Fr. Jose Clemente Ignacio said caretakers of the Nazarene statue removed the metal crown from its head after devotees swarmed the stage at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park where the image was displayed during a Mass that preceded the traditional traslacion or procession.
The commotion briefly interrupted the Mass that was being officiated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
Ignacio said the crown was intentionally removed to prevent it from falling off. It was returned after the image was transferred to the carriage or andas for the procession.
“The metal crown could injure anybody. It was taken away for a while to avoid any untoward incident. The caretakers also arranged the statue before returning the crown,” he said.
Ignacio brushed aside criticism that devotees were driven by their fanaticism when they rushed to the Black Nazarene in the middle of the Mass.
“You can’t judge these people that they were not praying. They may not be properly educated on catechism but their action is an intense desire to get near the Black Nazarene,” he said.
Ignacio also denied that the cross the Nazarene was bearing was broken during the procession.
He said the cross is “foldable” so it could fit or pass narrow passageways.
Ignacio also cast aside the belief that it was a bad omen when the statue nearly fell as devotees rushed to it. “I don’t believe in superstition,” the priest said.
He considered the fiesta of Black Nazarene a big success, given the growing faith of devotees and the smooth coordination among government agencies and volunteer groups.
Ignacio thanked the local government of Manila, the Philippine Coast Guard, the police, health workers, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and volunteer groups.
He credited the command center set up near Quiapo church for helping make the Nazarene feast a success.
“Last year I was the command center. This time everything was well coordinated, including the presence of a command center whose software was designed by an Australian,” Ignacio said.
Ignacio said the disaster management software helped pinpoint potential problem areas, including crowd control and the vendors with carts.
He said the command center, located on top of a building near the church, functioned as unified command.
“We can attribute the safe traslacion to a better road, well-lit sidewalks, the early towing of illegally parked cars along the route, cleared passageway and blocking off minor roads to control the devotees,” he said.
Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag reported that 1,403 people sought medical help during the Black Nazarene fiesta for wounds, dizziness and fainting.
Twelve people were taken to hospitals for strokes, fractures, chest pains, seizures, high blood pressure, dislocation and dehydration.
The MMDA estimated that 12 million took part in the procession, higher than last year’s 9.6 million.
The procession took 19 hours to complete the 6.75 kilometers route from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo church.
It began at 7 a.m. on Thursday and reached the church 1:57 a.m. Friday.
The MMDA said it took 23 trucks to haul away the 336 tons of garbage left by the procession participants.
Francis Martinez, head of the MMDA’s Metro Parkway Clearing Group, on Friday said the clearing operation was swift because MMDA sweepers followed the procession.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said the unruly devotees defied their devotion to the Nazarene.
“I was watching on TV the pushing and shoving, but more people could come nearer the Nazareno if the people were disciplined. This is not genuine religion, it can be improved,” Lagdameo said.
With report from Ritchie Horario