Faithful fuel death-defying devotion

The feast of the Black Nazarene is one of the most celebrated religious events in the Philippines. Every year, millions join the day-long procession of the centuries-old statue of Jesus, enduring hardships  

Girlie Linao –
The young woman grimaced as a man’s elbow hit her shoulder while they scrambled to climb a carriage carrying a centuries-old iconic statue of Jesus Christ during an annual procession in Manila.
Undeterred, she clambered up and quickly wiped a white towel she was clutching on the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene, fondly called “Poon,” before diving into the heaving sea of devotees on the ground.
The scene is repeated many times as the day-long procession of the Black Nazarene crawled through the streets of central Manila, where millions join the festivities to honour the statue believed to be miraculous.
“It’s really a death-defying show of devotion,” said 78-year-old Ernesto David Sr, who has never missed a procession in the past 50 years. ‘‘But this is sacrifice that only comes from strong faith.”
“The rewards are plenty and worth it,” the father of nine children added.
David said he started joining the annual procession when his eldest son almost died from choking as a child but recovered well after he prayed for his good health to the Black Nazarene.
Since then, he promised to participate every year for as long as he can.
“I promised no end to my devotion, because there is no end to God’s goodness,” he said, as tears swelled in his eyes.
Every year, millions of barefoot devotees join the procession and other activities during the feast of the Black Nazarene, one of the most celebrated religious events in Philippines.
“We cannot belittle the devotion of these millions of Catholics that join the feast ever year,” said Father Jerome Secillano.
“For them, sacrifice makes their faith stronger and they get a sense of fulfilment after,” he added. ‘‘There is nothing wrong with that, but we do encourage them to be careful.”
Lyn Quidad, a 36-year-old single mother, quietly waited along the route of the procession as she prepared to try to mount the carriage for the first time in her seven-year participation.
“I’m doing this for my mother who is a devotee,” she said. “She suffered a stroke seven years ago and has been unable to participate anymore.”
Asked if she was worried about getting injured in her attempt to get close to the statue, Quidad said, “Not really because I will not force myself and there are people who will help me.”
Quidad went to the procession with a group of about 30 people.
Among them is Jane Pascua, a petite 24-year-old college student who has successfully reached the Black Nazarene during four previous processions.
“I feel really good after doing it, I feel like I can survive any challenge in my life after,” she said. ‘‘Of course, my body aches a little but the pain goes away the following day.”
Thousands of devotees get hurt annually in the activities, and dozens have died in the past from heart attack, suffocation or heat stroke from the crush of the crowd.
While many devotees lacked sleep after staying up overnight for a vigil or coming very early to the route, their excitement built up as the Black Nazarene neared.
Shouting “Viva, Viva, Viva,” they waved their white towels and handkerchiefs as a welcome to the statue.
It’s not uncommon to see children in the procession despite the dangers and appeals by authorities to leave them at home, as families pass on the tradition to the young. — dpa