Easily the most important church in Manila is the Quiapo Church (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene). It represents the Filipino people, their ardent religiosity, political struggles, and deep personal longings. The Filipinos are known as very religious folk and there is a good amount of evidence to suggest that even pre-Spanish Filipinos had their own set of religious beliefs and laws and exercised faith in the supernatural.
In 1521, the Spanish came and colonized the Philippines. History books say the Spanish came with a cross in one hand and sword in the other. Spanish authorities introduced Catholicism and persecuted those who did not believe. While it was difficult to accept the Spanish Crown, Filipinos easily received the Catholic Cross. It was religion that helped the locals persevere through the 300-year tyrannical rule of Spain.
Today, the Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia. It is still largely Roman Catholic, and Quiapo Church is one of the most recognized symbols of the national religion.
Thousands of Filipinos and Black Nazarene devotees flock to the church every Friday to light a candle in prayer to the Black Nazarene. The life-sized image of a dark-skinned Christ carrying the cross is believed to be miraculous. During the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9, the image is carried on a procession from Rizal Park to Quiapo. Every year, the surrounding areas suffer monstrous traffic on that day.
Millions of devotees participate, each trying to get as close to the image as possible. They believe that it is most miraculous this time of the year and so they would attempt to kiss, touch or wipe the image with their handkerchiefs.
Nearly every year, a handful of devotees get trampled on in that suffocated huddle of people trying to reach the statues and if these trampled-on people are unlucky enough, they die.
Recently, however, the feast seems to be becoming just a little bit less dangerous. Records say about 7 million people participated at the Feast of 2010. Miraculously, there were no casualties that year, except for one man who suffered from a heart attack while waiting for the procession to pass by. In 2011, about 8 million devotees came, and again there were no reported deaths, although many were injured.
Filipinos will do everything in the name of their faith, even if it means losing their personal space and convenience. The surrounding communities around Quiapo are some of the poorest in the country. Outside the church are scores of beggars, scamming fortune tellers and faith healers, and vendors selling all sorts of religious paraphernalia. One cannot go inside the church or simply walk around it without being harassed by a vendor into buying something, from candles to amulets, or rosary beads to toys.
Filipinos are very resilient. Despite experiencing extreme poverty, they are only too willing to give donations at church, spend time praying the novena, and participating in every religious activity available. As a result, Filipinos display a host of laudable Christian virtues such as friendliness, hospitality and strong family ties.
Quiapo Church will always play an important part in the hearts of Catholic Filipinos and the history of the country. Just outside the church doors is Plaza Miranda, a popular square that regularly hosts political rallies. Significant national and political events have taken place just outside this church.
If you are visiting Manila for the first time and wish to see this popular cathedral, asking for directions is never difficult. Every Filipino living in Metro Manila knows where Quiapo Church (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene) is. All jeepney routes from north and south of Manila pass along Quiapo. Literally, all roads in Manila lead to Quiapo Church.