Today is the 400th feast day of the Black Nazarene – the patron saint of Quiapo District in Manila. The Black Nazarene is a venerated figure of Christ the Nazarene carrying the cross on which he would be crucified, devotion to which is a centuries-old tradition in the Philippines. It is so called because the life-sized figure is black, in contrast to most images of Christ which show a Caucasian male. It was brought to the country from Mexico in 1606 and was supposedly turned black in a fire in which only the figure survived. Mexico also has a religious tradition of portraying Jesus as a black (or at least brown) man and the Black Nazarene may just be an extension of this tradition.
Days before, throngs of near-fanatical devotees, barefoot and holding white hankies and towels with the likeness of the Black Nazarene, converged on the Catholic Quiapo church. Late yesterday afternoon, the image was brought out of the church and, with much pomp and ceremony, brought to the Luneta Park for an overnight vigil. At 11:00 a.m. today, a procession of thousands of devotees brought it back to the Quiapo church for the traditional Catholic Mass and other festivities. All roads in and around Quiapo are jammed, resulting in the cancellation of classes and work in the area. Police presence is heavy, what with the renewed threats of terrorism and the ever-present possibility of a deadly stampede. In past years, the thick, almost uncontrollable crowd inevitably resulted in fatalities. People are suffocated, crushed, fall into open manholes, fall into the Pasig River, have heart attacks and are injured and die in any number of ways that only Manila can provide. But still they come, from all walks of life. Among the devotees are the Vice President, Noli De Castro, and various politicos and celebrities who, at one time or another, were favored by the Black Nazarene.
People call upon the Black Nazarene for help in times of dire need, from winning an election, to finding a mate, to passing the bar exam. But the Black Nazarene is most renowned for healing illnesses. It is said that to touch the image or just its cloak, specially on its feast day, would cure any malady for a believer. Stories abound of miracles attributed to the Black Nazarene. We need one such healing miracle for our troubled country now.