Swarms of barefoot believers thronged a revered icon of Jesus Christ on Thursday in Manila for a slow-moving and raucous procession considered one of the world’s largest shows of Catholic fervor.
As the sun rose, hundreds of thousands of faithful were packed along the route for the procession of the so-called Black Nazarene, which they believe grants miracles.
Devotees clamber over one another to touch the life-size statue, wipe a towel on it or even just lay a hand on the ropes attached to its metal float.
“We believe that if you pull the carriage, the Lord will cure all your diseases,” 50-year-old vendor Boyet Lara said. “Nothing is impossible if we believe.”
Scores of the barefoot faithful pass out and suffer cuts or bruises in the crush around the statue, and in previous years believers have died.
“In 2016, the rope pulling the statue wrapped around my head and I nearly choked to death. But I managed to survive,” said devotee Crisostomo Belarmino, 52.
“I cried that time and said ‘Thank you Nazarene for giving me another life,’” he added.
Just hours into the procession the Red Cross reported giving first aid to some 300 people at the procession, in line with previous years.
The statue is named for its charred appearance and is accompanied by many difficult to prove stories, including that it survived a fire while en route to the Philippines in the 17th century.
Critics call the procession a mish-mash of superstition and unnecessary risk for the scores of people who cram into the procession route each year.
However, the defenders in the Philippines’ powerful Catholic church call it a vibrant expression of faith.
Many devotees swear the Black Nazarene has brought them help when they needed it most.
“When my husband suffered a stroke two years ago, even if I didn’t ask for financial help, I got it,” vendor Angeline Mara, 43, said.
“Every time I hear the song for the Nazarene, I feel like I’m about to cry,” she added.
Though authorities did not report any specific threat to this year’s procession, there was a typically massive presence of thousands of police on Manila’s streets.
READ: Feast of Nazarene: Cops on full alert
At least 218 persons were injured during the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene on Thursday, where more than two-million devotees joined the procession of the venerated icon of Jesus Christ carrying a cross.
The Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office estimated that 2.3-million people joined the procession of the Black Nazarene, which started at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta and back to its home, the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.
The devotees, most walking barefoot in maroon and yellow shirts, push and shove every year to touch, or wipe with white towels The black wooden image of Jesus Christ believed to have miraculous powers.
Thousands of policemen and military personnel tried to control the huge crowd of devotees who surged forward like a wave to get near the relic right after the Mass officiated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle at the Quirino Grandstand.
The Black Nazarene was carved by an unknown Mexican from a dark wood in the 16th century in Mexico and then transported to the Philippines in 1606. It was housed in several churches near Manila in the early decades, arriving in Quiapo Church in 1787 where it has been enshrined ever since.
This year, the procession was the fastest compared to the previous years, which took at least 22 hours before the image was brought back to the Quiapo Church.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle called on the millions of devotees of the Black Nazarene to pray for the safety of people in the Middle East due to the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran.
In his homily during the midnight Mass before the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta, the Cardinal asked for prayers that war will not happen.
“Let us remember that in other parts of the world, there is the danger of violence. Let’s hope it won’t lead to war,” Tagle said.
“Let us pray for the safety of our fellowmen in the Middle East, to dispel the desire to destroy one’s neighbor, to dispel the desire to take vengeance,” said Tagle.
“And let us pray for our fellow Filipinos and their families here who are anxious,” he added.
The shortened route and a ban on vendors along the procession’s path brought about one “miracle”: city officials said they collected only 140 tons of garbage, compared to 387 tons in the previous year.
This still filled 20 garbage trucks, city officials said.
Manila Mayor Francisco “ Isko” Domagoso has earlier appealed to Nazarene devotees to maintain discipline and respect the environment as they respect the solemnity of the Black Nazarene by not leaving their trash behind.
Despite the lower volume of garbage, the Ecowaste Coalition said it was dismayed.
“Soon after the carriage bearing the revered image left Quirino Grandstand, we saw lots of bins and bags teeming with mixed garbage, including sleeping materials, food leftovers, urine-filled plastic bottles, dirty diapers, and hordes of single-use plastics,” the group said.
It added that despite the signs warning visitors that the law penalizing littering would be strictly enforced in the sprawling park, some people recklessly threw their rubbish anywhere, which government workers and volunteers from church, school and environmental groups had to pick up.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday called for compassion and selflessness as Filipinos joined Traslacion, which continuously strengthens the nation’s faith.
“As we move in procession with the image of Christ in our midst, may we all be inspired to lead our nation towards greater progress, where everyone gets an equal chance for an improved quality of life,” the President said.
“May we also learn the virtues of compassion and selflessness as we do our part in nation-building. Together, let us work towards achieving a better and more inclusive future for all Filipinos,” he added. With MJ Blancaflor and AFPREAD: MMDA, Manila brace for Nazarene paradeREAD: Traslacion: CP services on holdREAD: Traslacion day: No classes, no work
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