MANILA -- The annual procession celebrating the Feast of the Black Nazarene in downtown Quiapo in Manila often leaves us with memories of scenes of despair, sacrifice, and all other melodramatic show of emotions. The event is almost surreal.
But in the middle of such frenzy – such as in the recently concluded “Traslacion” that drew millions of people -- are random acts that show we are still on Earth and that those involved in the ultra-religious event are also human. Yes, the devotees also get bruised, feel tired, thirsty, hungry, and bored. Some are even fully aware they have to eke out a living, lest they be the ones carried in a procession.
Flashes of humor
While most devotees are seriously praying, seeking miracles or answers to their petitions, or tearfully expressing thanks for favors and answered prayers, some also find ways to make people smile and laugh.
Along the bridge near Carriedo St. and the Far Eastern University, to snap out of boredom and amuse the sweaty devotees a bit as they proceeded to the tail of the procession under the scourging heat, a fat guy stood in front of the carriage carrying a replica of the Black Nazarene, trying to pull it forward, instead of the usual practice of pulling the carriage rope to the direction of the procession.
"That's to help him burn the calories he got from binge eating in the holidays," his male companions quipped.At times, he also tried to push the cart against the direction of the procession, knowing the sheer magnitude of the people pushing the cart would outdo him anyway. He didn't help much in moving the image this way. But at least, he made his companions laugh their "sacrifice" away.
The Good Samaritans
Knowing that many devotees also need water to drink and food to eat, the staff of a beauty salon in downtown Escolta took time to put water jugs in front of their shop and offer water to drink and sandwiches to devotees who happened to stop by -- all for free.
Joy Oven and Adel Lajo, both staff of the salon, said they began the generous act a few years ago, when the image of the Holy Black Nazarene was allowed to pass by the bridge near Escolta.
They said they had decided to do it yearly also as a way of thanking God for the blessings they have been receiving, such as the salon's booming business. The beauty salon is owned by a Chinese and is patronized mostly by Chinese customers from nearby China Town.
"Maganda ang pasok ng negosyo at binibigyan din kami ng good health (The business is doing great and the Black Nazarene has also given us good health)," said Lajo.
For many vendors around the Quiapo area and nearby streets where many people pass by daily, the feast also means a big income opportunity.
As human traffic thickens, enterprising vendors sell a wide variety of souvenir items to passing devotees -- handkerchiefs, towels, necklaces, posters, T-shirts, and what have you, with the image of the Black Nazarene printed on them.
The handkerchiefs with the image of the Black Nazarene were the most saleable this year, especially in areas where the "Pahalik" -- or the moment the people are allowed to kiss the revered image of the Nazarene -- was done and also during the procession as the devotees waved handkerchiefs.
In Carriedo, just below the LRT station, several women do the T-shirt printing, using silkscreen paint and reproducing printed shirts, which they sell to devotees.
Vendors of fish balls, squid balls, hotdogs, and other street foods clearly got blessed by the event as well, as their sales soared.
Despite the rigors of the annual rite, Traslacion devotees are not super human beings. They could also get injured or, God forbid, die.
That is why various government agencies led by the Department of Health, in cooperation with local government units (LGUs) and private groups, took steps to prevent injuries among the participants and attend to health emergencies fast enough.
The DOH, hospitals in Metro Manila, health teams and medics of the Philippine Red Cross and LGUs gave medical aid and treated those who were injured, and provided ambulance cars for those who would need to be transferred to hospitals.
Troops of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and firefighters of the Bureau of Fire Protection were also around to ensure the safety and security of the devotees.
Many participants of the Traslacion come from far-away provinces. Many get up before dawn and walk miles during the procession. A lot of them thus take time to sit and rest on the sidewalks and even lie around and nap along Escolta, Carriedo, and Plaza Santa Cruz, where the procession passes.
Recharged by a nap, they are again ready to join the procession.
One devotee of the Black Nazarene, Dennis Codinez, a fisherman from Navotas, Manila, is a self-confessed “pasaway” (an unruly person) – or used to be one. He said the miraculous Black Nazarene changed him into a responsible man.
He was leading a Nazarene replica carriage in the form of a banca. Codinez and his companions called the image they were carrying the "Señor Sinag ng Mangingisda Poong Nazareno."
"Sinag" means light and they named their image so because God has enlightened them, who had gone astray and now seek reformation.
"Para masinagan kami ng liwanag. Para magbagongbukas, kasi dati kaming mga walanghiya. Nagtinuan lang dahil sa kanya (So light would shine upon us. So we would start anew. We used to be cads who changed because of Him (Black Nazarene)," Codinez told the Philippine News Agency.
The fisherman said they were also thankful to the Black Nazarene for their bountiful catch. (PNA)