Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led thousands of devotees of Manila’s Black Nazarene in prayers for peace on Jan. 9, amid mounting tensions in the Middle East this week.
During a midnight Mass for the observance of the annual “traslacion,” or transfer, of the image of the suffering Jesus, the cardinal expressed hope that the brewing conflict will not result in war.
“Let us remember that in some parts of the world, there is a threat of violence,” he told thousands of devotees gathered in Manila’s national park. “May it not lead to war,” he added.
The prelate also called for prayers for the safety of Filipinos working in the Middle East and for people “to dispel the desire to destroy one’s neighbor, to dispel the desire to take vengeance.”
“And let us pray for our fellow Filipinos and their families here who are anxious,” he added before leading the crowd into a moment of silence to pray for peace.
Over a million Filipinos working in the Middle East are at risk of being affected by the escalating conflict in the region following the death of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. drone attack.
The Philippine government has already announced that it is preparing to send aircraft and ships to evacuate Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran.
At least 2,000 Filipinos and their dependents live in Iraq, according to government data, while another 3,000 are believed to be living in the country as illegals.
An estimated 30,000 Filipinos live in Lebanon, while about 1,200 others are in Iran.
Cardinal Tagle reminded devotees of the Black Nazarene that the love Jesus showed on the cross is “the kind of love that will do everything just to save another person.”
“There is no other love greater than the love of a person willing to offer his life for a friend,” said the cardinal in what could be his last homily as Manila prelate in a traslacion.
Cardinal Tagle is set to leave for the Vatican in the coming weeks to lead the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, an influential office of the Catholic Church.
He reminded devotees of the Nazarene to follow the devotion and mission of Christ as a “way of life” and to always remember to “love those who hurt you.”
The much-anticipated annual traslacion draws millions of people clad in yellow and maroon in the streets of Manila.
Faith that heals
In the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro, devotees held their own version of the procession, stressing on the “spirituality” of the occasion more than the “physical aspect” of the tradition.
“Your faith is very important. No matter how much you wipe your handkerchief, if you lack faith, nothing will happen,” said Eduardo Hapson, a devotee from the town of Sumilao.
“Your faith is what will heal you,” said the 62-year-old devotee who claimed to have recovered from a stroke because of his devotion to the Black Nazarene.
Following his stroke in 2014, Hapson said he was given 12 days to live and was brought to four hospitals while in a coma. “My chance for survival was very slim,” he said.
On the tenth day, he woke up to a bright light that illuminated his room in the middle of the night. “It was very bright. Then I saw an old man lying on a bed next to mine.”
Hapson recalled that there were two women who kept watch over the man. When he recovered, he asked his wife who the other patient was.
“It was then that I realized that it was a vision and that the Black Nazarene appeared to me,” he said. Since then, he promised to serve the Lord because “I owed my second chance at life to him.”
In 2009, he brought to Cagayan de Oro a replica of the image of the Black Nazarene, which has been venerated in the city since then.
Hapson said he will never get tired of serving the Black Nazarene for as long he lives. “He extended my life, in return I must serve him and share my faith with others,” he said.
The traslacion procession of the image of the Black Nazarene recalls the 1787 transfer of the icon from an Augustinian church in the old walled city of Manila to the basilica in the city’s Quiapo district.
The annual event attracts millions of Catholics and tourists every year. In 2019, the procession, which was participated by 2.5 million devotees, took 21 hours to finish.