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POSTS, EMOJIS, LIVESTREAMS | Traslacion in the time of social media

Photograph posted by Benjie Nicolas Tubali on the MINOR BASILICA OF THE BLACK NAZARENE (Quiapo Church, Manila) Facebook page.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Hearts and thumbs-ups flash and fly on the screen of the Quiapo Church's Facebook page, as the video stream of the midnight mass for the procession of the image of the Black Nazarene goes live.

It's 11:40 p.m. on Sunday. The Holy Eucharist hasn't started yet, but the multitude of Facebook followers of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene are already standing by.

They while away the time by sending a flurry of emojis and a barrage of comments.

Jacqueline Cofreros Alvarado writes, "Poong Hesus, salamat sa lahat ng pagpapala, paggabay, at proteksyon. Salamat, Poong Hesus Nazareno, sa pagpapatawad sa aking mga pagkakasala. 'Wag mo po kaming pababayaan (Lord Jesus, thank you for all your blessings, guidance, and protection. Thank you, Lord Jesus of Nazareth, for forgiving all my sins. Please do not forget us). Amen."

"Mahal naming Nazareno, patawad po sa mga nagawa kong kasalanan. At nagpapasalamat po ako sa mga biyaya na aming natatanggap sa araw-araw, at sa lakas ng aming mga katawan. Nawa ay ilayo niyo po kami sa mga kapahamakan at sa anumang uri ng mga karamdaman... Sa pangalan ni Jesus na Nazareno (Our beloved Nazarene, I am sorry for all my sins. I am thankful for all the blessings we receive every day, and for the strength of our bodies. May you save us from danger and illness, in the name of Jesus the Nazarene), amen," Azuela Ronnie posts.

Hendrick Joseph Sin comments with icons of hands clasped in prayer, a smiley, and a church. Other followers post crowns, sparkles, and smileys blowing kisses.

By the time Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle delivers his homily at around 12:30 a.m., over 1,800 Netizens have tuned in.

His appeal to love in the way Jesus did – in a way that did not make a distinction between others and oneself, and manifested itself through actions for the good of others – are greeted with a slew of digital "Amens".

"Amen. Maganda po ang homily. Salamat po (The homily was beautiful. Thank you)," Cherryl Cagas comments.

"Give the sinners a chance. Tulungan ang nadapa (Let us help those who have fallen)!" Josefina Badana echoes the Manila Archbishop's words.

Boni Navarro replies simply: "Watching from RAK (Ras al-Khaimah), UAE (United Arab Emirates)."

It is the first time that the Quiapo Church, through its social communications team, is livestreaming the annual traslacion for its 160,000 followers.

According to Quiapo Church parish priest Msgr. Hernando Coronel, in an earlier press conference, the livestream is an attempt to satisfy the Filipinos' "hunger and thirst" to take part in the Nazareno festivities.

He believes that it gives their followers a sense of belonging and a feeling of being back home in the Philippines even if they are abroad.

"It gave me goosebumps," he says, reflecting on their experience with Facebook Live during the Christmas dawn masses. Followers would type in their responses in unison with the utterances of the massgoers who were physically present in Quiapo Church.

With livestreaming, being a service Facebook offers for free, Coronel is more than happy to take advantage of the social media network's global reach.

Of course, says Coronel, tuning in to a livestream is not a substitute for attending the procession and related activities such as the hourly masses, the pahalik (kissing of the image), and the procession of Nazareno replicas.

But he assures that the Lord sees into every devotee's heart and knows the sincerity of their desire to take part. It is this yearning that the administration of Quiapo Church want to address, through its livestream and Facebook and Twitter updates.

And in the comments section, the faithful proudly attest to the genuineness of their veneration – from wherever they happen to be posting from.

"Viva Senyor Nazareno! Thank you for the update, Quiapo Church - Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. From KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)," writes Rusell Dumawa Marquez.

"Lord Jesus of Black Nazarene, happy fiesta and pray for us, for the whole family, and the whole world. Viva Senor Nazareno! Amen. God bless us all. From Las Vegas, Nevada," comments Gloria Lynn.

During the procession, Reginald Lim Constantino asks, "Any updates kung nasaan na? Nasa work kasi ako (Any updates on where it is? I'm at work), hehehe."

Many others plead for a livestream of the entire procession, as it makes its way to Quiapo Church from Quirino Grandstand. Unfortunately, "technical difficulties" prevent the social communications team from doing so.

This may have something to do with telecommunications giants Smart Communications and Globe Telecom having temporarily shut down their wireless service in Manila because of public security concerns.

The most the Quiapo Church social communications team can do is Tweet and post Facebook status updates about the location of the image of the Black Nazarene. The simultaneous masses at Quiapo Church, though, are posted live on Facebook.

Despite the limitations, the Quiapo Church has received reviews that are practically punctuated by halos. The Facebook page has a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars, with over 1,100 followers giving it a perfect score.

"Thank you so much for the updates of the Novena masses in honor of the Black Nazarene and other activities. It makes us feel we are at home, watching the videos and posts of pictures. Para na rin kaming nariyan (It feels like we're there, too). Every day I never fail to open your page," writes Bernie Pirthauer.

An aspiring teacher shares her wish: to pass her licensure exams.

A mother recalls how her prayers helped save her ailing son.

A grandmother expresses hope that her lame grandchild will one day be able to walk.

A woman gives thanks for her pregnancy, despite her health problems.

A husband extends his gratitude for being able to survive his separation from his wife.

The Facebook page has become a community of believers, transcending physical bounds.

Long before likes and shares, the Black Nazarene journeyed to Manila aboard a galleon to spark a phenomenon of faith.

Today, in the age of viral videos and memes, the devotion is stronger than ever, thanks to the Church's willingness to embrace new ways to spread the Word.