In the 1940s, there was a young mother, Justa Vinavellez, who would spend her Friday afternoons at the Quiapo church in Manila by walking on her knees on the aisle from the doors to the altar, and in deep prayer, begging and waiting for a miracle to happen.
While she would come home from those Friday Quiapo trips with only bruises on her knees to show for it, Vinavellez was relentless.
After all, she looked up to the Black Nazarene as the sole, remaining answer to her prayer—that her son Armando, who was born blind, could see.
Several years later, Armando, no longer blind and already 15, would take up his mother’s devotion as living proof of the Nazareno’s miraculous ways, and start a lifelong commitment to join the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene.
Now75 years old, Mando, as he is fondly called in his community in Quiapo, prepares to fulfill his last tour of duty as a mamamasan or bearer of the image of the Black Nazarene in the feast that will be held tomorrow.
In an interview with Manila Bulletin, Mando recalled how his mother was shocked when he asked her permission to join the traslacion (the procession).
“Nay, ‘kako, gusto kong maging mamamasan (Ma, I told her, I want to be a bearer),” Mando said. “Of course my mother was shocked because she said I was still young (to join the procession). Little did she know that I prepared myself for it by becoming an altar boy because I really wanted to be a mamamasan.”
And so began Mando’s service to the Nazareno.
Reed-thin yet full of energy, the young Mando joined the thousands of barefoot men, who jostled and elbowed at every opportunity to get near the Nazareno as it was taken from the Minor Basilica in Quiapo through the streets of Manila in the late 1950s when the annual ritual began.
And since that first journey with the Nazareno, Mando has never missed a traslacion.
From that frail-looking boy, Mando now has all the scars from bruises and injuries to show for, not to mention the countless tales about his exploits as a mamamasan.
In the early 2000s, he was nearly killed when, as a member of the Hijos del Nazareno, he was atop the andas, or carriage bearing the Black Nazarene when the procession ground to a halt under a bridge. The huge crowd was pressing at one side of the andas and caused it to topple over.
He and his fellow Hijos were thrown off their perch, and instead of staying clear of the falling andas, and the image of the Nazareno, they collectively offered their bodies as cushion to keep it from crashing to the pavement.
“I almost died then,” Mando said. “It’s no joke to join the procession, you should be ready to die.”
But that didn’t stop Mando from coming back to serve in the next traslacion and 14 other processions thereafter.
This year, however, the rigors of participating in the procession, which could take as long as 24 hours to complete for the <em>mamamasan, have finally taken their toll on his aging body.
Add to that Mando’s admission that the near-fatal accident in the early 2000s left a nagging possibility he had never felt before. That he could get killed participating in the procession.
So tonight, on the eve of the Jan. 9 traslacion, Mando would go through his pre-procession ritual for the last time, indulging himself in deep, soulful prayer before proceeding to the procession, and even try to ask his former colleagues at the Hijos del Nazareno if he could comb the Nazareno’s hair one more time.
“Sabi nga ng iba e, ‘naku kahoy lang ‘yan, bakit ninyo sinasamba ‘yan?’ Hindi namin sinasamba ‘yan, sinasampalatayaan namin ‘yan (Others would say, ‘it’s just some wood, why are you worshipping that?’ We are not worshipping that, we believe in Him),” Mando said.
Indeed, by tomorrow’s end of the traslacion, it would have been an arduous, unfailing 60-year devotion for Mando.
But unlike his mother Justa, Mando had asked for a miracle once from the Nazareno that went unanswered.
His sixth child Edward was born with complications, and it was only natural for Mando to seek the help of the same power he believed gave his sight to him.
But Edward was only nine months old when he died.
There was not a tinge of regret or disappointment when Mando recalled how he lost his son.
“Kung anong kasalananang binuhat niya, iyon din ang ibibigay niya sa’yo, susubukan niya kung bibitaw ka. Hindi ako bumitaw (Whatever He carried, He will give you the same. He will test you if you will give up. I did not give up),’ was all he could say.