Health limitations due to the pandemic have drastically reduced participation in the annual Philippine procession, which typically draws over a million people.
Thousands of Catholic pilgrims gathered in the Philippine capital on Saturday to pay homage to the black Nazarene statue of Jesus Christ, as health restrictions due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic drastically reduced attendance at the event.
Known by its Spanish term “Translacion”, the annual procession in Manila is considered one of the greatest shows of Catholic devotion in the world, attracting over a million people.
But that has all changed this year due to COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 500,000 Filipinos and claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 more.
Worshipers, dressed mostly in red and brown shirts, gathered before dawn on Saturday to spot the statue as it was rolled on a metal float around Manila.
[7:30AM] Worshipers observe physical distancing as they hear mass along Quezon Boulevard in Quiapo, Manila, on the Feast of the Black Nazarene Saturday. | via George Calvelo # Nazareno2021 pic.twitter.com/XzYKNUVR68
– ABS-CBN news channel (@ANCALERTS) January 8, 2021
This year, authorities banned pilgrims from attending the religious gathering barefoot – a tradition in previous years. Worshipers are also prohibited from carrying backpacks and are only allowed to carry transparent water bottles.
Inside Quiapo Church, only 400 people were allowed to attend the hourly service at a time, and they are required to wear masks and face shields.
Social distancing violations
As of 6 a.m. local time (10 p.m. GMT Friday), reports indicate that at least 20,000 people have gathered in the Quiapo neighborhood.
Police have set up barricades around the church, where the religious icon is kept, to prevent people from getting too close to the procession.
But news website ABS-CBN later reported that social distancing protocols were not being followed properly, as crowds began to move closer to obtain the image of Christ.
Pilgrims believe that touching the image of the Black Nazarene, or simply being in his presence, can heal the sick or bring good fortune.
The charred statue is believed to have survived a fire in the 17th century on its way to the Philippines, which became the stronghold of Catholicism in Asia for 400 years as a Spanish colony.
Critics said the procession, which typically takes around 20 hours, is a mixture of superstition and unnecessary risk for participants.
But Church officials say the practice is a vibrant expression of faith in a predominantly Christian nation of more than 105 million people.