interior

Atalaya icon returned

Police escorted Bishop Oscar Mario Brown to the basílica’s altar to replace the original Christ statue.

homecoming: Thousands of townspeople stood by as the circa-1912 Jesus the Nazarene statue was returned to the Atalaya church yesterday, ending eight days of protests in the Herrera village. homecoming: Thousands of townspeople stood by as the circa-1912 Jesus the Nazarene statue was returned to the Atalaya church yesterday, ending eight days of protests in the Herrera village.
homecoming: Thousands of townspeople stood by as the circa-1912 Jesus the Nazarene statue was returned to the Atalaya church yesterday, ending eight days of protests in the Herrera village.

Bowing to pressure from parishioners in Atalaya, Veraguas, church authorities yesterday returned the original Jesus of Nazarene figure to the Basílica Menor San Miguel Arcángel, the scene of several days of protests and outrage over a resident priests’ decision to install a replica statue while the original 1912 icon was clandestinely restored.

Applause, cheers and even tears burst from the thousands of townspeople and pilgrims who had gathered on the front steps of the church under a hot sun still holding candles and photos of the now-famous image. Some people even launched fireworks to celebrate the hard-won victory.

Escorted by police officers, Oscar Mario Brown, Bishop of the Diocese of Veraguas, the main subject of public controversy, marched into the basilica at 4:38 p.m. to remove the replica and install the original cross-bearing Christ icon above the altar. Facing mounting criticism for his contradictory statements concerning the restoration, the beleaguered bishop had pledged to return the authentic figure no later than Jan. 16. Church leaders admitted that statue had been removed Nov. 26.

Members of the Committee for the Rescue of the Image of the Nazarene, which for years have been responsible for maintaining the 97-year-old figure’s purple robe, spent some 35 minutes poring over the statue to ensure that it was indeed the original.

With the icon returned to its rightful place, loyal parishioners filed past the altar as the sound of basilica’s bells reverberated through the town.

Following the ceremony, Bishop Brown explained to the crowd that he never intended to send the image abroad or to sell it.

“We experience a tense situation and because of that we concluded that it was necessary to advance the process of restoring the original image,” said Brown.

The church leader went on to state that the original figure still needs to be restored, but said that work will only be carried out once the community of Atalaya has been consulted on the issue. He added that a professional restorer would be hired from overseas.

“From the people of Atalaya I ask human maturity and maturity in faith,” said Brown. “To err is human and to rectify the problem and take this event as a lesson that the very [Jesus of Nazarene] has taught us.”

A sense of normalcy returned to the church as Padres Reginio Aguilar and Isaías Hernández were appointed to conduct the normal morning and evening Masses following priest Gilberto Hernández’s removal from his post as a result of the scandal.

A group of church members had organized within the basilica since Saturday, preventing Hernández from officiating over Eucharist and baptism services since he had played a key role in the decision to keep the restoration project a secret from parishioners.

The following day, police escorted the priest from his quarters to pacify the growing crowds.

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