Pilgrims celebrate in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 10 at the conclusion of a procession in honour of the statue housed inside the Basilica. Soe Zeya Tun, Catholic News Service

Be a devotee not a fanatic, Manila cardinal tells millions of Black Nazarene pilgrims

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila told pilgrims at a popular annual procession in the Philippines to take caution against becoming “fanatics,” stressing that true devotion is about how one lives one’s whole life, not a single day.

“A fanatic does not love,” the cardinal told thousands gathered at midnight Mass. “Fanatics hold on to who gives importance to them. But a devotee … is devoted because of love, and that is what Jesus showed us. Devotion is a daily act…. In every kind of love, loyalty, and union, it must be daily.”

The cardinal gave a homily at a Mass to kick off the annual Black Nazarene procession. Known as the traslacion, the 19-hour procession through the streets of Manila takes place each year on Jan. 9. Millions of pilgrims take part in the seven-kilometre procession; this year’s crowds were expected to top five million.

The wooden Black Nazarene statue, carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippine capital in the early 17th century, is cherished by Catholics, who believe that touching it can lead to a miracle.Soe Zeya Tun, Catholic News Service

The statue of the Black Nazarene is a kneeling Christ cloaked in a maroon robe and crowned with thorns. The life-sized statue bears a cross.

It was brought to the Philippines by Augustinian missionary priests in 1606. The statue is believed to have acquired its black color after being partially burnt when the ship carrying it caught fire on a voyage from Mexico.

Since then it has survived fires that destroyed its host church twice, two earthquakes, floods from numerous typhoons and bombings during the Second World War. The image is normally enshrined in Manila’s famous Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, popularly known as the Quiapo Church. Many miracles have been reported in connection with veneration of the statue.

The traslacion tradition is deeply beloved in the country, where some 80 percent of the population is Catholic. However, it is also controversial. Barefoot pilgrims eager to touch the Black Nazarene statue shove and climb over one another, resulting each year in injuries and sometimes deaths.

By midmorning Jan. 9, the Philippine Red Cross said they had treated more than 600 people for bruises, fainting, breathing problems, and other conditions. At least three people had been hospitalized, the BBC reported.

In 2012, Msgr. Clemente Ignacio, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, acknowledged the problem of fanaticism among pilgrims.

“We admit that there were elements or excess of fanaticism that needs to be corrected,” he said, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“It’s our task to slowly form and educate the faithful about their devotion and the right way of expressing such devotion that will not harm themselves and others.”

Some 7,000 police officers were deployed to secure the procession, and soldiers were on stand-by, local news outlets reported.

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