Hundreds of thousands of Black Nazarene devotees flock to Quiapo Church

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 9) — Hundreds of thousands of devotees swarmed the Quiapo area in hopes of attending mass celebrations in honor of the Black Nazarene amid the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of faithful in Quiapo for the Feast of the Black Nazarene has grown to a cumulative 400,000 as of 9:30 a.m., according to an estimate by Manila Police chief Leo Francisco. Francisco has not yet updated the figure, but added it may reach half a million by midnight.

As of 10:15 p.m., during the last mass of the day, the police estimated 7,800 devotees left in the Quiapo area. The "grand total" number of devotees that flocked to the place from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. of Saturday is 260,527.

Mayor Francisco "Isko" Moreno Domagoso clarified that the 400,000 count given this morning included the devotees that visited on Friday.

This comes after the mayor disputed the huge estimate by going on Facebook and broadcasting live footage of the city, showing devotees lined up and observing physical distancing.

"Nasaan ang 400,000? [Where is the 400,000?]," he asked. However, his broadcast came after 4 p.m. when the crowds have already thinned.

Preventing a super spreader

PBGEN Francisco assured that police and Manila officials are doing their best to ensure that health protocols are observed amid warnings that the Black Nazarene festivities may become a COVID-19 super spreader event

Red Cross Service Manager Von Ryan Ong identified eskinitas or narrow streets in Quiapo as the areas to monitor for possible transmission. Police have already been deployed there, Francisco said.

Around 600 police officers and members of the group Hijos del Nazareno (Sons of the Black Nazarene) were earlier managing the crowd. Hijos del Nazareno is a group of people tasked to protect the "andas", the carriage bearing the image of the Black Nazarene during Traslacion. No untoward incidents have been reported so far, Manila police said.

As for injuries, the Red Cross said there were only minor cases such as sprains and wounds and most of the patients only sought blood pressure checks. Volunteers treated about 120 patients so far, which is a significant dip from last year's figure of 1,600 hurt devotees, Ong said. He added that the Red Cross will continue to provide their services in the Quiapo area possibly until all devotees have gone home and they will then return the next day.

The Department of Health advised that as a precaution, those who have attended the physical masses should minimize their interactions, especially with the vulnerable members of their household, and conduct active self-monitoring for any symptoms.

Quiapo Church earlier asked devotees to proceed to other churches with replicas of the Black Nazarene statue. These were San Sebastian Church, Sta. Cruz Parish, and Nazarene Catholic School. Around 130 people are allowed to attend mass celebrations in San Sebastian Church, where “Dungaw” was traditionally held. The Dungaw tradition, which is part of the Black Nazarene festivities, depicts the moment Mary witnessed Jesus when he was carrying the cross.

Moreno and health officials had also appealed to devotees to attend online masses and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

READ: Equal blessings for devotees at home and physically present in Black Nazarene feast – Quiapo Church official

‘Nakakadurog ng puso’

Parochial vicar Fr. Douglas Badong sympathized with the faithful who couldn't enter the Quiapo Church amid capacity limits on religious gatherings due to COVID-19 concerns.

Nakakadurog lang kasi ng puso na gusto niyong pumasok, hindi naman kayo mapapasok. Kasi siyempre kailangan nating sundin (ang protocols),” the Quiapo Church official said Saturday in a homily.

[Translation: It is heartbreaking because even if we want to let you in, you cannot come in because we need to follow the protocols.]

The Black Nazarene feast is traditionally celebrated with a grand procession called Traslacion, where millions of devotees would jostle their way to touch the carriage carrying the venerated statue as they believe doing so could bring healing, answer prayers, or lead to miracles.

Jon Jon Dionisio, one of the Hijos del Nazarenos assisting in crowd control, said he became a devotee after an answered prayer from the Black Nazarene.

Noong nagkasakit po 'yung asawa ko, pinalangin ko sa Poong Nazareno na kapag gumaling po 'yung asawa ko, eh maglilingkod po ako sa kanya. ‘Yun naman po ang binigay sa akin ng mahal na Poong Hesus Nazareno,” Dionisio told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Weekend on Saturday.

[Translation: When my wife got sick, my prayer to the Black Nazarene was if He healed her, I would start serving Him. The Black Nazarene granted my wish.]

CNN Philippines Correspondents Lois Calderon, Tristan Nodalo and Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report