Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila urged devotees of the “Black Nazarene” to show their faithfulness to the image of the suffering Christ in the city’s Quiapo district through new technology.
Philippine authorities have earlier announced the cancelation of the annual religious procession of the image of the “Black Nazarene” that usually attracts millions of Catholics every year.
The government’s National Task Force Against COVID-19 announced that it has approved the suspension of all activities related to the traditional “Feast of the Black Nazarene.”
Cardinal Advincula said he is also “worried” by the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, especially in the national capital region, in the past days.
On Thursday, January 6, the Department of Health reported 17,220 new COVID-19 infections, the highest since September 27, when there were 18,449 cases reported.
Thursday’s cases bring the total caseload in the country to 2,888,917. Of the total cases, 2% or 56,561 remain active or currently sick. This is also the highest since October 25, when 57,763 were recorded.
The DOH also recorded 81 deaths. The total death toll due to COVID-19 in the country now stands at 51,743. Meanwhile, recoveries were up by 616 for a total of 2,780,613.
In a statement, Cardinal Advincula said he understands the desire of the faithful to visit the church in Quiapo on the “Feast of the Black Nazarene.”
“We ask for forgiveness and understanding that because of the pandemic we cannot do the traditional activities during the feast,” said the prelate.
He called on everyone to join the religious observance, especially the Holy Mass, online.
“Although it is difficult for us not to be able to visit Quiapo during the feast … let us make use of new technology and let the Señor Nazareno visit our homes and families,” said the cardinal.
Authorities have earlier announced that they will not allow public Masses in Quiapo Church and other activities for the Feast of the Black Nazarene amid the spike of coronavirus cases in the country.
The government’s COVID-19 task force ordered the closure of the minor basilica from January 7 until January 9, the feast day of the Nazarene.
The national task force also discouraged devotees from gathering in the premises of the church on the said dates and attend livestreamed Masses instead.
It ordered the police to deploy cops and establish checkpoints to prevent people from coming to the basilica.
The government has earlier reverted the nation’s capital region under the stricter Alert Level 3 from January 3 to January 15 to try to arrest the “upward trend” of COVID-19 cases.
In a taped address aired late Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte also discouraged mass gatherings including public Masses and the traditional procession of the revered image of the Black Nazarene.
“There are millions of devotees there and you cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease. I hope the Church can understand that all gatherings are not allowed,” he said.
The basilica is currently closed to the public since Monday for massive disinfection. It was supposed to open its doors to the devotees on January 7.
Father Douglas Badong, the church’s parochial vicar, admitted they are saddened by the decision but they will have to comply with the restrictions.
“Of course we are saddened, especially for the devotees, because we know how important it is to them, to all of us, since we only cling our faith to the Black Nazarene,” Father Badong said.
“We want to respect [the government] decision. At the same time, we also understand how the devotees feel about this,” he added.
The priest said the parish has done everything necessary to prepare for the annual religious event.
As early as November 2021, the parish already announced the suspension of the “Traslacion” 2022 for the second straight year.
To decongest Quiapo on the feast day, it again decided to “localize” the celebration by bringing replica images of the Black Nazarene to different areas.
“We have done everything to convince them that the plans and preparations are already set. But, to them, it really won’t help to allow people to come to Quiapo,” said Father Badong.
“What we did in 2021, we opted to improve our strategies for 2022 given the alert level status. But, again, to them, the best solution is having no physical activities,” he added.
With the decision, the priest said they are now leaving the fate of this year’s feast to the government.
“We will leave it to them. It’s in their hands now. We can only hope that they have a clear plan on how to handle our devotees,” he also said.
On the other hand, Father Badong has appealed to devotees for understanding to the changes.
“Let us try to widen our understanding. Let us discern and pray on the message of the Black Nazarene in this situation,” he said.
For centuries, the “Black Nazarene” — a statue of a dark life-size Jesus carrying his cross — has symbolized passion, struggle, and faith for Filipino Catholics.
The faithful usually carry a replica of the statue through Manila on January 9. – with a report from CBCP News