17 July 2023

Manny was a regular participant of the Traslacion, or procession of the Black Nazarene, held each year on the 9th of January. The procession of 2018 was joined in by millions of devotees who overflowed the streets seven kilometers long. It started from Quiapo Church and returned there after some 20 hours. 

Source: Willie de Vera YouTube channel, Traslacion 2018 - Feast of the Black Nazarene

That day in 2018, Manny had been processing, barefooted, for about eight hours or so until he could see from some distance the Black Nazarene perched on the Andas (carriage). The Nasareno was on His knees carrying His cross. Chanting and praying in a cacophony of litanies, the crowd of devotees bumped against each other. But for the next hour or so, they could not move considerably forward. Manny was, however, prepared. To avoid suffocation amidst the mass of people, he used the defensive position his father had taught him. Lucky he was tall and muscular for a Filipino so he could raise his chin for air. He was also careful to tuck his arms in front of him and ball his fists, pressing them against his chest in order to protect his rib cage.

Finally advancing, the throng jostled him forward. Slowly, the Andas grew larger and larger. Soon, he knew, he would be able to touch and hold onto the ropes used to pull it. He was increasingly excited; he would throw his small, white towel up the Andas and the alagad (disciple) would wipe it on the Nasareno, then toss it back to him. That was all that mattered—he would then have fulfilled his panata (vow). This now-anointed towel would be wiped on his two small children who waited back home. It would cure whatever illnesses they might have and keep them from harm.

The crowd continued to shove and push. Suddenly, Manny yelped as he stepped on wet moss close to the gutter, losing his footing and falling right into the trench. Heart thumping from fear that he could get trampled on, he kept repeating to himself, “Don’t panic”. He raised his arms and shouted, “Tulong, Kapatid!”  (help, Brother). This was part of the briefing given to the devotees before the days of the procession. He could feel hands grabbing him and setting him upright until he was on his feet again. Assured he was not hurt, the unseen kapatids then moved forward, focused on the Nasareno.  


Again, Manny began maneuvring his way towards the Andas. This time, following the instructions given over the megaphone, the horde seemed more synchronised. In another hour, he found himself close to the ropes, and soon a devotee next to him, done with his own anointed towel, tapped Manny to take his place. Manny could only pray over and over again in gratitude. He locked eyes with the alagad and threw his own towel. Catching the towel back, Manny felt a sudden, overwhelming sense of peace. With his “pulling” of the ropes, he also had helped in the pagpapasan (carry) of the cross of Christ. This was the ultimate expression of his faith.

Source: South China Morning Post YouTube channel, Incredible scenes from Manila's Black Nazarene procession

His mission accomplished, Manny again raised his hand for his exit as soon as he reached a wider street.  It took a while to catch his breath; he then trudged towards his wife Sandra’s and his pre-ordained meeting place: The San Sebastian Church where the Traslacion would stop for the Dungaw (practice of putting sacred images outside the Church for veneration). Here, the image of Our Lady waited to meet her Son, the Nasareno, on His way to Calvary. The Traslacion itself would end many hours later at the Quiapo Church.


Meantime, Sandra sat fidgeting at the San Sebastian Church. She had already done her prayers, including novenas to various saints and the Virgin Mary. As she waited, she worried that Manny was more than a couple of hours late from their agreed time. Even with the safety protocols, safety marshals, and the police in place, many still got hurt during the Traslacion. The year before, she remembered, more than 2,000 people were injured: from fainting spells to fractures. And the year before that, there were four registered deaths—from cardiac arrests to being crushed. Of course, it helped that the Red Cross was there, and so were ambulances parked on wider streets. The Kapatids or fellow processioners were always eager to help, even if it meant they lost their place in the Traslacion


Sandra wanted to contact Manny to ensure he was safe, but there was no way. Leaving their home in Antipolo, he only had enough money for his fare to Quaipo. As with many who participated in the Traslacion, Manny did not carry his cell phone or wallet. Instead, he relied on the generosity of those who had volunteered to give the devotees food and drink—mostly storekeepers in the vicinity.  This too was part of their own panata.  


There was nothing Sandra could do except wait and pray. As if in answer to her prayers, she soon saw the towel-waving Manny carrying a half-eaten sandwich and grinning from ear to ear.    


Manny and Sandra met at university, drawn together by their surprise that they both came from a family of ardent followers of the Black Nazarene—a devotion they shared to this day.  Sandra recounted how her Lola (grandmother) would regularly take her and her siblings to Quiapo Church where the Black Nazarene was kept. She taught them the pahalik (tradition of touching and kissing the feet of Christ). They kept the practice even after their Lola passed—and this intensified during their parents' separation, when the family was in shambles. With the Nasareno’s help, their parents parted amicably and now were even on good terms.


In Manny’s case, it was his father who brought him to the Black Nazarene. A sickly boy, they both prayed for cure to his various illnesses. As they touched and kissed the feet of the Nasareno, his father made a panata that if his son were cured, he (Manny) would become a devotee. Now he was a strapping young man of 30, participating in each year’s Traslacion.


As a couple, both Sandra and Manny frequently visited the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, mainly in gratitude for their many blessings, especially for having found each other. Manny had prayed that Sandra be the right woman for him, and Sandra had prayed for a cure to her once mental health issues, as she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The couple’s faith and constancy had miraculous returns. Soon after their marriage, they were blessed with two children, Sandra suffered less from depression, and they easily found good jobs—he in online sales, and she in a call centre.


At first, Manny and Sandra limited their devotion to attending the various commemorative rituals held in Quaipo Church as it prepared for the Traslacion. But starting in 2014, they decided to participate more actively. The more robust Manny processed whilst the more claustrophobic Sandra patiently waited for him at the San Sebastian Church, an important point of the Traslacion, taking the opportunity to walk on her knees in supplication and veneration of the Virgin Mary.


Source: South China Morning Post YouTube channel, Incredible scenes from Manila's Black Nazarene procession

Back to their experiences during the 2018 Traslacion: that day after, Manny and Sandra learned that between four and five million Filipinos had joined the procession, and that about eight million had participated in the two weeks of attendant Quiapo Church activities.

They were indeed grateful for these strong memories because they had not participated in a similar event since. Sad but understandable, the procession had been suspended since the time of the pandemic. Still, the couple hoped the Traslacion might resume in 2024. Perhaps by then COVID would really be out of the way and they could take the children with them, at least to wait in Quiapo Church with Sandra.




1.Many have wondered why the Nasareno is coloured black. There are two stories behind this.  The simpler one is that it was crafted in Mexico out of mesquite wood—a dark hard wood similar to the Philippine kamagong—that can turn even darker over time. The more elaborate tale is that the Galleon carrying the image got burnt, but the now blackened Nazarene survived intact.

2. It was in 1606 when the original image was brought to the Philippines by the Augustinian Recollects and enshrined in their Church in Bagumbayan. Later moved to Intramuros, it was moved again to Quiapo Church. It is said that the image performed many miracles so that devotion to the Black Nazarene spread far and wide until it enveloped the whole archipelago. Since then, many replicas have been made.

3. The Traslacion commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene from Intramuros to Quiapo Church, the first one purportedly held on the 9th of January 1787. In commemoration of this event, every 9th of January was declared the feast day of the Black Nazarene. Mass is held at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta (current name of Bagumbayan), presided by the Archbishop of Manila, and attended by the hermano mayor (current mayor of the city) and other prominent citizens, as well as the Quiapo Church Rector. The Hijos del Nazareno (Sons of the Nazarene) meanwhile take charge of lifting the image from the Quiapo Church to the Andas, and the Traslacion starts. Whilst waiting, Masses are said inside the Church, prayer vigils are held, and the pahalik goes on.