MANILA - Tony Saavedra was only 16 years old when he became a Black Nazarene devotee and began helping move the holy image to the Quiapo church as a "ma-mamasan" in the "traslacion."
Saavedra said his faith in the Nazareno freed him from serious illness.
"Para sa akin, 'yun na ang ang aking buhay. Napakahalaga ng Nazareno sa akin dahil kapag wala siya, ewan ko na lang kung ano mangyayari sa akin," he said.
He said the image of the Black Nazarene used to be carried by hand but is now placed on a carriage and pulled by devotees.
He said the carriage or "andas" used to be made of silver but was later replaced after sustaining damage in 1976.
Only two people used to be allowed on the andas and devotees could not go up.
In the 1980s and 90s, however, he said the andas was built differently to accommodate those who would guard the image from the throng of pilgrims.
The carriage wheels were also replaced last year after it took the brunt of the 22-hour procession in 2012.
Today, the wheels for a forklift will still be used to move the image around.
"It is very important because it is the identity of Manila, the working man of the city of Manila. Makati will always show you what the Philippines wants to be, but Quiapo shows you what the Philippines really is," said Carlos Celdran, Manila tourism consultant.
Despite the growing number of devotees taking part in the Black Nazarene activities, Saavedra said pilgrims should not forget the true reason for the festivity rests on a strong faith in God.