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No Traslacion, No Problem: The Faith of Two Nazareno Devotees

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

by Kevin Joshua B. Cosme

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

Believer or skeptic, no one can deny the immensity of the religious and sociological phenomenon that is the devotion to the Black Nazarene. No other recurring event draws millions of Filipino devotees together like the annual Traslacion, or transfer of the image of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church.

The Traslacion happens on January 9, the commemoration of the icon's year 1787 transfer from Intramuros to Quiapo Church, also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, where it has remained enshrined ever since.

Technically, January 9 is not the feast of the Black Nazarene but Good Friday.

Given the present quarantine conditions the Traslacion for this year has been cancelled. Instead, the image of the Black Nazarene has been making rounds in different churches and places of devotion in the days leading up to January 9.

On the day itself, 15 Masses will be celebrated to accommodate as many of the devotees as possible, following the government mandate to keep the number of attendees at 30% church capacity.

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

It may be difficult for non-adherents to understand the fervor of the devotees of the Poong Nazareno. I would know, since I am not a devotee myself and was only introduced to this reality when I entered the seminary.

However, my regard for it changed when I saw for myself the millions of people who had gathered at the Quirino Grandstand for the Traslacion. I had never before seen a display of faith on such a massive scale.

It was well into the night but there was an excitement in the air that was almost palpable. Devotional merchandise littered the streets. People patiently stood in line as far as the eye could see, waiting for their brief turn kiss the image of the Poon, wipe their handkerchiefs or towels, and whisper their fervent request. It was deeply moving.

And yet for all that, I still feel like an outsider looking in. So on the occasion of this year’s supposed procession, I interviewed two actual devotees and asked them to share their experiences of faith and to express their sentiments about the cancellation of this year’s Traslacion.

It Starts with the Family

Angelo Dizon is a 42-year-old resident of Muntinlupa City. He is an active minister and volunteer worker at his parish, the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Abandoned in Muntinlupa City.

Mr. Angelo Dizon with a mobile replica of the Black Nazarene

Angelo’s devotion to the Black Nazarene started young, when his grandmother introduced him to the miraculous image. As a grown up, he would pass by Quiapo Church whenever he had business in Manila, at times visiting the church two or three times a month.

In the year 2011, he started to feel pain in his abdominal area. He thought it was a mere stomach ailment, but it turned out to be kidney stones. “Ako po’y isang mahirap na mamayan lang at hindi permanente ang trabaho, so sa Kaniya ako kumapit at kumuha ng lakas” (“I am poor and without permanent employment, so I held on to Him as my source of strength.”)

Thanks to a combination of faith in the Black Nazarene and natural processes like doing water therapy, taking herbal medicines, and avoiding meat, the pain in his abdomen subsided and his kidney stones disappeared completely after a year. He attributes his healing to the Lord Jesus, whom He says is the true Healer. “Si Lord ang nagpagaling sa akin,” (“It is the Lord who healed me”), he declares.

He now feels driven to share his experience with others, having avoided going under the knife which would have costed him P120,000 to P150,000. “Saan po ako kukuha ng ganoong kalaking pera? Samantalang sa pamamagitan ng panalangin, pagtitiwala, paggawa ng mabuti sa kapwa, at pagsisisi sa mga kasalanan ko, answered ang prayer ko” (“Where do I get that much money? Still, by means of prayer, faith, doing good to others, and repenting of my sins, my prayer was answered.”).

It would have been his fourth Traslacion this year if it weren’t for the pandemic. He recounts seeing the faith of all those who would join the procession: men and women, young and old, poor and wealthy. He was happy to pray for them all.

Fr. Douglas Badong of Quiapo Church reaches out to devotees.

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

Although a devotee, he says it’s okay that the Traslacion isn’t pushing through because everyone has to stay safe. If the coronavirus hits you and your time has come, he observes, there’s really nothing you can do about it and no amount of medical attention is going to make a difference. When it’s your time, it’s your time.

Alternatively, he says we can just practice physical distancing. There are also numerous ways of expressing devotion to the Black Nazarene, like taking it online or going on a different day than the Traslacion.

He advises believers to share their faith with others, among other things so that those whose faith have grown cold may be brought back to the Lord.

Another Witness

Edward Ryan Sato is 29 years old. His father, who used to vend in the streets of Quiapo, had to stop his devotion after moving to their present hometown in Taytay, Rizal, but he was brought back to the devotion by Edward’s sibling, who also became a devotee and used to accompany their father to Quiapo.

Mr. Edward Ryan Sato

Edward says that his own devotion started in earnest in 2009, when the Black Nazarene image was brought to their parish. That year he attended his first Traslacion, which incidentally was also the first time the andas (litter) carrying the image was processed from the Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church.

He says that the Poong Nazareno answered his prayers for his father, who used to drink excessively, throw fits, and fight with his mother. Whenever he and his father went to the Traslacion, Edward noted the contradiction between his father’s attitude and the latter’s devotion. So he prayed to the Black Nazarene to change him.

He notes with amazement how his father dramatically improved over time, following the latter’s constant accompaniment of Edward’s sibling to Quiapo. “Minsan nag-iinom pa rin kasi hindi naman mawawala agad-agad ‘yun sa kaniya. Pero yung pagwawala niya, yung pag-aaway niya sa nanay ko, nawala” (“He still drinks every now and then. It’s not something that changes overnight. But his fits of anger and his fights with my mother – those disappeared”), he recounts.

Another favor that he requested of the Black Nazarene related to the seminary. He had already gone through the admission process by the time he was touching the back of the Black Nazarene to ask for help. He knew that San Carlos Seminary in Makati City was difficult to enter, and that academics was not his strong suit.

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

Ang pinalangin ko naman, hindi ‘yung basta makapasa. [Sabi ko,] ‘Kung Kalooban Niyo na makapasok ako sa seminaryo, tulungan Niyo ‘ko. Kung hindi naman, dalhin Niyo po ako doon sa dapat puntahan ko’” (“I didn’t pray just to get in. [I said,] ‘If it is Your will that I enter the seminary, please help me. Otherwise, take me to where I need to go’”).

As soon as he arrived home, the admission letter from the seminary arrived. He had made it.

As for his memorable experience of the Traslacion, he recounts the first one he ever attended. He was at the Jones Bridge when he managed to climb atop the andas and touch the image. But people were pressing on all sides. It made even breathing difficult and he couldn’t get away, so he prayed for help.

He found himself in front of the andas with one of its ropes beside him. He and the others with him were instructed to tie the ropes around their waists and pull the andas forward. But the litter wouldn’t budge because the bridge was too steep. Out of nowhere, everyone just started singing the Ama Namin. His hair stood on end.

As they were singing, the andas moved forward unhampered and without difficulty.

Save for this year, Edward has been attending the Traslacion faithfully since 2009. Asked what he felt about it being cancelled this year, he replied quite simply, “May dahilan” (“There’s a reason [for this])“.

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

He quotes one of his fellow devotees: “Baka sinusubok ‘yung pananampalataya natin bilang isang deboto ng Nazareno, kung ang pagiging deboto ba natin ay na sa paghawak lang ng lubid o pag-akyat ng andas, o na sa puso talaga natin nakatanim ang pagiging deboto natin” (“Perhaps our devotion is being tested, whether it’s just about managing to climb the litter or pulling the rope, or if it’s truly planted in our hearts”).

In closing, he muses that the Poong Nazareno may well be addressing us thus: “Hanggang saan ang pag-ibig mo sa akin, kahit hindi mo ako nakikita nang harapan?” (“What is the extent of your love for me, even without seeing me face to face?”).

Dauntless Faith

I may not be a devotee, but I was definitely inspired by these stories of faith and devotion. A casual dismissal of Black Nazarene piety is simply unwarranted when you consider the sheer number of people who claim to have been healed or touched by God through the image of the Poong Nazareno. The Traslacion may have been cancelled, but their faith lives ever on, getting them through the hardships of life and perhaps even opening the door to miracles.

We could all use such dauntless faith in these daunting times.

Photo by John Paul Gonzalo (January 8, 2020)

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