The Basilica Menor de San Sebastian, more commonly known as San Sebastian Church, has been a popular architectural gem in the Philippines. Many admire it for its all-metal makeup, tall spires, and charming light blue-green façade that stands out even from afar.
But for many Catholics, the church is not just a pretty structure. In fact, it is home to the Philippines’ oldest image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was gifted by the Mexican Carmelite nuns to traveling Recollect missionaries in 1618.
Moreover, it also plays an important role in the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene. It is where the Dungaw, an almost forgotten Filipino Catholic tradition, takes place. It involves the Black Nazarene making a stop at the Plaza del Carmen, where San Sebastian is located, to be glanced by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel de San Sebastian.
This tradition is said to be a reenactment of a scene from the fourth station of the cross where the Lord is met by the Virgin Mary as He carried the cross on his way to crucifixion. It is also a way of paying homage to the Recollect friars who introduced both the Black Nazarene and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to Filipinos and who have been faithful keepers of the two figures.
This year’s Dungaw was already its fifth run since its renewal in 2014. It aimed also to revive the religious essence of the Traslacion. It coincided with the introduction of prayer stations to encourage devotees to pray and deepen their understanding of the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
Although the Dungaw was not practiced for many years due to still unknown reasons, it appears that the tradition has already inspired many devotees to go to Plaza del Carmen to take part in it.
In fact, many of them began flocking into Plaza del Carmen in the morning January 9, securing their spots and patiently waiting for the Black Nazarene to halt meet the image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Some of these devotees even stayed inside the church and within its grounds where they prayed and rested during the gap.
In the afternoon, a guided tour facilitated by the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. also took place. The said tour’s participants were guests from different walks of life who wanted to witness the Dungaw from the San Sebastian Church’s bell tower. Some devotees also participated in the first part of the tour where they learned about the story behind the basilica and its restoration.
A mass was celebrated at 6:00 in the evening. Around that time, more devotees gathered on the church grounds as well as on the streets surrounding the Basilica for that night’s event.
At past 11:00 PM, the Black Nazarene finally arrived at Plaza del Carmen. Devotees chanted, “Viva Hesus Nazareno!” to welcome the said statue. A prayer was led by Fr. Antonio Zabala, Jr. followed by the reading of the Gospel and Prayers of the Faithful. After that, church bells were rung. At the same time, devotees also shook their bracelets with small bells, also known as Campanas del Carmen. People also sang “Ama Namin” and the “Nuestro Jesus Padre Nazareno Hymn”.
After the Dungaw, the Black Nazarene proceeded with the rest of the procession. Meanwhile, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel de San Sebastian was brought back inside the basilica. Devotees also began dispersing. Some prepared to return for their respective homes, while some followed the procession that eventually ended at 3:00 AM.
In a short interview, Fr. Zabala described the Feast of the Black Nazarene as the “adrenaline shot” in people’s faith for being the first major feast of the year in the whole country.
“Hindi natin alam talaga ang haharapin natin sa 2018 so we need this adrenaline shot sa ating pananampalataya upang magkaroon pa tayo ng tibay at lakas ng loob na harapin itong hindi pa natin alam na mangyayari sa taon na ito,” he said.
(“We don’t know what we will face in 2018, so we need this adrenaline shot in our faith so we can have endurance and courage to face the unknown challenges this year will bring,” he said.)
According to him, the Dungaw also teaches the essence of the family.
“The essence of the family, nandoon. Pamilya tayo. Nandiyan ang Mahal na Ina, nandiyan ang Poong Hesus Nazareno. Pinapaalala ng selebrasyong ito at ginugunita nito na ginampanan nila ang kanilang misyon. Mission accomplished. Alam naman natin yun, so ito ngayon ay magsisilbing halimbawa sa atin na tayo rin, bawat isa sa atin, may kanya-kanyang misyon na bahagi ng kagustuhan ng ating Panginoong Diyos.”
(“The essence of family is there. We are a family. Mama Mary and Jesus Nazarene are there. This celebration reminds us that they fulfilled their mission.”)
Fr. Zabala would also like to invite people to participate in the different activities lined up for the 400th celebration of the figure of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s arrival. These will include a pluvial procession to reenact the arrival of the its oldest image in the country. There will be a mass by the Manila bay then a mass at the Luneta Park. Then, the procession will continue going back to the basilica.
They are also organizing a conference of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel devotees, in which details about the history—how the image came to the Philippines, who brought it here, and what the circumstances behind were—will be revealed. Carmelites are also invited to share the real story behind the Virgin Mary’s apparition to St. Simon Stock on Mt. Carmel, where She was known as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Then on July 16, 2018, there will be a novena and big celebration.
Apart from participating these activities, everyone is also encouraged to join the guided tours spearheaded by the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. to contribute to the restoration of San Sebastian Church, home to the oldest figure of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Philippines.
San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc.
Address: St. Ezequiel Hall, San Sebastian Basilica Convent, Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila
Phone: +(632) 7085122
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/savessbasilica/