MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday said it reported to Manila Mayor Isko Moreno alleged crowding around Quiapo Church amid the commemoration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene despite limitations to mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing reports from the Manila City Hall, the DOH pointed out that photos of crowding reported to their office were supposedly taken early Saturday, where devotees just started flocking to Quiapo for the Feast.
“The DOH [is] in close coordination with the LGU of Manila to monitor the situation. The DOH also reiterated its call to devotees to opt for the virtual masses and refrain from physically visiting Quiapo,” the agency said in a statement.
“Authorities were quick to disperse said flocks and ensure strict implementation of physical distancing from outside of Quiapo Church up until España Blvd. and other roads," it added.
Fr. Douglas Badong, parochial vicar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, earlier said the commemoration of the Black Nazarene has been peaceful, with thousands of devotees patiently lining up outside of Quiapo Church for the Mass.
A total of 15 masses are scheduled at the Quiapo Church throughout Saturday and only 400 people are allowed inside per mass. The church is disinfected every after mass, before the next set of devotees is allowed inside.
Meanwhile, Alex Irasga, working committee head of the Feast of Black Nazarene, told Teleradyo in an interview that devotees were disciplined, with no more traces of “organized chaos” from the previous years.
“Makikita niyo na ang mga tao ay sumusunod sa social distancing, may face mask, may face shield, may dalang contact tracing form o di naman kaya ay may QR code na binibigay, tapos ho ay sumusunod sa mga hijos na gawing disiplinado at organisado ang kanilang pagsisimba,” said Irisga.
(You could see that people are following social distancing and minimum health protocols. They also filled out contact tracing forms or QR codes. The hijos made sure that the Mass would be organized.)
Irasga pointed out, however, that the committee and the Manila Police District (MPD) had problems with ordering people to line up and maintain physical distancing in control points, but it has already been solved.
There were also some reports of crowding and violation of physical distancing measures whenever a priest went outside to spray Holy Water to devotees, but he said they are working on deploying more people to assist.
“'Yun hong nababanggit na tulakan, mangyari sinara po ang lahat ng control point. So nagkaroon ng buhos ng mga tao doon po sa mga control point. Noong sinara ho 'yung ibang control point, eh di naglilipatan 'yung mga deboto ng mapupuntahan, para hong nagkakaroon ng parang siksikan, pero naayos naman natin 'yan,” he explained.
(The pushing happened when the control points were closed. They did not follow the lines anymore and there was crowding when they wanted to go to another control point but we have already addressed that.)
Around 6,000 police officers were deployed around Quiapo for the annual Feast, the activities of which were limited due to the pandemic. The annual grand procession of the Black Nazarene, the Traslacion, which draws millions, was canceled.
The health department also told devotees who went physically to Quiapo to isolate, most especially if there are household members vulnerable to COVID-19.
"With the evident influx of devotees... DOH reiterates its call for the public to refrain from physically attending masses at Quiapo and for those still intending to go to instead opt for online masses," the statement read.
The health department also urged local government units to coordinate with Quiapo Church to secure a list of attendees and "actively monitor" their constituents for COVID-19 symptoms.
Malacañang also urged devotees to commemorate the Feast in their homes instead of attending physically.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said while devotees see this event as a "panata" or a vow to the Black Nazarene, everyone's safety should still be considered.
"We call on the public who are planning to go to Quiapo to avoid going there and just watch or listen to online masses instead. For the devotees who are already in the area, wear your face mask/face shield properly, wash or sanitize your hands, and follow other protocols being implemented by the Church," he said.
He added that the pandemic task force will also monitor the situation in Quiapo.
Devotion to the Black Nazarene amid the pandemic
Despite the cancellation of the Traslacion due to the pandemic, during its eve, Gerald Payan, with only his crutches in his hand, began walking from his home in Navotas City to Quiapo Church to continue his decades-long devotion.
“Gabi pa lang andito na ako, tulad ng mga nakalipas na taon,” he recalled.
(I was here since the eve of the Feast, just like the previous years.)
Despite the threat of COVID-19 and his disability, Payan admitted he did not hesitate to come to Quiapo Church.
“Kahit ganito ako may kapansanan, lalabanan ko. Ang COVID nakakabahala pero ang Diyos ang tinitingnan ko, ang Diyos pa din ang may kaya,” he explained.
(Despite my condition, I will fight. COVID-19 is threatening but I only look at God, because he is mighty.)
He went on: “Ang tiwala ko nasa mahal na Poon. Kahit ano mangyari, may tiwala ako. Iwan mo na lahat, wag lang ang Panginoon.”
(My trust is on the Black Nazarene. Whatever happens, I have trust, leave everything but not God.)
Payan was stricken with Polio as a child, which was around the same time he found his faith.
“Triny ko magdasal hanapin ko ang Panginoon, tuwing gabi. Nang tahimik na ang lahat, noong wala ng ingay, naiyak ako,” he said.
(I tried praying to look for God every night. When everything was quiet and calm, when there were no more noise, I broke down in tears.)
“Umiyak ako. Bakit ako umiiyak? Dahil doon ko totoong naramdaman ko ang pagmamahal ng Diyos,” he added.
(Why did I cry? Because I felt the love of God.)
Like most Black Nazarene faithfuls, the 50-something year old regularly frequents the Basilica every Friday and Sunday as well.
“Dito ko kasi pinakanadadama ang mahal na Diyos natin,” he shared. “Tuwing nandito ako, nagdadasal, kung ano man problema ko, naipaparamdam Niya na mahal Niya ako.”
(This is the time where I feel His love the most. Whenever I pray here, whatever problem I have, I know He really loves me.)
He went on: “Hangang ngayon, tuwing nagdadasal ako sa mahal na poon, naiiyak ako.”
(Until now, whenever I pray to the relic of the Black Nazarene, I cry.)
This year, Payan asked the Black Nazarene was to “save the world” from the global pandemic.
“Naniniwala ako sisiw lang iyan (COVID-19) sa iyo Panginoon,” he enthused.
(I know that COVID-19 is just a speck in the eyes of God.)
He also prayed that his departed siblings have been united with their creator.
“Hiling ko sana kapatid ko pinaan ko lahat ng namatay kinuha mo na sila at binuhay muli sa paraiso,” Payan said.
(I pray that all of my departed siblings are there with you in Paradise.)
Despite the tragedies the world experienced in 2020, the devotee asked Filipinos to remain faithful.
“Andiyan ang Panginoon palagi sa tabi ko. Alam niya ang pinakamakakabuti sa akin, sa atin. Wag tayo mawalan ng tiwala porket mahirap,” Payan urged.
“Naniniwala pa din ako sa Diyos, at mas dapat naniniwala tayo. Ang Diyos ang daan, siya ang nakakaalam,” he added.
(The Lord God is here with me. He knows what is best for us, let us not lose hope despite the hardships. I believe in God and we should believe in him. It is only He who knows the way.)
— With a report from Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News