"What is this feast's role in our culture?"
“The barefoot procession of an almost 4.3-mile (7 kilometer) journey starts from the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta and snakes its way towards the narrow streets.
“Passing through the city’s winding roads after 19 hours of spiritual euphoria, the procession eventually reaches Quiapo at the Basilica Minore de Nazareno. The devotees flood by to touch the image and throw cloths to touch the image, before receiving the cloths back.”
This is how Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, Rector of the Minor Basilica of the Nazarene, described the Traslacion procession of the Black Nazarene—held last week, Jan. 9—in an interview on QuiapoChurch.com, “Understanding the Fierce Devotion Behind the Black Nazarene.”
A church official estimated that 2.5-million devotees participated in the feast’s Traslacion (transfer) procession this year, up from last year’s 1.5 million. Around 18-million worshippers were believed to have visited Quiapo Church from Jan. 5 to 9.
Msgr. Ignacio explained other interesting facets of the religious festival.
On its historical background: “A first group of Augustinian Recollect missionaries landed in Manila in 1606 from Mexico. They brought with them a dark image of Jesus Christ kneeling on one knee and carrying a large wooden cross.
“The image was first enshrined in St. John the Baptist Church at Luneta in 1606 and after two years was moved to a bigger church nearby. Over a century and a half later, in 1767, the image was transferred to Quiapo Church whose patron is also St. John the Baptist.” Pope Innocent X is said to have also “specially recognized the Philippines’ strong devotion to the Black Nazarene of Manila in 1650.”
On the Traslacion procession: “Traslacion” means the transfer of the Image of Black Nazarene. 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. 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.
“It is also commemorating the transfer of the image from Luneta to Quiapo, when we first received the statue in 1868. Since then, because of the many answered prayers, people have been celebrating the feast on January 9.”
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada declared Jan. 9 a public holiday in Manila, with classes and government work suspended to give way to the celebration and ease the expected traffic. Some 1,000 policemen were deployed in different areas around downtown Quiapo church, in addition to the 7,000 members of the Philippine National Police from the National Capital Region Police Office to maintain peace and order during the celebration.
What is the Traslacion and what is its role in our culture and that of urban Manila?
First, it is a popular devotion that is not part of the regular Catholic church liturgy. Michael Carroll (1989) defined popular devotion as “a pious practice that centers on the veneration of some sacred object or thing but which is not considered by the Church to be part of its official liturgy.” A cult “is a group of people who all engage, individually or collectively, in some particular pious practice.” Obviously, the word ‘cult’ here is not used in its negative sense but in an anthropological one.
The Black Nazarene and its rites are not part of the formal liturgy. Traslacion, then, is a Catholic popular devotion whose worshippers are part of the cult of the Black Nazarene.
Cults have been associated with ritualistic behavior that borders on the obsessive. Rituals abound in the Traslacion—the rubbing of kerchiefs and hand towels on the image, the kissing or ‘pahalik’. These are rituals have been prescribed over four centuries by the traditions of the religious community that has formed around this image and Quiapo Church. It has become an important religious tradition of the area.
The Traslacion is performative, a “cultural performance” of basic values that is a “social drama,” a phenomenon that allows “social stresses to be worked out … symbolically in a ritual catharsis” (Victor Turner, 1974). This can be seen in the way the Traslacion brings together in a sweaty, grinding melee people from different socioeconomic classes who would not otherwise similarly engage with each other. The feast serves to help blow off steam from the past year, relieving social tensions that would not otherwise have an outlet.
Wish-fulfillment is also a factor. Traslacion is an opportunity for devotees to ask for favors, with their effort and labor of participation representing a ‘sacrifice,’ therefore an exchange of energy. It is a chance to request blessings for the coming year. It is a way to fulfill religious vows (panata), promises made in return for answered prayers.
As for the tremendous physicality of the Traslacion, Msgr. Ignacio explained: “Our culture is a culture of touch and, significantly, in a way we want to touch heaven.”
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