The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo Church) came from humble beginnings of bamboo and nipa materials. Through the years, it has triumphed over natural calamities, survived catastrophes and rebuilt itself better at the same site in Manila, Philippines.
The Black Nazarene is a life-size sculpture of Jesus carrying his cross- an image of Christ's ultimate gesture of love. Properly named as Nuestro Padre Hesus Nazareno which literally means "Our priest Jesus the Nazarene" , it was brought to the Pearl of the Orient Seas on 1606 by a galleon from Mexico. The ship caught fire but the sculpture survived. And the only evidence of the unfortunate turned fortunate event was the change of the sculpture's color from mulatto to black.
The Quiapo church that survived two big fires received the blessed sculpture from the Recollect priests before its second burning on 1791. Since then, the Black Nazarene has been the image of miracles and faith for the Filipinos.
Through the years, Translacion, which literally means passage, became one of the biggest Roman Catholic processions. Every 9th of January, the devotees who were mostly wearing maroon (the color of the garment of the Black Nazarene) walk barefoot from the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta to Quiapo church as an act of penance- emulating Christ's passage to the Mount Calvary.
The Black Nazarene sits on a carroza (carriage) and is pulled through ropes called andas, from the Spanish word "andar", which means to move forward. The devotees would alternate in pulling the carroza until it reaches the Quiapo church.
Millions of devotees join the Translacion. It has been reported that approximately 12 million attended this year's procession with 6,000 policemen called on duty. The great multitude of devotees both crowns and crucifies it. Every year, casualties and injuries happen due to the great number of men and women who participates---causing raised eyebrows and criticisms from the not-so-believers.
I'm a cradle Catholic. Born from a Roman Catholic clan and educated in a Catholic Grade School. And I have been faithful with our traditions as a Church and as Christians but for the longest time, I also couldn't understand why some people had to risk being provoked to violence just to touch what seemed to non-believers as a mere man-made art.
But then recently, on my way home, passing through the Quiapo church, enlightenment came upon me. I remembered in the book of Matthew, the scripture tells us of how a woman, who has been bleeding for twelve years, struggled through the multitude putting into action her strong belief that a touch of Jesus' cloak can free her from her suffering. And indeed, by her faith, she was healed.
I would like to believe that each devotee has his own story of miracles, some of which have happened and the others about to. I would like to believe that each devotee participates in the Translacion because he is also on his own journey of faith. I would like to believe that that bleeding woman lives in each Black Nazarene devotee every January 9th, risking comfort, convenience and security, fervently believing that in doing so he will receive his miracle. And I respect that.
I do not know what the Almighty thinks of the century-old tradition. I do not know if He thinks it's ridiculous to risk your life just to touch a man-made representation of His image or if He thinks it's admirable to see a great multitude of men and women put their faith into action. But I would like to believe that the Almighty's perception of man and his practices is beyond man's logic. Beyond yours and mine. I do not know if He's smiling in Heaven every January 9th or cringing in disbelief. BUT this I know, He's not judging the Translacion, nor the Church that promotes it, not even the multitude that honors it.
At the end of the day, what is admirable or worthy of condemnation was never the deed but the most honest intentions behind it for He looks not on the gesture but searches deep into our hearts.