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Major Filipino devotion curtailed by COVID pandemic


AP/Associated Press/East News

John Burger - published on 01/09/21

Only 400 worshipers allowed in basilica at a time for "Black Nazarene."

Last year, an estimated 6 million people walked barefoot in Manila to celebrate the annual Filipino Feast of the Black Nazarene. This year, in the time of COVID-19, things are quite different.

The procession itself has been canceled on Saturday, but Masses are still taking place. The Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila is allowing just 400 people inside at a time for Masses marking the transfer of the famous statue. 

The basilica, however, will offer 15 Masses, so there will be plenty of opportunity for people to pray.

Many, however, will be following the proceedings online.

It’s just the latest religious devotion to be limited by the pandemic.

Large screens are set up outside the basilica, and Mass is being offered at two nearby churches and a school.

At the center of the devotion is a life-sized statue of Jesus carrying a cross on the way to his crucifixion. The “Black Nazarene” statue was carved by an anonymous Mexican sculptor in the 16th century and taken to the Philippines in 1606 by a group of missionaries. Pope Innocent X approved its veneration in 1650 and authorized the establishment of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Jesus Nazarene.

The statue is enshrined in the Quiapo Church in the Archdiocese of Manila. It has survived fires that destroyed the church twice, two earthquakes and numerous typhoons, and bombings during World War II. Many miracles have been attributed to the statue.

In 2018, Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, the rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, told Catholic News Agency that the procession is a way for Catholics in the Philippines to deepen their faith.

“In a way it is imitating the Calvary experience: the sacrifice and suffering that our Lord endured for our salvation like when Jesus was walking barefoot, carrying the cross to Mount Calvary,” he said.

“The devotees also want to give back to God by participating in the suffering of our Lord and entering into the Paschal mystery of Christ,” said Msgr. Ignacio.

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