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Philippine Catholics swarm Christ icon in feverish parade

Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful swarmed a historic statue of Jesus Christ as it was pulled through the streets of the Philippine capital
Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful swarmed a historic statue of Jesus Christ as it was pulled through the streets of the Philippine capital - Copyright AFP JUNG YEON-JE
Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful swarmed a historic statue of Jesus Christ as it was pulled through the streets of the Philippine capital - Copyright AFP JUNG YEON-JE
Pam CASTRO

Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful swarmed a historic statue of Jesus Christ as it was pulled through the streets of the Philippine capital on Tuesday, in one of the world’s biggest displays of religious devotion. 

There were chaotic scenes as the feverish march got underway before dawn following an open-air mass for the so-called Black Nazarene statue in a seaside park in Manila. 

Many Filipinos believe the icon has miraculous healing powers and that touching it, or the ropes attached to its float, can heal previously incurable ailments and bring good fortune to them and their loved ones.

“I believe that the Nazarene will give what we are all praying for — we just have to wait, but he will give everything,” Renelinda de Leon, 64, told AFP at the start of the procession. 

“He gave me good health. I don’t have an illness, I’m always healthy.”

As a light rain fell over the massive crowd, some barefoot devotees risked injury to reach the float by clambering over others and clinging to the clothes of guards protecting the icon, causing some to fall.

Other guards on the float pushed unruly devotees to the ground to keep them away from the icon enclosed in a glass case and allow the parade to continue on its journey of several kilometres. 

More than 15,000 security and medical personnel have been deployed along the route of the procession. 

At one point, organisers estimated just over a million people were marching slowly towards the destination of Quiapo Church. 

It is the first time the traditional parade featuring the life-sized statue has been held since 2020, after Covid-19 forced officials to drastically downsize the event.

The original wooden statue was brought to the Philippines in the early 1600s when the nation was a Spanish colony.

Many Filipinos believe it got its dark colour after surviving a fire aboard a ship en route from Mexico.

– Hundreds get medical treatment –

Marites Rote credited the Black Nazarene with healing her children’s skin rashes nearly 40 years ago and, more recently, ensuring the family could pay her husband’s medical bills.

“When my husband got sick we were penniless, but because of the Nazarene we were able to provide for his needs,” Rote, 60, told AFP.

Authorities did not report any specific threat to the procession, but took the precaution of blocking mobile phone signals to prevent the remote detonation of explosive devices, and imposed a no-fly and no-sail zone near the route.  

First-aid stations lined the streets on Tuesday to treat people suffering from heat stroke, abrasions or other medical problems during the procession, which in previous years has taken up to 22 hours to finish due to the huge crowds.

More than 380 people had received medical assistance by late morning, the Philippine Red Cross said on Facebook.   

Some devotees collapsed and had to be carried out on stretchers or passed over the heads of other pilgrims. 

This year, the icon has been placed in a glass case for the first time and participants were banned from getting on the float — though some ignored the directive in their desperation to wipe a towel on the glass in the hope of receiving a miracle.

During the frenzied parade one of two ropes used to pull the float broke.

Tonton Ruz, one of the guards protecting the statue as it makes its slow journey, said Thursday he was happy the parade had resumed, but hoped it would be “more peaceful” than in the past. 

“Before, you can’t see him (the statue) with so many people on top of the float blocking the view,” Ruz, 36, told AFP as he prepared for the march.

AFP
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