Lance Raven Chato, 20, loves the same things most guys his age do. He plays basketball on his phone and on the court, and claims to be the best shooting guard and centre. His Fridays, however, are not spent shooting hoops, but attending meetings and assisting the elderly during mass at the Quiapo Church in Manila.
He is part of the Hijos del Nazareno (Sons of the Nazarene), dedicated devotees of the Black Nazarene, a life-size statue of Jesus sculpted from dark wood. It’s a devotion he inherited from his grandfather and father, who also volunteer in weekly masses.
But that’s nothing compared to what they do every January 9, when the religious image is paraded in a 6-kilometre route around the streets of Manila and brought back to the Quiapo Church, its permanent home. The procession, known as Traslacion, is attended by millions of people who push and shove each other just to touch the statue they believe to be miraculous. It’s the Hijos’ job to protect the centuries-old Black Nazarene, so Lance and about 200 other men take turns standing on the carriage, navigating it through a sea of people, and making sure it gets back to the church in one piece.
Lance has been doing this since 2009, when he was 10 years old, a year after his grandfather died.
“Every Friday and Sunday, we knew he’d be at Quiapo Church, nowhere else,” he said, in awe of his grandfather’s devotion. Lance recalled how they would go to church together on weekends and said that he wanted to be like his grandfather.
This year, an estimated 2.3 million people attended the procession that lasted for 16 hours. Lance said it was relatively easier this time around because the police were stricter. In 2012, the procession lasted for nearly 24 hours due to flat carriage tires.
Still, it was a hectic day for Lance and his fellow volunteers.
Visibly sleepless and teary-eyed, Lance shadows fellow Hijo Alex Irasga wherever he goes. Alex is the man in charge of managing all the Hijos during the Traslacion.
Sleepless, hungry, and dehydrated, the Hijos look for food in the locked-down Quirino Grandstand, where the Black Nazarene waits before the procession. They settle for instant noodles from street vendors while thousands of police officers sleep on the pavement.
The Hijos huddle beside the carriage for final instructions. “Let’s help each other for the Nazarene,” Alex says. Lance joins in for a final hug.
Hijos board the carriage, starting their 2-hour shift. The same group will board again later in the day as the carriage approaches the Quiapo Church. Lance stands on the rear left. His tasks are to wipe the statue with devotees’ towels to impart it with miraculous attributes and make sure no one hangs on to the Black Nazarene for too long.
Priests hold the morning prayer. Hijos carry the Black Nazarene to the carriage.
The procession of the Black Nazarene begins.
The procession travels about 1.5 kilometres for almost 2 hours. Lance and his group go down the carriage and are replaced by the next batch of Hijos.
Lance walks 1.6 kilometres with the other Hijos to check in at a small hotel beside the Quiapo Church. Seven of them share a bed meant for one.
After five hours of rest, Lance and the other Hijos go to the San Sebastian Church, which is part of the procession route, to help with crowd control.
The carriage reaches the San Sebastian Church, where a small ceremony is held. Here, the Black Nazarene “meets” an image of Mary housed in the church.
Lance boards the carriage again as it reaches the final stages of the procession.
With Lance and the other Hijos on board, the Black Nazarene finally returns to the Quiapo Church after 16 hours.
With the procession and the feast over, the Hijos head back to the hotel and rest.
Lance said he continues to serve in the procession every year and in church every week, in gratitude for all the blessings he has been given.
“I get to go to school. I rarely get sick. I get to teach the youth how to serve. Those are the rewards I get for doing this,” he said.
“I’ll serve the Nazarene until I die.”