Over 200 people were injured during the frenzied celebration of the feast of the Black Nazarene on Monday but authorities declared the annual mammoth procession of the miraculous image “peaceful and solemn.”
Three women were almost trampled to death and were rushed to hospital when they fell after attempting to climb on the “Andas” or carriage bearing the ebony image of the Nazarene, Johnny Yu, head of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, said. Several devotees also collapsed and were attended to by medical personnel along the route of the procession.
The Philippine Red Cross attended to more than 100 persons with medical emergencies, including 46 devotees who suffered from high blood pressure.
Seven devotees were taken to the Ospital ng Maynila after steel railings collapsed on them.
Officials declared the Traslacion or the transfer of the Black Nazarene from Rizal Park to the Quiapo Church “generally peaceful” amid fears of a terror attack.
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) said more than a million devotees joined the procession, escorting the venerated statue on Manila’s sizzling streets barefoot.
“We have not recorded any untoward incident with regards to the procession,” NCRPO director Oscar Albayalde said.
Over 5,000 police and troops provided security to the religious parade that started at around 5:30 a.m.
Telecommunication signals were jammed, and authorities banned the carrying of firearms and drinking of liquor for security reasons.
Masses of Catholic devotees braved sizzling weather and terrorist fears to touch a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ that is believed to have miraculous powers.
The annual parade is one of the world’s biggest displays of Catholic devotion and showcases the Philippines’ status as the Church’s bastion in Asia.
Many Filipinos believe touching or getting close to the life-sized statue, which was brought to the Philippines in the early 1600s when the nation was a Spanish colony, can lead to the healing of otherwise incurable ailments and other good fortune.
“If you seek a favor it will be granted as long as you pray hard,” Lolit Gonzales, 45, said as she sat on the sidewalk after taking her turn pulling on a thick length of rope that moved the statue’s carriage forward.
The Manila manicurist attributed the healing two years ago of a painful right knee, which her doctor had told her required surgery and medicines that she could not afford, to taking part in the procession at that time.
Gonzales said she had returned on Monday to ensure her knee ailment did not recur, since she had no health insurance and was the only breadwinner in her family.
The pilgrims walked Manila’s concrete streets as the temperature climbed above 30 degrees Celsius as a sign of penance and to imitate a barefoot Jesus carrying the cross before he was crucified.
The statue is called the Black Nazarene because of its charred color, believed to have occurred when it survived a fire aboard a ship when being brought to the Philippines from Mexico.
Replica crosses and other religious icons and images followed the cross carriage six abreast, borne on the back of trucks, atop pedicabs and manually drawn carriages in an extremely slow procession that was expected to last into the night.
Such extreme forms of worship are a hallmark of the Philippines which is 80 percent Roman Catholic, a legacy of four centuries of Spanish colonialism that ended in 1898.
President Rodrigo Duterte joined the Catholic faithful in celebrating the annual feast of the Black Nazarene and urged devotees to fervently pray for the country.
In his message, Duterte said his administration deeply empathizes with the faith of Nazarene devotees who “resort to sacrifice every single day, while still finding a piece of themselves to honor God.”
“We are neither exhausted by praying constantly nor do we ever falter in expressing our religious fervor. Despite the passage of time, we relentlessly fight against injustice and lies; abuse of power; and the corruption that eats up the soul,” he said.
The President acknowledged that God’s image was recognized in the Nazarene, who “carried his cross to redeem the rest of humankind.”
“In His tears, we see our sorrow; and in His agony, we find our solace and strength to triumph against the most insurmountable odds,” he said.
Duterte also recognized the faith of millions of devotees in the form of “gratitude, petition, and sacrifice.”
“Good fortunes are usually borne out of hard work and perseverance. Prayers are likely answered because we do not give up or get tired from asking God for the fulfillment of our heart’s desires. Such is the phenomenal expression of faith of the millions of devotees in the form of gratitude, petition, and sacrifice shown in the image of the Black Nazarene every feast day on the 9th of January every year,” he said.