MANILA, Philippines – Joel Cachapero, 44, lost his job as a seaman in 2010.
Cachapero then felt he needed to return to God.
"Nagbalik-loob po ako sa kanya kasi kailangan ko po eh. Kailangan ko pong manampalataya sa kanya para ma-reach ko po uli ang future ko," he said. (I returned to Him because I needed to. I needed to have faith in Him so that I could reach my future again.)
That same year, Cachapero bought a desktop replica of the Black Nazarene, a 17th-century image of a dark Jesus Christ. For him it symbolized his coming home to God. It was also a sign of grace; he got hired again in 2015.
The Black Nazarene is the focus of an almost 24-hour procession every January 9 in the Philippines, one of the world's biggest religious feasts. (READ: Schedule of 2018 activities for the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo)
Two days before the Nazareno feast, Cachapero joined thousands of other devotees in the annual procession of Nazareno replicas. (IN PHOTOS: Thousands join procession of Nazareno replicas)
The Philippine National Police said at least 100,000 devotees joined this procession as of 4 pm on Sunday.
At 7 pm, the PNP said the crowd within and outside Quiapo Church, including those joining the procession, was at 120,000 people.
Up to 4,000 replicas of the Black Nazarene were brought in procession as of 6 pm on Sunday, according to the Quiapo Church's Facebook page.
Praying for health
During Sunday's procession, devotees like Cachapero brought their Nazareno replicas in a procession that began at 2 pm and lasted until the evening. They then had their images blessed by priests and seminarians using holy water that was sprinkled from a bridge.
Cachapero, a Nazareno devotee since he was 16, said he felt at peace joining Sunday's activities.
He said he came to the procession having faced many trials. One of these was the death of his wife in October 2017 due to breast cancer.
Despite this, Cachapero said, "Hanggang ngayon po nagiging deboto ako sa Kanya kasi alam ko sa araw-araw po na ginagawa ko, lagi po Siyang nakaalalay sa akin." (Until now I am still His devotee because I know that every day He is always assisting me.)
Cachapero, who is returning to his company's cruise ship in the Caribbean by February, said he prayed for good health and safety at sea.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Other devotees had their own prayers to the Black Nazarene.
JJ Ampon, 38, a Nazareno devotee for the past 25 years, said he was thanking the Black Nazarene for everyday graces for his family.
"Hindi kami nagkakasakit, kahit simple lang buhay namin (We never get sick even if our life is simple)," said Ampon, who was helping carry a replica of the Nazareno during our short interview.
Eddie dela Cruz, 49, who has been a Nazareno devotee for almost 24 years, also prayed for good health for his family.
"Sana 'wag kami magkaroon ng sakit at saka guminhawa kami pare-parehas (I hope we don't get sick and we all have a comfortable life)," said Dela Cruz aboard a truck carrying a replica of the Black Nazarene.
For good grades, too
Others who joined the procession, like a little girl we met, had the simplest of prayers for the Black Nazarene.
Francesca Jane Bado, an 8-year-old girl who joined Sunday's procession, said this is her only wish: "Sana po maging mataas 'yung score ko po sa school." (I hope I get high scores in school.)
In an interview in January 2012, anthropologist Fernando Nakpil Zialcita explained to Rappler that the devotion to the Nazarene "should be seen in the context of utang na loob (debt of gratitude)."
For Quiapo Church rector Monsignor Hernando Coronel, Quiapo Church is home to the most inexplicable of miracles.
Devotees believe it is the place where God will answer their deepest prayers – from making the blind see, to changing the hearts of the most hardened sinners.
Coronel compares the Nazareno miracles to those in the Bible.
"Pang-Bibliya 'yung mga nangyayari rito. Pang-Bibliya talaga." (Miracles here seem to come from the Bible. They really do.) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.