MANILA – "Pray, follow, and witness Jesus Christ."
These are the three things Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle asked from the devotees of the Black Nazarene, as he presided over the mass at the Quirino Grandstand before the annual procession of the venerated image towards the Basilica Minore in Quiapo on Thursday.
Tagle, in his homily, also asked the Catholic faithful to shun corruption, as the nation continues to be gripped by reports of stealing and abuse of power, both in government and the private sector.
"Ipakita na si Hesus ay buhay lalo na sa ating pag-iibigan. Huwag tayong mahihya na ipahayag sa mundo: mahal ako ni Hesus, mahal ko si Hesus," Tagle said.
"Nakakapagtaka nga eh, iyung mga dapat ikahiya hindi na ikinahihiya. Iyung pagnanakaw hindi na nga ikinahihiya. Dapat yun ang ikahiya, ang corruption ang dapat ikahiya. Huwag ikahiya si Hesus. Mahal tayo ni Hesus, mahal ko si Hesus."
Likewise, Tagle also asked the faithful to avoid materialism and challenged them to ponder whether they have been following the teachings of Jesus Christ.
"Hindi pu-pwede na susunod ako kay Kristo pero ang laging laman ng isip ko eh kwarta! Hindi pwede na sasabihin ko susunod ako kay Kristo pero kaya kong dayain o pagsamantalahan ang aking kapwa," he said.
"Ang tunay na nag-iisip lagi kay Hesus ay di gagawa ng mga bagay na taliwas kay Hesus. Ang pagdarasal ay nagbubunga ng pagsunod kay Hesus. Araw din ito ng pagtanong sa sarili, 'Ako ba ay tunay na sumusunod? Ako ba ay napapalapit kay Hesus at ang kanyang mga habilin ba ay aking sinusundan?"
Don't forget victims of calamities
The prelate said Filipinos should not forget their fellow countrymen who suffered from calamities, man-made or not, in the same way that God does not forget his people especially during trying times.
He particularly noted how victims of past calamities seemed to have been forgotten, even if they have yet to recover from their ordeals.
"Ang mga kapatid natin sa Tagum, Davao na sinalanta ng bagyong Pablo. Marami sa kanila, hindi pa nakakaahon. Nakalimutan na yata. Huwag kakalimutan ang mga kapatid sa Nueva Ecija, karamihan ay magsasaka na dahil sa bagyong Santi ay nasira ang kabuhayan at mga pananim. Nakalimutan na ata," he said.
"Parang unti-unti naring nakalimutan ang mga kapatid sa Zamboanga. Baka unti-unti na ring makalimutan ang mga tag-Bohol at baka makalimutan na rin ang mga nasalanta ng Yolanda."
Tagle also expressed his admiration to devotees whose faith to Jesus Christ remain strong.
He cited the procession in 2012 when the government had to order the jamming of cellphone signals amid threats of terrorism. He said he is amazed that the devotees were unfazed by this threat.
"May nakausap ako na isang deboto, tinanong ko po, 'Dahil sa balitang iyan, kayo ba ay dadalo o aatras na?' Ang sagot niya, 'Bishop bakit ako aatras? Si Hesus nga pinasaan ang ating hirap hanggang kamatayan, bakit hindi ko haharapin ang kamatayan para sa kanya?' Iyan ang deboto!" he said.
As in the past, the procession began after the mass, but some devotees were scolded by some priests after they attempted to get near the image even before the mass could end.
The annual "traslacion," which begins once the image is transferred to the carriage or "andas", started at Quirino Grandstand past 7 a.m. Some 12 million devotees are expected to participate in the procession and force their way towards the image of the dark-skinned Jesus Christ. The procession is estimated to take more or less 18 hours.
Scenes of devotees getting rowdy are not unusual in this annual profession of faith, as everyone believes that getting in contact with the image of the Black Nazarene would have their prayers answered. Others, meanwhile, have made it their vow to endure the thick crowd as a way of showing their faith.
From Quirino Grandstand, the statue of the Black Nazarene will pass through Katigbak Drive, Padre Burgos, straight through Taft Avenue, and then to Jones Bridge instead of MacArthur Bridge.
The procession will then turn right to Escolta, left to Quezon Boulevard, Arlegui, Fraternal, right to Vergara Street, and Duque de Alba Street.
From there, it will pass through Castillejos, Farnecio, Arlegui, Nepomuceno, Aguila, Carcer, then straight to Hidalgo towards Plaza del Carmen, Bilibid Viejo, Puyat, Guzman, Hidalgo, Barbosa, Globo de Oro, Palanca, Lanace, Villalobos, and then back to Plaza Miranda.