Thousands of Catholic devotees on Thursday have joined the annual procession of the Black Nazarene statue, called the "Traslacion."
One of the devotees, tattoo artist Joebert Maceren, said he has been joining the procession for six consecutive years.
Maceren said his devotion started after God answered his prayers for his brother to be healed of lupus.
He even had his whole back tattooed in the image of the Black Nazarene as a sign of his commitment to attend the annual religious rites.
This year, he said he had more to be grateful about after he recovered from serious injuries following a road accident last year.
"I thank God for giving me a second life; it just strengthened my faith in him," he said.
Photographer Joe Mari Sarda has been volunteering in the local Catholic church as part of the "Hijos del Nazareno," an organization of church volunteers who serve in the yearly religious observance.
Sarda said he has been a part of the group for 10 years already, the same time when the replica of the Black Nazarene was brought to Cagayan de Oro from Manila.
"It's not easy to be in the 'Hijos del Nazareno.' You have to be there wherever the Black Nazarene is borrowed someplace else. For 10 years, not all prayers were answered, there were challenges, but in the end you can just say: 'It is up to His will,'" he said.
Prayer and recovery
Eduardo Hapson, a devotee from Bukidnon, underscored the importance of faith in the Black Nazarene.
"No matter how much you wipe your handkerchief, if you lack faith, nothing will happen. Your faith is what will heal you, said Hapson, 62, a resident of Sumilao town.
Hapson said his devotion to the Black Nazarene was strengthened when he had a stroke leading to a coma in 2014, during which he was given by doctors 12 days to live.
In those 12 days, I was in a coma for nine days. My chance for survival was very slim, he said.
On the 10th day, Hapson said, he woke up at four a.m. to a bright light that illuminated his room.
It was very bright. Then I saw an old man lying in a bed next to mine. He had dark skin and long hair, he said.
Hapson also recalled that there were two women who kept watch over the old man and even asked them to give the other patient fruits. This was also the day that he was brought to the third hospital in Davao City where he was expected to be operated on.
I only stayed in Davao for two days as the doctors did not perform an operation on my head because they did not see any sign of aneurysm, he added.
Upon arriving home, Hapson asked his wife who was the fellow patient he shared a room with, but he was told he was alone.
It was then I realized that it was a vision and that the Black Nazarene appeared to me. Since that day, I promised to serve him more as I owed my second chance at life to him, he added.
Hapson said he will never get tired of serving the Black Nazarene for as long he lives.
He extended my life. In return, I must serve him and share my faith with others, he added.
Meanwhile, the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (Cocpo) reported that the vigil at the St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral on the eve of the Black Nazarene's feast day and of the Traslacion was generally peaceful.
Maj. Evan ViAas, Cocpo spokesperson, said there were no reports of petty crimes, although two persons fainted during the procession from the cathedral to the Nazareno Church.
They have medical condition, that's why they fainted, he said.
ViAas said more than a thousand police officers, including soldiers, were deployed to secure the route of the Traslacion.
Both ViAas and Wenceslao Salcedo, another member of the Hijos del Nazareno, estimated the crowd during the procession at around 200,000.
Other security measures included an overnight liquor ban from January 8 to January 9, and the prohibition of backpacks, drones, umbrellas and wearing of shades by devotees and other persons within the perimeter of the parade.
The National Telecommunications Commission also implemented a temporary signal cutoff of all cellphone networks from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. Thursday.
The image of the Black Nazarene was transported from Nazareno Church Wednesday night to St. Augustine Cathedral where an overnight vigil was observed.
After a 4 a.m. Mass on Thursday, the procession started, passing by A. Velez St. and exiting right to C.M. Recto Avenue and to Nazareno church where it arrived at 7:15 a.m.
The said religious activity became successful and peaceful because of the full cooperation and support of the general public, ViAas said.
Source: Philippines News Agency