Church leaders in Manila are planning changes to the annual observance of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, including the conduct of the annual religious procession that attracts millions of people.
Father Douglas Badong, vicar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, said proposals have been raised to ensure the implementation of health protocols during the religious observance.
The proposals include the “possible cancellation” of the religious procession.
Every year, on January 9, millions of devotees join the procession that reenacts the “solemn transfer” of the image of the Black Nazarene from an old church in the old walled city of Intramuros to Manila’s Quiapo district.
“We need to people to abide by our guidelines of physical distancing while praying,” said Father Badong.
The priest appealed to the public for understanding and cooperation if changes are to be made in the conduct of the annual procession, which is considered one of the most grandiose displays of popular piety in the country.
The priest said church and government officials need to prepare the public for the possible changes.
“There will be big changes on January 9. We hope devotees will welcome these,” said Father Badong, adding that it will only be implemented during the pandemic.
The priest, meanwhile, appealed to authorities to allow more devotees to attend church services.
Currently, the government only permits churches in the capital region to accommodate 10 percent of the total seating capacity of the church.
“We can accommodate up to 50 percent, but we would be happy even if they allow up to 30 percent only,” said Father Badong.
He said the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene “is very spacious for 100 people,” adding that “devotees would be safer inside where we can maintain their physical distancing due to markings and ushers.”
Many devotees stay and offer their prayers from outside the church due to the restrictions.