Papal Nuncio in awe of Nazareno devotees

Devotees climb, kiss, and reach out to the image of the Black Nazarene along Carlos Palanca St. in Quiapo during the Traslacion on January 9, 2018. Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia in inset. Photographed by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon.

The sea of surging devotees that turned out for the procession of the image of the Black Nazarene in Manila on Tuesday left the new Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Italian Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, in awe.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle shared in a press conference Wednesday that launched the book Servant Leadership in Public Service: “He said, ‘wow, there are already so many people’.”

The presser was also to announce the January 31 Servant Leadership in Business Conference to be held at the Makati Shangri-La.

Caccia was at Quirino Grandstand for the midnight Mass ahead of the Traslacion, where he witnessed the thick crowds that formed prior to the 5 a.m. prayers that signaled the start of the procession toward Quiapo Church across Pasig River.

“Look at how the faith of the simple people could inspire us,” Tagle quoted Caccia as saying.

Archbishop Tagle explained that there would seem to be instances of commotion when the procession is viewed from a distance, but that’s because of the sheer number of devotees who want to get close to the carriage bearing the statue, to touch the icon in symbolically consummating their devotion: “When you’re in the thick of it like the devotees, they don’t think it’s chaotic. It’s part of the experience.”

“When you have millions and millions whose goal is not just to walk alongside the procession but to come close, you will really see wave upon wave of movements. But it is not exactly chaos. It is a very dynamic scene,” Tagle added. “The participants should not be brushed off as fanatics who push and shove just to come close to the image of the Black Nazarene. It’s not like that, at all.”

“Have you ever experienced having nothing more to hold on to? Once you’ve experienced that, then the Nazareno is there for you. You draw near to him, you hold on to him. And you will understand why the desire of the devotees to be come close to him is so strong and overpowering,” he has said in the past.

Tagle explained that the Nazareno devotees have a distinct way of showing their reverence, striving to touch and kiss the statue, to come close, and seeing in the image of Jesus someone – at times, the only one – they could depend on in trying times: “There may be no one else to hold on to, but Poong Nazareno is there, for you.”

The Parochial Vicar, Fr. Douglas Badong, in a phone interview on Wednesday, said he was tired but happy and satisfied with this year’s event because it flowed smoothly.

He also believed the occasion was improved by the addition of 12 prayer stations, and the number of devotees also increased.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), in the last of its situation reports Wednesday, noted that there were an estimated 850,000 devotees who followed the procession, while another 1.25 million converged at Quiapo Church, home of the revered image. Some 1,132 medical interventions were reported, including 510 persons who suffered from wounds (lacerations, punctures, soft tissue injuries, infections); 180 from abrasions; and 132 from hypertension.

A devotee who worked as a jail officer died as the Traslacion was winding down. He did not take part in the procession itself, said Fr. Badong, but friends said the victim had complained of abdominal pain and tightness in his chest.

For next year’s event, Tagle suggested that more trash bins be placed at the Quirino Grandstand and along the route.

“Because we appeal – ‘Please, no trash,’ but when they get there, ‘Where do I throw this?’ So the others have no choice, they just leave it wherever …” Tagle said.