Witness of faith: Manila’s basilica of the Black Nazarene

People stroll in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Feb. 2. Many Filipinos believe the sacred statue of Jesus Christ has miraculous powers. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

People stroll in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines Feb. 2. Many Filipinos believe the sacred statue of Jesus Christ housed in the church has miraculous powers. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

MANILA, Philippines — Crowds of Filipinos thronged throughout Miranda Plaza outside of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene Sunday as they do every day.

The basilica is one of the Philippines’ most revered sites as the faithful turn to the life-size statue of the Jesus carrying a cross for inspiration and healing — both the mental and physical kind.

Colleague Tyler Orsburn and I were joined by Adrian Tams of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (Church in Service of the Nation), the Jesuits’ social justice arm in the Philippines, as we visited the magnificent church.

We found perhaps 2,000 people filling the basilica as the temperature outside neared 90; hundreds more spilled out of the multiple doorways that lined both sides of the nave. The sound of worshippers filled the church with song during Communion.

Those who could not make it inside the basilica, also known as Quiapo Church, watched the Mass on large screens located at several locations round the building’s perimeter.

A description of the statue from the basilica website indicates that there is no definite account of its origin, but that it is attributed to the work of an unknown Mexican artist, who painted Jesus with dark brown skin similar to his own. The name Black Nazarene arose because when the statue arrived in the Philippines on a Mexican galleon in about 1606, its color had turned black.

The church itself has burned several times throughout its history. The current church dates to the 1930s, with a major expansion in the 1980s to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims showing up at its doorsteps.

The sight of the historic church wedged into tight quarters, surrounded by merchants offering things such as candles, clothing, fruit and vegetables, dried flowers and fortunes, and the worshippers was an impressive demonstration of faith as we began our 12-day reporting trip in the Philippines.

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