Manila cancels ‘Black Nazarene’ procession as pandemic lingers

October 23, 2020 - 4:44 PM
Feast of the Black Nazarene ( Christopher Toledo)

MANILA — The Philippine capital Manila on Friday cancelled an annual procession of a centuries-old black wooden statue of Jesus Christ that draws millions of Roman Catholic devotees as the coronavirus pandemic continues to afflict the country.

The Philippines, renowned for its colorful religious rituals, has the second-highest number of novel coronavirus infections and deaths in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.

“The grand procession of the life-sized image of the Black Nazarene in January 2021 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city government of Manila said in a statement.

Millions of devotees, mostly in yellow and maroon shirts and walking barefoot, typically jostle to draw near a carriage bearing the life-sized image of the “Black Nazarene” shouldering a heavy cross. The statue, carved in Mexico, is believed to have miraculous healing powers even to the slightest touch.

The procession, a tradition in the former Spanish colony that goes back more than two centuries, usually lasts more than 20 hours.

Manila, the country’s coronavirus hotspot, is under partial quarantine restrictions until the end of October, with mass gatherings banned and social distancing measures imposed on public transport.

Cemeteries and columbaria have been ordered to close to prevent crowding during the All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day holidays starting in late October, while seating capacity in churches is currently capped at 30%.

The respiratory virus has infected 363,888 people and killed 6,783 in the Philippines.

About 80 percent of the country’s 107 million people identify as Roman Catholic given hundreds of years as a Spanish colony. —Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales Editing by Ed Davies and Kim Coghill