, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, which is believed to be miraculous by many Filipino Catholics. Perhaps, but so far, only few had received an alleged blessing or miracle, and those were yet to be verified as we know hearsays are just as unreliable as gossips.
According to history, the sculpture was originally fair or light-complexioned, it turned dark after it was exposed to fire on its arrival from Mexico. The statue's original carver is an anonymous Mexican carpenter, and the image arrived in the islands via a galleon from Acapulco, Mexico.
There were actually two identical images of the Black Nazarene brought to Manila. The first and more famous one was kept at the old church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Bagumbayan and later transferred to Intramuros when the old edifice was demolished. This Black Nazarene was part of the celebrated Palm Sunday procession in intramuros, and was destroyed in the bombing during the Battle of Manila in February 1945.
The other statue was given by the Recollect Priests to the Quiapo church, and it has been often mistaken for the image lost during the war.
To protect the centuries-old image from the wear and stress during processions, the priests of the Quiapo Basilica commissioned a replica. The head and hands of the original are now placed on the copy of the body while the old torso holds the new head and hands. Both images are used for processions, alternating every other year save for the 400th anniversary in 2007, when the original was used as a whole.
The image is venerated with the weekly Friday Novena Masses and several annual processions.
The religious veneration of the Black Nazarene is rooted among Filipinos for the Passion of Jesus Christ. Many devotees of the Black Nazarene identify their poverty and daily struggles to the wounds and tribulations experienced by Jesus, as represented by the image.
The statue has merited the canonical sanction of Pope Pius VII who gave his Apostolic Blessing in the 19th century thereby granting plenary indulgence to those who piously pray before the statue.
Now, what is plenary indulgence? In Catholic theology, an indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. The belief is that indulgences draw on the Treasury of Merit accumulated by Christ's superabundantly meritorious sacrifice on the cross and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers. Well, it may sound great but note that indulgences had been abuse in the past and a good reason why there are protestants roaming the Earth. Such indulgence which can be obtained from a mere image is strongly criticized by Christian Protestants. So, whether to believe it is a good or bad thing really depends on point of view.
Another Papal sanction came from Pope Innocent X, who approved the Confraternity of the Most Holy Jesus Nazarene (Cofradia de Nuestro Santo Jesus Nazareno) which traditionally only accepts male members.
Devotees also pay homage to the Black Nazarene by clapping their hands in praise at the end of Mass offered at the shrine.
Two major and two minor processions are held annually to honor the Black Nazarene, namely one on the feast day itself and another on Good Friday.
The Black Nazarene is carried into the streets for procession in a shoulder-borne carriage known to devotees as the andas. The estimated number of devotees wear the color maroon, associated with the image, and go barefoot in imitation of Jesus on his way to Mount Calvary. Traditionally, only men are permitted to hold the ropes pulling the image's carriage, but in recent years, female devotees have also participated in the procession. These rope pullers are traditionally called namamasan or the carriers. There were reports of people who have been miraculously cured of their diseases for touching the Nazarene, although a formal investigation on the alleged miracles hasn't been made let alone the testimonies of the people. Catholics come from all over Manila to touch the image in the hopes of a miracle. Towels or handkerchiefs are hurled to the marshals and escorts guarding the Black Nazarene with requests to wipe these on the statue in hopes of the miraculous powers attributed to it rubbing off on the cloth articles or rather that's what Catholics believe.
The image is also brought out on two other occasions, namely New Year's Day and Good Friday, the latter being markedly more somber and silent in contrast to the loud celebration of the 9th January procession.
On the recent celebration, more people were hurt in the 22-hour procession compared to last year, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said on Tuesday.
Over 1,000 people were treated compared to the 709 last year.
Twenty-two suffered serious injuries, while 569 had minor wounds.
A total of 419, meanwhile, needed a check-up.
PRC secretary-general Gwen Pang, however, said this year's injuries is still fewer by percentage given the total number of devotees who joined the procession.
She added that majority of the devotees they treated were those already near the Quiapo church.
Some also loss consciousness, some fell from the carriage, while others suffered hypertension and even stroke due to stress.
Meanwhile, despite the alleged miracle cure of the Black Nazarene which devotees claimed, doctors advise people with illness not to participate in the celebration, particularly those with high blood pressures.
The procession despite being an honor to the Nazarene, which is Jesus Christ - the holy icon of the Christian faith, it is still being criticized by other religions, and even by their very own Catholic clergy. Christian Protestants dislike the idea of an image being paraded, calling it an "idol", since they believe the image was merely sculpted by an ordinary man and does not represent Jesus Christ at all. Furthermore, they believe nobody has seen Jesus Christ and that he should be worship in spirit, and not in terms of statues. Other believes the practice is outrageous because Jesus Christ is not black. Meanwhile, the Catholic priests criticize the devotees lack of concern towards their fellow devotees and the environment. They also blame the devotees for not following instructions and for their stubbornness. Some devotees attempted to climb the carriage, overloading it; resulting in the destruction of a rear wheel that almost crippled the carriage. A priest said that in this year's feast, he had seen the Nazarene's burden increased. He also said that it seems the people had added more weight to the cross of the Nazarene.
Some to most people in the procession were apathetic towards their own fellow devotees. They don't care if they trample or compromise others just as long as they manage to get their hands on the Black Nazarene, thinking that in doing so, they would be bless with good health, good fortune, miracle cure, etc. which a keen observer could easily spot as a "selfish act."
The essence of Jesus Christ was lost in the ignorance of the people. And, the fact that there are casualties in the event is enough for the procession to be labeled as "dangerous" and an act of "self-endangerment." Though, it's a mystery why the Catholic Church tolerate such practice when they know it could endanger their followers.
After the feast, the garbage collected were staggering. Several garbage collection teams were sent to Manila to clean up tons of trash left by at least 2 million devotees that joined the Black Nazarene procession on Monday.
The image entered the Quiapo Minor Basilica at 6:11 a.m., after a more than 22-hour procession. Garbage collectors immediately conducted a clean-up operation to remove the trash from the streets, which consisted mostly of plastic, styrofoam cups and paper plates. The procession also left a foul smell, particularly in the vicinity of Plaza Miranda. Portalets installed in Plaza Miranda remain uncollected, which left an unpleasant smell of urine.
Barangay Chairman Joey Uy Hamisola said trash and the stench of urine are problems every year after the procession.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle earlier appealed to the millions of devotees not to litter the streets of Manila.
"May pakiusap at hamon po ako, sana po ang Luneta grandstand at lahat ng daraanan ng prusisyon, walang makita kahit isang basura [eng: I have a favor to ask and a challenge, I hope Luneta grandstand and all the routes of the procession, won't have even a single garbage]," Tagle said during his homily in a concelebrated mass he officiated at the Qurino Grandstand on Monday.
"Patunayan natin na hindi na natin hihilahin si poong Nazareno at ang kalikasan pababa dahil sa ating kawalan ng pagmamalasakit. Hindi mo basurahan ang buong siyudad ng Maynila. Magpakumbaba, 'wag tayong maging mayabang [eng: Let's prove that we won't pull the almighty Nazarene and the environment down because of our lack of concern. The entire city of Manila is not your thrash can. Be humble, let's not be so proud]," he added.
Unfortunately, all those words seem nothing to the large attending crowd.
The Philippines is a country plague by massive poverty, and it seems to have further increased. This explains why the year's feast seem to have attracted more devotees. It is in Filipino thinking that in times of darkness and suffering, they look up to their God, and being Christians, their hope lies on Jesus Christ their savior.
However, let's admit it, while other countries thrive, flourish, and advance, the Philippines is still in the Dark Ages.