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With spike in omicron, Philippines cancels Black Nazarene festivities

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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine authorities have canceled the famous Black Nazarene festivities, usually attended by millions of devotees, due to a surge in coronavirus cases, reported ucanews.com.

On Jan. 5, the health department reported 10,775 new coronavirus cases brought about by the omicron variant, nearly doubling the cases reported Jan. 4.

Authorities banned all public gatherings in and outside church premises, including the selling of images and novenas of the Black Nazarene, ucanews.com reported.

The Black Nazarene is a 16th-century statue depicting Jesus en route to his crucifixion and is said to possess healing powers. Its feast is celebrated Jan. 9.

Every year, around 3 million devotees attend the procession of a replica of the statue back to Quiapo Church from the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

Philippine police have deployed officers around church premises to apprehend violators and to prevent public gatherings in the area.

President Rodrigo Duterte urged Catholics Jan. 5 to refrain from attending large gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Now we are seeing an upward trend of the virus. Omicron infects faster. We need to address this by not allowing the public to come together for gatherings, including public Masses and the traditional procession of the revered image of the Black Nazarene," Duterte said in his address to the nation.

"There are millions of devotees there and you cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease. I hope the church can understand that all gatherings are not allowed."

The shrine's parochial vicar announced the closure and disinfection of the church starting Jan. 7.

"We are saddened by this decision, but we need to comply with health restrictions for the good of everyone. ... We know how important the feast is to all of us," Father Douglas Badong said in an interview with Radio Veritas.

"We've made all the necessary precautions and preparations ... but we want to respect the health authorities' decision. At the same time, we also understand how the devotees feel about this," Father Badong added.

Father Badong appealed for understanding of the decision by government health authorities.

"Let us discern and pray on the message of the Black Nazarene in this situation," he added.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2022