Thousands of Filipinos mark ‘Black Nazarene’ feast, pray for end to COVID scourge
MANILA (PHILIPPINES) – Thousands of Catholic believers in the Philippines maintained social distancing while lining up for Saturday morning masses in Manila to celebrate the feast of the ‘Black Nazarene’, a centuries-old black wooden statue of Jesus Christ believed to work miracles.
Authorities cancelled the annual procession with the life-sized image because of the pandemic. Usually, the procession witnesses millions of devotees congregating on the streets and it has been observed for two centuries.
Instead of the procession, church authorities conducted 15 masses at Quiapo church in the capital, where the image of the ‘Black Nazarene’ is housed, and livestreamed the worship services and also appealed to believers not to flock into the basilica.
“I am not afraid to go here even with the risk of COVID-19 because I have faith in Jesus the Nazarene. Every year, every week I go to church,” said Arjay Echon, 29, a supermarket worker and devotee.
Wearing a face mask and carrying a small replica of the ‘Black Nazarene’, he prayed for the pandemic to end.
As per police estimates, there were as many as 23,000 as of Saturday morning.
Those standing in queue were reminded by volunteers to maintain one-metre distancing and fill out contact tracing forms. Believers inside the church were disinfected before they received communion.
A former Spanish colony for centuries, the nation is about 80% Roman Catholic.
“People were patiently in queue, waiting for their turn to get inside the church,” said Father Douglas Badong, parochial vicar.
During the annual procession, millions of pilgrims come barefooted to touch the statue of Christ carrying a heavy cross on his shoulder. Two people died and 1,200 were injured in the dusk-to-dawn procession in 2016.
The reason behind the statue, which was carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines in the 17th century, turning black is not known.
With more than 483,000 infections and 9,300 fatalities, the Philippines has the second-highest coronavirus cases and casualties in Southeast Asia.