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Michael Aquino

Serious Business: the Black Nazarene Procession, Manila, Begins Tomorrow.

By January 7, 2013

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image of Black Nazarene, Manila, PHilippines

A Black Nazarene devotee rubs a cloth over the icon for protection and good fortune just before the procession of Quiapo Church's Black Nazarene, in Manila, Philippines. Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images.

Up to eight million devotees are expected to attend the Black Nazarene Procession that takes place this January 9 in Manila. You read that right: million. The Philippines' Catholic majority takes its religion seriously, and every January, the working-class Manila district of Quiapo becomes the site for one of Philippine folk Catholicism's biggest displays.

The millions who walk with the carroza bearing the Black Nazarene statue do so barefoot; for this day only, Manila's light rail transit authority permits passengers to ride the rails without shoes. Schools within the area are expected to suspend classes; and thousands of police officers will be deployed to ensure that peace and order reign throughout the chaos of the Black Nazarene procession.

And yet this is a dangerous undertaking: people have died in the crush of devotees. It boggles the logical mind to think of putting life and limb at risk to join the Black Nazarene procession, but it's best understood as a Catholic gesture of gratitude to God.

"The devotion to the Nazarene should be seen in the context of [debt of gratitude]: 'God gave me some tremendous gift -- [a family member was healed] -- so what will I offer in return?'" explains anthropologist Dr Fernando Nakpil Zialcita. " Something difficult like, [joining the procession], risking my life."

For more on this show of Catholic faith, read our article on the Black Nazarene Procession.

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