(Photos by Rafael R. Zulueta)
THE first time I ever took part in the Feast of the Black Nazarene, which takes place in the district of Quiapo, Manila, every January 9, was years ago, when Tita Chona Trinidad, a seasoned food columnist/writer, brought me and my husband Raff along with her. Back then, the procession started at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (better known as simply Quiapo Church), made the rounds of the area and returned to the church. Tita Chona’s annual routine during the Feast of the Black Nazarene was to join a group of friends on the second floor of the PS Bank building standing right in front of Quiapo Church across Plaza Miranda. The owner of the building, whose name escapes me now, usually had lunch catered and invited friends to come and partake of the food, after which they could watch the procession of the Black Nazarene from the windows. The second floor provided a good vantage point for watching the procession, and it was safe to watch from there because the owner’s guests did not have to join the crowd at ground level and run the risk of getting hurt when the crowd became rather unruly when passions ran high. Besides, the second floor had a concrete overhang, so Raff had a great vantage point when the procession passed right beside the building. I felt very privileged to have experienced the procession of the Black Nazarene that way.
But that precious experience never had a repeat, and crowds grew larger with the years, and without a sure vantage point to look forward to, Raff and I had to content ourselves with watching the annual procession during the Feast of the Black Nazarene on TV. The route of the procession has changed since then, now starting at the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park, making the rounds of certain streets and districts of the City of Manila and ending right back at Quiapo Church after an agonizingly slow 16- to 22-hour procession.
Today, January 9, 2015, Raff and I broke our TV tradition and hied off to Quiapo to join the festivities of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, the life-sized iconic statue of Jesus Christ carved by an anonymous Mexican artist in the 16th century depicting Jesus bearing the cross en route to his crucifixion at Golgotha.
It was, of course, my bright idea to go to Quiapo to witness the Traslacion (“solemn transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene” from the Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church). Raff put his feet down at first, but after repeated assurances that I wouldn’t insist on going too near the Black Nazarene and that I wanted only crowd shots and photos of the Andas (it’s what they call the carriage or carroza used to carry the image of the Black Nazarene) from afar, he finally consented to it. But not before he had me promise that I would follow his strategy and that once he got some shots of the procession and the Andas, we would back off.
I googled the route of the procession and let Raff decide how to go about it.
So, off we went to Quiapo this morning, driving to SM Marikina, then leaving the car there and taking the LRT (Line 2) from Santolan all the way to Recto. Arriving at the Recto station of the LRT before 12 noon, we walked the entire stretch from the Recto station of the LRT to Plaza Lacson in Sta. Cruz, Manila, through McArthur Bridge and along Padre Burgos, passing the National Museum.
On we went, joining the thick crowds that have gathered everywhere along the route of the procession. Devotees were already garbed in maroon and yellow shirts bearing the image of the Black Nazarene. Some Black Nazarene images were being paraded in carrozas along the streets. Small ones were carried by their owners. Vendors were aggressively selling Black Nazarene shirts and towels as well as charms. Other vendors offered bottled water, boiled corn, fishballs and other street food.
I wanted to go up the steps of the National Museum and wait for the procession of the Black Nazarene there, but Raff said it would take several hours more for the procession to get there and, by then, it might start to get dark. Our strategy was to walk on until we get to where the procession was, I would stay on the side, Raff would take some pictures, and then we would break away from the crowd and start walking back to Quiapo to take pictures of the church and the devotees waiting there and then head back to the LRT station and get on our way back home.
A little past the corner of Maria Orosa St. along Padre Burgos, we saw the procession arriving, with a sea of devotees carrying banners on sticks, towels being waved in the air, and crowds chanting “Viva!.” We went to the left side of the road, climbing onto an island, where we had a vantage point but was safely away from the crowd. I had goose bumps, especially when the two large ropes being pulled by the barefoot devotees snaking through the sea of human heads came in sight. Some devotees were clambering up to the Andas for an opportunity to touch the image, and towels were being thrown up for the Hijos del Nazareno (*marshalls from the Quiapo Church who rode with the image of the Black Nazarene to protect it from possible damage) to wipe on the miraculous image and throw back to the owner. Just how far a devotee would go to profess his faith by putting his life on the line simply overwhelmed me.
A few shots later, Raff faced me and commanded “Atras na!” and I did. We walked away and found our way back to the “safe” part of Padre Burgos and walked back to Quiapo through the Quezon Bridge. We ended up at Plaza Miranda in front of Quiapo Church, where thick crowds had gathered to attend the hourly Masses being held until the Traslacion reached Quiapo Church.
By 3:00 p.m., we were at Mang Inasal in Isetann Recto having very late lunch and, a few minutes later, back in an LRT coach on our way back to Santolan station, Pasig City. We had called it a day.
It’s half past midnight as I finish writing this blog post. Monitoring the progress of the procession on TV, the Traslacion hadn’t reached Quiapo Church yet. I will be hitting the bed in a few minutes, feeling sublimely joyful that I was part of the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene this year. It’s an enriching experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
I end my day telling Raff, “Next year uli,” and his smile and nod in response are precious.