Devotees of the Black Nazarene crowded outside the church of Manila’s old Quiapo district on the last day of the year to mark the start of an annual feast that usually attracts millions of people.
An estimated 64,000 crowd joined the thanksgiving procession for the Black Nazarene midnight of Dec. 31.
Philippine authorities said this year’s procession was record-breaking because it was over in only one hour and 40 minutes, compared to previous years when it took more than four hours.
“The longer the time that we spend in the procession, the more it is susceptible to crime, susceptible to threats,” said police Brigadier General Debold Sinas, head of the capital’s police office.
Monsignor Hernando Coronel, rector of Quiapo church, said this year, the image of Jesus carrying a cross was placed on a carroza, or float, instead of on a platform called andas, which was used to be pulled by the faithful during the procession.
“There were no banners, no unruly mob that used to climb the andas,” he noted.
The priest described this year’s procession as “the most solemn and orderly,” adding that even those who followed the event on social media noticed the behavior of the crowd.
This year’s thanksgiving procession also saw changes with devotees following the carroza of the Nazarene. “Everyone had candles and prayed the rosary,” said Monsignor Coronel.
Authorities said the same security arrangement will be implemented during the traslacion procession, or the transfer of the image during actual feast on Jan. 9.
Attending Catholics said their faith continues to be strong despite their failure to touch the image of the Black Nazarene during the thanksgiving procession.
“It is not necessary to touch or to get near the Black Nazarene,” said Elmer, 51, a devotee since he was 15 years old. “I have always believed that he’s just there, anytime I can go to him,” he said.
JR Aquino, 32, said that although some people were disappointed because they failed to touch the image of Jesus, “I don’t mind because I’m here to just give thanks to the Nazarene for everything.
“I still won’t be separated with the Nazarene because he gave me the strength to still be devoted to him, to worship him,” said Romy, a devotee since 1953.
The thanksgiving procession on the last day of the year is held annually ahead of the big religious procession every Jan. 9.
Traslacion, which means transfer, is often referred to as the Feast of the Black Nazarene. It emulates the “solemn transfer” of the image from its original shrine in the old Manila to the Minor Basilica in Quiapo in 1787.
The Black Nazarene is a life-size image of a dark-skinned, kneeling Jesus Christ carrying the cross.
Every year, on Jan. 9, millions of devotees join a procession to re-enact the 1787 transfer.
The annual religious event is the largest procession in the country, drawing millions of devotees thronging to touch the icon and lasting 20 hours at the most.