Black Nazarene reflects 'Filipino resiliency' – theologian

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 9) — The iconic Black Nazarene embodies resiliency, which is why Filipinos relate to the image, a theologian explained Tuesday.

Loyola School of Theology lecturer Msgr. Sabino Vengco said Filipinos are used to "suffering and pain," coming from a developing nation.

"This particular image, emphasizes, puts the stress on that moment of suffering. That moment of suffering for the Filipino is very eloquent: underneath the cross, yet... standing up. Not giving up," Vengco told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"Here comes in the Filipino resiliency: We never give up, kahit gaano kahirap ang trabaho [no matter how difficult work is]," he added.

However, Vengco clarified this does not necessarily pertain to only economic hardship -- it also covers health, age, or other forms of pain.

It is this connection with the divine that draws thousands of devotees to the image every year.

The procession of the Black Nazarene on its annual feast, January 9, has been a tradition for over 200 years. The image of a dark-skinned Jesus Christ carrying a cross is paraded from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church as devotees try to touch the statue or the rope attached to it.

In 2017, an estimated 1.3 million attended the event. The procession lasted 22 hours.

Related: Devotees attend Black Nazarene procession in Traslacion 2018

The Black Nazarene was first brought to the Philippines in 1606 from Mexico, along with an older copy that has since been destroyed. It is believed to be miraculous.

Vengco said the image derives its darkness from mesquite wood, a popular material for furniture and religious images of the period.

The color, he said, is another aspect that makes Filipinos relate to the image more.

"White [was] beautiful. Brown, black... you are native, you are second class. To have a Lord and Savior of your color, that was a very big plus already psychologically. And that's why the Filipinos gravitated to the Nazareno," Vengco explained.

The Nazarene also embodied an "Asian Jesus," the theologian added, as opposed to an impression of Christ as a foreigner.

"That is very important element in the Asian context of... so much mobility, change everywhere: administration, politicians, whatever, and there is one [image] unchanging," he said.

While some of the devotees have petitions, Vencgo said many also attend to give thanks to God and be one with him.