01/07/2023, 13.17
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Manila holds first Black Nazarene festival post Covid

Suspended due to the pandemic, the festival resumes this year albeit with some limitations including the cancellation of the procession. Thousands of worshippers have been attending the celebrations at the church in Quipao for days. Additional 5,000 officers deployed, municipality suspends alcohol sales. 

Manila (AsiaNews) - Suspended for two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Philippine authorities have authorized - albeit with some restrictions - celebrations related to the "Black Nazarene" scheduled from today until Jan. 9.

It is one of the most important events for the Church and the faithful in the Philippines, the only Catholic-majority country on the Asian continent, and linked to the century-old wooden statue of Christ.

Each year, the Translation of the sacred sculpture from its original site - the church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino - to the parish of Quiapo, Manila, concludes a novena (Dec. 31-Jan. 9) and is attended by millions of faithful gathered in prayer, to ask for a personal grace or miracle.

In the Philippines, more than 82 percent of the approximately 110 million population is Catholic. Among the religious celebrations, the procession of the "Black Nazarene" is among the most famous and well attended.

The statue represents Jesus bent under the weight of the Cross. It was brought to Manila by a Spanish Augustinian priest in 1607 aboard a ship from Mexico.

According to tradition, the vessel caught fire during the voyage, but the image of Christ miraculously escaped the fire by taking on the color black.

The procession commemorates the first movement of the statue, which took place on January 9, 1767. Along the entire route (seven kilometers) of the Translation, worshippers flock to touch or kiss the sculpture in devotion, creating huge gatherings, which is why the event was canceled in the previous two years of the pandemic's peak.

Even for 2023, while authorizing the festival, authorities have decided to ban the procession amid fears of an escalation of contagions and have imposed some special conditions regarding prevention and public health.

Worshippers in the capital city have long feared that, again for this year, the feast would be cancelled en bloc. However, on Jan. 3, the Quipao church received the green light from police and health authorities.

Fr. Earl Allyson Valdez, pastor of Quiapo, reports that "instead of kissing the feet of the statue, the faithful will be able to simply approach and touch the Black Nazarene" thus avoiding "the risk of contagion."

The priest added that several thousand worshippers have already begun attending services held at the shrine these days.

Manila Police Director Andre Dizon announced the deployment of an additional 5,000 officers, but it is difficult to predict exactly how many people will attend.

The capital's mayor, Honey Lacuna, also announced a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages during the celebrations. "No bottles of alcohol will be sold to Manila residents, pilgrims, tourists and others from Jan. 7 to Jan. 9, to ensure he concluded--the protection of everyone during the celebrations."

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